Wild about Gardens – Design Ideas for Humans and Wildlife



Wild about Gardens, Garden Design ideas to enable humans and wildlife to both enjoy and share outdoor spaces is inspired partly by Wild about Gardens Week.

In 2016, this takes place during 24-30 October.


Wildlife gardens and wildlife garden design are topics which I’ve written about before. There are many aspects to creating a garden that accommodates wildlife and is still a space for people to use and enjoy. I’ll be looking at the various considerations and design in further blogs; for now, let’s get an overview and a few specific ideas.

Many people have the conception that a wildlife friendly garden is a messy one. It might be, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

Or perhaps you’re concerned as you have a small garden and it already has to accommodate: –

children, plus assorted play equipment;
a pet dog,
two cats,
patio with BBQ,
ornamental plants,
edible plants,
trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, flowering bulbs…
and a washing line.

So how on earth are you going to make it wildlife friendly as well?

In the famous and friendly words of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – “Don’t Panic”.

Whilst the numbers of UK plant and animal species have declined by almost two thirds in the last 50 years, it’s not too late to do something.

cornflower, bee, annual flower, wild flower, meadow

One of the main reasons for our common garden species becoming less common is loss of habitat. Which is where wild about gardens comes in. There are approximately 15 million gardens in the UK, covering a larger area than all the National Nature Reserves out together.

That’s a lot of garden. By making those gardens more wildlife friendly we can provide habitats for some of our native species. In 2016 the focus is on UK bat species, but encouraging hedgehogs, house sparrows, swifts, newts and frogs into your garden is all good.

So, how to make your garden more wildlife friendly without making a mess?


Simple Garden Design Ideas for Humans and Wildlife

Add bird feeders around the garden to provide different types of food to encourage a variety of bird species. In other words, don’t limit yourself to one bird feeder on the patio. Although do have at least one placed so you can enjoy watching the garden birds.

teasel seed head, Dipsacus sylvestris, Dipsacus fullonum, british native species, architectural plant

I like to take this idea a stage further in a garden design or planting design, choosing flowers and shrubs both for your pleasure and as a larder for wildlife. There are many plants that provide a food source

  • when in bloom – pollen, nectar
  • as seed heads
  • as berries

So it is possible to grow plants with summer flowers that carry seed heads or berries over the winter. These provide a decorative feature for humans to enjoy and a food source for birds and some small mammals.


Seed heads

Sunflowers, both the annual sunflower and the perennial members of the family such as Helianthus.

Teasels may not suit those who prefer a tidy garden, they do have a habit of spreading around.

Giant Scabious is a favourite of mine, I admit. It has fascinating flower buds if you look closely, flowers for a long time and then has seed heads.
giant scabious, spider, Cephalaria gigantea, cottage garden, architectural plant, herbaceous perennial

These tall plants make an architectural statement at the back of the border.

Or you could add verbena bonariensis in groups of 5 threaded throughout a planting scheme.


Rowan, also known as Mountain Ash and Sorbus, makes decorative, wildlife and productive tree for a small garden. Choose from the British native species or one of the many cultivars.

At this time of year, Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea has red berries, purple foliage and stems; the berries will last through till January, or until they’re eaten!

Berberis berries

In a small garden, trees have to earn their keep; cherry trees offer glorious spring blossom but buy an edible variety and you’ll have fruit to harvest too. The birds are guaranteed to eat some of them, whether of the edible or ornamental variety.



A garden hedge is a perfect place to encourage wildlife. Hawthorn, Rosa rugosa, Rosa canina (dog rose) and Prunus spinosa (blackthorn, sloe) will give you a dense, prickly security barrier to keep out burglars but encourage birds, mammals and amphibians. You’ll also benefit from scented flowers, rosehips, and berries – for you to simply enjoy the look of, or to make sloe gin and hedgerow jelly.

sweet briar rose, sweetbrier, eglantine, rose hips, Rosa rubiginosa, Rosa eglanteria, aromatic foliage, hawthorn hedge, crataegus, berries

With a hedge full of such wildlife friendly plants, you could easily justify the minimalist planting in the rest of your garden.

Although please avoid using a wildlife hedge as a justification for covering your front garden over with impermeable paving. Even in a small front garden with the water runoff allowed for, it looks ugly. If you are within the law, and really need such paving, then at least include large planters in to the design. These, filled with appropriate and interesting planting, will not only benefit wildlife and the general environment but add to your pleasure as well.


Wild about Gardens – getting down and dirty

If a garden is large enough, and the client is willing, then I admit I would do my best to incorporate a more ‘messy area’ into the garden design. It can be easy enough to hide this and these quieter places often better suit the garden wildlife for whom they’re created. But even smaller gardens can find room for some practical ways to become friendly to our native creatures who need a home.

stag beetle found in clients garden

For example: –

leaving space behind the compost bins for a patch of nettles
building a log pile for insects and small mammals to hibernate in down the side of the garden shed
putting up a bat box and bird box in trees away from the trampoline
adding a house martin box to the eaves of your own house
planting a raised bed wild flower meadow among the vegetable plot
building or buying a bug hotel and tucking it among the shrubs in the front garden

Many parents with small children are concerned about the safety of ponds. Let’s be clear. You do not have to have a pond in order to have a wildlife friendly garden. It is preferable to have some sort of water, but there are many other ways to encourage wildlife in your garden and provide a habitat for them.

wildlife pond, pebble edge


Wild about gardens week is a good reason for me to write a blog at the end of the week as well as this one. In that blog I’ll be looking at how your garden could include some specific wildlife habitats and how they could be incorporated into your garden.

Every garden is different, and the needs of the family who use it are not constant as children grow. If you would like a wildlife friendly garden that is also a family friendly garden we’d love to create one with you.

For those without the concerns of small children there may be pets to consider or wheelchair access or simply a busy lifestyle. A garden that is beautiful, practical, easy maintenance, filled with scented flowers and a built in BBQ can still be wildlife friendly. Let us show you how.


Related Gardening blogs you may enjoy

British Garden Birds in Winter
Peat free compost – are you still confused?
Bees Needs, National Pollinator Week and Your Garden
Is RHS Chelsea Flower Show more eco-friendly than your Garden?
City Gardens

wild about gardens 1345-rhs-wagweek-logo-gradient2

Wild About Gardens Week is a joint initiative by the RHS, The Wildlife Trusts and Bat Conservation Trust to encourage people to support wildlife in their gardens. In 2016 the focus is on UK bat species.

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