Creating a wildlife garden by Colin Knapman

It needs plants for food and plants for shelter

Creating a wildlife area is not only good for the protection of wildlife, but can be an exciting garden environment for all to enjoy and a great opportunity to see the various butterflies, birds, bees and insects close up. The idea that to attract wildlife you need an unkempt, overgrown wilderness is fallacy. Wildlife primarily needs food and shelter to survive whether it is in a tidy or untidy garden. To create a successful wildlife garden will require a diverse range of plants to provide the food and shelter needed to ensure a whole year round food chain that is sustainable in the long term

 So if your client wants a wildlife garden, don’t groan and think there is no money in this for me there is, in fact, a whole lot of planting and landscaping that can be done

 Main groups of plants for a bio diverse wildlife garden.

Deciduous trees

They are the focal point of any garden with spring blossom for the bees and berries in the autumn for the birds. Select those with textured bark that look good and provide shelter for insects.


They come in a multitude of species from early flowering Mahonia to the mass flowering of Buddleja in the summer and the late berries from many evergreen shrubs like Pyracantha and Berberis.

Flowering perennials

Single open flower heads and umbelifiers are easiest for insects to extract the pollen but digitalis is also brilliant.

Late flowering perennials and some grasses have great looking seed heads and are loved by birds in the autumn. Try Phlomis fruticosa, Alliums and Dipsacus


A native species hedge is probably the best example for providing all year round food and protection. It produces food in the form of blossom and berries; shelter and protection in its close branch structure; fallen leaves rot down and encourage worms; worms are good for the soil and food for the birds that end up nesting in the hedge the following year

Loads of spring bulbs

Plant them everywhere under hedges, in lawns, around trees -everything benefits from bulbs- just go wild with them

A few other tips

Log piles are fantastic looking as a natural garden feature and set the right tone. Cheap, attractive, great habitat and environmentally friendly what more could you ask for

Install a green roof on the garden shed and leave space behind them for piling up leaves, twigs and compost; garden seats can have logs stacked underneath them too.

Gabions are great and can be packed with virtually anything that provides food, shelter, nesting materials and hibernating niches.

A small naturalpond is important so long as it has sloping sides and plenty of stones around it

Wildflower meadows are good but need more space and unless you use wildflower turf they can be difficult to establish.

Where possible keep existing trees, if you heavily prune them stack up the logs at the base of the tree and put up bird boxes

Try replacing any fence panels or coniferous hedges with native species hedges or at least plant wall shrubs or ivy so that it becomes a habitat not just a fence screen

Bark mulch paths are more natural than gravel or paving slabs

 Unless the garden is already established it may need time to get going so try to save any mature trees and shrubs even if you remove them later on when the new planting establishes itself. Perennials, bulbs and log piles are pretty instant. Try not to disturb any existing habitat. If you are planting a new hedge that is exposed to the neighbours or road try installing hazel hurdle panels to screen off neighbours whilst it is establishing itself.

 Colin Knapman BSc (Hons) Garden Design