A mixed hedgerow is typically found lining winding country roads, or serving as a boundary on farmland. However, there's no reason why you shouldn't recreate this valuable habitat in your garden. A mixed native hedge provides flowers for pollinators, leaves for caterpillars and fruit or nuts for birds and small mammals, not to mention shelter for a huge range of species. You can make it better still by adding climbing plants such as honeysuckle to clamber through the hedge, and plant spring-flowering foxgloves, cowslips and sweet violets at the base. You'll have wildlife queuing up to take up residence in your garden.
More on attracting wildlife to your garden:
Browse our list of the best plants to grow in a wildlife hedges, including flowering shrubs and bulbs, below.
Hawthorn makes a fantastic hedging plant. It has a thorny, dense growth habit that provides excellent nesting sites for birds, as well as flowers for pollinators and red fruits, called haws, in autumn, which are loved by birds and small mammals. The foliage serves as a food plant for moths like the vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) and light emerald (Campaea margaritata).
The sloe, or blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), is a shrubby tree flowering early in the year, so it's a brilliant source of early nectar and pollen for pollinating insects. Like hawthorn, it provides good nesting sites for birds and is covered in sloes that birds and other wildlife can eat. The leaves are a foodplant for butterflies and moths like the brown hairstreak butterfly (Thecla betulae) and lackey moth (Malacosoma neustria).
The only maple native to the UK, the field maple (Acer campestre) is a brilliant hedging plant for wildlife. Bees are attracted to the clusters of small spring flowers, while the leaves are particularly attractive to aphids, which in turn attracts aphid predators into the garden, including hoverflies and ladybirds.
Often found growing near rivers and streams, alder (Alnus glutinosa) does best in a site with moist soil, though it can be grown in dry soils, too. It bears catkins from late winter to mid-spring, providing nectar and pollen, followed by seeds popular with birds like siskins and redpolls.
Like alders, bird cherries (Prunus padus) enjoy growing in moist soils. The scented spring flowers attract pollinators and are followed by small bitter cherries that are loved by blackbirds, badgers, thrushes, mice and other wildlife. The caterpillars of many moths and butterflies feed on the leaves, including beautiful brimstones (Gonepteryx rhamni) and orchard ermines (Yponomeuta padella).
Appearing in late winter and early spring, hazel catkins are a source of early pollen for pollinators. The nuts and foliage are a real boon to wildlife – many species of moth caterpillars feed on the leaves, which are themselves a good source of food for small mammals and bird. Small mammals such as mice and squirrels also eat hazelnuts, as do woodpeckers, nuthatches and jays.
Viburnum lantana is commonly known as the wayfaring-tree. Hoverflies in particular are attracted to the clusters of small white blooms, while birds will benefit from the berries and shelter provided. Another viburnum, Viburnum opulus, is also a great plant to grow in a wildlife hedge.
Similar in appearance to dogwoods, buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is a deciduous tree that serves as the main foodplant for the brimstone butterfly. It has a thick, dense growth habit – perfect for nesting birds – with small, inconspicuous flowers for pollinating insects in spring followed by glossy black berries for birds in autumn and winter.
Once your wildlife hedge is established, you can think about planting native climbing plants like honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum. The leaves are a source of food for the 20-plume moth, while the deliciously scented flowers attract bees and moths. The late-summer berries are eaten by birds and small mammals. Dormice also use the thin, flaky bark in their nests in summer.
Plants for the base
- Garlic mustard
- Cow parsley
- Red campion