My passion for gardening came from my dad, who was always pottering around, dividing up perennials and planting hedges. It was he that took me on long walks in the countryside, stopping to examine wild flowers (especially to smell the wild roses) and collect toadstools – as they were termed then – to identify them. It was he who opened up my sense of wonder at the beauty of the creation.
It was when I started to watch birds as a favourite activity that I learned of the considerable problems that wildlife face. It became obvious that the first helpful thing to do was to make the environment closest to me as welcoming as possible to wild creatures: in fact, one of the most powerful things we can do for creation care is to invest some time and effort, and a little money, into our gardens.
Does your garden, if viewed from the air – from a bat’s, butterfly’s, bee’s or bird’s perspective – look like an inviting green pasture for wildlife looking for a home? There are an estimated 15 million gardens in the UK, adding up to, at least, 750,000 acres… Imagine if the vast majority of these gardens were managed for wildlife? It is time for a change! And why?
There is evidence that our mental health is noticeably improved when you can see something green growing. Not to mention that recovery from major surgery is accelerated if the view from your hospital window includes trees rather than being 100% devoted to a brick wall. And you do like butterflies.
Where do you start? What are the critical components to a wildlife garden? Some things you might consider:
- Do you really need a short, regularly mown grass area (a lawn)? If so, what size lawn? If you have children or grandchildren, they’ll appreciate some to run around on and play games.
- Can you grow things that attract animals? There will be a lot to interest children of all ages (2 – 102, at minimum) if you mix it up a little, and there will always be something to talk about. This could mean a water feature or native plants.
A water feature. Could be a birdbath (as important as a bird feeder if cleaned regularly) or a nature-rich pond. Goldfish are pretty but not terribly ‘natural’. Herons like eating them, though. Grow some native water weed, maybe a water lily; add some native plants around the edges; give animals a gentle slope to get out of the pond safely. Like frogs and newts.
Native plants. What’s the fuss about these? Well, if they are native they will support a whole food web, a whole ecology. Fungi will interact in an intimate way with their roots; their leaves will be chewed by caterpillars and other herbivores; their flowers will attract and feed bees and butterflies (and flies and beetles and spiders); their seeds will feed birds, caterpillars and mice. Oak trees are the ultimate gift to the natural world, literally attracting and supporting the life cycle of hundreds of moths, beetles, fungi, spiders, and a host of other minibeasts – and then all the animals that eat them! Native plants are low maintenance – after the first year of remembering to water them, depending on the plant. If annuals, they’ll usually self-seed; if perennials, then after a few years you can, depending on the species, divide them and donate a piece or two to a neighbour to jumpstart their wildlife garden. And there are plenty of them that are really pretty. Find out which ones are native to your area and get some more tips (web links provided at the end of this article)
- Finally and importantly, you may want to ensure a comfortable chair (or two) to sit on when you want to drink in the beauty of your new place, and the new place for millions of living creatures.
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s a very good idea to poll all the members of your family – all those who will be walking in the self-same garden. What are their essentials? Could they have their mown lawn…but less of it than before? Can a chunk of the boring green stuff be replaced with a flower bed stuffed with native plants? You might have to compromise…as always in a good relationship!
What does re-balancing in favour of wildlife look like?
After spending the first 40 years of my life in the English Midlands, I now live in Pennsylvania. My last-but-one garden, in Pennsylvania, after a good few years of digging, plant planting, weeding and trial and error, turned out pretty nice. Note that the plants I describe here are all native to my state, not the UK; go ahead and research the native plants in your part of the world.
Alas, I’ve now moved house, and have to start again in a garden with very little wildlife interest. My first job is to divide some old perennials and get free plants for the new beds. Add a bunch more compost from the ever-useful compost heap. Buy native plants from a local garden centre or specialist vendor and start replacing the lawn with flowers. Give it time; it’ll work out.
Where is God in all this? I support umpteen organisations like RSPB and the Woodland Trust who are doing whole-landscape wildlife protection and will continue to do so. But my garden: that I have complete control over and complete responsibility for. To fail to do my best for wildlife on the small patch of this big and precious planet that God gave us to look after would be a shame. And a sin.
So, let’s join up all of our gardens, making sure they are as deep green as possible.
This Meet the Community article was written by John Humphreys for the Wild Christian email, ‘Nature and home.’ John is a Biochemist and moved to Pennsylvania 20 years ago. He is a keen conservationist, particularly focusing on wildlife gardening. www.wildlifegardening.org
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Recommended websites for wildlife and gardening advice: https://www.wildaboutgardens.org.uk https://rootsandall.co.uk/which-native-plants-should-you-grow-in-your-garden https://www.brc.ac.uk/plantatlas/list_plants https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/Profile?pid=848 http://www.howtocompost.org/