I’m not sure about you but I’m itching to get out planting and to make my admittedly small city garden more wildlife friendly. Of course there are wonderful things I could do if I had a lot of time, if I had a lot of land… but I have neither and want to make the best of what I have.
Bees & Bumblebees
I have a lot of wild bees and different bumblebees in my garden. This surprised me as my neighbours to either side have concreted yards only. I do however have lots of natural shelter in form of an old wall with plenty of crevices for bugs, bees and other animals.
The easiest plant to attract pollinators including butterflies is lavender which will also be superb in a South facing windowbox – with the added bonus of the beautiful scent when sleeping with open windows in the summer. And while we’re at it and if you’re planting a South facing windowbox – why not add thyme? Useful, more beautiful scent and great for bees too.
Other plants that do incredibly well in a small garden, don’t need much attention, are ‘buzzing’ with pollinators, and pretty to look at are the easy going geranium and sage. Buddleia are fabulous both for butterflies and bees and look beautiful. So instead of plucking them out in unwanted spots, let one grow. Or even better – try your hand at guerrilla planting and plant one in a public space, maybe there is some unused wasteland in your area?
Bumblebees love hollyhock and foxgloves – not any fancy species from the garden centre, the humble native species are best as richer in pollen and easier to access for pollinators. And who wouldn’t have to smile when seeing a big bumblebee butt sticking out of the flower, covered in pollen?
Try not to forget the shoulder seasons: Heathers and spring bulbs are fabulous to provide nectar for early or late bees – I’ve seen a bee on flowering heather in early January.
For anyone practically minded: A small fruit tree or a climber such as clematis can save on space and will work well in a front garden – raspberries are also great for bees (and yummy) and the best? Slugs won’t climb up their hairy stems, so probably one of the easiest fruit to grow in a small space.
Make sure there is a water source both for birds and for bees in the garden – sounds obvious but in the summer months wildlife may struggle to find a little puddle. So why not put a little birdbath (any old deep dish will do) onto your garden table when you’re not using your seating area? Everybody will enjoy watching birds bathing and splashing water around.
I have a bird box but it’s only visited by snails that I scoop out every now and then. Instead I have robins nesting inside a broken kitchen vent and other nesting birds in hedges. So yes, protection from larger birds is important (from cats/dogs too obviously), so bushes & hedges or dense climbers are brilliant and save on space. I have a rambling rose and a jasmine growing over one another against a sunny wall – both have beautiful scent and in the evenings birds will serenade me with their song when hunting for spiders etc or feeding their young.
Not to forget bird feeders in the winter – I’m yet to solve the mystery how my feedballs disappear including their little net within a couple of days whereas these would have lasted several weeks before while leaving the empty net behind.
Less manicured is better
And if weeds were to grow in your garden? Mine even flower sometimes, trefoil maybe, and yes, even the odd dandelion. I’ve never claimed it will be a stripy golfing lawn but I don’t need to worry that birds may die because they picked up a poisoned slug. And yes, if there are many dandelions, an old knife and some elbow grease work wonders.
Why not leave a corner of grass uncut, somewhere at the back of the garden or under a fruit tree (that is if you don’t have space for a wildflower meadow)? And while we’re at it, leave a few old logs in a quiet corner for hedgehogs to hide under, a very efficient pest control if you are lucky for hedgehogs to claim your garden as their territory. A compost would be an ideal winter hibernation place and if at all possible is a huge bonus to any garden.
I love flogs. I would love to have a small pond for toads and frogs but there really is no space for this. If at all possible try to have one, maybe a more immediate pest control than hedgehogs. And having a small water lily in a pond with leaves on which insects will land – what not to like, aside from the beautiful flowers? Don’t forget that frogs and toads need to be able to come in and out of your garden, so unless there is a small gap somewhere this is difficult in the typical walled city garden.