When I discovered that Liz Ridgway (founder of home and garden accessories brand Denys & Fielding) had won a prestigious gold award from the Wildlife Trust for her wildlife garden in Kent, I wanted to know more. I knew I’d enjoy getting a glimpse beyond her garden gate, as the designs Liz creates for Denys & Fielding are beautiful and practical in equal measure. I asked her to share a few of her secrets for creating a beautiful wildlife-friendly outdoor space. Hope you enjoy stepping inside Liz’s garden as much as I did – and pick up one or two ideas for your own…
I love gardening, although it was not always the case. I remember spending many an hour sulking in some RHS garden, or up the allotment with my Dad, trying to find ways to get back home. “I’m hungry” I’d say. That didn’t work. “Pick something and eat it”, he’d say. ‘I’ve been stung,’ didn’t wash either. “Grab a dock leave”, he’d suggest. It usually took the trump card: “I need a wee.’ Cue a sigh, the downing of tools and a speedy ride back home in the wheelbarrow for me.
But slowly, silently, without even realising it, Mum and Dad’s love of the garden passed down to me. These days, that early cup of tea in the garden, before anyone else is up, on those first Spring days is the definition of heaven for me. After the quietness of winter, the first warm day starts with a small, whisper of a buzz.
By May, those early mornings in the garden positively shake with wildlife. As bees zoom around, caterpillars are munching, frogs are hopping about and plenty of good stuff is taking place beyond what we can see. Magical activity underground, nourishing the soil. Tiny yet essential happenings in the nooks and crannies of flowers and blossom – creating bigger yields of fruit in my veggie patch.
Before we go any further, I need to tell you that my garden isn’t some huge plot. It is pretty modest – smaller than an acre, bigger than a postage stamp. I also need to say that while I think our furry and fluffy wildlife is pretty magical, there is no secret formula. For me, it comes down to one simple thing: balance.
How to balance your garden
Well, in our garden, the hint was pretty obvious. When we first moved in, you couldn’t walk down the garden path without getting eaten alive. Mozzies were king. The slug population was prolific. Ivy and ground elder were about the only things growing.
Our garden was dark, and it came with a bite. Gardens in other situations may show a host of different symptoms, but to sum up – it’s too much of the bad stuff, not enough of the good. And if that is the case, in my mind, there are four easy basics to crack: Earth, Air, Fire, Water
Earth & Air
Luckily, Mother Nature is seriously smart. She already provided us with Earth and Air in our little garden. Although, if you live five floors up in a flat, earth may also be pretty sparce. So, you need to introduce it by adding pots and containers in a size and style to suit your space.
Assuming that earth is sorted, and air a given, it is your turn to look after the last two.
First up, fire. Well, not so much fire, but heat. Where are the hotspots in the garden? Where is the shade? Does the time of day vary the conditions in your garden? If you have both, sun and shade, you’re in luck. This provides two totally different environments in which to plant and grow sun worshipping plants and shade lovers. Diversity is critical to wildlife. Both the furry and feathery like to mix it up. Your job is to plot, plan and plant appropriately, finding plants that will survive in either area.
Next up is water – if you really want a wildlife friendly garden, water is essential. We can’t survive without it, and nor can anything else. Water in a garden comes in many forms. A shallow bird bath, either of the traditional stone variety or a stylish corten steel type, is great.
A pond can be one of those flexible, bright gardening buckets with the handles cut off and dug into the ground, or it can be an all singing, all dancing lake! It really doesn’t matter. But having water in your garden is probably the most fundamental change you can make to encourage wildlife. Don’t just expect the odd robin to turn up for a swift half. You’ll be amazed at how many other creatures start taking a sip. Placement is key – position your water in an area that provides protection from domestic pets, particularly cats.
Seasonality & Diversity
I love the fact that we have seasons in the UK, and feel so lucky that we still have them, despite how rapidly they are changing. Introducing plants and flowers for the different seasons will provide a regular, constant food source for your wild, garden guests. Of course, different wildlife will be present at different times, but that’s fine. It’s a bit like passing the baton at a relay race. Or a fast paced, variety performance.
Opt for trees, shrubs and perennials that you love and that provide you with interest and enjoyment throughout the year and you’ll find a creature or two will turn up, enjoying the garden with you.
Winter gardens are immediately perked up with the introduction of saraccocca confusa, or sweet box, viburnum and daphne. Bulbs are an easy way to get started for a colourful Spring show. Summer wouldn’t be summer without easy perennials, that come out, high kicking every year. And Autumn is intoxicating – with late fruits, colourful foliage and grasses coming into their own.
Whatever you choose, diversity is key. Long, tubular flowers such as honeysuckle and foxgloves will attract a different crowd compared to simple, ‘open’ flowers such as geum, alliums and verbena. Mix them up and you’ll not only have a beautiful garden, but a variety of different bees, butterflies and wildlife coming to visit.
