How to help wildlife

Blackbird on a plantpot

If you'd love to see more wildlife in your garden, clever choices for your borders and herb patches can give nature a helping hand.

And by making space for the minibeasts you can provide for the whole food chain, without shelling out for specialist supplies.

When you leave part of your garden untouched, with good access to other gardens or wild spaces, you are creating safe area for wildlife away from human influences.

An undisturbed pile of logs makes an excellent hideaway for an incredible number of insects which in turn can attract birds and mammals.

But if you prefer a more orderly garden, you can still provide additional food and shelter for all the small things - and some of the big ones too - with a good mix of plants.

  • Trees not only give birds somewhere to nest but can provide fruit for foxes, badgers and even deer
  • Hedgerows, such as holly, provide essential cover and corridors that join up green spaces for small mammals
  • A range of shrubs that flower at different times will improve the diversity of visitors to your garden
  • Longer grass is essential for egg-laying insects such as butterflies, so leave a bit of lawn untrimmed
  • Taller flowers will attract flying friends from bees to dragonflies
  • Night-scented plants such as buddleia and evening primrose are great for moths which in turn are a feast for bats
  • Wall climbers can provide links between gardens for pollinators
  • Make a calm haven in coastal gardens with trellis and evergreens to act as a windbreak
  • Don't forget your water feature: ponds are essential for amphibians and offer a bath and beverage for birds
  • Choose your own compost over peat - the latter is a threatened habitat while compost heaps are a warm home to reptiles as well as a great source of nutrients for your garden

There is some debate between experts over whether native plant species are better for our wildlife and a study is currently underway at the Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley garden in Surrey to determine which bugs like best.

Helen Bostock is a RHS wildlife gardening specialist who runs the Plants for Bugs project and has researched the most frequently recommended plants to attract the birds, bees, butterflies and more.

Her top ten plants every wildlife gardener should consider for their patch are: sunflowers, foxgloves, thyme, lavender, honeysuckle, rowan, ice plant, firethorn, barberry and purple loosestrife.

Sunflower

Helianthus

Experts advise that you avoid the heavy double forms which feature in Van Gogh's famous painting because the extra petals mean there's less pollen available for our pollinators. The colourful heads provide a burst of sunshine in the summer and a buffet of seeds for birds when the season changes.

sunflower

Foxglove

Digitalis

A classic feature of the cottage garden, bumblebees love a foxglove. Their blooms appear between June and September but be aware: the plants are poisonous if eaten by humans or pets.

Foxglove

Thyme

Thymus

This herb provides excellent ground cover in gravel gardens, creating safe spaces for beetles and other invertebrates. Its nectar is also a favourite of bees.

Thyme

Lavender

Lavendula

The calming scent of lavender on a sunny patio is a magnet for bees and butterflies. When the purple blooms go to seed, birds can tuck in.

Lavendar

Honeysuckle

Lonicera

This climber buzzes with visitors in the summer months, attracting nectar-loving insects including the hummingbird hawk moth. Warblers and thrushes enjoy the berries.

Honeysuckle

Rowan

Sorbus aucuparia

Although it is a small tree, the rowan or mountain ash has big appeal to the thrush family with its red autumn berries and is a good compact choice for small to medium gardens.

Rowan

Ice plant

Sedum spectabile

These plants provide nectar later in the season and are a haven for hoverflies, bees and butterflies.

Ice plant

Firethorn

Pyracantha

This dense red-berried shrub, often used as a hedge, can provide great shelter for birds. It can cope with both exposed positions and shade and gives wildlife a further helping hand with berries and nectar.

Firethorn

Barberry

Berberis

An attractive addition to a border, berberis come in a number of varieties and provide nectar for butterflies and moths plus shelter for their caterpillars.

Barberry

Purple loosestrife

Lythrum salicaria

For the soggier spots in your garden, this pink wildflower thrives in damper soil and boggy conditions. It flowers from June until the end of August, providing an important nectar source for long tongued insects including eye-catching red-tailed bumblebees and elephant hawk-moths.

Purple loosestrife

Do you have any good recommendations for garden plants? Then tell us about them and join the big Summer of Wildlife conversation on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature - #summerofwildlife.

And don't forget to share your wildlife garden photos on the Summer of Wildlife Flickr group - #seeitsnapitshareit.

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