We choose their plants with the aim of attracting, feeding or keeping wildlife safe in the garden. But it’s more than choosing the right plants, and more than a handy excuse for not doing any garden maintenance!
Most birds, beasts and bugs would prefer us not to garden at all, but allow nature to fill our plots with a riot of weeds and wilderness. If you’ve got space, you could do worse than part of it to go to the dogs (or the hedgehogs, blackbirds, lizards and bumblebees). But if you still want a garden – at least in part – you will need to be at least a little selective.
You’ll definitely want clumps of stinging nettles – the larval food source of many butterflies and moths, including the small tortoiseshell, red admiral and peacock. You will leave untidy piles of twigs and logs for wrens to nest in and toads to lurk under. Leaves will be left for beetles and centipedes to crawl though, and wet, boggy areas for dragonflies, damselflies and amphibians. You won’t worry too much if (when) it all looks a mess. Even slugs and snails will be a boon for attracting song thrushes.
Don’t worry if plants come up in the wrong place, or run to seed. Many birds will enjoy those apparently dead seed-heads in winter. We have developed a battery of sound ecological excuses for not being tidy gardeners!
- Seeding plants, such as teasels, milk thistles and wild oregano must be included if you want goldfinches and similar birds. Even plants with tiny seeds, like salad burnet are good and all these look dramatic in winter.
- Shrubs with berries for fruit-loving birds and mammals. This includes the “spare” fruits on your currants, raspberries and crab apples! Be aware the blackbird will have ALL your cherries – and windfall apples will be very welcome to thrushes, fieldfares and jays.
- Large-leaved plants, such as bistort, lungwort, elecampane and comfrey for amphibians to hide under.
- Nectar plants with long flower tubes for butterflies. Orpine, bergamot, valerian and Welsh Onion get many visitors.
- Evening flowering plants for moths. Try honeysuckle, evening primrose or sweet rocket.
- Plants with flat flowers for hoverflies, drone flies, and lacewings. Yarrow is a good one, as are tansy and coriander.
Bees deserve a page of their own!