How to Make Your Garden Climate and Wildlife Friendly for the 21st Century
Apparently, there are over three million gardens in Greater London but rather worryingly is the fact that many of these gardens are changing from green to grey.
You may wonder how this could be, but you only need to look at how many front gardens are now, unsurprisingly, becoming just a concrete area to park the car or cars.
With so many cars in London, it is little wonder that people are having to turn their gardens into a car park rather than the alternative of having to park miles away and then walk to their house lugging loads of shopping or perhaps getting a soaking after a long day at work.
Back gardens are also changing with decking and patio areas replacing grass as just one example, along with a trend to have more exotic non-native species of trees, plants and shrubs, which are of little benefit to our wildlife.
With the changing climate, we now seem to be experiencing hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters will also make our gardens much more important, not just for wildlife but for us too by providing much-needed shade, helping to cool down buildings, absorbing carbon and soaking up flood water.
The more nature-friendly gardens there are in London, the more quickly all the various species of wildlife can move freely across the capital, helping them also to adapt to the changing climate.
By just carrying out one of the following ideas below (as recommended by the London Wildlife Trust) you will be helping to keep London a green and living city that will be more resilient to climate change, which in turn will be better for us and better for wildlife.
Making Your Garden More Climate-Friendly
Any of the suggestions below will help to make a garden more climate friendly and cooler, this, in turn, will then contribute to reducing the impact of climate change in your local area and of course the more people that do just one thing, the bigger the benefits.
- Note where the hottest areas of your garden are and opt for drought tolerant plants.
- Try to water plants in either the early morning or evening as less water will be wasted through evaporation.
- A twice yearly mulching in spring and autumn helps not only retain moisture in the soil, but it also feeds and stabilises the soils temperatures, along with providing a habitat for various micro-organisms. Opt for an organic, peat free mulch and spread a layer of about 5-10cm in depth around your plants and trees. Avoid touching stems, bark and leaves with the mulch as it can burn.
- Lawns only need watering once a week; any more encourages the grass to become weak. Leaving the grass to grow a little bit longer will also mean the grass needs less watering with the bonus of it being greener than a lawn that is cut short.
- Using a watering can enables you to water directly where the plant needs it, i.e. the root, but should you need to use a hose pipe then please, do fit a trigger nozzle. Sprinklers and hose pipes use about five hundred and forty litres of water an hour.
- Install a water butt to collect rainwater, even better, install two or more if you have space and a large garden with water.
- Add a green roof to your shed or even your house. Making a living roof not only helps to stabilise the buildings temperature, along with absorbing rainfall, it will also benefit nature by providing them with additional habitats.
- Try to avoid constructing any impermeable, hard surfaces as they not only heat up at a fast rate of knots, they also increase water runoff, particularly after heavy rain. Instead, try to increase the amount of porous, soft areas in the garden by way of lawn or shrubbery.
- Pots and containers filled with plants on your patio or decking area will provide habitats for wildlife, allowing them to move freely across your garden as well as helping to absorb rainwater.
- Depending on the available space, plant one or two, preferably native, broadleaved trees as these will give wildlife shelter, food and nesting sites along with helping to cool any surrounding buildings. Native trees, plants, and shrubs will always give our wildlife much better resources than the non-native varieties. Also, do make sure that trees are not planted too close to any buildings, particularly if your soil happens to be clay. A good local tree surgeon can advise you on the best tree or trees for your garden, along with the best positions, will be able to source the best specimen and also do all the hard work by planting it for you.
- Another way to create shade is by planting a mixed hedge, again using as many native varieties as possible. Hedges also help link your garden to any other green spaces that are nearby along with providing additional habitat for wildlife. As with trees above, a good local tree surgeon will happily advise on the best species for your garden, source them and plant them.
Working With Neighbours and Nature to Benefit Wildlife
- Take a good look at your garden and notice the different habitats, along with their various needs. For example, areas that are sunny and hot are excellent spots for growing plants for attracting and providing food for butterflies, whereas those areas of a garden that tend to become waterlogged will make good boggy places.
- Hedge trimming is only to be carried out after birds have finished nesting and preferably after all the berries have been eaten too.
- When autumn comes around and if you can bear to, leave any dead flower heads as they provide birds with food, while the stalks provide invertebrates with nesting habitats.
