Wildlife Garden

This is an excerpt from the Book called “Small family gardens by Caroline Tilston. Continue reading to learn more about Wildlife Garden , thanks to the author.

Design Brief 

  • Encourage bees, hoverflies and butterflies 
  • Work with the environment and the soil 


  • Borders arranged like hedgerows 
  • Small wildlife pond  
  • Wild bee houses 

A wildlife garden in South London? It’s not the most obvious place to devote a garden to the natural world but, as we stand underneath a hawthorn and our voices are drowned out not by wailing sirens but by birdsong and our discussion is interrupted by a nosy fox, I begin to see the point. 

Encouraging wildlife 

Marl Carlton, the owner of this garden, is passionate about encouraging wildlife.  He has a wonderful website where you can find out more about the garden and about encouraging wildlife into your garden-visit www.foxleas.com.  Here he answers some questions about wildlife in the garden. 

  1. What sort of things should you plant in the garden if you want to attract bees and butterflies? It’s difficult to use just wildflowers in the garden, but plant varieties that are close to their wild ancestors, like old-fashioned cottage garden plants, are good. 

  2. Do you have to plant natives? 

What’s native? Not long ago we were attached to mainland Europe and our wildlife can make use of many plant species from the rest of Europe. Plant species from further afield, North America and the southern hemisphere, tend to be less useful.

Encouraging wildlife
Encouraging wildlife

  3. Why is that? 

One major reason: a lot of flowers from those places are bird pollinated and so are red.  Birds see the colour red very well, but bees (our pollinators) don’t so the red flowers are effectively invisible to them. An exception is flowers like poppies and red roses that reflect ultraviolet light, which bees can see. 

  4. What else should you avoid planting if you want to attract bees and butterflies? 

Double flowers aren’t good at all, in most cases the stamens (which would carry the pollen) have been developed into petals. 

  5. How should the plants be arranged? 

The idea we’ve got here is that the plants should recreate the roles they would have in nature the tree laver the hedgerow layer and the understorey.  Much of our wildlife in the country depends on the hedgerow layer both for food and shelter but also for a safe way to move around the area. So I’ve recreated in the long borders a hedgerow type of environment Also everything in really densely planted just as if would be in the wild, so the plants provide a continuous shelter for animals and we don’t get many weeds, as there’s more for them. 

  6. If you had to choose one plant? 

Wild marjoram. It is wonderful for attracting bees and butterflies and has a long flowering period.  

  7. Why should gardeners care about bees? 

Because gardeners can really help their conservation. For example, there are, 25 species of bumblebee in the UK, 18 of which are threatened and two have become extinct already. About six species are still doing well and that’s as a direct result of gardens and gardeners’ activities.  

  8. Why do we need wild bee? 

For vegetables and fruit trees and even farm crops, bees of all kinds are needed as pollinators. 

Creating a Wildflower Meadow 

It is possible to create a wildflower meadow in a small garden. The lawn here is being developed as one and it is a wonderful thing to do for wildlife. 

Reasons to Create a Wildflower Meadow 


  • It’s great for wildlife. Providing both food and cover.  
  • There’s an ever-changing gallery of different plants. 
  • It means you don’t have to mow the lawn for a good part of the year. 
  • Children can lie in the long grass, hidden from view. 
  • Your lawn will come alive with the humming of all sorts of insects: bumblebess, hoverflies and butterflies. 
  • It’s unpredictable. 


  • It’s a long, slow process to create a real wildflower meadow and it relies on the soil being starved of nutrients so the thuggish weeds- docks and nettles-don’t take over. 
  • It also requires a bit of space: grass you don’t need to use for sitting or games for a fair bit of the year. 
  • It’s unpredictable. 

If you still want to go ahead 

  • You need to get rid of as many nutrients as possible. Either quickly by taking off the topsoil or slowly, by every time you cut the grass taking away the cuttings and with them the nutrients. Over the years the soil will become more and more depleted. 
  • You can sow seed or use plugs (very small plants supplied in containers a bit like egg boxes) or just let nature take its course. Marc recommends plugs. 
  • If you need to find out what sort of plants would be native to you, you can either ask a supplier of plugs of you can go to ww.nhm.ac.uk/science/projects/fff, the postcode plants database. Put in your postcode and the site will tell you what plants are local to your area.
Making a Wild Bee House
Making a Wild Bee House
Maintenance of a wildflower area
Maintenance of a wildflower area

Maintenance of a wildflower area 

  1. Keep cutting the grass from July through to March. Marc is adamant that you should cut it and keep cutting if from July onwards. Even if it means cutting down flowers. ‘If you let the grass bulk up through the summer it will take over from the delicate wildflowers. 
  2. Make sure you always take off the cuttings. 

