Lifestyle Guides

Five ways to encourage nature to your garden

Even if you don’t have a garden, you can do lots to encourage flying, fluttering, hopping and even swimming friends to your backyard, balcony or windowsill - follow our tips.

hedgehog in garden

We're going to be spending more time than ever in our gardens and outdoor spaces over the coming months, and inviting birds, bees, butterflies and bugs to share our outdoor spaces can bring valuable wellbeing benefits.

Connecting with the natural world helps enhance calmness, ease anxiety and raise our moods - essential as we face the stresses and strains brought by Coronavirus.

So, don’t be a stranger to nature. 

1. Got butterflies?

From painted ladies to white admirals, swallowtails to small tortoiseshells, delicate butterflies come in a variety of colourful species. 

Sadly, numbers have declined in the UK in recent years, largely because the natural habitats butterflies thrive in, such as wildflower meadows and woodlands, have been overtaken by industry, housing developments and intensive farming.

But you can help make life better for butterflies by planting nectar-rich buds in warm, sunny spots. Get them fluttering to your flower beds by digging buddleia and bluebells into borders and potting up primrose.

Well-placed, sun-facing window boxes, hanging baskets or containers filled with lavender, honeysuckle or jasmine are also enticing. In autumn, butterflies won’t say no to a sweet, mushy banana or other ripe fruits such as mangoes and fallen apples, which give them energy too. 

And don’t forget to feed the very hungry caterpillars. Butterflies lay their eggs on plants that caterpillars eat, so make space for some stinging nettles or nasturtiums.

Butterfly Conservation has useful information about which nectar-rich plants flower each season, so you can provide a constant supply of butterfly food. If you want to identify the butterflies you’ve spotted, go to the charity’s butterfly guide.  

2. Let’s bee friends

The humble bumblebee, honeybee and all their cousins are vital to our world’s ecosystem; bees pollinate vast amounts of the food we eat, so we really could go hungry without our buzzing buddies doing their essential work.

Like butterflies, bees are in decline, having lost a lot of their natural habitat. But you can be brilliantly bee-friendly by providing plenty of food and shelter in your outdoor space.

Nectar and pollen-rich flowers and plants such as hawthorn, honeysuckle, lavender and crocus are favourites of bees, while they also make a ‘beeline’ for wildflowers. Plant wildflower seed mixes and create your own mini meadow filled with forget-me-nots and poppies. Think about leaving a corner of your garden unmown, encouraging wildflowers to crop up in the grass.

A window box filled with flowering herbs like marjoram, rosemary and chives also makes a great tea for the bee - not to mention giving you a fresh supply of culinary ingredients! Check out this handy guide from Friends of the Earth, detailing bee-loving blossoms and the months in which they flower. 

If you’re feeling hospitable, you can help bees rest and nest by providing a bee B&B. Ready-made bee hotels are available to buy, or you could have a go at making your own. This example from the Royal Horticultural Society, using a terracotta plant pot, modelling clay, bamboo canes or straws and string, is also a great home-schooling activity, if you have children at home.

3. In fine feather

bird in garden

Watching birds feed in your garden or being serenaded at your window by their song can be really uplifting in difficult times. Fill roofed bird tables with seed mixes and hang bird feeders filled with fat balls or sunflower hearts high up and out of the reach of cats. 

For ground feeders such as blackbirds and finches, scatter food on the lawn or in a tray, away from bushes where sneaky felines can hide. Keep your feeders and tables clean to prevent disease, clearing away old food and making sure they’re free from droppings. The RSPB offers sensible guidance on what’s safe to feed birds and what to avoid.

Keen to see birds nesting near you? Then a messy garden’s best! Leave twigs and leaves littering the lawn so birds can help themselves to nest-building materials. You could make things even easier for them by putting up a bird box. 

4. Pond-ering your next move

Garden ponds attract all sorts of visitors – from frogs and toads to pond skaters, dragonflies and newts. Birds also like to swoop down for a drink and are partial to a splash to clean their feathers before preening them, while even bats might flit down for a beverage!

Add logs or stones to your pond to help creatures such as hedgehogs climb in and out. Plants with floating leaves like water lilies, or even a few corks bobbing on the surface, will provide a perch for insects, such as bees, to take a tipple. 

No pond? No problem. The Wildlife Trust has a great guide on how to create your own mini-pond using a washing-up bowl or plant pot.

5. Give a hedgehog a home

Hedgehogs hoover up plant pests like slugs and caterpillars, so welcoming these sweet and spiky characters will do your garden good. Keep a patch unkempt with piles of leaves, a compost heap or a log pile. 

They’re all great environments to provide hedgehogs with insects to feed on, as well as somewhere to sleep during the day and hibernate through winter. You could also make a hedgehog home following these instructions from the Woodland Trust.

Supplement a hog’s natural diet from spring until autumn with some meat-based wet cat or dog food or commercial hedgehog food and give a shallow dish of water. Be sure to check long grass for hidden hedgehogs before you mow the lawn and don’t use slug pellets or pesticides on your plants, as they can be fatal for hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs like to walk about a mile every night in search of food and a mate, and it’s difficult for them to travel freely between gardens linked by fences. Ask permission from your neighbours to make a ‘hedgehog highway’ by cutting a 13cm x 13cm arch at the bottom of your fences, so hogs have freedom to roam.

Our gardens and outside spaces are precious places, both to us and to the creatures who live in them. Read our guide on how to protect your garden from damage and theft and enjoy a summer giving nature a home!

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