Sunday, 20 April 2014

How To Garden For Wildlife: Native Plant And Flower Lists And Some Useful Tips And Resources

I've been a country girl all my life and am married to a country man. We both grew up on farms surrounded by woods and valleys and my nearest neighbour was the next farm a mile away. A track from our farm led directly into the wood and the lane was 3/4 of a mile away from the farm.You could see for miles around, but the only sounds you'd hear were the cows and sheep in the fields and the wild things in the woods and field margins. We frequently got cut-off and snowed in in the winter when the wind blew five foot drifts across the track and sealed off the lane beneath eight foot of snow, and more than once we had to pull the sledge across the fields up to the village to get food.

Wildlife has always played a major part in my life. As a girl growing up in Sussex I knew where all the foxes dens and badger setts were; I knew where the stoats and weasels lived and what their tracks looked like; I knew where the kestrels nested and the rabbits had their burrows; I knew when the fox cubs were born and what time they would come out to play and where you could stand to watch them unobserved. I knew the names for the wild flowers that grew on all the banks near home and I knew the medical uses for many of the herbs. I knew where the King Cups flowered in the secret moat that was once part of the long-vanished ancient manor that had stood in the middle of the wood five hundred years earlier; I knew all the shortcuts across the fields to the village four miles away, and to the houses of friends. My sister and I spent our days riding our scruffy ponies through the woods and climbing the trees that grew in profusion around our farm, collecting eggs that the hens had laid in secret clutches in the barn among the hay, and raising swallow chicks that had fallen out of the nest too soon. 

I was quite introverted I suppose, in the sense that I was generally content to be on my own, and to this day I don't like crowds and lots of people. I tend to shun towns and cities and I like solitude and the countryside best of all. I need the time to reflect and be peaceful and absorb all the things that are around me. If I didn't have that connection with nature and natural landscapes I would quickly sicken. Being a healer is a natural extension of that; when you are quiet you can see more clearly; when you are peaceful your body works better, and when you are connected to the Earth you have roots that keep you grounded and steady, when the world around would toss you about.

M and I share a simple life philosophy: we grow as many of our own veggies as we can; we are careful about what we buy and consume; we look after the wild things that we feel we are custodians of in this place, and we try to live as lightly on the Earth as possible. We are gentle with ourselves and each other and our children and friends; we don't try to be perfect and we accept that as human beings we will from time to time make mistakes; that is part of our journey through life, and it includes simple things like planting the wrong species in the garden and needing to take it out and try something else instead.

The land around us here has more wild untouched spaces than is usual to find in the South of England, and as a result we are blessed with a rich diversity of wildlife that we come into contact with on a daily basis. This is everything from the owls that call at night, to the vole and the grass snake who have both become resident in our garden in the past year.
Part of that is down to observation- if you don't look for things you miss them- but a lot of it is supported by the land around the house which is unfarmed, unworked and therefore free from the kind of heavy and persistent chemical load that much of the rest of the country has to deal with. 

There are mature Oak trees near us as well as lots of Sallow, Alders, Hazel and Birch, and I have recently persuaded our neighbour to plant up more native trees next door. Their presence definitely helps the wildlife, and there are also acres of land nearby which have over the years become semi-scrub and now hold a wide variety of native plants as well as nettles, docks and brambles- plants we consider invasive weeds, but which are crucial to so many of the wild things we share this planet with. 

This year I am taking all of that a step further and giving the garden a complete audit and overhaul to reflect a fully-functioning Wildlife Sanctuary. It's been a very interesting exercise so far, going round the garden with a notepad in hand and writing down everything that I see. It's connected me to the garden in a way I hadn't been before and it is exciting because it makes you really notice what's growing - things change with the seasons and in a week new plants have emerged that you had forgotten were there.

This is very much an evolving plan and has been conceived as such. It is in part informed by my ecology studies, part from previous knowledge, part from things I have learnt from the wonderful and informative blogs that I read, and it is flexible, to allow for some things to work and others not, but that's fine- it is about growth and learning, rather than sticking rigidly to plans that are only allowed to move in one direction. I like the freedom that is inherent in that approach and I think we are more likely to do well if we listen to the garden when it tells us where it wants something to be, as well as where it doesn't. I have accordingly spent a lot of time outside recently talking to the garden, explaining our plans and waiting to see if I get a sense of where things should be as a result (which I have, often).

Our garden here is reasonably large and it is divided into distinct areas. The soil type is clay. The garden has full sun on one side (where it can get really hot in the summer), mixed sun and shade on the other. The bank in the front is a damp environment as are the ponds.

