Smaller gardeners, give us your tips!

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!

Smaller gardeners, give us your tips!

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Do you look at gardens at places like Chelsea and Hampton Court and wish yours looked just as immaculate?

The thing is that while many of us would like to see lots of wildlife in the garden, we'd also like our gardens to look nice.

And I think that those of us with smaller gardens have a particular challenge in that respect, and some photos I took this week illustrate this nicely.

They are from the Bishop's Gardens in Chichester, a wonderful public garden.

And when you look at the herbaceous beds, they look fantastic - all billowing flowers and foliage in a beautiful tapestry.

The thing with a large garden like the Bishop's is that while our eye is drawn to the overall effect, if you look closely at areas more representative of a small garden, you begin to see bits that just would look sloppy or unkempt.

For example, in a big garden, beds can afford to have gaps where things have been removed or have yet to be planted, like below - the eye just passes over them to the bits that do look good.

Likewise your eye moves on quickly where plants have gone ragged, like this Hyssop with its bare heart...

...or this Lychnis coronaria that has flopped over a path.

But in a small garden you'd notice all these flaws. Everything is under the microscope, week in, week out.

It makes the choice of plant all the more important in a small garden. Ideally you need plants that have a long flowering season, and don't go scraggy once over. And of course you want them to be good for wildlife too.

So come on 'small gardeners' (ie those with small gardens rather than those who are vertically challenged) - what are your perfect wildlife plants for a small garden?

  • Betty Chant

    Lovely comments, I have a small garden and try to grow lots of wild life friendly plants. I find our herb garden has been attracting all the flying insects but this  year not many butterflies. At this moment the phlox which are now nearly over are still attracting bees especially the bumble bees.

  • RoseMarsh, they sound fab wildlife triangles! Perfect mix of plants - and Small Scabious is so much easier to control than Field Scabious, don't you find?!

  • Hi Oxeye Daisy

    I so agree with you that changing mindsets would be a great outcome. The only problem is that many people I speak to like the idea of gardening for wildlife, but the urge to look like they care about their garden, and that human desire for 'order', overtakes. So it is ideas like yours for mowing paths through the grass to create that kempt feel that are so important.

  • Aubrietia is very good early nectar plant for butterflies, mine is  smothered by Marjoram at this time of year but with still the odd flower showing.  Last week  I saw a Green Veined White butterfly seeking these out, but then it delved under the Marjoram.  Thinking it may be caught in webs I went over, and found it laying eggs on the new Aubrietia growth.  They have since hatched onto minute caterpillars.  It must be quite unusual to have a good 'garden' flower that is also a good nectar source and a larval food plant!

  • If in doubt use lavender, lavender and more lavender.  Easy to take cuttings and grows quickly too.  I also have  loads of Californian poppies which just keep coming more each year.

  • We bought two native wildflower mats: they couldn't be easier to put in and would fit most gardens.  We have had masses of blooms since the beginning of June.  Correspondingly my moth trapping has gone from virtually nil in April and May, building up through June until I have regularly had 300+ moths from 50 to 60 species in July.  Late summer blooms are coming through now and hopefully will carry the numbers through until September. Butterflies are still in short supply.

  • Maybe one advantage of a small garden is that it is easier to stake plants so they don't fall over. In a small insect border, triangle shaped - each side about 2 metres long, I have 2 Hyssop, numerous Small Scabious, 3 Coreopsis 'Moonbeam', 2 Bloody Crane'sbill, 2 Dame's Violet, 3 Devil's bit scabious, 1 Marjoram, various annuals like Poppy and Night-scented Stock and some Gladioli (cos I like them! - though they do attract bees). There are a couple of Red Clover plants in pots so I can control them and split them easily! The taller plant are staked so they don't overwhelm the smaller ones and there are flowers available right through the insect season. But hardly any butterflies this year and even the numbers of bees and hoverflies are right down :(

  • The most important thing is to completely change your mindset. Why does the garden have to be "neat"? Plants aren't made up of straight lines.

    If there are any bits that worry you just now, because they look bare, or have no flowers, go and look at them more closely. Most of the time you'll find that there are insects thriving there - they don't share your craving for a neat garden.

    If you want to convince passers-by that you are being positive, and not neglectful, cut a few paths through the foliage with a lawn mower.

    Then you can have the same good-looking and nourishing plants as a big garden, e.g. knapweed, thistles, dock, as well as the smaller ones.