AS WELL As growing native wildflowers in your garden, there are plenty of other ways to encourage and support a fascinating assortment of garden wildlife. Here are just a few ideas to get you started!
Provide water – you don’t need a large garden or a pond to provide water for birds, insects and small mammals. A large saucer, such as the ones designed to stand pots in, can make an invaluable drinking-spot for a wide range of creatures. Site it in a sunny spot and place a handful off egg-sized pebbles in it, to give landing-places. Fill it with muddy water, and remember that adding a little sugar and animal manure can supply extra nutrition for insects.
Build a small log-pile – dead wood is a vital habitat, occurring naturally in forests but all too often cleared away in neat domestic gardens! Choose a shady spot for your log-pile, and dig a shallow hole to ensure that some of the wood will be below ground level. Avoid disturbing it once it’s finished, and allow the wood to rot naturally. Fresh logs can be added to the top of the pile occasionally, and surrounding it with a selection of native wildflowers will turn it into an attractive garden feature.
Put out some natural bird feeders – they look much better than manufactured ones and they’re fun to make! Add a mixture of seeds, chopped nuts and small pieces of dried fruit to some melted lard or suet, using two parts of dry material to one part fat. Pack the warm, pliable mixture in between the open scales of a large pine cone, ramming it in as tightly as possible. Hang the cones about 150cm (5ft) above the ground, where they’ll provide a valuable food source for smaller garden birds. For the larger varieties, thread some apples or pears onto a hoop of florist’s wire to make an attractive fruit ‘wreath’ that can be hung from a tree.
Make a simple toad shelter – all it takes is an old clay pot, laid on its side in a shady place and half buried to create a dome-shaped hide. Toads are fascinating reptiles that spend the hours of darkness hunting for insects, and they have a particularly keen appetite for slugs – they can eat thousands of them during the course of a single season.
Help your hedgehogs – they’re shy and reclusive, but they eat large numbers of slugs, snails and other garden pests. Piles of leaves and dried grass can provide them with shelter and a place to hibernate, and an occasional meal of dog or cat food during the autumn will help them put on fat to survive the winter. Hedgehogs can live for up to six years, and avoiding the use of slug pellets and other garden chemicals will maximize their lifespan.
Encourage earthworms – as well as aerating and conditioning your soil, they’re a superb food source for ground-feeding birds, particularly during the colder months when berries and seeds are not available. Attract worms by working plenty of organic matter into a patch of ground, and avoid using any chemical-based products in the immediate vicinity.