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Tips to help you establish a great Wild Garden

This is a guest post written by Laura Anstiss of Oakmore Green.

I’m delighted to introduce Laura to you. Laura has a wonderful enthusiasm for Wild Gardens and masses of experience to help you get the most from your own garden.

If you’ve been watching TV nature and gardening programmes lately, you’ll have seen a lot of interest in wild gardens. There are many advantages to wild gardens: they cover the ground in a beautiful mix of usually native or eco-friendly wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs; they provide a banquet of nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies and many other insects.

Public interest in wild gardens and sustainable landscapes is at an all-time high. There is a recognition throughout the landscape industries that more needs to be done in the establishment of biodiverse areas and green amenity spaces.

A wild garden can carry a variety of definitions. For some, it means limiting the amount you maintain your plants, letting them become what others might define as overgrown and unsightly. Others might associate wild with the types of plants you choose for your space. If you think about your walks in the fields or forests where Mother Nature is the only landscaper, plants are “overgrown and unsightly” around every corner. So, it might be time to change your definition of what makes a desirable garden space. The idea of a wild garden is to create a more naturally flowing space with less rigid lines and rules.

Wild gardens make the connection between the wild countryside that surrounds us and our gardens. This is more important than we think wildlife is always on the move, and gardens that offer a mix of flowers, shrubs and trees can provide a rich source of food and shelter as well as a safe nesting site for birds.

With the massive industrialisation, intensive agriculture, and expansion of urban areas that have occurred in the UK since the 1950s, we have lost 96% of the wild meadows which once dotted the landscape.

While this is difficult to remedy due to the demands associated with an ever-increasing population, there are steps we can take to address the issue locally. One of the best (and easiest) options is to cultivate a wild garden. With a little bit of work, you can turn your garden into a haven for a variety of insects and wildlife.

What makes a wild garden?

In general, everything has a place in a wild garden, which is intended to develop naturally whether it’s wildflowers, herbs or diverse wildlife. The colour and variety of the blossoms to be found there are typical for a wild garden. Dandelions, ground elder (contained), daises or St John’s wort any plant can be grown in this garden. Depending on the soil and light conditions in your garden, certain specifically designed combinations of meadow flowers are available to buy that will transform your garden into a colourful field of flowers.

When selecting a combination of flowers, you can decide for yourself how much grass should grow between them. Seeds that already contain wild herbs ensure a particularly diverse garden. Wildflowers often prefer nutrient-poor, dry soil in a sunny location.

You should provide plenty of space for birds to raise their young so that you can enjoy birdsong throughout your garden. If you feed the birds in your garden all year round, you will attract birds that will help deter insect pests and you will also be helping young birds in the process. By planting a variety of hedges, bushes and trees, you can offer a welcoming spot for birds to build a nest and breed. It’s not just the birds that will delight in bushes of wild strawberries, raspberries and blueberries in the autumn there will be a delicious treat for everyone else too.

Don’t be fooled a wild garden is no less labour-intensive than a garden laid out in a strictly organised way. A semi-natural garden simply follows a different kind of organisation. To make sure your garden doesn’t become too overgrown, it must be tended to from time to time. This garden rewards its owner with a very special kind of charm a natural character designed by a gardener’s caring hand.

Increasing the biodiversity of your garden doesn’t have to be hard, or compromise the way it looks. Whether its bees, bugs or birds, we all know that wildlife has a positive effect on our gardens.

However big or small your garden is, there are plenty of changes you can make to ensure that it is an attractive location for all manner of wildlife. Simple things such as choosing wildlife-friendly plants and leaving dead flower heads as food for birds in the winter can make a difference. Here are some small things you can do today to create a garden positively thriving with life:

  • Plant flowers for bees
  • Set up a log pile
  • Provide food for birds
  • Create a ‘pond’ or birdbath
  • Provide a home for birds and bats
  • Plant native and eco-friendly plants

Many gardeners like to cut down all their fading border perennials but I try to keep as many seed heads as I can.

A successful wild garden provides three things: food, water and shelter. It is very important that these ingredients are available throughout the year.  Food and shelter can be supplied by the proper selection of plants. A birdbath or small pool can be a water supply.

Food and cover should be provided at a variety of levels. The habitat should include a selection of grass, flowers, shrubs, small trees and large trees. This will be attractive to more wildlife species.

Plants that are native to your area are going to grow the best. Careful selection of your plants, in the beginning, will allow for a worry-free space as your garden grows. Talk to the local nursery owner. Stop by the garden centre.

Be sure to allow for the maximum growth of the plants, so you don’t have to continually trim them back. In addition to low-effort growing success, native plants also do not require chemicals to fight off insects and disease. Plus, they often don’t need fertiliser, because they are naturally suited for the native soil.

You can even source your native plants directly from nature by selecting seeds or small plants. Check with your local authorities before harvesting from forests or other areas. If nothing else, observe the plants in your area and purchase the same type of ferns or wildflowers that you see growing naturally.

The goal of creating a wild garden doesn’t mean you have to have a completely untamed space of rambling branches and invasive blackberries. Instead, segment your garden into areas that provide for the naturally wild look combined with more traditional or formal spaces for sitting or strolling. Bring in the pristine garden if that is your thing, and mingle it with some wild plants. Manicure the stone patio, but allow the bushes behind the arbour to go wild.

The point is that wild doesn’t have to be neglected. Simply work the look into your design.

The prospect of providing food and shelter to a variety of wildlife is exciting. Take a photo every year from the same location in your garden, to record how your wild garden develops. Keep records of the wildlife attracted to your landscape and see how this changes over the years.

Not only will you have benefited our environment and wildlife, but you will also have provided for your enjoyment for years to come.

Laura Anstiss of Oakmore Green
01233 332405


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