Primarily, your garden is about you and your family.
It’s about summer fun, beautiful growing blooms and having an outdoor space to decompress in. Depending on your preference, it can be low maintenance or it can be a constant whirl of cultivation of home-grown vegetables. Given that gardening itself is so beneficial to your health, it’s no wonder that every year millions of us give over time to our gardening dreams.
It’s your space – so, of course, there is nothing wrong with being selfish. A garden should be your private sanctuary from the world and you should enjoy it as such.
But what if it could be your own private space… and give a helping hand to something else? By something, I mean wildlife.
We all know that this is a perilous time for earth’s creatures. We know that the natural habitat of polar bears is changing thanks to much press interest – but the same change in the way of life is happening for all species. With the creeping spread of urbanization, land that was once reserved for nature’s little beasts is being removed from their ownership.
While we’re not at the point where foxes and hedgehogs are endangered, things always start small and then get worse. Perhaps it’s time to fight back before the problem becomes too severe.
It’s possible to make your garden a haven for wildlife without any huge compromises on your outdoor space. In fact, some of the ideas below may complement your overall theme and appearance of the garden.
We know everyone is busy, so I have chosen a few different ideas that require differing amounts of time to install. There are a few low-maintenance options if that’s important to you, and some that will take a little more time. Whichever you choose to do, know you are making a valuable contribution to sustaining our natural wildlife – and getting a nicer, more ecological garden as a part of that.
Option 1 – Open Up A Bee Hotel
You may or may not be aware of this, but bees are going through a rough time of it. The problem is being referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder, and it’s every bit as terrifying as it sounds.
As certain Hollywood films have made clear, humans as a species are pretty reliant on bees to sustain our way of life. Their role in pollination means that, frankly, our entire farming system can function. With bee numbers reducing at a terrifying rate, it’s definitely worth doing what you can to support them.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to go full beekeeper – though kudos to you if you do! The simplest way to contribute is to install a “bee hotel” in your garden. These can be pre-bought or made yourself, take up little space – and make a real difference.
If you want to try your hand at making your own, there are plenty of options and guides online to consider. Try and use sustainable materials where possible – wooden pallets are a good place to start. If you’re planning on keeping the hotel in a sheltered location that it won’t get rained on, then even old toilet roll inserts can be used to create places for bees to nestle.
Bee hotels are ideally placed near to flowers, as the potential guests will be naturally attracted to this area anyway. If you don’t have a full flourishing garden, then just a few pots of pretty flowers placed beneath the hotel will draw attention.
Of course, it might be tricky going through the recruitment process for a bee concierge and bee wait staff, but these are the decisions we make. As for dealing with the BeeTripAdvisor reviews…
Option 2 – A Wildlife Pond
The benefit of a wildlife pond is that you can help many species at once.
The difference between a wildlife pond and a normal pond is the way you treat it. A normal pond, used for decoration, usually needs careful maintenance to keep it clear and support any fish that you decide to put inside of it. A wildlife pond is more allowed to go wild, attracting natural inhabitants rather than those that you purchase.
There are some basics that unique the two. You’re still going to need to keep the water healthy, so a large pond aerator is a requirement. And while low maintenance is one of the benefits of this kind of pond, you need to sweep it for leaves and debris every few weeks.
The first step to creating a wildlife pond is the sides of the pond. It’s all too easy for small creatures such as hedgehogs to fall into a pond and then not be able to get out. If you slope the sides of the pond and use a non-slip material, you will avoid the tragic sight of those who didn’t make it out.
The pond should be set into the ground and surrounded by greenery. Logs are a good option, too. It shouldn’t take too long for local creatures to set up home in the area – all the things you would usually try and prevent with a conventional pond at now welcome. Before long, you will see an invasion of newts, toads and a variety of flying insects making them home. You can even invest in some snacks for these creatures if you want to encourage them.
Water plants are a great option both for look and style. We all know about water lilies, but there are plenty of other choices if you want to try something different. For extra ecological points, pick a native plant rather than an exotic import – it helps to keep the whole vibe more authentic.
Option 3 – A Haven For Winter
Hedgehogs are in decline. The erosion of their habitat is a major issue in this. The time a hedgehog is at its most vulnerable is over winter when they enter into a months-long hibernation period. Choosing a place to hibernate safely has become more and more difficult – so why not have a few options in your back yard?
Hedgehogs don’t need much to hibernate. Warmth and an enclosed area will do it. You can buy specially-designed plastic winter wonderlands, or DIY it if you have similar materials to hand. This is surprisingly simple to do; warmth is best achieved using straw or a similar material. For an enclosed space, nothing is so inviting as an old shed with little else in it.
As for attracting hedgehogs, so they know it’s there, use cat food. Despite common practice, hedgehogs and milk are not a good mix. A light, wet cat food is far preferable – and the smell is far more enticing. Try encouraging them into your garden in late summer, with the hope they will associate it with good things. This makes them more likely to be comfortable to shack up for the winter.
One tip: try and make the entrance to your hedgehog hidey-hole as small as possible. Badgers are a natural predator of hedgehogs, and you’re unlikely to get any spiky friends if they suspect a badger can invade the area.
Finally, if you see a hedgehog out and about in the daytime, remember that’s a bad sign. They are likely unwell, or in the best case scenario, have gotten confused. Best to collect them up and take them to your nearest hedgehog rescue for a check up.
Option 4 – Fox Feeding Frenzy
Most of us are aware that foxes are scavengers, so the idea of having to feed them might seem strange. The truth is that while foxes can and do find their own food, sometimes they need a little help. This is especially true in an urban environment where natural resources have dwindled.
Once again, it’s cat food to the rescue. Get into the habit of setting out a little cat food late at night at a particular time. Foxes are creatures of routine, and if they learn that food will be prepared at an appropriate time, they will wait for it. Over time you can use scraps from your own cooking (provided it’s safe for foxes to eat) to keep them healthy and makes things even more sustainable.
If you’re going to be inviting foxes into your garden, it’s worth remembering they can do damage as well. Protect any beloved plants with fencing to ensure they can’t get into it, and always provide plenty of food. If there’s something on offer from an easier source they won’t want to go scavenging, so if possible, give more food than you think they are going to require.
For all of the concerns about them, however, seeing foxes frolic in your backyard is one of the most rewarding things in the world. They are beautiful, inquisitive creatures so make the most of them – and all the other wildlife that the ideas above are going to let you help. Wishing you a fantastic wild garden with a nod to conservation too!