It’s a running joke between my husband and I…
I can’t resist an orchid at the petrol station, the grow-your-own bulbs at the supermarket, the exotic-sounding shrubs at the local nursery.
Unfortunately, my love of green, growing things is not matched with the skill for keeping them alive. I forget to water or water too much, leave the plants too long in the sun or perhaps the shade and generally watch in despair as the flowers fade swiftly followed by the rest of the plant.
But this year, I’m determined for things to be different.
As we’re slowing adding a few minutes of sunshine to each day, I’m starting to see the first signs of snow drops and daffodils beginning to push through. My thoughts are turning toward my own patch of garden and what I can try this year.
I’m not alone either. There’s been a near-steady rise in the amount of money we’re investing in home and gardening tools in the United Kingdom. A report from Statista shows that UK households purchased approximately £1.65 billion worth of kit to keep our homes and gardens looking good.
My decision to jump into gardening isn’t just because I love beautiful things. It’s also one way I can do my part to protect the natural environment and ensure biodiversity in my patch of West Yorkshire continues to thrive.
And at a time when natural disasters, divisive politics and global threats dominate headlines, getting outside and pottering about in the garden may be just the thing to help shore up my mental wellbeing.
Here’s how to turn your garden into a wildlife haven
Provide food and coverage for birds
This winter I’ve been experimenting with different bird feeders and types of seeds. I’ve managed to attract robins, blue tits and blackbirds with a few dedicated squirrels.
According to the RSPB, salted nuts are a no-go as is stale bread due to dehydration and choking hazards. A selection of sunflower hearts, nyger seeds, suet, mealworms or peanuts will attract different bird species. It’s important to keep the food fresh – only putting out what can be eaten quickly – and the bird feeders and tables clean to prevent the spread of diseases.
Birds prefer to have coverage when they’re eating too, so position your feeders near hedges or trees if possible.
Let your grass grow long
The days of short-cut lawns and military precision hedges are gone. Natural is in. The experts tell us that letting our lawns grow long is better for bio diversity, providing food and shelter for birds and insects.
I know this will be a contentious issue in my household, so I’ll be recommending a hybrid-model where the natural patches are decoratively placed and my husband can still maintain the tidy lawn he loves. I’m looking forward to seeing wildflowers like daisies, buttercups and clover along with the bees, butterflies and other insects that should enjoy the protection of longer grass.
Provide shelter for wildlife
My garden fence is post and rail so plenty of room for wildlife, like hedgehogs, to get through. But if your fence panels go all the way to the ground, be sure to add a hedgehog gravel board so they can cross from garden to garden.
They love dense undergrowth and logs which serve as natural corridors and shelter. I’m also starting to eye up where I can install a bird box and my next rainy day craft is going to be building an insect box from a recycled plastic bottle and bamboo canes.
Create a wildlife pond
Wildlife need access to fresh water to drink and bathe – rain water is best, not from taps. But creating a pond ecosystem means you could also be creating a home for frogs, newts, dragonflies and other species. Depending on the size of your garden and your ambition, you can make a pond of any size and dimension. I’ll likely be starting small, possible with an old washing up bowl.
Wildlife need to be able to get into and out of the pond, so make sure you have sloped sides leading up to the pond and stones or bricks inside to create various levels. Oxygenating plants help produce oxygen through photosynthesis, which helps keep the water fresh, and tall plants provide somewhere for insects and frogs to climb up on.
Plant trees and shrubs
Not only good for adding height and dimension to the space, trees and shrubs that will blossom in the spring and provide berries in the summer and autumn are ideal for birds and pollinating insects.
I’m partial to rowan and hawthorn as well as Guelder rose but privet, apple and pear will also do the trick. If you have a wall or trellis structure, give climbing plants like wisteria, pyracantha or honeysuckle a go.
The promise of turning waste from my kitchen and garden into rich soil that will help anything new grow better is compelling. But this is probably the step I’m most daunted by. I’m finding Huw Richard’s YouTube channel full of common sense advice.
His easy method of putting together a compost box and 2-to-1 equation of brown compost material (dead, carbon-rich items like leaves and shredded paper) and green compost material (live, nitrate-rich items like animal manure, kitchen scraps and grass clippings) make it feel accessible.
I’m looking forward to the longer days and more time spent outside as I experiment with my garden this year. What are your garden plans for 2020?
Words by Julie Reid