- For those that like a neat, tidy garden, after sweeping up piles of leaves and debris do try and leave them for about an hour or so before clearing away to give any wildlife a chance to escape.
- A log pile can make a significant architectural feature along with providing a perfect habitat for lichens, fungi and stag beetles.
- Try and only use organic and peat free materials along with trying to reduce the amount of chemical herbicides and pesticides you need to use. One way to reduce their need is by opting for disease resistant plants.
- Make your compost using kitchen and garden waste with the bonus of saving yourself money.
- If you can, try and leave a few damp, leafy corners for amphibians, invertebrates and birds.
- Share ideas with your neighbours and local friends and try and get them interested in wildlife and climate friendly gardening.
- See if your neighbourhood offers a plant swap scheme.
- Be nosey – see what plants grow well in the gardens in your local vicinity, they will probably suit your garden too. Perhaps you can arrange some plant swapping.
Make Your Garden Butterfly and Bee Friendly
London has an extensive range of various types of habitat and along with it comes to a variety of different butterflies. For instance, in South London’s chalk meadows, you may spot dark green fritillaries, marbled whites and if you are very lucky, the rare, small blue – a very secretive butterfly indeed, while meadow browns can often be spotted in the long grass of parks and gardens.
Your butterfly border should be arranged against a south facing wall or fence to enable the area to absorb the heat of the day, thus giving butterflies the opportunity to warm themselves in the sun.
You could also place a basking stone at the front of the border for butterflies to rest. These can be purchased from garden centres or by upturning a large flower pot.
Try to have a mixture of flowers in your border as this will also provide a food source for a much wider range of insects and ensure that you opt for the single flowered varieties as doubles do not provide insects with much in the way of pollen or nectar.
You should try to have plants in flower from February through to November if possible as this is when butterflies are on the wing and hungry.
Another good reason for having a variety of flowers is that a butterflies taste in nectar will change slightly from year to year depending on what other food sources are available and also depending on the climate.
The next common flowers are some of the butterflies favourite:
Alyssum, Aubretia, Blackthorn, Bramble, Forget-me-not, French Marigold, Heather, Hebe, Honesty, Hyacinth, Ivy, Marjoram, Primrose, Red Valerian, Valerian, wallflower, Willow, Woundwort.
Buddleia, Campion, Chives, Cranesbill, French Marigold, Heather, Ivy, Knapweed, Lavender, Lobelia, Marjoram, Mint, Phlox, Privet, Ragged Robin, Raspberry, Teasel, Thistle, Wild Thyme, Yarrow.
Devils Bit Scabious, Ice Plant, Goldenrod, Honeysuckle, Michaelmas daisy, Nasturtium, and Verbena.
Caterpillars also need food along with the sunshine, with nettles being an important food source for caterpillars of the comma, red admiral, peacock, and small tortoiseshell. Place them in a pot (unless you do not mind nettles growing in your garden) and in a sunny position so that the butterflies can find them easily. In late June cut the nettles back, new growth will follow in time for the second batch of caterpillars.
The following plants are ideal for caterpillars should be placed in a sunny position:
Alder Buckthorn, Birds-foot Trefoil, Cuckoo Flower, Dock, Holly, Honesty, Hop, Ivy, Nasturtium, Sorrel, Stinging Nettles, Sweet Rocket.
While the grasses they like, which also need a sunny spot, are:
Annual Meadow Grass, Cocksfoot, Sheep’s Fescue, Timothy, Yorkshire Fog.
Moths could also do with a little help in the food department with Evening Primrose, Honeysuckle, Nicotiana and Night-scented Stock being an excellent source of nectar for these late night nibblers!
Flowers for Bumble Bees
With many of our lovely bumble bees being either rare or threatened, they too are finding themselves in need of our help in the search for nectar and the following; single flowered varieties are ideal:
Apple, Azalea, Bluebell, Borage, Clover, Comfrey, Dead Nettle, Flowering Currant, Forget-me-knot, Foxglove, Goldenrod, Gorse, Hawthorn, Hyssop, Lupins, Nasturtium, Primrose, Purple Loosestrife, Raspberry, Vetches.
Make a haven for Birds in Your Garden
London, with its varied types of habitat, is a great place for bird spotting, and there is a broad range of different birds.
