Creating a wildlife garden is a great eco-friendly project for you and your family.
There is plenty that you can do to benefit nature and attract and aid wildlife in your garden. And remember, what benefits wildlife also benefits you, as a gardener.
The more biodiversity you can bring to your space, the more vibrant and resilient it will be.
Wildlife is endangered by human activity. But we humans can also do a lot to reduce biodiversity losses and to help make our environments better places for wildlife to be, and better spaces for us.
Here are 20 wildlife garden ideas to benefit nature, help wildlife, and create thriving and productive spaces that provide for you, your family, and all the life which shares your space.
1. Create a Wildlife Pond
One of the very best things you can do in a wildlife garden is create a wildlife pond.
Wildlife ponds are a year-round source of water for wildlife to drink or bathe in, and also provide a habitat for a range of aquatic and amphibious creatures.
Ponds attract and benefit many animals, boosting biodiversity. They are also extremely attractive and can help make your garden a relaxing place to be.
By planting up a wildlife pond with a range of aquatic and marginal plants, you can create a thriving ecosystem that supports a wide variety of life.
Ponds should ideally be at least two feet deep in the middle, with a shallow beach area at one side to allow wildlife to get in and out easily. But in tiny gardens, even an old washing up bowl or barrel placed in the ground can be better than no pond at all.
2. Make a Bog Garden or Wetland Area
To make a watery area of your garden even better for wildlife, you could also consider creating a bog garden or a small wetland area adjacent to a pond, or in a naturally boggy and waterlogged spot on your property.
Wetland ecosystems are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth.
Even a small area of bog garden or wetland in your garden could boost biodiversity considerably, and be a boon to a range of different wildlife.
3. Make a Rain Garden
Staying with the water theme, another great wildlife garden idea involves finding ways to catch rainwater in your garden and keep it around.
There are a great many benefits to making a rain garden, which will catch rainfall runoff from a roof or driveway.
One of the benefits is that the moist soil and rich planting within it can be great for wildlife.
The idea is that water from gutters or hard surfaces are directed into a basin or dip created in the soil, which is filled with organic material and planted up with plants which tolerate periods of wet and periods of dry conditions.
This feature can be a habitat for a range of species, and if you choose the right plants, can provide wildlife with food and other resources too.
Plant up a rain garden with native plants and it can catch and store far more water than a boring lawn, and will also bring much more life to your garden.
4. Landscape to Protect the Soil; Create Diverse Growing Conditions and Retain Rainfall
Another way to catch rainwater and keep it around in your garden is to create on-contour swales (ditches) on a gentle slope.
Adding swales, and berms on their downward side, and planting up the berms with plenty of useful and attractive plants will keep water around, aiding soil life and a range of other wildlife too.
Taking care of the soil is very important in a wildlife garden. Because much of the wildlife we most wish to attract is part of the ecosystem of healthy soil.
When trying to attract wildlife to your garden, do not forget the wildlife which we cannot usually see, which lives and works below the soil surface.
Terracing can also work well on steeper slopes to prevent runoff and erosion.
5. Plant a Wildflower Meadow
One of the most obvious types of wildlife we wish to attract in a wildlife garden are pollinators.
Bees and a range of other insects play crucial roles in plant pollination and we want plenty of them around. One of the wonderful ways to attract pollinators to your garden is to create a wildflower meadow.
Getting rid of a boring, mowed grass lawn is another of the best things you can do for wildlife in your garden.
Replacing it with an infrequently mowed perennial or annual wildflower meadow is one excellent way to go.
Be sure to think about where you live, the microclimate and soil, and choose a wildflower or meadow mix which is suitable for your area and location.
6. Plant Fruit Trees
Another thing that you might not realise is that just 5 fruit trees in blossom can provide as much nectar for bees and other pollinators as a whole acre of meadow!
The fruit which you do not manage to harvest, and that which falls from the tree, will be appreciated by butterflies and other wildlife later in the year.
