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SWT: Smallest of gardens can still be wildlife friendly

Attracting wildlife to a small garden. Picture: Ingrid McIvor/SWT ANL-150316-130604001
Attracting wildlife to a small garden. Picture: Ingrid McIvor/SWT ANL-150316-130604001

My son and daughter-in law have just bought their first home together and, as for many first-time buyers, it is a small terraced house with a correspondingly tiny front garden and small back garden. Being inexperienced gardeners, they have asked me to come up with some ideas on how to improve it and make it as wildlife friendly as possible.

The front garden is a particular challenge as it (and all the neighbour’s gardens in the street) has been paved over for off-street parking. However, even here there are many possibilities to combine the car and plants for wildlife. There is space for pots, tubs and hanging baskets of various sizes that can be filled with flowers chosen for their nectar for bees and butterflies and small shrubs with berries for hungry birds. Climbers can happily grow in pots and be trained up the walls of the house or fence. Gaps can be made in the paving and planted with low growing plants such as thyme, creeping jenny and bugle, that don’t mind being driven over occasionally.

All this can be done in the larger back garden, but with a bigger choice of plants. My daughter-in-law, being a great cook, has requested space for vegetables, fruit and herbs. These, too, can be grown in pots and tubs on patios or interspersed with small shrubs, perennials and climbers on trellises all along the fences. Herbs are particularly popular with bees and butterflies.

As the garden is too small for a tree, I have suggested a free standing bird feeder station for seeds, nuts and fat rich ‘bird puddings’. Nest boxes can fixed on to the wall of the house or shed and can be easily and cheaply made with off cuts of wood. A bird bath, a small plastic pond or just a large plant saucer for water will provide much-needed drinking and bathing for birds.

At the bottom of the garden, on either side of the shed there is space for a ‘home-made’ bug hotel or hedgehog home, as these wonderful little creatures need all the help we can provide. Leaving piles of leaves and some ‘wild’ vegetation, feeding them dog food and providing gaps in fences and hedges for free passage from garden to garden will hopefully help increase hedgehog numbers.

Suggested plants:

Herbs: Lavender, rosemary, hyssop, thyme, marjoram, chives and mint.

Perennials: Primroses, lungwort, snowdrops, crocus, cowslip, aconite, knapweed, candytuft, scabious, sedums, Michaelmas daisies, hardy geraniums

Climbers: Honeysuckle, clematis, hydrangea petiolaris, pyracantha, winter jasmine

Small shrubs: Dwarf sweet box, hardy fuchsia, hypericum, mahonia, flowering currant, viburnum (small varieties)

Roses: Any varieties with single, open flowers for insects, especially species roses

I have tried to give them ideas that will make the garden pretty to look at, easy to fit into a busy working life; but still able to attract and enjoy wildlife – even in a small garden.

Ingrid McIvor is Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s volunteer gardener