Take time to look up – and down
As well as looking ahead at upcoming seasons, it’s worth thinking about height and perspective in your garden. Trees and shrubs provide shelter and protection for wildlife, as well as privacy and interest for you. Low, spreading plants create another habitat for a completely different set of creatures. So, as well as thinking broadly, about the seasons and the diversity of plants in your garden, it’s worth keeping in mind, height.
Five easy ideas to up the wildlife ante
1 Give the worms a workout: If you have room for a compost bin, or area, brilliant. You’ll be able to recycle all the waste from the garden and create rich, nutty compost to put back into your plot. Just avoid throwing any persistent weeds like bind weed in there, otherwise you’ll spread it all over the garden. If space doesn’t permit a compost bin, you can still enrich your soil by sweeping leaves off any grass areas or path and onto flower beds and borders. While there isn’t a lot of nutrition in most leaves, by putting them onto the beds and allowing them to rot down, you are giving the worms a workout. And in turn, they aerate the soil which helps to improve things under the surface.
2 Create shelters and homes around the garden: Log piles, bird boxes, bug hotels – whatever suits your style, add a few around the garden and then watch what happens. I like to put a log or two in shady spots, under ferns and then let nature take its course. Encouraging more insects into the garden will in turn coax all sorts of visitors, including blackbirds, blue tits and dunnocks.
One of my favourite sights is seeing swallows dipping in and around to much their favourite: winged insects. Starting small, and just adding a little extra habitat for insects will naturally encourage their predators onto the scene and is a great starting point for beginning to get that sense of ‘balance’.
3 Mix it up: If your garden is less about flowers and more about food, then get the best out of your crops by mixing the two up. Lots of flowers are great companions to veg – helping to keep pests off of your crops while giving you a colourful show at the same time. Critically, it avoids having to spray plants and crops. Tackling common pests is often just about regaining that sense of balance in the garden again, not obliterating an entire part of that system.
In terms of pest crowd control, my ‘big guns’ are nasturtiums – they do not mess about! Bugs love them, caterpillars adore them, you can eat them and they are seriously good looking. Who could ask for more?! Sow one packet of seeds thinly around your veg bed and you’ll have year after year of flowers. If your after a more formal, potager style veg patch, lots of herbs also make great companions to fruit and veggie crops, including lavender and rosemary – which can also double up as neat little low hedges around your beds.
4 Start a mini meadow – With just 3% of the nation’s wild meadows left, domestic gardens provide a wonderful opportunity to create a little wilderness again. If you are a bit of a neat freak, the idea of letting your lawn grow long and waft about, might be a little stressful! There is an alternative – containing ‘mini’ meadows in structural, purposeful areas makes everything look a little more meaningful and there by design, while also helping to create a safe haven for wild life.
Last summer, Ford Abbey had the most beautiful swirls of wild flowers sown into their lawn, encouraging visitors to walk around the narrow path, enjoying the flowers brush up against your legs, rather than trample through them! Last year, I added two mini wild flower beds to my own garden – using Apple bins from a nearby farm. I lined each one with some polythene and a staplegun; added bricks and bits of broken pots to the bottom for drainage, and then piled fallen leaves, grass clippings and horse manure in. Every few weeks, the level would drop, and I’d repeat the process.
To top it off, a friend who runs a landscaping business had some top soil going begging, and I snapped it up quick! I planted a couple of perennials and a grass in each one, and sowed one pack of wildflower seeds which was enough for both bins. And then waited. I can’t tell you how much joy I got from those two old apple bins last summer. They were glorious.
5 Pick the perfect plants – This last idea might seem a bit of a cop out. But for me, it’s so important, and it is integral to that idea of balance. There is nothing more disheartening than planting a gorgeous, handsome looking plant or shrub that you’ve chosen, only to watch it go brown and die. It will leave both yourself and your local wildlife, feeling a bit miffed.
So, if you are starting out with your garden, enjoy a few easy wins. Take a nose over the fence at next door – what grows well in their plot will probably work for you. Take a moment to notice the little things: even, poor old weeds like nettle, that get a bad press – but are indicators of healthy soil. Keep these plants, and your soil type in mind when you head out to your local nursery and you can’t go far wrong. Once you’ve enjoyed a little success, start adding and experimenting.
Liz is the co-owner of Denys & Fielding – a family run company that began with a passion for gardening – creates colourful gardenwares and home accessories. Their new Spring collection includes a range of products and gifts to encourage children into the garden and will be available in early March. Get more details on the range and priority shopping by registering your interest here. You’ll also receive a free copy of Liz’s ‘Rewilding your wildlings’ ideas-packed guide to getting your children away from screens and into the garden…
Denys & Fielding is listed in the From Britain with Love directory here >>
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