If you’re not the type with a green thumb, wildlife gardening might not be your priority, but there are some compelling reasons why it’s worth being more thoughtful with planting. your garden.
“The climate emergency and increasing urbanization are driving a biodiversity crisis, with many species in rapid decline, especially insects,” says award-winning gardener Tom Massey. “We can all help by providing habitat and food sources in our gardens to support local wildlife.”
It’s not just good for the planet – opting for modern garden ideas that attract more wildlife to your garden could also improve your own well-being. “Studies have shown that access to nature, especially in cities, promotes well-being and general calm,” says Rachael Davidson, Director of HÛT Architecture, “which is especially important post-pandemic.” The dopamine kick of seeing a garden full of color and buzzing with life is something hard to replicate, plus it’s an incredible resource for educating your kids and engaging them in the natural world.
Attracting insects will attract birds, but your garden’s planting needs go beyond providing pollen-rich flowers to a truly biodiversity-rich space. “This means choosing flowers and planting not only for their appearance – also taking into account their shelter properties, habitat potential and the food they provide, be it flowers, berries or fruit,” suggests Tom Massey.
Whatever your motivations, a few simple choices when planting and maintaining your garden can make all the difference. Here, landscapers and gardeners offer their top tips for designing a garden that appeals to bees, birds, and other animals.
1. Choose varieties with open flowers
When it comes to choosing plants for your garden, not all flowers are created equal when it comes to their appeal to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. “Plants with large, open flowers that allow insects to feed properly will attract bees and insects more than a very showy ‘closed’ or ‘double’ flower,” says Ben Stein, Managing Director of Hos Landscapes.
Varieties with open flowers are easy for insects to access and bursting with rich pollen and nectar, making them an alluring prospect for pollinators.
2. Plant a wildflower meadow
If your gardening style is less manual maintenance and more negronis to drink in the garden, wildflower meadows are a good flower bed idea for a ready-made habitat that attracts bees and other pollinators. This is because they are full of these varieties with open flowers.
Whatever your gardening prowess, wildflowers can suit more garden styles than you might think, says gardener and author Arthur Parkinson. “Wildlife gardening has the stigma of being messy – where you let it all loose. It has its place, but providing insects with good flowers can still actually be very formal,” he says, making animal gardening a viable option when planning a modern garden.
3. Mow the lawn less
The easiest thing you can do to help? Mow the lawn less – a benefit for reluctant gardeners and bees. Campaigns such as No Mow May highlight the benefits of keeping grass taller during key times of the year, while also benefiting those looking for low maintenance garden ideas.
“You can embrace a long lawn by mowing around its edge with a path through to give it a more useful look,” Arthur suggests. “With a taller lawn, you will hopefully have things blooming in the grass like clovers and buttercups within the first year of leaving the mower behind. Then you can mow it in the fall.
4. Top off an extension with a green roof
Not all gardens have the space for lawns, especially in cities where outdoor space is scarce. Not to mention that if you decide to build an extension, an outdoor room, or even pave to create a new terrace, it is usually at the expense of the green spaces in your garden. However, ideas such as window boxes, green roofs, and vertical gardens are all urban gardening ideas that can offer a way to “re-green” these small spaces, introducing planting to otherwise underutilized areas.
“When it comes to planting a green roof, you want high impact and low maintenance,” says Ben Stein of Hos Landscapes. “Bright, colorful sedums are a hardy, drought-tolerant species that can be purchased pre-grown in rolls and laid out.” They are also popular with pollinators, including bees. Wildflower rolls are also well suited for green roofs and easy to install.
In addition to creating a habitat for insects, green roofs can help reduce the “urban heat island”, helping to better regulate the internal temperature of your extension.
5. Try vertical gardening in small plots
For gardens with a limited footprint, taking your garden vertical can help pack in more plantings. While living walls are often depicted with leafy botanical plantings, there’s no reason they can’t also be planted with flowers to attract bees, butterflies and insects.
There are several types of living wall systems, but be aware that maintenance can be a lot of work. Professional systems require irrigation, and if you specify a living wall from a specialist company, they often come with maintenance contracts, which ensure your living wall stays at its best with expert help.
6. Plant ivy as a bee-friendly climber
Green walls may have design appeal for many contemporary homes, but there are even simpler ways to continue your quest for a perpendicular biodiverse garden.
“Green walls are expensive to install and high maintenance as they require constant irrigation,” says Tom Massey, “but climbing plants such as ivy are a great alternative, even on a shady wall.” Ivy will bloom in early fall with nectar-rich flowers – and is one of the most attractive plants in the garden to bees.
7. Create an herbaceous container garden
Even if you only have a few garden pots to play with, there are ways to maximize your garden’s appeal to bees. “Grasses are an infallible group of plants that attract bees,” suggests Arthur Parkinson. “All the mints, thyme, sage, rosemary and marjoram will be adored and the scent will be wonderful too.”
Herbs are also a great candidate for planters – ideal for apartments, kitchen windows to complement your store cupboard and also anywhere a breeze through the window might carry the scent of your herbs of choice. Don’t overlook scent when it comes to designing sensory garden ideas.
8. Choose strains for year-round flowering
You should also plan for a range of flowers across all seasons. Early winter, mid-summer and fall are important times for gardens to be full of nectar and pollen. “With climate change, we have weather that wakes the bumblebees earlier, so early flowering winter cherries, hellebores, simple snowdrops, winter aconites and crocuses can be really crucial,” explains Arthur.
“Early winter, mid-summer and fall are important times for gardens to be full of nectar and pollen,” he continues. “Then, over the long months of late summer and fall until the first winter frost, single-flowered dahlias, cosmoses, heliotropes, coneflowers, sunflowers, asters and salvias are all incredibly well received.”
9. Soil Disturbed by Seeds
For a quick flower fix when you have disturbed ground, such as construction work, try self-seeded varieties. “A number of seeds can be set to self-sow with amazingly beautiful results,” Arthur explains. “Pollen-rich borage, opium poppy, cerinth major, calendula, phacelia, and Linaria are all good options.”
10. Provide trees and hedges to provide shelter
While it’s easy to focus on flowers when gardening wildlife, trees and hedges also have a role to play beyond pollination. “Trees also provide shade in the summer and a home for many. Dwarf rootstock apple trees will tick all the boxes, especially if you have a medium to large sized garden,” suggests Ben Stein of Hos Landscape.
In terms of hedges and shrubs, hawthorn is a particularly good choice for providing both shelter and pollen-rich flowers that bees love.
11. Introduce water to a garden
“Any amount of water in the garden will be a beacon for wildlife,” says Ben, “and if you can plant it with oxygenating pond plants such as Ceratophyllum demersum, it will help maintain a suitable environment for frogs, insects, birds, and of course fish.’
Birdbaths should be shallow with slanted, rough edges so they can grab it with their claws. In ponds and waterholes, it is important to ensure that you incorporate an escape route for water, so that any wildlife that enters can safely escape again. A few rocks stacked against an edge should do just fine.
12. Create an insect hotel
Creepy, crawling soil bugs are an important part of your garden ecosystem, and there are a number of ways to encourage them into your space. “Fallen branches or cut logs from trees in your garden will begin to decompose and become home to millions and millions of life forms, including fungi, bacteria, worms and insects,” says Ben.
“It’s easy to give a little corner of the garden to a pile of logs and watch it support an evolving ecosystem or an insect hotel.”