In 2014 we were contacted by a couple that were looking to redesign their good sized back garden so it looked beautiful, and most importantly encouraged a lot more wildlife for them to enjoy.
The existing features were comprised of some mature trees, a fish pond, an existing wildlife pond, lawn areas, paved areas and some herbaceous planting and pots. Over the following weeks we discussed in great detail which parts of the garden were worth retaining and improving, and what needed to be changed and cleared out.
The finished design and brief was to encompass as many wildlife habitats as possible within the space available, to have areas to sit and enjoy the different parts of the garden in both sun and shade, and to try and have areas that had interest throughout the changing seasons that not only looked great but were also practical for the clients and could still be managed as a traditional garden.
Here is the garden during construction:
Here is the garden after we finished the project:
The different areas and habitats within the garden are now as follows:
- Herbaceous borders - Colourful plants that look beautiful and provide nectar
- Nectar plants - Borders and pots planted with flowers that attract pollinating insects
- Moth border - All plants are white flowering and planted to attract moths
- Wildlife pond - A wild pond in the middle of the garden with an elliptical oak deck
- Semi formal pond - With a linear reedbed and square oak deck for sitting near the house
- Urn water feature - A large focal point and bird bath/drinking place amongst herbaceous planting
- Wildflower meadow - A large perennial meadow with many flowering native plants and grasses
- Woodland meadow - An area of spring species like bluebell and greater stitchhwort
- Cornfield meadow - A small intensely colourful annual meadow with poppies and cornflowers
- Native trees and shrubs - A large woodland border with many different tree and shrub species
- Dry stone wall - A traditionally planted stone wall with cracks and holes for animal species
- Chalk bank - A sweeping crescent of chalk planted with kidney vetch and native wildflowers
- Log piles - There are log piles everywhere in this garden, home to many reptiles and amphibians
- Nest boxes - Several different varieties of bird nesting boxes have been installed around the garden
- Stag beetle homes - These are vertical log piles dug well into the ground for both stag beetle species
- Bird feeding station - Stocked with a good supply of bird food all year round near the house
- Frog hostels - Stone troughs in the ground, filled with water and covered in logs for amphibians
- Compost bins - Several large wooden bays filled with a variety of garden waste and slow worms!
- Trellis and wire systems - Planted with climbers to provide green walls and nesting spaces for birds
Every year the garden develops more and more, a fascinating process to watch as everything matures. The wildlife is now truly thriving, here is a list of some of the species now using the garden:
- Birds - A big increase in both bird numbers and species. Bullfinches, goldcrests, great spotted and green woodpeckers are seen most days now in this town centre garden.
- Butterflies - New species are seen every year, with meadow specialists such as common blue and meadow brown now forming colonies in the meadow areas where they were previously never seen.
- Amphibians - Frogs, toads, smooth and great crested newts are now multiplying every spring with access to both the 2 new wildlife ponds and the older existing pond. Ongoing surveys are showing annual increases in all four species, with individuals found under logs and bark throughout the garden too.
- Bees - Bumblebee, solitary bee and honeybee numbers have increased massively now. You can stand or sit anywhere in the garden and either see or hear these wonderful pollinating insects all around you.
- Reptiles - The numbers of slow worms are amazing for such a modest sized plot. In one compost bay alone from April to September there are regularly in excess of 50 individuals basking under the roofing felt provided for them. Common lizards have multiplied very well too, making use of the many log piles, dry stone wall and tussock grass that is left for them.
- Dragonflies and damselflies - There were very few records of these beautiful insects before work began. Now, at least 9 species breed in the garden, including broad-bodied chaser, southern hawker and large red damselfly to name a few.
- Bats - The clients were sad to see a decline in bats that were once commonly seen hunting over the garden. Now, for the first time in years there are several pipistrelles feeding over the meadow and ponds, and even more excitingly they are using several of the custom built bat boxes we made and erected on the house.
If we are to learn something from this project, it is that wildlife can not just exist in town centres, but positively thrive alongside people with the right habitat. This also applies to small gardens on a smaller scale.
For us and the clients, to see birds, butterflies, dragonflies and bees sharing the sky with aeroplanes and helicopters, is pure magic.
Text and images by Jim Ashton