GARDENING FOR BIODIVERSITY.
Gardens are an incredibly important refuge and source of habitat for our threatened wildlife.
Imagine if we were all to manage our gardens in a more wildlife friendly manner. It would make a massive difference to Biodiversity levels, as well as improving our own well being, and levels of stress and anxiety .
What is more relaxing and fulfilling than watching a stunning butterfly fluttering by, or a bumblebee happily buzzing from flower to flower in your garden.
Or the thrill of catching a glimpse of a hedgehog shuffling across your lawn on its nocturnal ramblings, as the one we spotted pictured further down the page below. Or a bat flitting across the night sky hunting for insects above your garden. Knowing you have provided the habitat for them to survive and even thrive, so important in these times of catastrophic biodiversity loss.
Or what about on a cold winters day watching the array of hungry birds feeding off your garden bird feeders from the comfort of your own room. Maybe watching a rare visitor such as our recently arrived great spotted woodpecker, or a sparrowhawk swooping in to try to catch its dinner.
There are so many thrills that nature has to offer that can be found enjoyed in your own garden, if you allow space for wildlife to thrive.
So where to start ?
First off, a wildlife friendly garden can look fantastic and as impressive as any other managed garden.
The key to attracting wildlife into your garden is to first off create the environment that will be a rich habitat for all manner of insect life. These insects, apart from being colorful and fascinating in their own right, will be a food source and attract the larger more visible animals higher up the food chain to your garden. Then you need to provide the habitat to encourage these larger animals to stay and possibly breed, in this wonderful wildlife friendly space that you have created.
In relation to the wildlife that your garden will attract, it doesn't always have to be the bigger animals that are the star attractions.
It can be just as fascinating exploring and observing the worlds of the smaller critters. For example identifying some of our intriguing solitary bees, such as the mining solitary bees which burrow into the soil to nest. Or the amazing leaf cutter solitary bees, that nest in such locations as hollow plant stems, or the bee hotel you might have put up, and that intriguingly cut up sections of leaves and bring them to their nests to seal up the entrances.
So they are the culprits that have been leaving bite marks out of your rose leaves... Perhaps ? .
There is so much to see if we take the time to look, and one thing is certain there is absolutely no end to the fascination and simple pleasure it brings to engage with our natural surroundings.
When planting in our gardens we often overlook the stunning native trees, shrubs and wildflowers we have here in Ireland.
They are at least a match, and we would contend often more impressive, and certainly overall more beneficial to our native wildlife than a lot of the ornamental plants in our garden centers. The reason being is that our insects and larger animals have evolved to time their breeding patterns and emergence from hibernation to coincide with the flowering, and later the fruiting, of these native plants. They also rely on them as a vital food source as winter approaches.
Also many insects such as caterpillars and more will feed exclusively on the leaves and buds of these plants.
An example would be the caterpillar of Holly Blue butterfly which feeds exclusively on the leaves of our native Holly and Ivy plants. Or the caterpillars of our stunning Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies that feed on another great wildlife plant, the much maligned Nettle.
Most good garden centers will stock some of the plants listed below and can get others in when ordered.
That said, there certainly is a place for planting non native wildlife friendly flowering and fruiting plants that will provide additional food for our wildlife at crucial times such as during the late winter/early spring and autumn periods. A great example of this would be the likes of mahonia which flowers mid winter providing pollen and nectar on those milder days for some pollinators.
Why not leave a section of your lawn uncut, you would be amazed once nature is given a chance to rejuvenate what will appear in the form of beautiful wildflowers, which in turn attract pollinating insects and other wildlife. Or even better, source some native wildflower seed and plant it and have your very own species rich wildflower meadow.
It is important when planting flowering plants to choose plants that have flowers with a simple open structure.
Some ornamental plants have been cross bred to produce multi petalled flowers for show., classic examples of this would be some varieties of Dahlias, Roses and Cherry Blossom. These are a real problem for our pollinators as the picture below of the bumblebee on multi-petalled rose shows. As when visiting flowers, they want to quickly access their food source of nectar and pollen, and not have to try to navigate through the multitude of petals in such complicated flower structures.
So when choosing plants for your garden to help our pollinators, choose from the multitude of wonderful plants that have this simple open structure to the flowers, and ones that are known to be good producers of pollen and nectar. Even better, choose from some of our beautiful native flowering plants that our pollinators have evolved with over millennia.
The following is a list of recommended native trees and shrubs that would be great for wildlife, but will also delight you with beautiful flowering displays and in a lot of cases, follow up with an autumn display of fiery foliage or stunning fruit, or both !
Native Larger Trees
Pendunculate Oak Quercus robur
Alder Alnus glutinosa
Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris
Silver Birch Betula pendula
Downy Birch Betula pubescens
Ash Fraxinus excelsior
Yew Taxus baccata
Native Smaller Trees
Hazel Corylus avellanna
Native Shrubs and Bushes
Bird Cherry Prunus avium
Ornamental Non Native Trees Shrubs and Flowers
Darwin’s barberry Berberis darwinii
Hebe Hebe species