A year ago I lived in a property inside one of Glasgow’s southern parks, a park full of British native trees, rows of bulbs in spring, and grass left to grow wild. The mornings were introduced by the melodies of birdsong which was subsequently met with the hum of commuters scurrying to stay in time with the tick of the clock – urban life and wildlife finding ways to coexist.
Now, a year on, I am on a new build development surrounded by farmland and wildlife. On the development itself however, there is not much wildlife to be seen. The gardens are small and getting increasingly smaller but they are full of potential and if we were to tap into this potential on an individual scale, collectively we would create a more bio-diverse and wildlife friendly landscape across both old and new, urban and suburban areas.
There is a notion that having a garden is high maintenance but this is a misleading statement; it will only ever be the maintenance level you desire it to be. A small garden can become the foundation of a place that supports wildlife with only a little upkeep necessary. All that is needed is a few simple ideas and a little patience.
Here are a few ideas I began with in my new garden, and whilst some human intervention starts it, nature will take care of the rest.
Plant a Tree
Trees are simply incredible. Their leaves generate vast amounts of energy converting sunlight into sugars and they exchange atmospheric carbon dioxide for oxygen, storing the primary greenhouse gas as carbon (Adams, 2019). They can stabilise soils, absorb excess water, help in managing air temperatures, and offer protection from both rain and hot sun. It is remarkable for the environment and with a plethora of native species available to us, we can plant trees that have flowers, fruits, nuts, and pollen as well as providing safe habitats. A birch tree, Betula spp., for example, can offer a habitat to over 300 different insects as well as birds.
Planting a tree is the one area of the garden that can take the longest time to mature. Do not let this put you off though as the tree will develop and mature alongside the gardener.
One of the most productive ways to go about finding the right tree for your garden is to take pictures of your garden and its boundaries and take a trip to your local plant nursery. The nursery will be able to advise you on what tree is most suited to your space and region.
If you think that you do not have the space for a wildlife pond, or the time and know-how to create one, then think again. A container pond is easy to construct, easy to maintain, and will reward your garden over and over again.
Water is an important dimension to the garden; on a psychological level water promotes a sense of calm and tranquility, and on an aesthetic level, whether it be wild or manicured, water introduces a reassurance that the garden is providing. The wildlife that a pond encourages is vast and the wildlife will certainly find it. In time different creatures will be present and the water itself will provide a valuable drinking and bathing spot for birds and mammals. After the first year an ecosystem will have developed and the garden will have new interactions.
I had huge amounts of fun constructing mine and I am still tinkering with it, specifically the access points. This is one of the most important things to remember. A shallow bank, created with bricks and stones, will be sufficient enough in helping wildlife move about the pond safely and a gradual ramp on the outside will help all manner of wildlife come in. A little chicken wire flush to some timber can help little feet grip!
Shelter should not be overlooked to provide excellent shade for the warmer months when the water heats up from the sun. To maintain the health of your water, buy a handful of oxygenators costing a couple of pounds to help in keeping the water oxygenated.
Climbers are valuable assets in the garden. Not only do they cover fences and create privacy but they can be an excellent source for habitat and food.
Climbers come as deciduous or evergreen and different varieties will flower at various times of the year. It can be worth investing in a broad variation of climbers.
Two climbers I have in my garden are Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’ and Hedera Helix, the common ivy. The clematis is deciduous and will put on a fantastic show of deep, carmine-red flowers from late summer to early autumn, attracting bees and butterflies whilst providing habitat. The ivy on the other hand is evergreen and will provide a habitat all year round whilst producing nectar rich flowers in autumn and berries in winter to extend the season of interest.
Plants are one of the first things we think about when it comes to our gardens and they are a huge part of the changing landscape throughout the year. Much of the visiting wildlife, such as bees and butterflies, are attracted to the nectar first and pick up pollen as they go, and there are a few things we can do in our gardens to help.
Simple structures and single flowers make it easier for insects to feed and the inclusion of a few plants with a ‘landing pad’ shape will help them move around your garden.
Bees see in the ultraviolet spectrum and make colour combinations from blue, green, and ultraviolet. A few pollinators from this end of the spectrum will entice plenty of bees to your garden. This year I planted Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ in two large clumps and the bees have not left it alone.
Plant for different flowering times so you have a successional flowering season to create a constant cycle for wildlife.
Finally, look for some dual use, kitchen garden must-haves. Herbs such as chives, rosemary, and lemon balm are all fantastic in the kitchen and if you leave some to flower, a huge variety of bees will be thanking you.
Andy Peasgood is a Principal Dancer with Scottish Ballet and a keen gardener. His performance career is fast paced and he finds balance in the garden with particular interests in planting, wildlife and design. You can follow Andy’s progress as he builds ‘A Garden from Scratch’ in his regular column in Scotland Grows magazine and keep up to date with him on his Instagram feed.