‘The way we see it, our gardens don’t belong to us alone – they belong to all the wildlife that lives there, eats there or even just uses them as a stopping off point,’ says award-winning garden designer Michael John McGarr of Warnes McGarr & Co. ‘This could involve the hedgehog that wanders through your garden at night, the birds that stop off in the thick shrubbery, right through to the beetles and woodlice that live under a stone at the end of the garden.’
It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to ensure wildlife can flourish in your garden within a complete redesign. It really just takes a good awareness of what creatures need and hopefully you should be able to enjoy your new garden alongside the birds, butterflies and bees
At Warnes McGarr & Co, Michael is used to working with ultra-high end and high-tech designs, creating expensive outdoor kitchens and outdoor cinemas or seating areas with televisions – but in equal measures he can be found at bottom of the garden building a beetle bank, or cutting hedgehog passes in the fencing.
Here, Michael talks through the top five ways you can include wildlife in your garden and landscaping design.
1. Keep some mature existing shrubs and trees
‘If a client wants a complete garden redesign, especially if they’ve just moved in, they may want everything pulling out the garden and a complete redesign from scratch. As designers, this would be a fantastic brief for us, however, we would always be mindful of how garden creatures and birds might use the existing mature greenery,’ begins Michael.
‘If you sit in your garden for long enough and watch a specific shrub, bush or tree, you will see the flow of birds, animals or insects that either pass through it, or live there.’
Michael says it’s not always possible to keep every mature tree or large shrub, but ‘if we can keep a mature plant in a garden that could provide shelter for small birds, a home for a frog or hedgehog and numerous insects, then we will try to include it in our designs’.
2. Think about the movement of hedgehogs
Becoming an increasingly rare sight in our British gardens, hedgehogs are losing their habitats at an alarming rate.
‘One of the reasons for this is that they can travel around 2km every night looking for food, but more and more gardens are becoming closed off with secure boundaries like fences and gates,’ Michael explains. ‘Concrete bases for fence panels create an impenetrable barrier for a hedgehog, so we always ensure that fence panels we create for clients have a “hog-hole” cut in the bottom to allow them to freely access a garden, if they wish.’
You’ll only need a gap of 13cm x 13cm for hedgehogs to get through. Better still, if you want to help hedgehogs, look at how to create a ‘hedgehog highway’ with your neighbours.
3. Planting for pollinators
‘Luckily, we don’t have to do much persuading when it comes to creating a wildlife planting scheme, as the flowers that bees and other pollinators love, are also just as attractive to the human eye,’ says Michael. ‘Try to incorporate a range of native/ indigenous planting where possible to support bugs and insects with both food and shelter.
‘We often use Borage; Lavender; different varieties of Echinacea, Salvias, Alliums and Verbena bonariensis in our planting designs to attract bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths. We also recommend Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare) if you have a sheltered site, as the stunning bright blue flowers are very popular with bees.
‘Teasels (Dipsacus fullonum) are brilliant for providing height and structure in wildflower gardens. They are loved by insects and pollinators for their nectar, and the seeds are adored by goldfinches. Teasels do like to self-seed so ensure you pull up any seedlings that encroach into areas you don’t want them.
‘We also recommend a large native grass called Pendulous sedge (Carex pendula) that are great for frogs to hide within. This can grow quite large, so do be prepared to divide and cut back every year,’ Michael explains.
With so many different species of trees, Michael also suggests some which you can plant specifically for wildlife. ‘One of our favourites is the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), which can also be planted as hedging,’ he reveals. ‘This attractive native species is also fantastic for wildlife and can host more than 300 insects. Its pollen in spring is an important source of food for bees, while the bright red fruits in autumn are also eaten by birds.’
Meanwhile, for shrubs, think outside of the standard buxus which suffer from a number diseases. ‘Think of drought-tolerant indigenous shrubs such as Mountain Pine (Pinus mugo) with which you can create a strong striking evergreen structure within the garden,’ he says.
4. Leave an area of unmown lawn
‘With our larger garden design clients we often talk through the possibility of leaving patches of unmown grass, at the end of a garden or around some trees,’ says Michael. ‘We think long grasses can look beautiful, especially when they go to seed. However, this can also be so beneficial to the environment and your garden wildlife, by providing areas of shelter. It doesn’t take long for wild flowers to also seed themselves within the grass.’
A ready-planted wild flower turf is another option. You can create a low-maintenance wild flower meadow within your garden, and all you’ll need to do is cut it back once a year.
5. Provide a habitat for frogs
‘You don’t even need a full-size pond to have frog residents set up home in your garden,’ says Michael. ‘A small sunken basin or attractive bowl can provide a place for them to breed and have a swim. Then you need to have lots of ground-cover plants or mature shrubs and woody plants to provide shelter and habitat for them.
‘Cats, hedgehogs and larger birds will also eat (or just kill, in the case of cats) frogs, so it really is important to have somewhere they can remain well hidden. A pile of rocks next to your mini-pond can provide the perfect hiding hole for frogs, or even a toad, if you’re lucky.