Where garden wildlife meets garden design

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!

Where garden wildlife meets garden design

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Well, phew!, hello everyone. After two years of weekly blogging, I've just been AWOL for three weeks as I encountered something I never have before - life filled beyond the brim.

In my day job with RSPB, the project I've been managing - helping the Environment Agency undertake the largest realignment of the open coast ever undertaken in Britain - has been reaching conclusion. It's nothing to do with gardening, but is all about giving nature a home, so you might like to see a short time-lapse piece of the breach taking place here or the little video I made about it here.

And in my spare time I've been volunteer editing a new 600-page book about the birds of Sussex.

So what about my beloved gardening? Well, I've been writing about it for the RSPB's magazine, and my monthly column in Garden Answers. But you can imagine my angst at not being able to do hardly anything else!

But at least I managed an hour to check out Piet Oudolf's garden at Pensthorpe nature reserve in Norfolk. For anyone who isn't familiar with the name Piet Oudolf, he is hailed as the most influential garden designer of the last 25 years because of his use of plants. In fact, like in art, he is even part of a movement - the 'New Perennial' movement.

And I love it because it happens to be rather good for wildlife too.

Probably best if I jump straight to a couple of photos I took:

Yes, this was early October, and look at all the flowers for pollinators (eg Persicarias, Echinacea, Sedums) and all the grass seeds and all the structure for things to hide in. I love it.

And these are the types of plant that can then be left standing as frost-capped seedheads all winter, providing ongoing shelter and food for wildlife.

There are beds designed by Piet at places such as Wisley (Surrey), Scampston Hall (Yorkshire) and the Serpentine Galley (London).

But it's something that can be tried, albeit on a smaller scale, in most gardens, with the right plants grown in drifts and blocks, interspersed with grasses.

Have you tried it? Do you like the look of it? Let me know.

  • hi Cirrus

    I'm not going to allow you to feel inadequate :-) you're already doing things to help wildlife, and we're all 'on a journey' here (I think that's the modern phrase), learning as we go. Keep tuning in here, I cover lots of the plants that are great. And I really would say that herbaceous perennials are one of the godsends of wildlife gardening - get ones that like your garden (and ones which are brilliant for wildlife, of course) and they'll come up bigger and better for wildlife each year.

  • Thanks, Karin - I'll have you as my agent ;-)

    I suspect the seedheads in the first of my photos are of Salvia verticillata.

    Is a gravel path ecological or sustainable? Of course Pensthorpe has to have a surface that is usable for thousands of visitors, and in my view it is probably the best solution they could use. More ecologically sound than a sealed tawfrmac surface, and water-permeable too.

  • Cirrus, Adrian's book, (RSPB) Gardening for Wildlife is wonderful and even a fun read! I've been taking notes all the way through it (nearly done - started on the "Top 400 Plants" at the end finally today!)to help me create a wildlife community garden in East London but it has tips for small (or big!) suburban home gardens as well. If you're not a note taker I'd say it's a great book to own :-)

  • Lovely! Adrian, what are the plants left standing for their seedheads?

    And, is a gravel walkway very ecological or sustainable? What kind would be?

  • I like the look of it! Feel very inadequate to do anything remotely like it in a suburban garden :( but I really do need to consider selling and moving now so maybe in a new place ........   I am going to bookmark this Blog so I have reference to the plants  but if you could recommend a place where  I could obtain some practical and relevant information in regard to managing a small suburban garden in a similar way, I'd be grateful.

    I leave my buddleia seed heads on the tree and leave my shrubs a little wild and woolly for insects. But I'm not a youngster any more so things really do need to be 'practical' for me.

    I am passionate about nature and would love to do better than I am.

    Thanks in anticipation of any practical help.

  • Scamspton Hall is a wonderful garden and very close to RSPB Bempton -so it would be a shame not to visit both. RSPB Fairburn Ings is not far away and RSPB Old Moor and RSPB Saltholme, both with Wildlife Gardens (and good cafes), are within easy reach.