Fruit trees also provide for wildlife in many other ways too – feeding a whole host of creatures, and giving a range of wildlife shelter or a place to live. And that is before you even begin to consider the benefits they can bring for you and your family.
Even in tiny gardens, there is space for a small fruit tree. You can grow cordon varieties up against a fence, or even grow patio fruit trees in pots. So almost anyone can place a fruit tree in their garden.
7. Plant Other Native Trees
If you have a larger garden, then of course fruit trees are not the only trees to consider.
Planting other trees is another of the best things you can do for wildlife in your area.
Choosing native trees means you can benefit a huge range of native wildlife, which has evolved alongside these species and works symbiotically with native plants in a range of different ways.
Even a single tree can make a big difference to the biodiversity in your garden, and can enrich your own life too, in so many different ways.
In somewhat smaller gardens, native trees can be coppiced to keep them small, which also helps create habitat and other benefits for a range of creatures.
8. Establish a Forest Garden
If you really want to do as much as you can for wildlife in your garden, then you can think beyond tree planting and think about creating thriving, productive and resilient ecosystems to feed you, and many other creatures with whom you share your space.
Establish a forest garden, also known as a food forest or edible woodland garden and watch the wildlife arrive.
A forest garden is a wildlife-friendly way to grow your own food, and creates a much more low maintenance food-producing system than annual beds.
A forest garden has layered planting – with trees, shrubs, climbers, herbaceous perennials, self-seeding annuals/biennials, and more which work together in many ways with each other, and with wildlife in the space.
Not all are edible, but all contribute to the system as a whole.
9. Make New No Dig Garden Beds
If you are still interested in annual food production, then in a wildlife-friendly garden, you will want to make sure that your efforts to grow your own do not conflict with the nature in your garden.
In a no-dig garden, you will work to protect the soil and the life it contains, and as mentioned above, this is always great for garden biodiversity.
When making new no-dig garden beds, the idea is to disturb the existing soil as little as possible.
Rather than digging new beds, you will make new beds by layering organic material on top of the soil surface.
No dig garden beds like lasagna gardens and hugelkultur mounds allow a wide range of soil life to thrive.
10. Companion Plant Annual Crops With Flowers and Herbs
Once you have made your new no-dig beds, you also need to think about what you plant in them.
In a wildlife garden, companion planting annual crops is key.
Rather than, for example, just growing cabbages in one bed and carrots in another, you should create vibrant and diverse polycultures, with a range of plants growing in each bed which benefit one another.
Incorporating plenty of flowers and herbs as companion plants around and between your main crops can bring more beneficial wildlife to your garden: wildlife that will pollinate your crops, and help, through predation, to keep pest numbers down.
Remember to garden organically at all times in order to make sure you keep safe the wildlife that you attract.
11. Create a Perennial Bed or Border
As well as thinking about annual production when growing your own, it is important to consider perennial production too.
Fruit trees, shrubs and other perennial plants can, as mentioned above, be included in a forest garden type area.
But perennial beds or borders filled with perennial flowers, vegetables and herbs can also be great for a wildlife garden.
With herbaceous perennials, leaving plant stems and seed heads in place over the autumn and winter months can provide a haven for a range of wildlife, with plenty of shelter, and food sources too.
A herbaceous border is another great feature for a wildlife-friendly garden.
12. Plant a Mixed Native Hedgerow
Hedges can also be a place where wildlife can thrive, especially if, instead of creating a neat, single species hedge, you plant a mixed hedgerow with a variety of native or mostly native plants.
There are many great species for a mixed hedgerow – from wild fruits like blackthorn/sloe, bullace/wild plum, bird cherry/gean, and elder, to hazel, hawthorn, hornbeam, holly, native roses, guelder rose and more.
Hedgerows can be placed along a garden boundary, but might also be imaginatively used to separate zones of your garden into different garden rooms.
Hedgerows can be nesting sites, provide shelter for many creatures, and, of course, can also provide food, for the wildlife and for you.
13. Clad Walls or Fences With Perennial Climbers
Where gardens are surrounded by walls or fences, these will obviously not be as attractive for wildlife, and can in fact block wildlife from your garden.
