Wildlife gardening has rapidly become an acceptable way of managing your garden. Television programmes extol the aesthetics of wildflower meadows, and gardening magazines often have regular features on shrubs for birds, cottage plants for butterflies, or the merits of encouraging bees and hoverflies. From the conservation point of view, gardens are now accepted as important habitats for some of our native wildlife that is under pressure from habitat loss and land management in the countryside.From the more selfish viewpoint, having interesting wildlife in the garden is fun! Bird watching can be done from the comfort of your own armchair if you plant berry bearing shrubs, or plants with nutritious seeds. Many gardeners keep lists of the butterflies visiting their plot and see the addition of each new species as a garden milestone.
Of course wildlife gardening is as much about the way in which you manage your garden, as what you plant, but when all is said and done, it is the plants in your garden that are the important building blocks of the habitat you are creating. Much information about ‘good’ wildlife plants can be misleading. Garden Centres may advertise types of well known butterfly plants as ‘good for wildlife‘, not realising that only the actual species of the plant will do as far as the insects are concerned. So what do you plant in a wildlife pond, or a new hedgerow, or a nectar border? Gathering information from many different sources can be time consuming, but it is worthwhile
As wildlife gardening becomes more and more popular, young and old gardeners alike are seeking ways of making their gardens more wildlife friendly and there is absolutely no doubt that planting a native tree, shrub or climber in any garden increases its wildlife attracting potential enormously. Virtually all our native wild creatures will at some time during their lives depend upon or use in some way the branches of a tree, a thicket of shrubs or a tangle of climbers for one reason or another. It may be for food or for shelter, or to declare a territory from the topmost branches, but what ever the reason, a plant that is native to our shores will often be the preferred choice.
Where birds are concerned, many species rely entirely on the small insects they find amongst the leaves as an important source of food, either for themselves directly, or for their hungry nestlings. A native tree such as a silver birch will have many hundreds of small insects feeding in the shelter of its leaves – the caterpillars of moths or sawflies, small beetles and bugs, flies and spiders – all of which help to make up the diet of a wren, robin, blue tit or visiting warbler. When there are chicks to feed in the nest, the majority of birds, even the seed eaters such as greenfinches or house sparrows, will still seek out protein-rich insects for their young.
Birds also rely on safe nest sites to raise a family and again many of our native shrubs have strong prickly branches, providing protection for a blackbird, song thrush or chaffinch and her eggs. A wild hedge composed of a mixture of native shrubs will have flowers with nectar and pollen for insects such as bumblebees and butterflies, good nesting places for birds, and then food in the form of berries in the autumn months. Mammals too depend on native trees, shrubs and climbers in the garden for food and shelter. A hedgehog will often choose to hibernate in a pile of leaves at the base of a thick native hedge and newts and toads may spend the winter months amongst the fallen twigs and logs in a sheltered hedge bottom.
Planting native in your garden is important and planting a native tree or shrub could be the most impoertant thing you can do for your local wildlife.