Call of the Wild: Design Your Own Wildlife Garden

Ponds, bird feeders and other natural elements can help lure critters to your garden.

Beautiful, Lush Meadow

Beautiful, Lush Meadow

Bright greens and pinks fill the meadow's landscape with beauty and natural color.

Photo by: Donald Pell and Keith Gibilante

Donald Pell and Keith Gibilante

Gardens are a prime resource for insects, birds, and amphibians. Whether yours is a city patio or a sprawling rural plot, there are simple ways to create a refuge for native wildlife without compromising on aesthetics or practicality. 

Many garden perennials attract bees with their pollen- and nectar-rich flowers, and although encouraging butterfly breeding is more difficult, the adults make a beautiful spectacle clustered on buddleja and sedum. Birds will feast enthusiastically on the berries of ornamental shrubs and in winter, perennial seedheads are appreciated by gardeners and foraging finches alike. Large shrubs and evergreen climbers create safe nesting sites, and small trees provide vantage points for birds checking for predators. 

Ponds will also attract a host of creatures from frogs to dragonflies, but if you don’t have room, provide water for drinking and bathing. Long grass, compost heaps, and log piles can harbor insects and invertebrates—a crucial food source for birds. Plant a rainbow meadow of highly decorative, insect-friendly flowers.

Key Design Elements for a Wildlife Garden

  • Winter food plants: Plant a range of fruiting shrubs, trees, and climbers to cater to visiting migrants as well as local residents. Plants like holly, rowan, honeysuckle, and crabapples are also highly ornamental.
  • Bird feeders: Pick a location that has shelter from airborne predators but that won’t encourage cats to wait in ambush. Remove stale or moldy food, which can cause fatal poisoning, and keep feeders clean.
  • Nooks and crannies: Dry-stone walls and bundles of pruned twigs and branches known as eco-piles provide habitats for a range of creatures. Don’t disturb in the winter, when hedgehogs and queen bumblebees hibernate.
  • Green roofs: Turn a flat roof into prime insect real estate. Ensure that the surface is waterproof and well supported before laying pre-planted sedum matting or buying plug plants and creating your own ground cover.
  • Ponds and water: Even tiny pools can accommodate a frog or two and provide drinking and bathing water for birds; larger pools can support many species. Sloping sides allow safe access, and marginals and aquatics offer cover.
  • Insect nests: Provide a nest site for mason bees or a hibernation station for ladybugs and lacewings by filling pots with hollow bamboo stems, or fit a purpose-built box. Position in a warm, sheltered spot.
  • Nest boxes: Wild birds often lack nest sites, so position a range of boxes around the garden. Attach to trees or climbers on walls, or fix beneath the eaves of a shed or other garden building in cool shade.

Other Additions to Consider:

  • Long grass: Allow areas of long grass for the benefit of butterflies, mammals, and amphibians.
  • Mini woodland: Create a fast-growing, shady woodland habitat with close-planted silver birch. 
  • Bog garden: Attract insects and provide a home for amphibians with moisture-loving bog plants.
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