Wild Garden: a Place for Wild Animals

Get yourself a wild garden:

Transform your perfectly moaned and neat backyard in a safe haven for wild animals, where you can observe the wonders of backyard biodiversity.


It’s amazing what you can see in a backyard if you take the time to observe!

I am not a gardener – believe me! But I enjoy so much having a beautiful bird or a butterfly visiting! There are a few easy things you can do - even if you don’t have a green thumb or if you have very little time – to make your backyard wildlife friendly.

You can even actively provide a range of habitats to increase your chance of having garden animals!

"The most important thing, as I am constantly saying, is to think about small ways in which we can make a difference — every day. And people lucky enough to have gardens can truly make a difference by maintaining the land in an environmentally friendly way."

Jane Goodall

And if you think your garden is too small to make any difference to wildlife - think again!

Taken together, all individual gardens cover very large areas. For instance, in the UK, all the private gardens together cover more area than all National Nature Reserves. Doesn't seem so small now, hey?

We can claim back gardens for wildlife - one garden at the time, stating with yours!

Plant Native Trees and Bushes in your wild garden

The perfect food for wildlife

Before there was your house and your garden, there was a natural environment. The plants that were growing were from the area – just stating the obvious here – and the wild animals of your area liked these plants.

So when you choose what to plant in your garden, it’s important you respect this and chose only what is called native plants: which means plants that used to grow where you live.

All animals in your area will naturally come toward these plants.

garden-butterfly

A small treasure of life: seeing a butterfly in your garden...

With native plants you can do no harm

If you stick to native, local plants, you won’t be introducing invasive species, which are plants from other parts of the world that have no business being here (except that humans love moving stuff around!).

These plants can escape your garden (this is the story behind many invasive species) and colonise the environment. There, invasive plants can literally choke the ecosystem, killing other plants and animals that depends on them.

Invasive plants are actually a huge threat to wildlife, so please be very careful of what grows in your garden!

Native plants are the best suited for your area!

If you only use plants that are from your local area, it also means they are adapted to your climate. That’s great news, as they will have a better chance of surviving without constant attention – if you are time poor or don’t have a green thumb like me.

Local plants will also need little or no watering: they are already used to the rainfall of your climate! Thus you are saving water.

Have Lots of Structure in your Wild Garden

When you go in National Parks or other wild areas, you notice there is lots of complexity in Nature.

There are:

  • tall trees forming a canopy way up,
  • smaller trees and tall bushes,
  • small bushes, sometimes so dense you can’t go through,
  • small scrubs and grasses - not cut low but let alone to flower and seed,
  • hollow and rotten trees with holes, tunnels and lots of little insects under the bark,
  • rocks covered in lichens and mosses,
  • leaf litter, twigs, sticks...

But if your garden is made mostly of a nicely neat lawn, mowed every two weeks, with nowhere to hide and nothing to eat, wild animals won’t see it as a potential home.

So try to have different areas in your garden, keep the low cut grass for playing, and leave maybe some corners with tall grass.

Plant some trees, and don’t mow below them, leave the dead branches, leaves etc.

You can also have the edges of your backyard made of lots of different bushes and flowering plants.

garden-butterfly

Select plants that have a particular relation with your local butterflies

Select the plants in your wild garden:

  • to be in full bloom at different time during the year, so that there is always a wild restaurant open,
  • to be of special interest for the butterflies of your local area (there is often a strong relation between certain plants and certain butterflies),
  • to have different types of flowers, berries and structures, to provide food for all taste and shelters for all,
  • and increase biodiversity by selecting as many different species as you can fit.

 

Some of your grassy areas you might want to transform in a meadow of wild flowers. Don’t use fertilizers though, as meadows grow on nutrient poor soil.

If you have a wall in your garden, encourage creeping plants to colonise it, and there you go, another wild habitat. Lizards might also like it and live in the cracks.

Limit your Use of Herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers

Herbicides

Herbicides are toxic molecules used to kill. And they do just that! They can kill plants and animals, especially all the insects that are benefiting your backyard – by pollinating flowers for instance.

Try to get rid of unwanted plants mechanically – yes, that does mean getting on your all four and pulling them out!

