JENNY STEEL   Gardening on the Wild Side




How to Create a Wildlife Friendly Garden - BBC Easy Gardening

Growing the 10 Best Plants for Wildlife in your Garden - BBC Gardens Illustrated

A Flavour of April in your Wildlife Friendly Garden - Country and Border Life

The Rural Craft of Hedgelaying in Dorset - The Countryman

Managing your Garden in October  - Country and Border Life

The Historic Welsh Gardens of Plas Tan y Bwlch - The Countryman

Looking after the Bees in your Garden - Daily Express

Making Wildlife Ponds the Easy Way - Daily Express

Wings over Mull - a Centre for Birds of Prey - The Countryman

A New Garden for Wildlife with Butterflies in Mind - Butterfly Conservation

The Extraordinary Wildlife Art of Ian and Richard Lewington - Limited Edition Magazine

'I went to Noke and Nobody Spoke' - Fascinating Otmoor - Limited Edition Magazine

Gardening on the Wild Side of Town - New Consumer Magazine

Peter Parks and the Great Rainforest Project - Limited Edition Magazine

The Countryside in January - Limited Edition Magazine

The Countryside in May - Limited Edition Magazine

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Contact Jenny to find out more about her freelance writing


While making our homes as environmentally friendly as possible has become a priority for many people, how may of us take our commitment to the environment seriously when planning our gardens?  Lawn mowers, patio heaters and plastic outdoor furniture, not to mention peat composts and chemicals galore, all contribute to environmental degradation in one form or another whether through the release of greenhouse gasses, by polluting the environment or through impoverishment of wildlife habitats.  As gardeners we can dramatically improve our immediate surrounding for wildlife.  Gardening with nature, rather than against it, is the way forward for any ecologically minded homeowner.

The majority of homes have a garden space of some kind, whether it is an elegant acre or two, a tiny balcony or a few square metres.  There is a great deal we can do to ensure that our local wildlife, including insects such as bumblebees and butterflies, frog and toads, hedgehogs, voles and shrews, and birds of many different species have space to live and increase.  An existing garden can be made more wildlife friendly by some thoughtful planning, a change in maintenance and the inclusion of suitable plants that are known to provide nectar and pollen.  Growing some native wildflowers amongst your mix of more exotic blooms will also increase the wildlife value of your plot - these wild plants will attract more small invertebrate creatures which in turn provide food for other larger species, especially mammals and birds.

One easy step in the right direction is to give up mowing part of your lawn.  Keeping the mower in the shed not only reduces CO2 emissions but also provides a habitat of long grass which will attract a range of creatures not usually associated with gardens.  Many butterfly species including the speckled wood, wall brown and marbled white lay their eggs on long grasses.  Most uncut lawns can be improved with the addition of a few wildflowers, especially cowslips, knapweed, scabious and birds foot trefoil, to give a meadow effect.  These areas should be cut just once a year in late summer.  A true garden meadow is a different proposition fine leaved grasses with a huge range of wildflowers all summer, but even this can be achieved by sowing a mix of wildflowers and native grasses into poor bare soil.

Water too will improve your outdoor space for wildlife, encouraging amphibians, dragonflies and damselflies and proving a place for birds to drink and bathe.  Upgrade an existing pond by creating shallow margins where wildlife has easy, safe access to the water and add plenty of oxygenators and other aquatic plants.  Your hedges too can be made more wildlife friendly by planting suitable climbers through them.  Try wild roses, wild honeysuckle or wild clematis, all guaranteed to increase the range of wildlife you will see.

Spaces in borders can be filled with plants that provide good supplies of nectar and pollen or instead of the usual bedding, save wildlife and money by sowing easy annuals such as poached egg plant, baby blue eyes, nasturtiums, night scented stock or phacelia.  If you are not so green-fingered, choose garden centre bedding with know wildlife pulling power bedding dahlias, tagetes and French marigolds, petunias or lavatera which will help the local insects.  Make sure that any pesticides in your shed are safely disposed of organic is the way forward if you want your borders to buzz.

Your home is super-insulated, you use low energy light bulbs, your wooden floors come from sustainable sources and you take your responsibility to the environment very seriously.  Its time to turn your attention to your garden and create a home for wildlife. 

Starting anew  If your home is a new build you can really take your responsibility to your local wildlife seriously.  Designing a garden from scratch with wildlife in mind gives you the opportunity to create eco-habitats of various types to provide food, water and shelter for a huge range of creatures.  Larger projects may be able to combine a reed bed for filtering waste water with a wildlife pond, while a wildflower meadow, sown with native seed is more likely to be successful on the type of poor quality soils often left behind by builders.  A well designed border incorporating a mixture of cottage garden plants and wildflowers will provide plenty of pollen and nectar for butterflies and bees, and the wildlife potential of a new boundary can be maximized by planting a mixed native hedge of hawthorn, blackthorn, guelder rose, field maple and dogwood.  Native trees too can be included, especially small species such as crab apple, silver birch, rowan or alder all excellent for providing natural food and shelter for a variety of birds.

Tips to Improve your borders

For butterflies and moths verbena, buddleia, lavender, marjoram, valerian, night scented stock.

For bumblebees foxgloves, dead nettles, rosemary, cornflower, scabious.

For birds cotoneaster, evening primrose, honesty, cornflower, knapweed, sunflower.

Copyright Jenny Steel 2017