What follows is a list of what we have here so far. Some plants have been here years, others have been added in the eight years we've been here and still more I have acquired this Spring. Please feel free to use them as inspiration for your own planting- all have been chosen for the benefit they provide to wild things, especially our pollinators (bees, moths, butterflies). If you don't have a lot of space there is still so much you can do to make a really big difference to wildlife- a few pots with wildflowers or herbs, a window ledge with the same- the bees and butterflies will find you, and so will other insects that the birds in turn rely on.

My focus here is very much on native wildflowers, with some leniency on the strict definition of native as 'plants that arrived after the last ice age without human assistance'. I have been reading some interesting articles recently about current research on whether wildflowers need to be native in order to benefit our wildlife and that is throwing up some interesting results, so I am bearing that in mind in my choices. If you've got time this is the article in question and it also talks very positively about the impact gardeners (especially urban gardeners) are having in the fight to save Bumblebees, by planting specific things in their gardens. It is immensely encouraging.  I'll put some other useful links in at the end of the post.

Here are ten Key Points that will make a big difference to wildlife in your garden space: 

1. Get some water in your garden. If you don't have room for a pond then a dustbin lid with water in will still make a huge difference to garden wildlife for drinking and bathing.

2. A pile of sticks or rotting wood will be an enormous help to invertebrates- an old tree stump is ideal, just stick it in a corner and leave it alone and the inverts will do the rest.

3. Leave an area of grass (or your whole lawn) long or longer- butterflies lay eggs in long grasses, inverts need them for cover and moths feed on them. If you can manage a 1m square area you can then record what you find growing there each week- you'll be amazed at what is in your lawn if it's allowed to grow.

4. Source seeds carefully- there has been a big problem in the States recently with garden centers selling seeds pre-treated with pesticides :-( The Bee Keepers Assoc have joined up with seed sellers here to put their stamp of approval on bee-friendly products, and there are many reputable nurseries who only source British seeds. The important thing is to check.

5. Don't use chemicals or pesticide treatments on your land. You'll kill all the bugs :-(

6. Be careful when  buying flowers- many varieties (especially double-headed) are useless for wildlife as they have been bred to look pretty and contain no nectar and/ or are impossible for bees and butterflies to get into :-(

7. Try to think differently about plants we've grown up considering weeds. Cornflowers were once thought of as agricultural weeds and were all but eradicated as a result. A weed is just a plant growing in a place people don't want it. We're getting around that here by giving 'weeds' their own space to grow (although I have to say I don't see any plant as a weed, especially because it tends to be wildflowers that are so called and they are my favourites).

8. Put out water/sugar mix for bees during winter and spring (50/50 mix) in the tops of lemonade bottles among your flower beds. Some Queens come out early (sometimes mid winter), get exhausted from flying and can find no nectar to restore their energy. Sugar and water solution is an excellent way to revive them.

9. Try to get some winter-flowering plants in as well- winter honeysuckle, winter jasmine, Christmas rose are all good ones.

10. Leave spaces under fences for hedgehogs and frogs to pass between gardens.

Right, here's the list of what's growing in our garden where.

1. Driveway
2x cherry trees
hawthorn hedge
michaelmas daisies 
goat willow
common fleabane
2x hydrangea
lady's mantle
herb robert 

2. Front Garden
i) Border 
2x daphne

ii) Veg Patch 
guelder rose
Johnson's blue geranium (cranesbill)
blueberry bush
herb robert
whatever veg M is growing (leeks, broad beans, salad, beetroot, onions)

iii) Front path area
2x dwarf daphne
3x clematis
lady's mantle
common fleabane
enchanter's nightshade

iv) Wildflower Meadow (in process) with pile of logs and an old tree stump for insects

v) Side Border 

vi) Front Bed

3. Patio 
i) Corkscrew willow
great willowherb
shepherd's purse

ii) Patio pots (containing this year mainly native British Wild Flowers as a trial for the meadow)
lady's bedstraw
salad burnett
scarlet pimpernell
birdsfoot trefoil
blue pimpernell
common toadflax
night flowering catchfly
wildflower mix
polemonium (brise d'anjou)
various herbs

