There could be plants cascading over edges and perhaps a pond housing a local frog. There might be a patch of nettles along a hedgerow or a grape vine scrambling up a shed. All of this horticultural informality is what makes a garden great for wildlife. A garden that has a diverse range of life is a garden that has been left to it. Well, not completely…
#1 Grow lots of flowers
The idea behind companion planting is simple, grow particular plants in conjunction with others for added benefits. In the case of attracting beneficial insects to the garden, you should be focusing on pollinators. All flowers attract pollinating bees, hoverflies and many other airborne insects will be attracted to colourful beds and borders.
Certain bee plants are more alluring than others and can be grown in among your vegetables to lure the insects right to where you need them. Creating a ‘bee border’ can work well too, my favourites; Borage, Phacelia and Cerinthe major. Adding them to your garden will make your garden hum with life and will improve pollination of your vegetable crops too.
#2 Beehives, bird boxes, and log piles
If you have a large garden, it might be worth considering getting some bees. Bees are vitally important to the health of the countryside (not to mention the entire planet) and more and more people are taking on some hives on a domestic scale to help with the overall decline of bees through loss of habitat. There are some wonderful courses available to teach the art of beekeeping and it can also be a therapeutic activity for anyone interested in the natural world.
If your plans are smaller, building a log pile can be a good way to create a good habitat for insects and detritivores (such as woodlice). As the logs break down, the decomposing material is the perfect home for moss, fungi and ferns. You can even plant the gaps with plants to make it really blend in. Putting up a bird box is a simple way of encouraging native songbirds into the garden. They can be easily homemade from scrap wood and look lovely tucked up in a tree or on a fence. A little research is needed to have the right box for the right bird, but all songbirds are a lovely addition to the garden. They are useful as they feed on troublesome insects such as caterpillars and aphids.
#3 Create a pond
Frogs and toads love eating slugs, and as slugs are one of the worst veg garden pests, building a pond for them is definitely worth doing. Even a small pond can create a suitable home for amphibians and reptiles, all of which are great at keeping those destructive pests away from your crops. Ponds also create habitat for all manner of wildlife including damselflies, water skaters and water snails, all of which increase the diversity of your garden.
#4 Make your own compost
Healthy soil makes healthy plants, and a healthy garden can support a larger array of wildlife. The most sustainable way to improve the fertility of the soil is by making and using our own compost. The compost you produce will be rich in organic matter and will provide your soil with the ammunition to sustain a healthy garden teeming with life.
The compost bin itself is a great habitat for a multitude of invertebrates too. And if you're lucky it provides the perfect habitat for the illusive slow worm. To help you get started with composting at home, check out our handy guide.
#5 Grow organically
Chemicals are used in many gardens to combat weeds and to kill off unwanted pests. But it's not just the undesirables that are destroyed, it's all the good stuff as well. Using herbicide, pesticide and fungicide is a quick and convenient way of solving a problem in the short term but the insects will come back again and again if you don’t take more long term action. You can read more about keeping pests away with organic methods, here.
If you adopt organic growing methods, the wildlife will flourish naturally as the range of the flora and fauna increases. Remember - a healthy garden teeming with life will give you a natural balance and resilience against pests.