Go wild in the garden

Go wild in your garden this Spring

Ulster Wildlife has teamed up with the Belfast Telegraph in a celebration of spring! This helpful resource will help you make space for nature and create a safe haven for animals who need your help.

Large or small, balcony or yard, your garden plays a very important role in providing a welcome place for nature, and for you and your family too.

Your garden is part of a huge network of over 15 million gardens that criss-cross the UK. Imagine the difference we could make if we all cared for our gardens in a nature-friendly way?

With many of our much-loved garden creatures like bees, bats, hedgehogs and starlings in decline they need your help more now, than ever. It’s not hard to make space for nature; from small simple changes such as planting nectar-rich flowers for bees and butterflies to keeping bird feeders topped up – any action you take will make a huge difference.

And it’s not just the wildlife that will be rewarded with your efforts – increasingly research shows that spending time outdoors and in nature is good for your health. It will also give your hours of pleasure as you sit back, enjoy the view and see who visits!

Here are some ideas to help you get you started, whatever the size of your garden. For more tips and advice, visit our website. You can also share your wildlife gardening pictures with us on Facebook or Twitter.

Grow a butterfly garden

Butterflies bring colour and beauty to any garden and are also important pollinators. By planting nectar-rich flowers and providing shelter for them to overwinter such as long grass, thick growths of ivy or a bug hotel, you’ll be helping them to thrive.

Peacock butterfly on Knapweed 

Peacock butterfly on Knapweed 

Plant nectar-rich plants
Go for plants with simple flowers that make it easy for butterflies to get at the nectar. Avoid double-flowered varieties of plants which may have no nectar. Plant a good mixture of nectar-rich plants in your borders, pots and patios, which will flower at different times to provide year-round food.

Choose a sheltered sunny spot, as butterflies need the sun to give them the energy to fly and feed. Avoid pesticide use wherever possible. And, remember to provide food plants for their caterpillars too!

Spring nectar
· Primrose
· Forget me not
· Aubrieta
· Sweet rocket

Summer nectar
· Lavender
· Thyme
· Red valerian
· Knapweed
· Heliotrope

Autumn nectar
· Michaelmas daisy
· Sweet scabious
· Sedum
· Hyssop

Plants for breeding butterflies

You can also try attracting butterflies to your garden by leaving out some overripe fruit or by giving them a sweet boost of sugary water, particularly welcome when nectar is scarce -
see our ‘Make a butterfly feeding table’ how-to guide below.

Keep butterflies happy 

Keep butterflies happy 

Don’t forget the moths which are equally as important pollinators! They are attracted to pale night-scented flowers such as evening primrose, tobacco plant and honeysuckle. Their long, tubular flowers are perfect for moths with long tongues which can reach inside to sip the nectar.

Making a home for wildlife

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 How to help our little friends find a home in our gardens

Provide shelter for wildlife

No wildlife garden is complete without a place for wildlife to nest, shelter and raise their young. In addition to providing natural shelters such as trees, hedges and log piles in your garden, artificial homes, such as nest boxes, offer a valuable alternative for birds, bats, bees and hedgehogs.

It doesn't take a lot of space to make room for nature!

It doesn't take a lot of space to make room for nature!

Bird boxes
Providing a nest box is one of the simplest ways of attracting birds to breed in your garden and will give you hours of pleasure. Bird boxes are best put up in early winter.

The size of the entrance hole will dictate what species of bird it will attract:
· 28mm is suitable for blue tit, great tit, coal tit and tree sparrow.
· 32mm or larger will attract house sparrow.

On the other hand, a variety of species may be attracted to an open-fronted nest box, such as Robin and Wren. Objects such as old metal kettles and flowerpots pushed into hedges or shrubs may also be used by these birds.

When siting your box, place in a sheltered position on a tree or wall at head height or (a couple of feet above if possible) away from human disturbance, cats and away from bird feeders. Avoid sites that expose the box to full sun during the middle of the day. Remember to clean out your nest box at the end of the breeding season to clean out any parasites.

A bullfinch enjoys some seeds in the sunshine 

A bullfinch enjoys some seeds in the sunshine 

Hedgehog homes
Alongside log and leaf piles and wilderness areas in your garden, purpose-built hedgehog homes make great places for hedgehogs to raise their hoglets in summer and hibernate over winter. And with these prickly creatures in decline, they need all the help they can get.

There are many designs available, but the most important thing to ensure is that the entrance is secure to prevent unwanted disturbance from cats or foxes and that there is sufficient ventilation.

You can build a wooden box from untreated timber. Recommended dimensions are 30 x 40 x 30cm high.
See our ‘Make a deluxe hedgehog house’ how-to guide below.

Untreated wood keeps hedgehogs happy!

Untreated wood keeps hedgehogs happy!

The box should be placed out of direct sunlight and the entrance tunnel should be out of the wind. A quiet part of the garden under thick vegetation or behind a shed is ideal. Remember to clean your hedgehog house out in autumn, before they go into hibernation.

If you are lucky to have hedgehogs visiting your garden, one of the best things you can do is cut a small hole in your fence 13cmx 13cm (5in) to allow hedgehogs to roam between neighbouring gardens in search of food, mates and nesting sites.