iii) Elder tree, hawthorn hedge with ivy

iv) Insect House

v) Butterfly feeding station

vi) Greenhouse

4. Back Garden (hawthorn, ash and holly hedge. Also has two apple trees)

i) Small side bed
rosa rugosa
variegated holly
snakeshead fritillary
wind flower

ii) New bed by bamboo

buddleia (davidii white profusion)
honeysuckle (lonicera pericylmenum serotina)
french lavender (stoechas)
witch hazel (hamamellis jelena)
ribes (sanguineum king edward VII)
wallflower (erysimum bowles mauve)
lithodora (heavenly blue)
saxifrage (triumph)
mossy saxifrage (elf rose)
phlox (amoena variegata)
erigeron (karvinskianus profusia) - a fleabane
2 hellebores (lady assorted)
lavendula augustifolia (munstead)
camelia of some sort

iii) Small compost heap
rosebay willowherb
great willowherb
hedge woundwort
jack in the hedge

iv) Wildlife Pond
Silene (rolly's favourite)
Sedum (Dragon's Blood)
Verbascum (apricot pixie)
Scabiosa (bright yellow)
Salvia (nemorosa caradonna)
Nepeta (mussinii) 
Alchemilla (goldie)
Trifolium (repens purpurascens)
Arum Italicum
Yellow water iris
water forget-me-not
corkscrew rush
geum (mrs j bradshaw)
ragged robin
Water Lilly (white sultan)
birdsfoot trefoil
marsh marigold (King Cups)
v) Fish Pond
purple loosestrife
ragged robin
scabiosa (chile black)
achillea (cerise queen) 
wild marjoram
field scabious 

vi) Big Compost Heap 
variegated holly

vii) Bed by the fence (mostly to be used for annuals which are currently being grown from seed, with a few permanent shrubs. Currently contains....)
dwarf cherry (prunus incisa 'kojo-no-mai')
geum (totally tangerine)
veronica (tissington white)
peony (sarah bernhardt)
ranunculus (purple heart)
ranunculus (cafe caramel)
night scented stock
night scented phlox
lonicera x2 (not sure of varieties)
jasmine officiniale
rosa rugosa

viii) Top of garden by fence boundary
purple buddleia


birdsfoot trefoil 
wild marjoram
red clover
ground ivy

ix) Along clinic wall
purple rose
everlasting sweetpea
lesser celandine

x) Along top of fence
lesser celandine 
meadow cranesbill
red dead nettle
field speedwell 
lords and ladies
caryopteris (clandonensis 'Worcester Gold')
red campion (silene rollo's favourite

xi) Rear veg patch
everlasting sweetpea
2 x roses 
whatever veg M is growing (runner beans- visited by the Hummingbird Hawkmoth last summer :-)), potatoes, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, courgettes, squash)

In addition to these we have lots of seeds currently growing in the greenhouse:
christmas rose
ox eye daisy
evening primrose
poached egg plant (limanthes douglasii)
angel wings (schizanthus)
bronze fennel
everlasting sweet pea
M's veg

There are more wildflower plants growing wild in the garden than those that I have listed, but until they start flowering I can't ID them with any confidence, so I will be revisiting this as the summer progresses. Also, it's worth remembering that wild flowers prefer nutrient-poor soils and that they can lie dormant in the seed bank in the earth, sometimes for years, until the right conditions allow them to germinate. Many need to undergo several cycles of frost and warmth before they germinate, so keep checking your lawn and wild spaces because things can and do appear unexpectedly.

Thanks for bearing with a Rather Long Post. I hope it proves useful to you and that there are some things of interest among the list. I will do more posts on the creation of the wildflower meadow as we learn more about it and set about achieving it. In the meantime, I'll leave you with some references that I find useful.

Have a good rest of the weekend all and a peaceful week ahead.

CT :-)

Useful Wild Flower And Wild Life Gardening Resources.... (has a list of bee-friendly plants) (has a list of plants good for butterflies and one for moths) (has a plants for pollinators section) (wildflower seed supplier) (useful tips including a section on making wildflower meadows) (great page on wildlife friendly gardening)
Suffolk Herbs (01326 572456)- wildflower and herb seed suppliers (sometimes available in garden centres, reasonably priced). 
'Wildflowers for wildlife' book by Jenny Steel
Collins 'complete guide to british wild flowers'
New Holland 'concise guide wildflower guide' (a small pocket-sized guide that has a handy pull out section with the most common wildflowers colour coded)
'The Flower Expert' by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
'The Flowering Shrub Expert' by Dr. D.G. Hessayon


  1. I started off determined to create a wildlife sanctuary here. In practice though it's them or us, especially with the mice. And the slugs. Their sheer numbers make it very hard to grow our own food, I have battled with it three years now.

    We have large areas of 'weeds' and I am happy for the woodland to be au naturel. But our very long drive looks dreadful. It is covered in grass and moss and would be impossible to clear by hand. Mike has started to spray which does cause me some concern. Do you know of anything that is completely safe for birds etc.? Keenly felt by me because the pheasants frequently graze there.