For instance peregrine falcons can now be spotted almost anywhere over London, visit your local park to spot robins or the song thrush.
The thames for teals and herons, the nuthatch and greater spotted woodpecker in woodlands, listen out for tawny owls in Richmond Park, and the scrubby wasteland keeps an eye out for linnets and black redstarts.
Unfortunately, many of these birds, particularly the small ones that we all enjoy seeing in our garden are under threat from various predators such as cats, crows, magpies and squirrels to name just a few, and they are especially vulnerable in areas that have many tall, open trees.
If you are considering providing habitats for small birds such as the wren, blue tit and Robin then dense, thorny bushes, for example, blackthorn, make an excellent haven for them as these little birds can squeeze through the thorns but cats and crows cannot.
Alternatively, if your neighbours have bushes and small trees in their garden, then try and link any shrubby areas you have in your garden with these shrubs and trees as this will help to give birds protection on both sides of the fence.
The following trees and. Shrubs are ideal for providing nesting sites and food for birds:
Alder Buckthorn, Blackthorn, Dogwood, Hawthorn, Hazel, Holly, Juniper, Spindle, Wayfaring Tree, Wild Privet, Wild Roses.
Berberis, Climbing Roses, Cotoneaster, Currant, Firethorn, Lilac, Mahonia.
Native Trees of Medium Size
Crab Apple, Field Maple, Fruit Trees, Goat Willow, Osier, Silver Birch, Wild Cherry.
Native Trees – Large
Feeding Garden Birds
If you have decided to start feeding the birds that visit your garden, then do try and make sure that you do it year-round and not just during the winter months as they need to know where food is available whenever hunger strikes.
Image being a hungry bird and flying all the way to a garden only to find the table is empty!
Bird feeding tables and stations are the best and safest way to provide birds with food. Set them up away from places a cat can easily leap from, for example, trees and open fences and also make sure they are not placed too near any bird boxes you may have because birds can become very territorial.
Try to put them where you will be able to enjoy them and near any thorny bushes to give them some extra cover.
The following food will provide birds with lots of varied nutrients:
- Bacon Rind.
- Coconut halves.
- Fatballs in the winter only.
- Fruit and Berries.
- Lard Cake in the winter only.
- Leftover crumbs in the bottom of cereal packets.
- Mixed Grain in a loose feeder such as canary seed, millet, hemp, wheat and oatmeal.
- Oyster shell grit – this adds calcium to a bird’s diet and thus helps for building strong and healthy eggs.
- Peanuts in a mesh feeder (small birds can choke on nuts when they are fed loose).
- Pine cones dipped in lard – winter only.
Water is also vital, not just for drinking but for cleaning feathers too.
If you have room in your garden, then a bird bath makes an excellent focal point, but a shallow bowl placed out of harm’s way will make an excellent alternative.
Don’t forget to refill and change the water regularly, using as often as possible collected rainwater, along with giving the bath a regular clean out; birds are not the only ones who do not like using dirty bathwater.
Avoid Poisoning Visiting Birds
The legal standards for bird food are lower than that for humans. When purchasing bird food always check the packaging for Bird Food Standards Association approval. Corn, along with peanuts can be susceptible to a lethal fungal infection.
Clean your bird feeders and stations regularly. Do not use bleach or products with bleach in them and clear up any remaining food.
Make a Garden Pond
As well as making an attractive garden feature to sit and enjoy while drinking that hard earned beer or glass of wine, a garden pond is also a valuable resource for local animals.
Look out for pond skaters, water boatmen, frogs, toads, newts as well as damsel and dragonflies.
Don’t worry if you only have room for a very small pond as even small ponds can support a wide range of various wildlife, providing them with a place to drink, bathe and mate.
As well as being beneficial to us and nature, ponds can also help reduce the impact of climate change as they can store large amounts of carbon, just another good reason to have one if you can.
Of course, if you have small children or small visiting children on a regular basis, then a pond may not be a good idea.
Find the Best Spot for Your Pond
You will obviously position your pond where you can sit and enjoy it, while at the same time; it should be sited away from trees if at all possible and in a fairly sunny spot as this will encourage frogs and dragonflies to visit.
There is a lot of information on the internet about building a garden pond or contact your local tree surgeon as some will have a garden design team as well as offering tree surgery services but even if they do not, they will undoubtedly know someone they can highly recommend to do the work for you.
