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This was the very first garden constucted when we moved from the city centre garden to our current site in 1996. Completed in a matter of weeks, it was designed and built by our own Lesley Watson and Dougal Philip from New Hopetoun Gardens, with generous assistance from Scottish Natural Heritage.

Gardening with wildlife in mind has become a common theme. However, back in the mid 1990s, gardeners were really opening up to the idea. Surveys at the time revealed that gardeners were keen to encourage wildlife into their gardens....as long as it didn't cost them anything and as long as the garden didn't have to be "wild".

Many myths surrounded wildlife gardening. For instance, people thought only wild or native plants would attract wildlife, that gardens designed for wildlife had to be messy and were no-go areas for humans and that the gardens had to be large and out in the country side to be effective.

To help dispell these misconceptions, our Garden for Life was designed to appeal to as many gardeners as possible. It was built in two styles - a rural, relaxed cottage garden and a more formal paved town garden. Both spaces are fairly small at about 50 square metres (7 good paces x 7 good paces). Plus, all the plants originally chosen for the garden featured on Scottish National Heritage's Plants for Wildlife register, being both garden-worthy plants and having proven benefits for wildlife visitors (see below for more plant information).

Both gardens feature planted pots - even the smallest balcony can have pots full of plants for wildlife visitors. The message we are trying to get across is that wildlife gardening is not all about letting your garden go wild. On the contrary - a good wildlife garden should be actively managed and can look just as tidy and formal as a normal garden.

After just 6 months, we started to see results in our Garden for Life. In the first year, on a hot sunny day, the whole crew were amazed at the wildlife activity in the gardens. Filming was interrupted twice as there was so much insect activity in front of the camera lens and the presenters were dive bombed by butterflies, hoverflies, bees and damsel flies from the pond. If you plant the correct plants the wildlife visitors will find them.

 

Benefits to gardeners of encouraging wildlife into the garden

Year round colour
This is one of the most frequent wishes from gardeners, and it fits well with the Garden for Life requirements. A steady supply of food, therefore all year round flowers or berries, is essential - avoid a feast and famine situation if you want to attract wildlife. Every season brings different delights for the gardener and wildlife alike.

Low maintenance
Gardening with wildlife in mind is very liberating. If you're really relaxed, keep fallen branches or large prunings and create a woodpile at the bottom of the garden. If that doesn't suit, try leaving hollow stemmed herbaceous plants until late March rather than cutting them back in autumn and mulch your borders. Both of these options cut down on maintenance and give insects a place to overwinter. Choose recycled materials to mulch with, like bark chips, farmyard manure and waste from paper pulping rather than precious peat. These few things can make gardening easier and more successful while benefitting wildlife.

Nature will get in balance as natural predators increase and devour foes. Spray insecticides as a last resort - don't just reach for the sprayer instinctively.

Fragrance
Its not created for our delight, but rather a device used by flowers to attract pollinating insects. While not all plants recommended for wildlife are necessarily fragrant, a great many are, and again this is good for both the gardener and wildlife visitor.

Wildlife in the garden
Watching wildlife visiting your garden is a real feel-good factor. The entertainment of birdsong, watching them at your feeders and the flash of a butterfly is a constant delight.

The first frog we spotted at the Beechgrove Garden was in the bubbling cobble feature, which has a shallow end where birds can wash and preen themselves. Introducing water into your garden is one of the single most useful things you can do for your wildlife visitors.

Beautiful Plants
We must promote garden worthy plants in general - they don't have to be natives. After all, Buddleia davidii comes from China and is one of the best sources of food for our butterflies. However, if choosing non-native plants, do ensure that they both behave and perform well in the gardens. Beware of non-native plants that might be invasive. A specific example is bluebells - the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) can be invasive and theatens the presence of our native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), especially if the Spanish variety is planted adjacent to an area of native bluebell. For more information, see the links below.

Plant placement is just as important as plant selection in the wildlife garden. Think about how the wildlife will use the plant. For example, choosing Sedum spectabile is good as long as you plant it in the sun where butterflies will bask and feed on it.

Research now shows that, while there are still some plants better for attracting wildlife than others, just getting out and planting a diverse garden is the most important step in creating biodiveristy. Keep in mind that wildlife use plants as a food source, so plants that produce berries or have large stamen and produce lots of nectar are great for wildlife.

For an indepth look at how you can encourage wildlife, check out the SNH report - Growing Nature: the role of horticulture in supporting biodiversity.

For more information on what you can do to Garden for life, check out the Scottish Natural Heritage website, where there is loads of information to download.

Remember: gardeners can play a major role in the provision of wildlife habitat in Scotland. A substantial part of our country is under horticultural management of one sort or another, so keep planting.