Take Hampton home - wildlife

Gardening with wildlife in mind doesn't have to mean scruffy, says Jon Ardle of The Garden, the RHS members' magazine

Go wild with a pond

as seen in the RHS Invisible Garden

Pond in the Invisible GardenThe most important thing you can do to improve the value of your garden to wildlife is to add a pond, however small. Even a dish sunk into the ground can support a surprisingly wide range of aquatic invertebrates, and a pond provides fresh water for birds and small mammals to drink.

If you have more space, around a metre or two (3-6ft) square such as this example outside the RHS Invisible Garden show feature, so much the better. Keep it shallow – 30cm (12in) is deep enough – and slope the sides gradually to make it easy for animals to get in and out. Line with pebbles or cobbles to give organisms somewhere to hide.

Ideally, fill your pond with low-nutrient rainwater rather than tap water, and don’t add fish. You will be amazed how quickly frogs, toads, newts, water boatmen, dragonflies and other animals are able to sniff out a new pond. You can also add native aquatic plants such as yellow flag iris, water soldier and marsh marigold; these can colonise new ponds without help, but more slowly than animals.

Bugs have a ball

as seen in A Space to Connect & Grow

Insect hotelSo-called ‘insect hotels’ provide a habitat for some of the garden’s most useful pollinators, especially solitary bees, and somewhere for other useful insects such as ladybirds and lacewings, both voracious predators of pests such as aphids, to hibernate or overwinter. Studies have shown home-made versions are if anything more attractive to insects than expensive bespoke products.

To make a home for solitary bees, simply bundle together short lengths of bamboo canes or plastic straws and secure into a suitable frame. Summer garden A Space to Connect & Grow used mainly recycled materials, and included insect hotels within old metal wheels placed high up on the rear wall, an excellent example of shabby chic. Or simply drill holes of different diameters 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft ) above ground level in some of your fence posts to attract solitary and leaf-cutter bees. Each female bee provisions the hole, lays an egg and seals the hole with leaves or mud. The egg hatches, the larvae eats its food supply then metamorphoses into an adult before emerging.

Prickly customers

as seen in Hedgehog Street

Hedgehog accessFor reasons that are not yet clear, Britain’s hedgehog population has nosedived in recent years, and they could do with gardeners’ help. In return they are excellent pest controllers, relishing slugs and other pests. One cause is thought to be habitat fragmentation: most suburban gardens are not large enough to support a ‘full time’ hedgehog. Several plots together can – provided the animals are able to range freely between them. Walls and fences are insurmountable barriers to hedgehogs but the answer is as simple as making small holes about 15cm (6in) square in your plot boundaries.

Summer garden Hedgehog Street showed how three neighbouring gardens of very different styles could all help to reverse the decline of Britain’s most popular mammal. One plot made great use of tall hazel hurdles, a more sustainable, wildlife-friendly alternative to softwood fencing panels (which are invariably treated with toxic wood preservative) that should last just as long, around ten years.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.