Something to bear in mind is that one side of your pond at least should have a good slope to it, animals can easily fall in, and this will provide them with an easy escape route.
A Home for Wildlife on Your Walls
Greening your garden walls is just another way to benefit the local wildlife and will, for example, provide further nectar for butterflies as well as cover and nesting sites for birds and insects.
The ideal way to green your walls is to use climbing plants, check the list below to see which climbers are best for the different facing walls you have:
North Facing Walls
Ivy – this is an excellent plant for wildlife, provides late nectar for butterflies, while nesting birds it gives evergreen cover and in fact, ivy can support around two hundred and thirty different species of wildlife.
Honeysuckle – this climbing plant provides berries for birds and nectar for butterflies and moths, along with having a heavenly fragrance.
Traveller’s Joy – this delightful climber provides birds with masses of stems to hide in as well as autumn seeds for nourishment.
East Facing Walls
Climbing roses – as well as looking beautiful, climbing roses are an excellent and haven for nesting blackbirds.
Hydrangea petiolaris – this climbing plant provides shelter for bats and birds along with nectar for butterflies.
Hop – the leaves of this plant are a food source for the caterpillar of the comma butterfly, as well as providing cover for birds.
South Facing Walls
Wisteria – the beautiful flowers of this climber are a rich source of nectar while the strong stems make an ideal site for summer nesting birds.
Grapevine – birds, moths and butterflies will all benefit from the fruit of the grape vine.
Figs – if you enjoy figs and don’t mind sharing them with the birds, then they can be trained to grow up walls (this also applies to other fruits too).
Bare walls – a bare south-facing wall will be enjoyed by basking butterflies, they just love to soak up the heat.
West Facing Walls
Clematis armandii – this climber provides evergreen cover for birds that nest during the spring along with some much needed early nectar for the bees.
Star jasmine – this lovely evergreen climber provides an excellent shelter for nesting and roosting birds.
Passion flower – with its stunning flowers, this climber is an excellent source of fruit and nectar.
Pyrocantha – an excellent source of food for birds by way of its berries provided you opt for the erect red-berried variety (e.g. P. coccinea).
A Few Handy Tips for Planting Climbers
- To ensure climbers and shrubs can get enough rainwater always plant them at a distance of at least 30cm from the wall or fence.
- Make sure to fix horizontal and vertical supports to your fence or wall for the climbers (birds often use these ledges to build their nests on too).
- Many people think climbing plants can cause damage to walls but in fact, they usually give protection rather than cause damage, just ensure they do not start growing behind drainpipes and gutters as this is where damage does arise.
- As soon as your climbers start to become too big just trim them back like you would a hedge to keep them neat and tidy and growing in their allotted space.
Add a Green Roof to Your Shed
Another way to increase the green space in your garden is by making your shed roof green. As well as providing you with an additional planting area and wildlife with extra habitat, a living roof can help to stabilise the buildings temperature along with absorbing rainwater.
Check out the internet for instructions on how to do this but do make sure that the roof of your shed is waterproof and strong enough to take the additional weight.
A few ideas for planting your living roof once it is all in place:
- Rather than do anything yourself you could just leave it to nature. Windblown seeds or seeds dropped by the local wildlife will soon start to colonise on your new green roof.
- Opt for drought resistant plants such as stonecrop and sedum whose flowers will also attract a range of various insects including butterflies and bees.
- Wildflowers and grasses are an excellent way of providing birds with seeds along with nectar for insects. The long stalks also provide winter shelter for many types of insect. To grow grasses and wildflowers, you will need to use a soil that drains well and is of low fertility. Sow seeds or use plug plants and don’t forget to water them until they have had a chance to become established.
- Insects such as the solitary bee and wasp will benefit from and area of crushed shells, shingle, sand or gravel.
Problems Caused by Pests and Wildlife
The aim of wildlife gardening is to try and create a balance of harmonious animals and plants and not allowing one species to dominate over all the others, with different wildlife problems being encountered depending on whereabouts in London you live.
For instance homes on the outskirts of London may have a problem with visiting deer looking for juicy, tender shoots to munch on while a newly built home in the middle of London may have a large snail problem. With a new home comes a garden that has yet to become established and therefore the snail’s natural predators, such as toads, birds and ground beetles will not have had the opportunity to establish themselves either.
