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  • Writer's pictureRachel Platt

4 Ways to Save Your Wildlife

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

With the increasing awareness of climate change and the decline of our native plants and wildlife, fantastically as designers we are getting asked to plan with this in mind. Wilder Marlow has already produced a great number of tips which can be found on their website on how to be more sustainable in the maintenance of your garden. So instead, I wanted to share with you ways in which the design of your garden can become bit wilder, using my own experiences as a designer and a land owner.

1. Don’t mow, let it grow

Did you know it was the American Dream that made us all mow our lawns to an inch of their life and strive to have the greenest of green lawns on the street? Well, newsflash - It is not natural at all and lawns can actually be quite barren spaces for wildlife and dangerous for prey species. Why do you think wildlife corridors are the hedge rows around agricultural land and not the agricultural land itself? Plus, they actually require more maintenance and produce more CO2 due to lawn mowers then most other aspects in garden.

My advice – keep part of the lawn for the hardworking areas of the garden for example, where the children play and use it to separate your beautiful planting beds from the wilder areas of the garden and long grass. Design into your garden this area of long grass so it looks intentional and not like your lawn mower has broken down (you can do this my incorporating a large sexy curve, using the shape of the garden as inspiration and make sure that it is not a tiny square – have it cover a large area. You never know, you may even start to get flower’s growing into the grass (we have crocus’s, dandelions, daisies and poppies). My dad even plants tulips and daffodils in this area of lawn.

If you want to go one step further and have the budget, take out the existing lawn and replace with a wildflower meadow, clover lawn or in smaller, enclosed areas: moss, thyme and sedum, camomile. Remember to always check your soil, aspect and sunlight and make that decide what lawn alternative to pick. If you have a small garden or courtyard, scrap the lawn and instead increase your borders.

I could go on for ages about lawn but alas, we need to move on.

2. Don’t make your bed

See what I did there? I believe the best gardens never display their soil. Often when gardens are maintained, we take out all the weeds and turn the soil over for that fluffy, pristine look especially over Autumn and Winter when our herbaceous perennials and annuals have died back. Whist we do need to cut things back in Winter, surely there must be a better way?

For starters, a lot of herbaceous perennials and grasses can stay up until early Winter – even in death, their bones still add to the structure of the garden, their colour is unique and in the winter light they glow in a mysterious, ethereal way. If this hasn’t already sold it to you - it also benefits wildlife as it provides seed and shelter for birds during the sparsest of months.

Now, what to do with all the leaves? LEAVE IT! It provides a great habitat for bugs and they are full of microorganisms that contribute to the health of your plant borders. By all means, clear them from the lawn but please keep them in your plant border. Plus, if you have any twigs that have fallen or logs when you have been cutting back trees and shrubs, build them up, put them in a pile, use them to create a bug hotel – try using what you have got in creative ways rather than throwing it away or burning it.

Finally, a lot of border management stems from the planting plan. As designers, we seek to have groundcover and a percentage of plants that are evergreen for winter structure. Furthermore, we usually design planting without gaps when grown. All these tricks of the trade (which you may have heard before but not fully committed to the idea) saves water and suppresses weeds which means less work for you! For borders, I would suggest you allow at least £50 per square meter for planting.

3. Location, location, location

Bit of a niche topic here which covers a lot of ground. When designing for wildlife, location needs to be considered. You may have heard of the phrase ‘right plant, right place’? Often on-site visits, I will see several plants struggling to grow as the client has gone on a shopping spree at a garden centre, without first considering their garden’s soil, aspect and sunlight levels. Trust me, we have all been there……But Rachel, why does this matter?

Even with native plants and wildflower meadows, even turf – you need to consider all of these factors before deciding what to buy and plant in your borders. I know you desperately want to grow Ox-eye daisies in your clay, north facing garden but it isn’t going to happen. There are so many other plants you could use, and the bigger picture needs to be considered.

This rule of thumb doesn’t just apply to plants – what about, for instance that solitary bee hive you got at the end of a long day at RHS Wisley? What you might not realise is these need to be in an area of your garden that is sheltered but with at least 6 hours of sun (preferably morning or afternoon sun) to keep those little guys warm. It also needs to be in close proximity to water and foraging material. On the other hand, hedgehogs like a shadier area for their hibernation. There’s lots to consider before you buy and where you position in your garden but I thoroughly recommend doing it as every little bit helps.

4. Let it go

Last, but not least let the garden go. As a designer, I struggle to find enough time to go into my own garden for maintenance so I consciously (or tactically avoid – not sure which) let things grow. And when I saw grow, I mean GROW. Ever seen a savoy cabbage flower? Or a broccoli provide food for pigeons – yep that it pretty much the state of my garden. We do also rest the paddock, (allowing native plants to come through) and only cut the hedgerow once between August and March. I do occasionally do a Chelsea chop or a bit of weeding. For example, my dad planted out some borage a few years ago now and for anyone that has ever planted it, you will know how much it spreads. Over the years, I always kept a little bit for the bees and tried to take out the rest. But, as time goes on I have decided that it will always be there and it is best to let it go and only remove it from areas I really don’t want overcrowding.


So, this is my message to you – yes we all want that pristine look of show gardens but we can always be a little wilder and make space for nature.

If you would like help creating a garden with nature in mind, please get in touch here!


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