Garden writer Julia Heaton explains how to use your outdoor space to provide food and shelter for birds, bees and other wildlife
With an estimated 16 million gardens in the UK we have a wonderful resource, quite literally at our fingertips, ready to help us provide for our native wildlife. And by inviting in flying visitors, like the birds and bees, we get the added benefit of seeing their wonderful activities up close.
Planting the right kinds of flowers will encourage bees and other pollinators into your garden and provide them with the pollen and nectar they need to thrive. Go for native plants where possible and those with single, open flowers that allow easy access to the pollen and nectar.
Bees prefer bright colours, especially blue, purple, violet and yellow and those with lots of perfume. If you’re unsure what to go for take a stroll around your local garden centre to see which ones in flower are attracting them. You can check if these are suitable by gently rubbing your fingertips into the flower – any pollen there will stick to it. Plant suitable flowers in clumps so they can move quickly and easily around them.
And try to provide plants that will provide pollen and nectar for as long a season as possible.
Plants for bees and pollinators
Crocus – Blooming from late winter to early spring these look good in pots but also pushing through grass on the lawn.
Mahonia – Hardy evergreen shrub with bright yellow flowers in Spring.
Lavender – Rich in pollen and nectar, with gorgeous scent.
Dahlia – The single flowered forms are best. They also tend to be hardy and low-maintenance.
Scabious – A common wildflower on chalk downland and a valuable source of nectar in early summer.
Foxgloves – Has bell shaped flowers in a range of colours and grows well in shady areas.
Common ivy (Hedera helix) – Its autumn flowers are a fantastic source of nectar and it provides berries for birds.
Buddleja davidii – The butterfly bush thrives in most soils in a sunny space. Go for a dwarf type that is less prone to self-seeding
Sedum spectabile – A hardy perennial that thrives in sun and a real draw for bees and butterflies in late summer.
Cosmos – An easy to grow summer annual that comes in a variety of colours.
Verbena bonariensis – Its clusters of small purple flowers on tall spindly stems will provide nectar throughout summer and into October.
Michealmas daisy – Brings late summer and autumn colour. This perennial can be planted in any soil and a well-lit position.
Plants for birds
The trick here is to select a range of plants that will provide food in the form of berries, nectar or insects as well as shelter where possible. Go for plants that flower and seed at different times, providing nourishment for them throughout the year. And remember that they have different preferences when it comes to nesting. So, for example, if you’re looking to provide for blackbirds then wall plants or climbers will attract them, while deep hedging is something wrens prefer.
Look to the following:
Rowan – Can provide berries from summer through to November depending on which species you choose;
Honeysuckle – This climber will provide shelter as well as berries in autumn;
Sunflower – Great to grow in summer then watch the seeds ripen and the birds flock to them. Go for varieties with the largest flower-heads and therefore the most seed;
Berberis – Thorny cover from nest predators. In mid to late spring has small orange to yellow flowers then purplish berries in autumn;
Rosa glauca – Virtually thornless, scented deciduous shrub with small pink flowers in June and July and red autumn rosehips. Can grow up to 6ft tall.
Creating a place to live
Offer the right kind of habitat and all sorts of wildlife will make their homes in your garden. Here’s a few ideas to consider:
Whether large or small water features always attract a rich range of animal life from amphibians and invertebrates to bathing birds. They don’t need to be deep but do need to be shallow at the edges and gently sloping so that thirsty mammals can get easily in and out to drink. Plant up with some dense vegetation to provide frogs with hiding places from predators.
A pile of logs tucked away behind a shed, or out in the open as an attractive garden feature, provides the ideal damp and shady conditions that will be used as shelter by many species from insects to voles and toads. When you have to lop a branch off a tree simply cut it into different size logs and pile them up. Add some fallen leaves to attract even more creatures.
As well as being a way to recycle waste a well constructed heap is also an important habitat for wildlife. Worms, slugs and a host of other creatures will make it a place of hibernation for hedgehogs, grass snakes and toads.
Although providing privacy a hedge also supplies wildlife with food, shelter from the elements and cover from possible predators. Three to consider are: hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna); privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) and Yew (Taxus baccata). Don’t tidy it up too much as fallen leaves and seed heads will help attract insects, birds and hedgehogs.
There are now so many artificial shelters to choose from that can be bought ready made or require some simple home assembly. Apart from bird boxes and bee houses (see our competition) there are now insect hotels that will pull in ladybirds and lacewings, the natural predators of all types of aphids. A hedgehog house will provide ready-made hibernation shelter for a creature that’s the ultimate in biological slug control and don’t forget butterfly buildings and bat boxes.
This is a great alternative to a wildflower meadow when space is at a premium as it will still attract all sorts of insects and the birds that feed on them. Use white clover, birds foot trefoil, self heal and speedwells and don’t mow so often. Alternatively mow around them. There are lots of wild flower lawn seed mixes available or create an area immediately by laying wildflower turf.
Interactive Solitary Beehive
Do your bit to help solitary bees and see them at close quarters with this original design from Wildlife World. Made from durable FSC certified timber, the interactive solitary bee habitat contains stacking trays that you can open up to view the bees egg cells and larvae development.
Its pre-drilled holes are just the right size for attracting non-swarming bees, like the Leafcutter and Red Mason Bees, so safe around children and pets. And at just 17 x 16 x 18cm it can be sited in a warm and sunny spot at ground level or on a wall or fence where these fascinating pollinating friends of the gardener will find it hard to resist.
Price £32.99 plus £3.95 p&p. These delightful hives can be pre-ordered for delivery on or after mid-July.
Simply visit www.wildlifeworld.co.uk or Tel. 01666 505333.
Use code SBHIVE25 when ordering to receive a further 25% off.
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*Winners will be chosen at the end of August and notified by email*