There is another way 

If you want a wonderful, easy, colourful cop-out, with all the benefits of a wildflower meadow but none of the hard work, go for a bed of annual cornfield flowers.  Sow them (children like to do this) in ground that is as weed free as possible in early spring and in just a few months you’ll have a colourful display of thing like cornflowers, marigolds and corncockles. You can buy cornfield annual mix from most seed suppliers. 

Lawns: a wildlife desert 

Lawns that are treated with chemicals or tightly mown all year are pretty atrocious for wildlife. The small piece of grass in Marc’s garden in used as a wildflower area in the first half of the year and then cut like a lawn after that. This unusual management regime makes a big difference to wildlife. 

Top plants for wildlife; recommended by Marc 

  1. Wild marjoram 

  2. Hairy Michaelmas daisy

These are late summer-and autumn-flowering daisies. Aster novae-angliae and Aster amellus are the ones to get. They’re not weedy or invasive. 

  3. wild golden red 

‘but not invasive Canadian goldenrod, Solidago virgaurea is the one you want’. 

  4. Perennial sunflower 

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ is a particularly pretty one.’ 

  5. Single-flowered shrub and species roses. 

  6. Lavender

 ‘Lavandula x intermedia and other tall old-fashioned lavenders.’ 

  7. Wild scabious 

  8. Globe thistles 

  9. Catmint 

  10. Butterfly bushes  

Especially the orange-flowered Buddleja x weyeriana.’ 

Remember to leave everything to go to see-for the birds. 

Making a Wild Bee House 

Bess need tunnels in dry wood to lay their eggs, so don’t cut dead trees right down to the ground: the upright wood is better for the bees. 

You can provide a manmade home her them as well.  This house bee l needs to be put up in the sunniest place you can find at about chest height. 

  • The basic ingredient is a chunk of wood-make sure it’s not treated-with an angled cut on the top. Also shown here are a piece of wood to go on the top. To keep the rain off, and some screw eyes for fixing it t6o a wall, tree or fence. 
  • Drill lots of holes of different sizes as far into the chunk of wood as you can up to a diameter of 8 millimetres. 
  • Attach a top to the sloping edge. Enough to keep the rain off but not so much that it casts too much shade. 
  • Use screw eyes drilled into the wood at the back so the house can be easily hooked onto a fence. 

Watch out for birds like woodpeckers who will try to get the bees’ eggs out.  Covering the bee house with wire netting or taking it to a sheltered place for winter-but it must be a cold place-will help.  Put it back out in its sunny spot on 1 April when the following year’s pollinators will start to emerge. 

Bumble bees usually ignore nesting boxes, but heaps of dry grass or piles of dry wood will help them along. 

Bee facts  

  • Bumble bees and honey bees live in groups, solitary bees don’t (as their name indicates). 
  • There are 240 types of solitary bee in the country. 
  • These bees don’t sting. 
  • Unlike honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees only produce enough honey to feed their young and so they have no commercial value. 

New perennial planting and wildlife 

New perennial planting is a wonderful idea that is really taking of in gardens now and what marc has done here is a variation on this. The idea is to use drifts of plants and grasses (as opposed to shrubs) that give movement, colour and a changing picture to the garden.  With all their flowers, these plants are great for wildlife. Also you leave the plants standing through winter: the seed heads are a good source of food.  Normally these perennial plantings are done on a big scale, but the same can be achieved, as here, in a smaller garden. 

  • A really stylish, modern bird bath from the Urban Garden. 
  • Get a child to put their apple into this feeder, by Frances Hilary, and their interest is immediately sparked every time a hungry birds starts to peck at it. 
  • Cox & Cox stock a stylish and easy-made bee house to help bees overwinter in the garden. 
  • Ladybirds are wonderful little beasts to encourage into the garden and this owner, by Frances Hilary, is a perfect winter home for them. 
  • Looking more like a dovecote than any ordinary bird box, this gothic nesting box with intricate woodwork and a copper top is by Frances Hilary. 
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Wildlife Garden