Gardens differ hugely - a Japanese-style garden, and a quiet woodland part of Sissinghurst gardens in Kent
A perfect wildlife garden blueprint? Well – that would be handy wouldn’t it! You can certainly get the impression from media articles and TV that “if you follow my example you’ll have a garden buzzing with life”. But it really doesn’t work like that – and that’s a good thing.
a) Gardens vary in size. If you have an enormous garden you can set aside areas for woodland, meadow, ponds and boggy areas, pollinator paradises, big trees and shrubberies.
If like most of us you don’t, then you will have to make the most of what space you have got. This must mean some compromise since you can’t have everything. Let your own tastes and interests have control. If you love pondlife and amphibians, make a pond a priority. If it’s birds, make sure you have trees for cover and nesting, and plants with seeds and fruits. Pollinators like bees, hoverflies and butterflies are easily helped with attractive flower borders.
b) Gardens have different soils. If your soil is markedly acid or chalky, there are many plants which simply won’t thrive, so don’t try. Likewise, if your soil is thin, sandy or chalky it will dry out rapidly, so drought tolerant plants are best.
c) Gardens have different climates. Generally, the diversity of garden life declines as you look from south to north in Great Britain and as you go from lowlands to hillside gardens. True, there are some species which require the cooler conditions of Scotland – and these could be at risk as climate change pushes the range of all species northwards.
d) Gardeners differ enormously in their taste and gardening style. Wildlife is best seen as a partner in your garden design alongside other uses of the space. Some gardeners love a “natural”, slightly unkempt look, for others order and control are vital (see the "tidy garden" myth).
The result is that no two gardens are ever exactly the same. You will have one range of habitats and species in your garden, your neighbours will have others in theirs, and so the diversity across a whole neighbourhood will be very great indeed. This is perfect for wildlife and there will be much more diversity at the landscape level than there would be if everyone chose exactly the same blend of habitat patches and plant species.
This isn’t to rule out the fact that if we could ever persuade gardeners to work together rather than individually, there might be big gains for wildlife. Gardeners could cooperate to provide larger connected areas of some habitats, or larger patches of key plants enabling more species to thrive1..
1. Goddard, M.A., Dougill, A.J. and Benton, T.G. 2010 . Scaling up from gardens: Biodiversity conservation in urban environments. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25: 90–98
Page written by Steve Head: Reviewed by Ken Thompson