In paved areas and paths, you can get help from boiling water.

You can use mulch to prevent unwanted plants from coming back to your wild garden.

Mulch is great as it also feeds insects and worms, thus creating food for birds, as well as improves your soil. Finally mulch prevents water loss by evapotranspiration and keep temperatures down, so there is more moisture available for your plants.

Pesticides / Insecticides

Note

Frogs are very sensitive to any toxins in their environment. The use of insecticides and herbicides has been directly linked to frog decline.

Pesticides are used to kill small animals that some people see as not desirable.

The problem with that is if you kill the small animals (such as insects), then garden animals that feed on them, such as the lovely birds you wish to attract to your wild garden, cannot find their next meal!

And if birds, lizards or hedgehogs do find and eat a poisoned insect, snail or slug, this can in turn poisoned them.

Also there are lots of insects that are beneficial to your wild garden, as they provide free services: they pollinate flowers, recycle matter to make it available to plants...

If you have done a good job at attracting a wide range of wildlife by creating different habitats, a natural balance should take place in your backyard. As some backyard animals eat others, you shouldn’t see an explosion of one animal species, instead they should all regulate each other and be kept in control.

Red-triangle-Slug

Stunning red triangle slug, a peaceful lichen eater

Fertilisers

Fertilisers tend to be washed away with the water and are a big problem for our waterways. Rivers and ultimately the sea become too rich and algae bloom occurs when too much fertiliser is washed away...

Algae blooms are disruptive of the ecosystems and a danger to wildlife.

Instead of fertilizers, compost your organic matter (from kitchen waste) and use this as a natural way to enrich your soil.

Add a Water Feature to your Wild Garden: a Bird Bath or even a Pond

All animals need water and wildlife will be very thankful for it!

A bird bath is a delightful way to spy on birds doing their cleaning rituals. Keep the bath full and clean to be even more attractive.

Be careful not to place the bath in an area where birds can be attacked (for example by cats).

If you have room for a pond, this will create habitat for many more wild species! As lots of our swamps have been destroy – often to create housing – garden ponds play now an important role for amphibians in particular.

A figure often quoted is that in the UK, 80% of all ponds are now in private property!

Don’t introduce alien predators in your pond: goldfish for instance! They will eat any wildlife eggs, thus destroying your effort to increase your backyard biodiversity.

If you want step by step advice on how to add your very own pond for wildlife to your wild garden go to this "Make a garden pond" page.

lorikeet_bird-bath

Colourful lorikeets (Australian parrots) in a tree next to their bird bath

Boost Wildlife in your Wild Garden: Add some Homes

Protecting Bats

See why bats are important for the ecosystem.

While you are creating home for wildlife be careful not to create traps in the same garden.

Choose bat safe ways of protecting your fruits if you don't want wildlife to eat them: HailGurad or shade cloth.

Netting create cruel deaths.

If you don’t have old, large trees with natural hollows, that could take a long time for you to get one: hollows develop in 100s of years!

But you can get yourself an artificial wildlife home, such as a lovely wooden nest box.

Birds, bats, amphibians and reptiles can benefit from nest boxes. Depending on where you live, squirrels, possums or opossums too. There are different designs available to cater for different species.

Be sure to place the nest box high enough (4 to 8m) to avoid predation by cats, dogs, foxes or rats.

You can also built (or buy) insect hotels or wildlife stacks. You never heard of it? It's all in the name: use recycled material, bricks, plywood, pallet, and build a tower, fitting each storey with twigs, leaves, logs, stones, pine cones, etc. And watch the little insects move in!

Keep your Pets Under Control in your Wildlife Friendly Garden

How horrible it would be to have tried so hard to encourage wildlife back to your garden, only to see it eaten by your beloved pet!

Consider restraining your dog and cat at night, when lots of animals are out and about.

There are also ways to prevent cats from preying on birds and small mammals – many die victims of cats each year (300 million birds and mammals are killed annually by cats in the UK, for example).

Find more on how to be a mindful pet owner.


As more of the true wilderness is lost every day, we can all put back a little bit for wild animals, by transforming our backyards in wild gardens.

And in the process, what a peaceful and educational area we can created for ourselves and our family!