Wilding Your Town Garden
Video: Not everyone can have a stream running through their garden - but we can all enjoy abundant wildlife.
Wildlife gardening and garden wilding is clearly picking up steam. And why not? All of us love the idea of wildlife and conservation and safaris. So why not do it at home? We can’t all have streams running through our garden (see video above at Exeter’s inner Capability Brown gardens) but we can all do wildlife conservation - starting in our backyard! Any backyard will do - even a small town garden.
The BBC series Wild Isles is inspiring millions with the excitement of wild landscapes and stunning animals on our very shores. Sir David Attenborough once again makes wildlife conservation ‘cool’. But few of us realise just what we can achieve in our town gardens - a place so far removed from our ‘Wild Isles’.
Spanning over 30 years the town wildlife garden pioneer Jennifer Owen tried to identify every species that she observed in her average, suburban garden in Leicester. She managed to find 2,673 species, including 94 species of hoverfly, 375 species of moth and 442 species of beetle. Her list even included several species of tiny wasp new to science! Who would have imagined that small town gardens could be so rich with wildlife?
We should not forget that there is wildlife in every garden - no matter how tiny it is and whether we garden for wildlife or not. And yet, wildlife gardening can be done - and is best done - throughout the garden. You can even house wildlife in pots!
Wilding your garden is about creating an eco-space that supports a wide diversity of plants - so helping to do your bit to tackle the biodiversity crisis while also making your garden so welcoming that nature’s passers-by and existing residents want to linger. Each species of wildlife has its own particular criteria and needs with a few specific habitat requirements - which is why rewilding helps by creating a self-regenerating patchwork of habitats using a bio-diverse ecosystem approach.
Towns and cities are increasingly adding miniature municipal garden boxes and tiny ground gardens on sidewalks that are packed with wild flowers, pollinating perennials and small shrubs. Some even house small trees. It is amazing how much diversity you can pack into a small space. The more we connect these tiny municipal gardens to create corridors for wildlife the better.
Because different species have different needs, there are all sorts of ways to garden for wildlife, each of which will benefit some wildlife but none will benefit all. Rewilding is the broadest approach and most systemic system for tackling the biodiversity crisis - but it is not for everyone. Instead, you can achieve a great deal by merely providing cover for wildlife while leaving wood around to rot into the ground to support and breed bugs and other animals. You can also simply add more pollinating plants while keeping a small area of your grass wild.
Small trees can add structure, cover and flowering as well. They will also clean the air and remove carbon. You can layer underneath them with wild shrubs, grasses and wild flowers. The insects, bugs and birds will love you. The tiny garden below was 2.5 metres by 1 metre. That’s one small wilderness!
The more flowering and pollinating plants and trees you have the more insects and birds you will attract. Unfortunately the much used and much loved Magnolia tree does not support pollinators when it flowers. Many other flowering trees and shrubs will though. The wild cherry tree is a safe start for many settings.
Predators come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t have to be lions or tigers for those of you that love a good hunt. A dragonfly will put on an equally great show and fit better in your town shrubbery!
Most wildlife needs more than just your town garden - what surrounds your garden matters as well and will prove to be a key influence on the kinds of wildlife that travels though your garden and even those that make a home in your space. Try to understand what special wildlife your local environment supports so you can connect to them.
Wildlife gardening is not hard and there are a number of great books out there to help you on your way. The key is to start small and keep it simple! Keep in mind the balance of macro habitats you are trying to combine:
And try to have something flowering each month of the year. That way you get to enjoy bugs, insects and birds 12 months a year. Conservation starts at home. Try it this spring - and you might even get to sit in your very own mini LettsSafari one day!
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Wilding Your Town Garden