Colourful butterflies, song birds, busy insects - wildlife in the garden will give the whole family something to watch, listen to and learn about. And not only that, you’ll also be helping the environment by encouraging some of the rarer creatures to take up residence or feed in your outdoor room.
It doesn’t matter what size your outside space is, or whether you’re out in the countryside or the middle of the urban jungle – everyone can do a few small and pocket-friendly things to invite insects, birds or animals into their garden. Here are our top tips for getting furry, flying or feathered guests to visit your home.
Attract bees and butterflies with scented plants that will fill the air with colour and perfume. We recommend herbs, pollinating plants and wildflowers. Buddleja (or buddleia) is a particular favourite with butterflies, so much so that it's also commonly known as the Butterfly Bush, while lavender, rosemary and thyme are loved by butterflies and bees alike. Both look for open flowers with large heads making sunflowers a top choice as well. Many wildflowers, like marigolds, harebell and cowslips, work well in borders, or create your own meadow (or mini-meadow if space is tight) with our mixed seeds and wildflower turf.
Try to ensure that there's at least one plant flowering in your garden at any time of the year. This is great for bees, as rather than hibernating, they simply become less active in colder weather. So encourage them back into your garden on warm, sunny winter days with the promise of food with winter-flowering plants like crocus.
Fast-growing annual and biennial plants like sweet peas and foxgloves not only look amazing, but will also encourage pollinating insects – though you will have to replace them each year. Or why not try our Butterflies and Bees Seed Mix, which has been specially designed to attract insects that need nectar?
Add some climbers to your walls and trellis to encourage insects and birds to live or roost inside them – if it’s a climber that grows flowers, like a clematis, it will attract bees too.
For more advice on how to help butterflies and other pollinators, head to our One Planet Home article on our Garden Butterfly Survey.
Birds are an incredibly useful visitor to your garden that will eat up slugs, snails, aphids and caterpillars (so be wary if you want butterflies). They flock to plants and trees that produce berries and seeds for them to eat, like holly, spindle, firethorn and crab apple. And supplement their diet further with a bird feeder, making sure to regularly fill it with bird seed throughout the year.
Provide water for drinking, bathing and splashing around in with a bird bath - essential at both the height of summer and during cold spells in winter. Look for ones with a shallow dish, sloping sides and a rough surface to help grip, and set a few stones in the middle so that they can bathe easily. Situate close enough to bushes and trees so that birds can escape into them if they get alarmed, but do check that cats can’t use them as cover to attack.
Lastly, offer birds a safe spot to nest. Bird boxes should be up by mid-autumn as many birds will be looking to visit in the colder months. Place them between two to four metres (m) up a tree or wall, and, if possible, face them in a north-east direction as this is most likely to be away from strong sunlight and wet winds. Alternatively, shrubs and trees give birds nesting spots. Pyracantha, holly and berberis are all good choices and their berries will also provide bird food. Take care not to disturb nesting birds, do so by avoiding trimming shrubs and hedges between January and August.
As well as blocking out the noise of your neighbours or road traffic, a pond is a great way to introduce wildlife into your garden. Water is important to frogs, newts and many beneficial insects, and even the smallest of ponds can help to support a rich mixture of wildlife.
Your pond's position is critical to its success. It needs enough sunshine to keep the water warm as well as sufficient shade to discourage algae from growing. Don't plant underneath trees as leaf fall will lead to a thick layer of decomposing vegetation at the bottom of the pool, which emits methane gas - harmful to fish. This is especially true of yew, holly, willow and laburnum trees, as their leaves are poisonous to water plants and animals.
Design your pond so that it has 'a beach' – a pebble-covered slope leading into the water that will help any animals that accidentally fall in to climb out easily. It will also make the water easier to reach for smaller birds.
Regardless of the location of your garden, wildlife will appear within weeks of a pond being put in place. Frogs and toads have a marvellous ability to locate water and will soon make themselves at home. They can live quite happily alongside any fish you want to add to your pond, but do bear in mind that larger fish may eat any tadpoles that appear. If you do want to add fish, we recommend doing so in the spring.
Cats and herons are notorious for feasting on the inhabitants of a fish pond. To protect your fish from both, add a wire mesh net over the surface of the pond. And remember to supervise all small children who might be playing in the nearby area at all times.
Insects and worms are an important part of creating a healthy eco-system in your garden. Not only do they help with the garden itself, they are also a foodstuff for other animals and so should be encouraged.
A compost heap acts as an ideal home for them, giving you a place to get rid of all your unwanted vegetable peelings, tea bags and coffee grounds and the compost can be dug back into your garden the following year. Worms, woodlice, centipedes and even slow-worms love the warm, damp conditions, so be sure to place on soil, not landscaping, to ensure insects can easily access.
Start a compost heap at any time of the year. We recommend doing so in autumn, as the growing season is over and that way you can throw in all the old plants you have left.
Once a regular visitor to British gardens, hedgehogs are now a rare sight. A favourite with children, they’re also great for any garden – feasting on slugs and snails and other pests. In the autumn, leaving a pile of leaves in a quiet corner will encourage them to bed down. Be really careful if you’re having a bonfire, make sure that you build it on the same day as you light it, or else a hedgehog may move in.
Mason bees are incredibly important for pollination. Create a shelter for them by drilling holes (a mixture of 2millimetre (mm) to 10mm in diameter) into a piece of untreated timber and placing it in full sun at least one metre off the ground.
Alternatively, bundle bamboo canes about 20centimetres (cm) long together and pack into an empty plastic bottle with the base removed or an old plant pot. Hang this tipped slightly downwards to keep it dry inside and it will act as a shelter for bees and other insects. Put these up in August, ready for when it’s time for hibernation.
Where, when and how you use chemicals can have an impact on the health of your garden’s wildlife. So, if you’re using pesticides or other chemicals in your garden, follow the instructions on the label carefully.
Where possible, opt for non-toxic alternatives. For example, using a fine netting over vegetables is a chemical free way to keep pests away. And choosing metaldehyde-free slug control, like Earth Matters Slug Granules will ensure that hedgehogs will not be harmed.