The wildlife garden
This is a garden where minimal maintenance is performed, and where plants are allowed to spontaneously develop. Seeds from nature will blow into the garden and will be allowed to develop in locations they find suitable. This will allow the garden to go through the natural stages of development. Pioneer species will grow first, followed by bushes and then trees. The only maintenance required is the removal of bushes and trees to create and keep open areas. Young open areas with high diversity can be created and kept by mowing areas at the end of the year and removing the plant matter. Removing the cut plant matter means you are removing nutrients from the area. Commonly a lower amount of nutrients means more flowering plants and a higher diversity of flora. Bushes and trees you enjoy can be allowed to grow. This way you will slowly let the garden develop itself the way you want it to, instead of planning the garden beforehand and then building it all in one go. The end result is a more balanced garden, with more native species. This will also be better for animals living nearby, since your garden will likely mimic nature in the local area.
The wild-plants garden
This is also a natural garden, mostly containing native species where plants can grow on their own accord. The difference is that here plants can be sown in or planted. This gives more options to the owner to plants species he/she likes. By doing this, you can also decide what group of plants or animals you would like to help. You are able to pick all plant species that help butterfly populations, or bushes that provide nuts or berries for birds. You can perform maintenance when a part of the garden looks too old or too wild. The maintenance needed are the removal of unwanted plants, trimming bushes and re-sowing borders. It’s not as natural as the wildlife garden due to the fact that there is a high probability that non-native plants will be added to the garden. But it does give more freedom in what you can do in your garden.
The ecological ornamental garden.
In this garden some exotic species are also allowed. Even though the garden is still designed to help local fauna, it does look a lot more like a normal ornamental garden. More maintenance is also performed. Unwanted plants are removed, hedges shorn and other typical work. Even though the use of exotic species or cultivars is preferably avoided, some might still be useful depending on the circumstances. The butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) for example is exotic, but is a great addition to any garden designed to help butterfly populations. The ecological ornamental garden provides the most freedom to make your garden look like you want, but does provide less actual living space for animals. A lot of food can be provided, but many animals will prefer to nest somewhere else.
A wild-plants garden. Photo: Meadowlark Botanic Gardens
How do I start?
Any garden can be formed into a nature-friendly garden, no matter if it’s a new or an already existing one. It is important to take the surroundings of your garden into account. A garden that’s surrounded by buildings in all sides will mostly be in the shade. This garden will be much harder to be turned into a bee and butterfly garden than into a bird garden. This due to the fact that most plants that help bees and butterflies need sun, and so do the animals themselves (to heat up). Similarly, a garden that stimulates water life is much easier to form when the garden is already connected to the water. This does not mean it’s impossible to turn a shaded garden into a bee and butterfly garden or a garden without water nearby into a garden that helps water life. After all many plants that grow in the shade can still provide food for bees and a well-designed pond can still do a lot. But it will be more difficult, and less effective.
If you choose to create a wild-plants garden or an ecological ornamental garden, it’s useful to decide what plants or animals you want to attract and help. It’s important to find out the needs of the organisms you would like to attract. What food do they need? What’s their natural habitat? Try and mimic this in your garden. Then make a garden design. Try and make a sketch, it’s not important yet exactly what species of plant you will include or exactly what materials. Just lay down where the paths will be, where the borders will be, where you will place trees or bushes, etc. Using variety here is best. Try and create differences in height, and try to use a natural edges with small plants in the front slowly becoming bigger closer to the edge. Once you have decided this, you can choose the plants you want. Take the amount of shade and moisture and such into account when picking what plants you want. Go to one of the menus above [bee and butterfly gardens] [Bird friendly gardens] [Waterlife gardens] [Bat friendly gardens] and find all kinds of useful information to help you decide what to put in your garden.
What plants do I need?
No matter what kind of garden you decide to make, you should always ensure the vegetation fits the surrounding conditions, the amount of light and moisture. The plants you choose will largely decide what animals you will attract, so ensure you educate yourself on this subject. If you want a true garden that helps nature, then the best thing to do is to pick plants that already live in the habitat your garden is in. Each plant has its own natural habitat, look up what kind of habitat your garden is placed in. Do you live next to a forest? A heather area? Do you live on peat? Because you already live in this area, there will already be many animals that live in this area nearby, and so can easily reach your garden. Designing a garden to help specific animals that don’t even live anywhere near your garden is pointless.
What materials do I use?
Try to use durable materials. For wood check for the FSC-mark. Avoid tropical wood, try and use wood that’s made close to where you live instead. Oak or chestnut is a much better choice. Willow can also be used. Woven fences made from willow are nature-friendly alternative to the normal tropical wooden fences.
Try to ensure not more than 15% of your garden is paved, if possible. Increased amounts of pavement in gardens has been partially responsible for the disappearing biodiversity and a reduction in the drainage of rainwater.
A natural wall existing of rocks from the local area provides much more nesting and hiding opportunities than a straight and unnatural wall.
Creating a nature friendly / ecological garden
All information provided is meant for the Netherlands, northwestern Europe. Habitats in other locations may be very different and the information provided here might not be useful for locations outside of northwestern Europe.
What is a nature friendly/ecological garden?
Nature can be found almost anywhere but not all gardens are good for nature. A nature friendly garden or ecological garden ensures a wide variety of plants and animals can live in or profit from the garden. They can use the garden to forage for food, reproduce and hibernate. By designing the garden in such a way that it fulfils the specific demands that certain groups of plants and animals make on a suitable habitat, even a small garden can provide living space for a wide variety of life. There are several types of gardens:
The wildlife garden
The wild-plants garden
The ecological ornamental garden
Picking the right vegetation is essential.
Try to plant low growing plants if you want more open space in your garden. Planting these next to your paths gives the feeling your paths are wider than they actually are. If you truly want more paths it’s better to use items like woodchips. These allow for water to drain and provide food and other useful usages to many animals.
One stone is not the same as the other. Tiles or stones made in the country you live in, and from materials found in your garden, are much better for the environment if used than those that have to be transported from all over the world. Paths from locally won gravel or seashells are also a nice choice.
When placing pavement or short walls it’s better to use loose material with crevices between them than to use material that’s locked in so tight that nothing can get between it. These openings allow small animals to hide. When peat or clay is used for mason in walls it’s even better. All sorts of animals can dig in this and create nests. These small animals in turn can be food for larger animals, therefore helping many animals at the same time.
An ecological ornamental garden designed for bees and butterflies.