To make your fences or walls more biodiverse (and attractive) consider cladding them with perennial climbers. Ivy, honeysuckle, and other climbers are also great for wildlife throughout the year.
In addition, if you have a solid boundary around your garden, think about making holes which can be used as wildlife corridors by hedgehogs and other wonderful garden wildlife.
Do not accidentally exclude wildlife from your garden with barriers that certain creatures cannot breach.
14. Choose Living Roofs for Sheds and Other Structures
One of the key things in a wildlife garden is to make sure that you include as much plant life, and as varied a selection of plants, as possible.
Planting where plants would not typically be found is one great way to cram more plants into your garden.
One example of this is choosing living roofs, or green roofs for sheds and other structures in your garden.
15. Create a Stump Garden
Another key concept behind a wildlife garden involves creating as many different ecosystem niches and different habitats as possible.
One cool idea for a wildlife garden is a stump garden, or stumpery. This involves creating a garden around dead and decomposing tree stumps, logs and branches.
Stump gardens are wonderful for solitary bees, beetles, woodlice, toads, small mammals and more.
They are a wonderful wildlife habitat which can work very well in a shaded or partially shaded spot.
16. Create a Rockery
Placing rocks and stones in a garden bed to create a rockery is another way to create different habitats for a range of wildlife.
Rockeries can be beautiful garden features, and can attract a range of different creatures to the space.
Rockeries will typically have plenty of nooks and crannies for wildlife to hide in, and butterflies and perhaps even lizards will enjoy sunning themselves on flat rock surfaces.
Fill your rockery with flowering alpine plants and pollinators will also benefit throughout the year.
17. Leave Some Weeds for Wildlife
In a wildlife garden, it is never a good idea to be too zealous in weed removal.
Of course, you may not want weeds in your main growing areas. But it is a good idea to leave some wilder corners in your space where weeds and native wildflowers can thrive.
Creating a nettle patch, perhaps, or letting plants like dandelions pop up in a lawn or pathways can be great for a range of insects and other wildlife in your garden.
And remember, many weeds can actually be very useful for us too, in a range of ways.
18. Make a Log or Brush Pile, or Dead Hedge
Not being too tidy in a garden is key to wildlife attraction.
As well as leaving some weeds to thrive in wilder corners of the space, you should also make sure that you leave some dead and decaying organic woody material lying around.
You can pile branches, leaves and other organic debris in a pile in a corner of your garden, or make a dead hedge by piling such material between two rows of posts stuck in the ground.
The materials will provide a home for a range of wildlife, and enrich and improve the soil as they slowly break down.
19. Add Nesting Boxes and Wildlife ‘Hotels’
The best ideas for a wildlife garden always involve thinking about the diverse plants that you choose, how they can be combined, and how you can create natural habitats for as many creatures as possible.
But in small gardens, you might not have the space to create as many natural habitats as you might wish. This is where nesting boxes and wildlife ‘hotels’ can come in.
Adding bird boxes, bat boxes, squirrel boxes, bee hotels and other similar features can ensure you have space for wildlife when you cannot provide more natural accommodation options.
Every creature that visits your garden should be able to find a home when you add fun features of this kind to your space.
Just make sure that you understand the best placement for each of the different features of this kind that you add, so the options are suitable for the creatures you wish to attract.
20. Add Feeders in Your Garden
Again, remember that adding natural food sources through the right plant choices is most important.
Adding plenty of seeding plants and berry-producing trees and bushes, and ensuring plenty of insect life is around, are the best ways to make sure there is food for all in a wildlife garden.
But there are still times when it can be helpful to supplement the wild diet of the creatures in your garden with additional food. A range of garden birds, for example, will benefit from additional food in winter, when there is less wild food around.
Choosing and positioning the right feeders for different birds and other creatures is one more idea that can be beneficial in a wildlife garden.
These are, of course, just some of the things you can do to create a wonderful wildlife garden. But these ideas should provide you with a good idea of where to start.
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.