Dealing With Problematic Wildlife and Pests
Once you have identified what is causing a nuisance in your garden, you will then need to see what products are available to deal with the problem along with deciding which products will best suit your requirements. You can consider any of the following options for example:
- Do absolutely nothing and let nature get on with it.
- Encourage natural predators into your gardens such as ladybirds and toads.
- Opt for using a commercial barrier.
- Place traps around the garden or just hand pick any pests off your plants.
- Use a biological controlling agent such as nematodes.
One thing to bear in mind though is that some commercial products are extremely bad for wildlife. For example, pesticides, which also includes the following: fungicides, insecticides, nematicides, herbicides and rodenticides, are all substances which poison all living organisms and by using them you are therefore spreading poison all around your garden. There are many alternatives available such as traps, barriers, parasitic nematodes and ultrasound deterrents which you may wish to consider instead.
The most common problems most of us will face in our gardens will be down to squirrels, foxes, slugs and snails. Below you will find some solutions for dealing with them.
Some people love to watch foxes and positively encourage them to visit their gardens while others find them an absolute nuisance, digging large holes in the soil when searching for worms to eat, jumping on and breaking down plants when playing, along with eating fruit and buds.
With the urban fox well established and here to stay there are a few things that you can do to discourage them from having a good time in your garden:
- Use mesh or chicken wire to cover any bare areas of soil you may have to prevent foxes digging holes (don’t forget to peg down the wire or mesh securely)!
- Foxes and in particular cubs, love to play with or steal things from people’s gardens and take them off to store in a hidden den so make sure you do not leave anything you value out overnight. I once found a hoard of soft toys and empty water bottles hidden in the bushes in a friend’s garden!
- Check out the various commercial deterrents available or perhaps consider an ultrasonic repellent.
- Foxes use Earth between October and January so check your garden for places they may make one, for instance, gaps under steps or a garden shed being a particular favourite. Before blocking them off do check that there are no foxes are in residence or fit a one-way hinge, this will allow them to escape, but they will not be able to get back in.
Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails can be the bane of many gardeners’ lives, and while some species will only eat rotting plants, other species will be after your young, tender leaves.
Slow worms, toads, frogs, many types of birds, ground beetles, lizards and hedgehogs are the main predators of slugs and snails so encourage them to become visitors to your garden to reduce their number.
While many people naturally reach for the various molluscicides or slug pellets that are readily available, the risk of poisoning all the different creatures that dine out on these molluscs is extremely high.
Also, using slug pellets close to any food plants you may be growing can poison them too, along with pets or children who are often attracted to them.
If you can avoid using these nasty things and follow our alternative ideas below, then so much the better for all concerned:
- Slugs and snails do not like plants with tough or furry leaves, herbs than have a strong scent or plants and grasses that are spiny and in fact many positively discourage them. Try growing, for instance, the herb, Rosemary, elephants ears (furry leaved) or red valerian (tough-leaved).
- Encourage the slugs and snails natural predators into your garden to deal with the problem for you, thus creating and natural and balanced wildlife garden.
- Sprinkle around any vulnerable plants such things as wood ash, pet hair, gravel or broken eggshells. Alternatively, use copper strips which give a little electric shock.
- As slugs much prefer moist conditions, consider growing drought hardy plants and use a free draining soil. Also, try to water your plants in the early morning rather in the evening.
- Vaseline around the lip of containers also makes a great barrier and even works around the stems of tall plants, for instance, sunflowers.
- Hand pick them from your plants and then dispose of them a good way away from your garden, or if you know somebody with chickens nearby, they will soon gobble them up.
- Grapefruit halves just slightly buried in the soil is a good way to trap those slugs that live on the ground or, if you do not mind drowning them, leave out some saucers of beer or purchase a commercial slug pub!
Squirrels are another garden visitor that people either love or loathe, particularly when they steal bird food or dig up your crocuses, so try the following:
- Plant daffodils or colchicums instead of crocuses.
- Try making a squirrel proof bird feeder or mix chilli powder in with the bird food. Alternatively, purchase a commercial squirrel deterrent to keep Squirrels away from your bird feeders.
Article was written by Karen Arnold.
Edited by Conner D on 01/07/2019.