A garden is as much about wildlife as it is about plants. Gardening and nature conservation are not mutually exclusive, provided the plants that are grown and the way in which the garden is managed take into account the needs of animals, birds and insects as well as the plants themselves.
It is far more satisfying - and responsible - to try and garden with nature rather than against it. In a few years' time the range of pesticides and chemicals available to the home gardener will have shrunk to almost nothing due to health and safety concerns. We might as well try and rub along and enjoy the wildlife in our gardens rather than exclude it.
It doesn't matter whether your garden is in a town or in the country. Wildlife are opportunists - they will take advantage of situations that suit them. Remember that all wildlife is important - not just the cuddly kind - and you can't be selective about what turns up. If we all looked after our own tiny patch, then it - joined with all the other tiny patches - would go towards a massive patchwork quilt of wildlife-friendly gardens.
Having a garden that plays host to wildlife does not mean that is has to look like a weed-ridden wilderness. Here are my tips for a beautiful and wildlife-friendly garden.
Use non-chemical slug deterrents
Stiff copper collars around hostas are effective at getting them through the ground in spring without being eaten by slugs. Discover other ways of stopping slugs from eating young plants, including beer traps and bran.
Grow single flowers
Grow single flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen, rather than doubles, whose reproductive parts have been replaced by petals. This will make sure that bees and butterflies the best possible chance of survival. Discover 10 single-flowered dahlias.
Plant a pot of pollen
Planting for pollinators can be done on the smallest scale and will give bees and butterflies a chance to thrive. A pot of pollen and nectar-rich plants, perfect for pollinators, perfect for a tiny plot, patio, balcony or doorstep. Try our nectar-rich container display.
Stop using pesticides
Stop using pesticides, which can harm beneficial insects. Start allowing natural predators to build up - hedgehogs, for example, will eat slugs, while birds and even wasps will eat caterpillars and greenfly. It takes time, so be patient.
Put up nest boxes and feed birds all year round with 'clean' bird food (the sort that has no husks). Peanuts are no good for nestlings. And ensure a constant supply of water. Find out how to attract birds to your garden.
Let birds control pests
Let birds control pests, be it chafer grubs and leatherjackets in the lawn or grubs on the vegetable patch. A light forking over of the soil will reveal more and the birds will be in for the feast.
Sow a patch of wild flowers
Sow a patch of wild flowers, however small, in a sunny spot. It will provide sources of food for birds and insects and long grass where butterflies can lay their eggs. Find out how to create a mini wildflower meadow.
Make a wildlife pond
Make a wildlife pond with gently sloping edges, which will play host to frogs, toads and newts, as well as offering liquid refreshment to birds and hedgehogs. Watch our No Fuss video guide to creating a wildlife pond.
Make a log pile
Dead wood can support a surprisingly wide range of wild life. Pile logs in a shady corner to make a sanctuary for insects or try something more adventurous - discover three ways to create a dead wood habitat.
Don't be too tidyLeaves at the base of a hedge, for example, are a great spot for hibernating hedgehogs and insects.
Alan's favourite plants for wildlife
- Buddleja (pictured) - not for nothing is this shrub known as the butterfly bush. Its wand-like blooms attract small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies.
- Lavender - awash with bees and butterflies in summer and fragrant when brushed past. A stalwart in a sunny, well-drained spot or in a pot.
- Flag iris - the yellow flag in a garden pond is a 'great escape' for dragonfly larvae, which climb up its leaves and stems as they emerge and dry themselves in the sun.
- Crab apple - The fruits when they fall will be devoured by birds and the blossom is loved by bees. A great multi-purpose tree for any garden.
- Hawthorn - a British native that makes a great nesting site for birds and berries for food in autumn, too. A brilliant garden hedge with lovely blossom.