There’s no denying the satisfaction you get when you see furry and winged friends visiting your garden to pollinate, eat and even just to frolic in your bird baths or wildlife hideaways. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing that you’ve provided an environment where our wonderful wild animals feel safe.
However, there’s also no denying that the UK wildlife population has generally declined over the centuries due to habitat destruction, food scarcity, pesticide use and more. In fact, alarming figures show that a third of wild bees and hoverflies are in decline, while hedgehog numbers have halved since the turn of the century, and rarer birds such as the turtle dove continue to plummet towards extinction.
With this in mind, and in light of the huge loss of wild animals in Australia due to recent bush fires, it’s important for us to make the most of our wildlife and do what we can to maintain populations. One way that we can do this is to increase the amount of wildlife-friendly plants in our gardens.
Even just a few well-thought-out plants could help local wildlife in a big way. Not only do the right plants help pollinators, they also add to the natural habitat by providing shelter from wind, rain and larger predators, shade from the sun, and an abundance of food in the form of insects.
However, if you’re pretty garden-proud and you’re not keen on the idea of turning your yard into a hectic mess of plants, there’s also an aesthetic advantage to this! The RHS have predicted that 2020 will see a more ‘natural’ appearance taking hold of the UK’s gardens. They said:
“An increasing awareness of the decline in wildlife means gardeners will look for ways to support them, growing more and a greater variety of plants, accepting the presence of some damage and not being too tidy, for example, by leaving seedheads as shelter and food for visitors. Bee hotels, wildlife ponds, log piles, plants for pollinators and compost heaps will continue to increase in popularity. Clipped box and fine turf may well fall out of fashion as this more natural aesthetic takes hold and gardeners shun pesticide use to deal with problem areas and creatures such as box tree caterpillar.”
If you want to create or add to your wildlife-friendly space, here are five suggestions for plants that will tick all the boxes!
Not only are they eye-catching, Buddlejas are butterfly magnets! A great option for smaller gardens is a dwarf cultivar, as these spread their seed around a lot less than other cultivars; however, they still provide lots of nectar for pollinators.
Grow in full sun or partial shade, and deadhead regularly to promote flowering.
Hawthorn is easy to grow practically anywhere in the UK, due to the fact that it’s native to the northern hemisphere. With that in mind, Hawthorn is excellent for native wildlife, too!
The hedge supports nesting for many species of bird, who can also feast on its fruits. Additionally, Hawthorn provides cover for smaller ground mammals such as hedgehogs when they’re scurrying between or around gardens.
While Ivy can be poisonous to humans, birds love using it as a nesting ground as it provides evergreen cover. Pollinators will also hang around Ivy for its nectar, and caterpillars love eating its leaves (potentially keeping the ivy under control).
Be aware that Ivy is often poisonous to dogs, cats and other pets.
Sunflowers could be the happiest plants on Earth – you can’t help but smile when you see one! And pollinators and other wildlife love them, too!
Dozens of species of British birds delight at the abundance of seeds on a sunflower, while bees adore the nectar. Butterflies will also flock to these yellow flowers due to the likelihood of landing upon an aphid-feeding ground. Sunflowers are a win-win-win!
If you’ve got a pond, you can maximise on the best types of plants to help not just aquatic life, but other wildlife, too. Water forget-me-nots are a great example of an all-rounder; flowering in the summer, they provide shelter for aquatic larvae such as tadpoles and newts, as well as attracting butterflies, hoverflies and bees to their delicate, blue blooms.
Water forget-me-not, Myosotis scorpioides, is a British native that flowers from May to July. It provides shelter for aquatic larvae such as tadpoles, and newts lay their eggs in the leaves. It also attracts butterflies, hoverflies and bees.
Do you have any wildlife visitors in your garden? Let me know in the comments below!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook – and writes a plant-focused Substack called Grow This, Not That.