Whether we like it or not, we share our gardens with a host of wildlife. In recent years, most of us have become increasingly aware of the role we play in making our plots as wildlife-friendly as possible − and even the smallest garden plays an important role.
There are over 23 million gardens in the UK. Together, the difference they can make to wildlife is enormous. Since World War Two wildlife has been increasingly challenged. The use of agricultural pesticides, herbicides and fungicides affects and very often destroys ecosystems and the wildlife within them. Wetlands have been drained, destroying one of our most important and unique habitats. Thousands of miles of hedgerow have been torn out to create ever bigger fields for ever larger machines to produce cheaper food for bigger profits, until it was realised that the erosion it caused was counter-productive. Some of those hedgerows have been replaced, but the fine balances that existed may take many years to re-establish. Our soil has been impoverished and woodlands have been razed to the ground to build roads.
Every day we hear of some wildlife tragedy − butterfly numbers being at an all-time low, the demise of the hedgehog or the plight of our bees. We’re also becoming more aware of the deleterious effect the human race is having on nature and the future of our soil, and we must strive to do whatever we can to halt climate change, and to stop the pollution and impoverishment of our world. There is one area, though, where our direct actions can have an immediate effect – our own gardens. The benefits to wildlife of growing wildflowers and the importance of planting borders full of pollen- and nectar-rich flowers for beneficial insects have been extolled in recent times.
More on wildlife gardening:
- 10 wildlife-friendly gardens to visit
- Wildlife-friendly plants for shade
- Wildlife gardening
- 10 of the best climbers for wildlife
- Six key features of a wildlife garden
Discover Carol Klein’s favourite plants for wildlife, below.
Autumn is crucial for late-hatched butterflies, which need nectar aplenty. On a sunny day, the pink blooms of Eupatorium are crowded with red admirals, tortoiseshells, peacocks and, if you’re lucky, the odd painted lady and comma.
Height x Spread: 2.2m x 2m
Helleborus hybridus is one of the earliest perennials. Rich in pollen and nectar, it provides sustenance for early-emerging insects. Others include Helleborus foetidus with masses of small, green flowers.
H x S: 30-80cm x 45-90cm
Blackberry flowers offer pollen for months and its fruit is beloved by birds and butterflies, especially red admirals. Include one in a hedge or train on a fence.
H x S: 2.5m x 2.5m
The borage family is always popular, especially pulmonarias, which early bumblebees can rely on for nectar.
P. officinalis and its cultivars have attractive spotted leaves, too.
H x S: 30cm x 45-60cm
Early-flowering bulbs such as snowdrops and crocus will flower as early as February, providing nectar and pollen for insects emerging from hibernation.
H x S: 30cm x 30cm
Grass stems and crowns offer vital shelter to invertebrates, insects and spiders of all kinds, such as the miscanthus varieties and molinia crowns after their golden stems have tumbled to the floor.
H x S: 1m x 1m
In summer, sunflowers provide forage for bees, but their seeds are an important winter food, packed with seeds, for birds. When their seed is ripe, cut sunflowers with long stems and hang them in a dry place. In winter, tie them to canes pushed into the ground or hang them from the washing line.
H x S: 1.5m x 30cm
Even small gardens have room for a tree. Trees with blossom and fruit help bees and birds − crab apples, rowan or hawthorn are top choices.
Teasel is an all-rounder. Its flowers encircle the oval heads opening in succession, so pollen and nectar
are available for months. The seeds that follow are popular with finches, and rainwater collects in the leaf
stems where birds can drink
H x S: 100cm x 50cm
When ivy grows up, as opposed to horizontally, it will flower and fruit. The flowers are a nectar-rich, important autumn food for insects and the berries provide a rich source of protein for birds.
H x S: 3m x 3m