Spring wildlife gardening

(c) Kieron Huston

As the days get longer and warmer we’ll all be itching to get out into the garden and start sowing, planting and tidying for a glorious summer display. If you don’t already garden with wildlife in mind, it’s a good time to put a few measures in place to make your garden a wildlife haven, or if you do, maybe add a few more! Cath Price explains more:

At the beginning of the growing season your lawn may be looking a bit shaggy and ill-kempt – I know mine is! I have a patch of grass which I allow to grow without cutting, which is full of primroses, cowslips, wild daffodils and a couple of errant snake’s head fritillaries that sneaked in with the daffodil bulbs, and very soon it’ll be a splash of colour.

This year I plan to extend it and see what appears in a shadier area under some birches. A garden meadow like this can look surprisingly neat if you mow around it and maybe make a couple of paths through it, so it looks deliberate rather than neglected, and it provides a splendid habitat for small creatures. I cut it once in June or July, raking up all the ‘hay’, and every year more flowers appear in my mini-meadow.

Wildlife meadow

(c) Paul Harris/2020VISION

It’s very tempting to raid the garden centre for a quick fix, buying in lots of new plants to fill your beds, but remember the carbon footprint - many are grown in huge heated greenhouses in continental Europe, raised in peat-based compost in disposable plastic pots and shipped hundreds of miles. They may have been treated with pesticides, even systemic neonicotinoids, to provide you with a faultless plant. Better by far to raise your own from seed or beg cuttings from friends and neighbours. 

Hummingbird hawkmoth

Hummingbird hawkmoth (c) Derek Moore

Divide established perennials and spread them around the garden or swap for different ones. Think insect, and don’t forget that simple open flowers are best for bees and other pollinators – those frilly double fuchsias might look fantastic, but grow single ones if you want to see humming bird hawk moths in your garden! Aim for a mixture of flower shapes covering as long a flowering season as possible to keep your garden buzzing all year long.

If you have a pond, spring is the time to leave well alone. Do not disturb! This is the season for frogs, toads and newts to visit and lay their eggs – let them do it in peace.

Hopefully you all have a lovely compost heap full of splendid goodness for the garden (and if not, why not?) but do try to have extracted all you need from it before June.

Grass snake

Grass snake (c) Mark Robinson

Grass snakes like to lay their leathery-shelled eggs in warm, humid, decomposing vegetation, and compost heaps are perfect nurseries for them. Leave them a window of opportunity from early June to late September – you can add stuff to the heap, but don’t dig it out.

Watch out for hedgehogs coming out of hibernation – they’ll be hungry and thirsty, so a shallow dish of water and some meaty cat food will be welcomed. Keep your bird feeders full too, as the breeding season puts a great strain on the garden birds. All that singing takes a lot of energy, so make sure the food you offer is high calorie and good quality. You might like to put out some finely ground oystershell grit too, to provide the extra calcium needed for egg formation.

Above all, get out in the sunshine and enjoy the life around you – even a tiny plot can be your own private paradise! If you’re looking for inspiration, visit our garden at The Cut or  get a copy of the National Garden Scheme open gardens programme, earmark wildlife gardens to visit and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labours too.