Get your garden buzzing for bees

Get your garden buzzing for bees

Did you know bees provide us with every third mouthful of food we eat? These vital pollinators are in trouble though and need our help. By taking small actions you can make your garden bee-friendly and reap the benefits too – they will help pollinate your fruit and veg and bring a welcome buzz to your patch.

Which bees have you spotted?

Which bees have you spotted?

Plant nectar and pollen-rich plants

Bumblebee species have different length tongues, some short and some long, and as result, they prefer different types of flowers, so it’s important to grow a range of different plants to provide enough nectar for these busy little creatures.

As with planting for butterflies, having a mix of early and late flowering plants will prolong the nectar season for bumblebees. Plant in sunny, sheltered spots in clumps.

See the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list for more inspiration.

Be less tidy

Of all the wildlife-friendly things you can do this is the easiest.

Let your grass grow
If you have a lawn, it can be home to an astonishing number of creatures, especially if you let a patch of it grow longer in spring. This will provide you with an instant mini-meadow and will provide a home for all sorts of insects such as butterflies, moths and grasshoppers. Even simply raising the height of your mower blade by a few inches and mowing less frequently can make a massive difference to wildlife.

Leave dandelion and nettle patches
Letting some weeds grow such as nettles (even in just one shady corner) will provide vital food for the caterpillars of many butterflies such as red admiral and tortoiseshell, whilst a patch of dandelions will provide a welcome source of nectar for early bumblebees.

Pile up logs
A pile of logs in a shady corner of the garden will provide a vital refuge for many mini-beasts such as beetles and spiders, as well as creatures such as frogs, newts, hedgehogs and mice. Birds such as thrushes and blackbirds will also be attracted by the food on offer. Wood from broad-leaved trees such as oak and ash attract the greatest range of species; treated wood should be avoided.

Cut back on cutting back
Make sure you leave plenty of tree and hedge cover for birds to shelter and feed in especially during bird nesting season, between March and August. Cutting your hedges during this time could actually be an offence as it’s illegal to disturb bird’s nests and their young.

Feed the Birds

The best way to attract birds to your garden is to feed them throughout the year. Provide them with the right type of food at the right time of year and you’ll be helping garden birds thrive, providing your garden with colour and entertainment.

Provide a year-round buffet
By putting out a variety of food in different locations, you could attract up to 50 species of bird to your garden. Bird feeders are likely to attract finches, tits and sparrows whereas birds such as blackbirds, thrushes and robins feed on the ground or from tables.

See our ‘Who’s Who’ guide to garden birds and see how many you can entice into your garden below.

Which of these birds can you spot in your garden?

Which of these birds can you spot in your garden?

Provide nuts, seed mixes, suet pellets and kitchen scraps such as overripe fruit, cheese, and porridge oats, in feeders, trays and on the ground to attract as many birds as possible. Black sunflower seeds are popular with greenfinches, whereas goldfinches prefer niger seeds or sunflower hearts.

In the breeding season supplement with live food, such as waxworms or mealworms, which will provide an excellent source of protein for birds with hungry chicks to feed and in winter, offer fat balls which provide extra calories for hungry birds.

Why not have a go at making your own bird feeder? See our how-to-guide below.

Remember to offer water too!
Remember that birds need fresh water too for drinking or bathing. Provide fresh water in a shallow dish and if you don’t have a birdbath, use an upside-down plastic bin lid or large plant pot saucer. Keep them topped up, free of ice and clean to stop the spread of diseases like salmonella.

Making space for nature

No garden? No problem

A small space is not a barrier to gardening for wildlife. Even if you only have a balcony or small yard, you can still do your bit to help nature thrive with some small, thoughtful changes.

Plant up window boxes and containers
Plant up a window box or container (or old metal kettle, teapot or welly boots!) with herbs such as rosemary, lavender, thyme or marjoram which are great for butterflies and bees– or with night scented stocks and tobacco plants for moths. You could also try some of the nectar-rich plants listed for bees and butterflies which will happily grow in a window box. To get started, ensure your container has adequate drainage holes, fill halfway with peat-free compost, start planting, top off with compost and then water regularly.

Plant up hanging baskets
Hanging baskets can be hung in any space and are excellent for insects. Fill with peat-free compost and plant with a mix of tall plants in the middle such as scabious and verbena, surrounded by smaller plants such as fuchsias and marigolds, and trailing plants around the edges such as ivy and nasturtiums. Water well and enjoy!

Choose climbing plants for fences or trellis
Climbing plants on fences and walls make valuable nesting and roosting sites for birds, and are a haven for butterflies and bees – they will also add a welcome touch of colour. Choose plants like honeysuckle, roses and clematis, which have nectar-rich flowers followed by fruit. Make sure you have some evergreens too, like ivy. Climbers are easy to grow in tubs; simply top up with compost, water regularly and cut back each year to encourage new growth.

From wildflower meadows to hanging baskets

Make a home for nature in your garden

No matter the space, how big or how small, our guide shows you how you can make a home for nature.

With our wildlife habitats increasingly under threat, every garden is a potential nature reserve. They will give you inspiration and practical advice on many ways to make your garden wildlife-friendly. Not only that but the action you take to make your garden a local home for wildlife also helps to connect habitats together from our neighbourhoods to our nature reserves.