All about the plants
To make your outside space wildlife friendly, fill it with plants! There’s something life-affirming about being surrounded by plants – trees, shrubs, flowers, meadows. Many studies have shown the calming effects of being in green environments; it’s even been shown to increase reading ability. Plants are also the solid foundation of the food chain. Where there are plants, there’s shelter and food for so many creatures; they home in on it.
Top seven easy-to-grow plants
Here are seven easy-to-grow plants that you can find in any garden centre and which I guarantee will be visited by lots of lovely pollinating insects, if you plant them in a sunny, sheltered position. All (except the foxglove) are perennials – they keep coming back year after year.
Each plant should take no more than 15 minutes a year to look after – a once a year prune and a bit of water in hot weather is all it takes.
Brilliant for bees. Grows to about 60cm (2ft) tall and the same wide. They do well in dry, rubbish soil – just don’t overwater them, as they don’t like having what is called ‘their feet in water’. To look after it, just trim the ends of all the stems in early spring.
Great for bees; even better for butterflies. Grows to about 30cm (1ft) tall and over time forms a clump. You might find it labelled Oregano. In spring, cut back all the stems that flowered the previous year.
Often labelled Nepeta. It forms a low, loose mound of foliage about 45cm (1.5ft) high. Two common ones are Walker’s Low and Six Hills Giant. Let them flower in summer, then cut back to the base in July as they start to go straggly (you can be tough with your love!) and it will sprout again from the base. Despite the name, keep it away from your feline friends - they'll eat it before it has a chance to flower!
Grows slender wiry stems with clusters of lilac flowers on top that butterflies love. Leave the flower heads once finished as finches eat the seeds. Those that fall to the ground may germinate and give you new plants. Prune back to the base in early spring.
With tall flower spikes with purple, pink and white flowers. Remember, many foxgloves are ‘biennials’ – they germinate in year 1, form a rosette of leaves, then flower in year 2, and die, but they’ll produce thousands of tiny seeds for you to scatter.
With daisy flowers in flaming reds and yellows about 60cm (2ft) high, which will have the bees flocking. A common variety is Sahin’s Early Flowerer, but any will do. Cut back last year’s flowering stems in early spring. Water well in hot, dry weather.
They have mounds of lovely leaves about 30-45cm (1-1.5 ft) high) and hundreds of large simple flowers in shades of blue, purple and pink, perfect for bumblebees. Some flower for weeks and weeks. Look for varieties such as Geranium Rozanne, Geranium x magnificum, Geranium sanguineum. Just like catmints, most can be cut back hard straight after flowering, and will happily grow back and probably flower again.
- Growing plants in pots is more challenging than growing them in the ground. They need more watering, feeding, and won’t grow as strongly. If you can only grow plants in pots, go for it. But if you can get plants’ roots into the soil, it will make life easier.
- Avoid flowers with lots of rings of petals – they are called ‘doubles’ and they often don’t have the vital nectar and pollen that insects need.
- Plant a tree. They’re easier to grow than most plants. Buy them small – that makes them cheaper and easier to get established. Choose carefully, because you don’t want one that will totally outgrow
your garden, but there’s one to suit every size of space.
- Grow plants from seed. It does need a bit of TLC to nurture them when very small, but it isn’t a ‘dark art’, and it is so cheap and rewarding.
- Only use peat-free compost – there’s no point destroying special and fragile wildlife homes elsewhere to try and make our own spaces better for wildlife.