How can I ‘rewild’ my garden?
Easily create a wildlife friendly garden to benefit birds, bees, pollinators and small mammals
The simple answer to whether you can 'rewild' your garden is you can't, but you can really benefit wildlife with a few simple steps.
Rewilding refers to large whole landscapes and is a tool used by farmers and land managers. If rivers have been canalised then the banks are broken down and the river left to find its natural course, boggy areas are allowed to develop and river banks are left unmanaged. Grasslands aren’t cut, they are just left to develop wildflowers, ‘weeds’ and trees. Hedgerows are left uncut and the shrubs within left to form full sized trees. Animal grazing density is usually reduced to allow more plant species to thrive. Native rare breeds replace the larger modern breeds, pigs are brought in to help manage woodlands and reduce areas of brambles. In rare cases beavers are being reintroduced to create wetland areas which in times of flood will absorb some of the rainfall and slow its flow rate reducing flooding in urban areas downstream.
The ‘rewilding’ garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2022; ‘A Rewilding Britain Garden’ designed by Adam Hunt and Lulu Urquhart, has sparked some controversy as to whether it really is a garden, despite it winning Best in Show. It contains a beaver dam and the resulting habitats created by this collection of water behind the dam, something which is absolutely not possible in a garden setting, unless you are lucky enough to have a stream running through your garden. These habitats include a pond, boggy areas and wet woodland. This is not to say you can’t recreate a garden version of these habitats, it would be classed more as a nature friendly garden. You can still have a wildlife pool with boggy margins and a natural woodland full of native flora.
When creating your wildlife pool make it a lot larger than you think is necessary, it may look huge before you start planting. Once you have planted the margins and the pond is a couple of years old the plants will have spread into the pool and it will no longer look huge. Plant waterlilies to cut down on the amount of sunlight reaching the water surface as too much sun on the water leads to a huge surge in algal growth, adding oxygenators to the pool will also help keep down the algae. If you have fish in the pool having too much algae will be detrimental to the fish as it cuts down on the amount of available oxygen. Create a boggy habitat at one end by creating a wide shallow area filled with aquatic compost. Also create a warm basking area with large smooth stones close to the waters’ edge so any aquatic creatures which are sunning themselves can quickly dive into the water for safety.
You don’t necessarily need a huge garden to have a water element, find a waterproof container, old zinc bath, half barrel or just a large pot and fill with water. Don’t position it in full sun as this just encourages algal growth. Add a few marginal plants around the edge, you may have to stand them on bricks so the surface of the pot is just below the water surface. Use different styles of planting to encourage the most diverse array of wildlife; tall rush-like plants which dragonflies need, spreading plants which provide refuge and flowering plants for pollinators. Add a pygmy waterlily to give some shade to the water surface. Make sure you provide some stones or a rustic ladder to enable any mammals which may accidentally fall in to escape.
Attracting wildlife to your garden can be as simple as leaving a corner to grow nettles, brambles and thistles. This can attract butterflies, birds and small mammals which can seek refuge in the tangle of bracken. Make a hedgehog refuge out of an old cardboard box or stones. Place some leaf litter inside and construct a tunnel entrance then cover the box with plastic and disguise with a pile of leaves. A simple bird feeding station with several different bird feeders and a water tray can provide for a whole host of different species, and you have the added benefit of them also eating your aphids. Adding some bird boxes in cool positions will help your birds successfully raise their young.
Planting nectar rich open flowers for bees and butterflies can easily be integrated into your garden style without having to give over an area of your garden for wildlife. Just avoid flowers with many petals and instead opt for the single varieties where the pollen is clearly visible. Comfrey is a fantastic plant for bees and pollinators and as a bonus also makes a great fertiliser. Just place some of the plants in a container with some bricks on top, leave for a couple of weeks and you have a rich dark brown liquid in the bottom. Strain off the liquid, squeeze any remaining from the plants then bottle, add the spent comfrey to the compost heap. Dilute the liquid approximately in a ratio of 10 parts water to 1 part comfrey. One disadvantage of this plant feed is the smell!
If you have space plant a tree which has spring flowers for the insects and autumn berries for the birds; rowan, hawthorn and crab apples are all good for wildlife. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can still grow one in a large container, it just won’t reach its full potential and will need more watering, especially on a hot day when it may need watering morning and evening.
If you have children a great project is to construct bug houses, you just need an old wooden crate either partitioned off with wood or just packed with old terracotta pots. Stuff each pot with various materials to suit the specific requirements of the various species. You could use; straw, dried grass, short pieces of hollow bamboo, bark mulch, twigs, small pebbles, dried leaves and old sponge pieces. Keep in place with a small piece of chicken wire secured over the pot.
If you have a large garden consider giving over a small area to a wildflower meadow, it can be mowed once the flowers and grasses have set seed in late summer. The soil needs to be as poor as possible otherwise the grasses will swamp the flowers so if the area is a monoculture of just one or two lawn grass species take off the top turf and then sow seed. You can also buy small plug plants which you plant directly into an already established grassy area, however this is an expensive option, especially if you are turning a large area into meadow. This can be done with an area which already has a good mixture of grasses.
Planting and making wildlife habitats can be as simple as just adding some bee friendly plants to your herbaceous borders or giving over your whole garden with a variety of habitats, food sources, nesting areas and refuges.