In our last blog we looked at how the design of gardens, contemporary or traditional, influences the physical diversity of the habitat in your garden. Now its time to look at how the right planting scheme can draw in wildlife and support it.
Plants are probably the area of wildlife gardening that is most intuitively understandable to non gardeners. Get the plants right and you get the abundance and diversity of insects etc, which in turn provides food for birds, hedgehogs etc. All of this is, on a basic level, is true, but a deeper understanding changes it from simply "supporting" wildlife, to providing year round support for wildlife. This is where a comprehensive planting plan drawn up by a garden designer comes into its own.
The role of plants can be broken down into three key elements - providing structure, providing nectar and providing "physical" food such as berries, seeds etc.
Plants provide structure through their own physical characteristics - the height, shape, density – as well as their influence on the soil through the action of roots, the decomposition of their leaves, etc. Recent research done by the RHS found that the abundance of invertebrates (insects etc) is correlated with the density of planting - the greater the density, the more invertebrates. That said, it is of course not a simple as just that. As we've seen in the previous blog, a diversity of habitats is valuable, so areas of more open planting which allow more sunlight to reach ground level can enrich the habitat too.
These days, thankfully, we are all more aware of the value of selecting of nectar rich plants in our gardens, and schemes like the RHS "Perfect for pollinators" have helped gardeners make the right plant selection. What is harder is to understand how to stitch those nectar rich plants together into an integrated planting plan that provides an uninterrupted, year-round nectar source, whilst also remaining aesthetically harmonious and exciting. This is where it makes sense to employ the services of a garden design as they have the knowledge and experience to understand the arc of a planting scheme over the course of a year.
Finally, we need to consider the "physical" food sources that plants provide. In many ways the requirements are much the same as for nectar; a year-round source of food (especially in winter) is invaluable, especially since urban birds rely on berries and seeds for much of winter when invertebrates are in short supply. Leaving seed heads on plants helps provide this, particularly with grasses, as well as considering which plants have more “generous” supplies of seeds. Try to resist the temptation to tidy your garden at the end of autumn, it's far better to leave dead herbaceous material standing over winter, especially things with large seedheads such as sunflowers. A good garden designer can integrate these elements into your garden by selecting the right plants, for example ones with ornamental seed heads that provide for wildlife but also enrich the garden aesthetically.