There may be a lot of gloom shared about the state of British wildlife and the decline in biodiversity, and you may question: can I really make a difference?
Well, the simple answer is yes! If you have a small outdoors space of our own, from somewhere to hang bee-friendly flower baskets on a balcony to a patch of grass in the backyard, there are countless possibilities. Around 270,000 hectares of British land are formed of private gardens, so there is incredible potential for gardens to kickstart the recovery of British wildlife.
Every garden is different, but we can break down the complexity of life in gardens by focussing on a few key elements, such as pollinators, plants, soil, water and birds. Rewilding your garden can be very easy, with only a few small steps needed to make a big difference bringing more wildlife to your doorstep.
On this page, we’ll look at the all-important pollinators, which help keep our ecosystems healthy, help our crops, fruit and vegetables grow, and ensure beautiful flowers continue to bloom across our landscapes.
Many people assume pollinators only include varieties of bee, although many species including insects, wasps, ants, some birds and bats provide essential pollination services too. In fact, as all plants prefer and attract different pollinators, it’s essential that all pollinators are catered for to ensure diversity is maintained.
Save the Bees!
How can we start talking about pollinators without mentioning wildflowers?
Wildflower meadows used to be a common sight in Britain, but unfortunately wildflowers are largely now left to the fringes of agricultural land and roadsides. 97% of British wildflower meadows having been lost since the 1930s, and trends of declining bee, butterfly and other pollinator populations showing severe decline in recent decades.
Annual vs. Perennial
Annual wildflowers live for a single growing season before dying (regrowing from seed each time), whereas perennial wildflowers can survive multiple seasons.
Most gardens have relatively rich soil, which means that an annual mix of flowers are the easiest to grow. This commonly includes ‘cornfield’ annuals, usually a mix of corn poppies, cornflowers, corn marigold and other varieties.
Transforming Your Lawn into a wildflower meadow
If your garden has poor soil, you may be able to turn your lawn into a perennial wildflower meadow. Strangely, you start this process with neglect. Mow your lawn (but remove the clippings that would otherwise replenish the soil), and leave the weeds to grow. After a year, let the grass grow and plant or seed new wildflowers. Your wildflowers will start to fill the space, and mow once a year to encourage new growth, but only after the flowers have gone to seed.
Growing a wildflower patch
You can plant new wildflowers from seed in early spring or late autumn, giving you plenty of time throughout the year to plan and create your wildflower patch.
Start by stripping the patch from any grass or plant life, and leave bare for several weeks before sowing seeds (removing weeds if you want to only grow the wildflowers you are planting). You can choose perennial or annual wildflower mixes depending on the conditions of your garden, and focus on native species if you want to maximise the benefit to our native pollinators.
TOP TIP: When scattering your wildflower seeds, mix the seeds with some sand so that you can see where you’ve sown, and so that the number of seeds is evenly spread.
You can grow wildflowers in pots and containers too, but it’s best to give them maximum room as they won’t grow well in cramped spaces. So if possible, get your hands on the largest container possible and don’t sow in too many seeds that would overcrowd the growing space.
A perennial meadow includes both grasses and wildflowers. Wild grass species are as essential as flowers for many insects, and they can be just as beautiful amongst a mix of flowers. Naturally, wildflower meadows are best situated on poor soil, as the grass may otherwise grow too strongly and overpower the wildflowers.
Which flowers are Best?
There are dozens of flower species which are pollinator and bee-friendly. The Royal Horticultural Society provides comprehensive lists which you can find online, and we’ve listed a few of our favourites below. You can also find wildflower mixes, which contain multiple species that offer natural diversity too.
- Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) – early season
- Wood Anomone (Anemone nemorosa) – early season
- Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) – early season
- Heather (Erica Cinera) mid season
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – mid season
- Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) – mid season
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) – late season
- Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) late season
Top Tips to help pollinators:
- Plant native plant and wildflower species: Our native pollinator species have evolved with native plants and wildflowers to feed from, so make sure you have sufficient native species in your garden to help local wildlife (search online if you’re unsure whether your plants are native).
- Variety is the spice of (wild)life: Pollinators need a good variety of pollen-rich flowers that have different shapes and flowering periods throughout the year. Bumblebee species have different length tongues, which are adapted to feed from different species of flower. A wildflower patch is a great way to have a beautiful variety of flowers in one place to feed pollinators.
- Avoid Pesticides: Many pesticides are deadly to helpful insect, butterfly and bee species that can dramatically harm pollinator populations in your garden.
- Leave the weeds: Lawn weeds such as dandelions and clover are pollinator-friendly plants, providing vital pollen. If you don’t like the idea of having weeds dotted throughout your whole lawn, perhaps leave a section or edges free for weeds to thrive.
- Build the pollinators a home: Have you thought about a Bee Hotel? There are plenty of designs available, but make sure you are creating one that can be cleaned so that your bee hotel doesn’t become a bee death trap!
Where to start your bee friendly collection?
There are plenty of sustainable and high quality suppliers to source your seeds and or bulbs to start your pollinator paradise. We partner with The Homestead Online, who supply high quality and sustainable sourced British wildflower seeds.
Got any more suggestions, photos or pondering wildlife thoughts? Drop us a message on one of our social media channels, or contact us here.