5 ways to start a wildlife garden on a small budget

Want to create a tranquil wildlife haven in your back garden but don’t have a massive budget? Here’s 5 clever ideas to take your garden from bare earth to buzzing with life and colour on a shoestring.

Keep it small

Wildlife gardens don’t have to be huge, or even take up the whole space you have available.  Sometimes a wild corner is all you need to create an inviting habitat for nature.

From there the insects will head into the rest of your garden to look for food and other places to hide and breed.

bee drinking the nectar and collecting the pollen from the open flower of a white peony with a yellow centre 'paeonia honey gold'

Contrary to popular belief creating a wildlife friendly garden isn't all about wildflower meadows and acres of land.  A few carefully chosen plants in a few containers can be more than enough to bring the neighbourhood wildlife a-calling.

Site it in the sunniest spot you have available to you as most insects like to feel the sun on their bodies (who doesn’t hey?!).  But bear in mind that wildlife can be nervous, so a location further away from the house and where the kids aren’t running about will encourage more hedgehogs, frogs and birds.


Somewhere to relax

There's no point putting all your hard work and then not being able to enjoy it.  So a seating area near your wildlife garden is a must.

It will give you a space to take 5 minutes for yourself to practice some mindfulness. To close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the bees buzzing, watch the butterflies flitting from flower to flower and crucially reconnect with nature and yourself. 20 minutes every day in nature reduces the stress and anxiety inducing hormone cortisol by 10%, and you want to be comfortable while you're doing it right?

Outdoor seating doesn't have to break the bank.  Below are some free or low cost seating ideas.

  • A tree stump
  • Some pallets turned into a seat
  • 3 old tyres stacked and glued together and topped with a wooden disc
  • Giving some old outdoor furniture some TLC, it's amazing what some fresh paint can do!

Facebook free groups and Freecycle are a great source of tired garden furniture that you can repurpose.

Create a pond

I’m not talking the size that requires you to have waders and a life jacket.

Ponds can be as simple as a washing up bowl sunk into the ground or an old belfast sink with the plug hole sealed up.

You can get pumps for less than £40 on eBay or Amazon that are solar driven so they won’t add any ongoing cost.  Not only will the  sound of running water help you to relax, but the pump will keep the water clean and full of air for your croaky visitors.

Surround your pond with flat pebbles collected on a walk with the kids and some low cost water loving plants to create shelter around the water’s edge.

It's a good idea to add some sort of exit route from your pond to avoid any wildlife getting stuck. A piece of tree about 6cm diameter works well and will blend in with the natural surroundings. 

Pond in a white belfast sink with a metal watering can fountain pouring water into it.


Bee and Butterfly friendly plants

Bees like single, open flower shapes so they can get straight to the nectar and pollen.  Their favourite colour is purple as they can see it most easily when they are flying from flower to flower.

Wallflowers are a great example of a bee friendly flower that can be grown from seed for relatively low cost.  Sow the seeds straight into your borders in August or early September and you’ll have early flowers for the bees in spring.

Pink dome shaped flowers of Sedum or hylotelephiumautumn joy in a mixed border

Butterflies are rather partial to a flat topped dome shaped flower like a sedum.  This is because it is easy for them to land and take the nectar from the plant.

Many sedums grow wild in the UK or I’m pretty sure you know someone who has one in their garden.  Ask them if you can take a cutting, remove the lower leaves and stick it in some soil and before long it will have rooted and you have a whole new plant, FOR FREE!

Plants are often a first consideration when thinking about starting a wildlife garden and yes they can certainly help, but in order to get the wildlife to stay you need to offer them more than just food.


Create hiding places

Neat freaks look away now!  Animals and insects love to hide.  The more nooks and crannies you can give them the more they’ll stick around.

Here are a few hiding places you can create for next to nothing:

  • Upturned terracotta flower pot with one side resting on a piece of wood to raise it.  This will create the doorway for the frogs and toads to get in to their new abode.
  • Create a bug house by stacking pallets, old bricks, logs, sticks of varying sizes, hollow bamboo canes, pinecones and dry leaves.  Don’t forget to add a roof to keep the rain off.
  • TIP if you are gardening in containers you could fill the gap between your pots with some of the things listed above to create a bug house amongst your pots!
  • Don’t clear plants as soon as they’ve gone over.  Leaving some dried stems in the ground will give ladybirds and other beneficial insects somewhere to shelter over the winter.
  • Leave a section of your garden to go wild.  I know this may give you heart palpitations, but it is one of the best things you can do to build up the insect population of your garden.  And you can always create it behind the shed or somewhere you don’t have to look at it if you don’t want to.

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