    1. For some reason my reply has shifted down the page! I don't know of any wildlife friendly sprays- best thing is to google it, or email/ phone your local wildlife trust, they'll be able to advise :-)

  2. We put out some food for the foxes each night and we think that they have a den in the next door garden as they are taking away mouthfuls of food and returning very quickly for the next lot. The chap next door is a little eccentric and the garden is very overgrown. What I wondered was when about do the cubs come out of the den as I would keep an eye out for them.
    We have volunteered to cut this chaps hedge for him as we didn't want anyone coming around with a chainsaw disturbing the foxes, I'm not sure if he knows that they are there. how crafty we are. lol

    1. The cubs are usually born in March and start to venture out a month or so later, so they could well be out and about now. When I was growing up we had foxes in the woods opposite the house and they would periodically snatch one of our hens, which wasn't great, but watching the cubs playing in the evening sunlight each Spring was magical :-)

  3. Thank you for all this information, we are doing quite a bit already what you have said, the hole in the fence at the bottom of the garden brought Hedgehog back in, I stopped using Slug pellets years ago. Have water, rotting wood and leaves, different trees and flowers. There is always things we can improve on, work in progress . I was very interested in what you said about seeing were your seeds and plants come from, had never crossed my mind before. Will look at this with more detail.
    Thanks Amanda x

    1. That's great about the hedgehog and just shows what a difference these things make. How great to have one in the garden- we don't here and I'm not sure why.
      So glad the post was useful x

  4. Not long or boring at all me dear, thank you for posting such an interesting and informative piece. It will be of great use to me in the coming years with the new allotment and the possibility of a new garden if the best laid plans of mice n men come to fruition.

    1. You're very welcome John. I think your new allotment project is a really exciting one and I'm looking forward to reading how it progresses over time :-)

  5. Lovely post CT :) There is nothing more satisfying than creating a garden that is good for wildlife :) Its such an exciting ongoing process too as there are always new ideas to try :)

    I'm really excited about the wildlflower container idea - can't wait to see how our pots develop. Look forward to reading more of your wildflower meadow.

    1. Thank you for the seedball link- I've now sown one of mine in the ground at the top of the garden and will put the other one in what will become the wildflower meadow. An experiment this year to see what wants to grow, which, as you say, is all part of the fun. I shall be keeping a closer eye on recording species this year too. How are you getting on with your recording? Such an interesting and useful thing to be involved with. Will you submit your records at the end of the year or is it more for personal interest? :-)

  6. I'm going to do point 8, as I never thought of that, but have set the garden up for wildlife fairly well so far and leaving the patch of grass wild has been great for the orange tailed bees, and lacewings. Great post.

    1. I'd not heard of leaving sugar water out for the bumbles during winter and early Spring either until recently. Such a simple and easy thing to do that could make such a big difference. Glad to have passed it on :-)
      It is fab when you get to see the results of something as straightforward as leaving a patch of grass longer isn't it? I know your garden is already a wildlife haven and look forward to swapping more tips and experiences again this summer. Blogging is so useful for sharing that kind of practical info.

  7. What a great post!! Have noted down some new plants that will help the wildlife in our garden.
    We are doing ok helping the wildlife, I think, we have 2 ponds, many, many frogs!!! and tadpoles, bird feeders and boxes, areas of rotting wood and overgrown areas, we've seen this week a large hedgehog munching on the fallen bird food and a wee mouse doing the same.
    I would love to encourage more butterflies and bees into the garden, so will be planting for them.
    Thanks again for the post, brilliant
    Love Linda O xxx

    1. Hi Linda,

      I'm glad you found it useful. Great to hear about all your wildlife and I am VERY jealous about the hedgehog- I'm pretty sure we don't have one here :-( The best plant for butterflies is probably buddleia and you can find them in most garden centers reasonably priced- worth getting if you don't already have one. You can prune it back hard in the autumn to keep it from taking over :-)

  8. This is such a useful and interesting post, CT. I feel like you do about being outside, I wouldn't be happy out of the countryside now (although I have done my stint in a city) Thanks so much for all the links as well. Bumblebees on are on my mind at the moment and you've added something here I'm going to write about too, it's great to share information to help them. And your point about British seeds is so important as well, I've read that US seeds can be treated with pesticides banned by the EU.

    1. Glad it was helpful Wendy. I think it was your blog I first learnt about the pesticides on seeds from- extremely useful to be able to share that kind of info and pass it around.


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x