How best to create a wildlife-friendly garden? First, relax

Elaine Hughes, expert gardener for the London Wildlife Trust. Photo by Melanie Hawes
London's Pestival bugfest is back - showcasing a lazy gardener's dream and other ways to show our six-legged friends some love

There are over 3 million gardens in Greater London which offer an 'untapped potential' to make the city more resilient to climate change and better for wildlife, according to the London Wildlife Trust (LWT).

How do we begin to exploit this potential? According to LWT's expert gardener Elaine Hughes, gardeners should be a 'bit less tidy'.

'By relaxing your gardening techniques and letting things rot down, leaving small piles of leaves, letting your grass grow a bit longer, not deadheading your plants as soon as they die - these become very valuable for animals either to feed from or shelter in,' she says.

London's gardens - spanning an area of over 37,000 hectares - ‘provide shade, absorb carbon, soak up floodwater, retain water and help to cool the city. They also provide vital habitat for wildlife, and a strong network of wildlife and climate friendly gardens stretching across the capital will provide room for species to move freely and adapt to our changing climate,' LWT say.

As part of the Trust's 'Garden for a Living London' campaign it recommends seven gardening actions to help London's gardens be made better for wildlife and more able to cope with the impacts of climate change (see below).

'Some of the actions take a bit more time and money - such as building a pond and adding a green roof to a garden shed - but we also recommend things like laying mulch, which is inexpensive and easy to do.

'Personally, I think mulching is one of the single most important things you can do - it ensures a healthy soil, enriching the soil, encouraging organisms to grow, and mitigating against water loss. Ideally it should be done once in spring and once in autumn,' Elaine says.

Pestival: celebrating pests

Elaine has been getting her hands dirty over the past few days preparing a display garden for 'Pestival', a 3-day festival celebrating insects that runs from September 4-6th at London's Southbank Centre.

The display garden, set up on one of the balconies at the Royal Festival Hall, includes a 'living bench', a garden shed made from reclaimed timber, a compost bin, a wormery, an array of drought-resistant plants, a log pile, and a trellis made from reclaimed metal piping.

It is not your typical English garden - being neither particularly tidy nor ornamental in a traditional sense - but the idea is to show that a wildlife friendly garden can be attractive and that an essential aspect of a garden ecology is to allow the natural cycles of decay and regeneration.

This year Pestival is dedicated to raising awareness of the collapse of bee colonies around the world. In the UK, a third of bee colonies have been lost over the last two years, and there is evidence that neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide, which impairs the insects' central nervous systems, are involved in the deaths.

Pestival's line-up includes the Beecab, a London black cab transformed into a bumblebee, which also includes a working hive, as well as a Termite Pavilion, an Insect ID Tent, a Slow Food market, talks, music, movies and more.

Would-be urban gardeners without a front or back lawn need not despair. Elaine says that gardening in areas as small as windowsills or balconies is essential in that it creates sheltering areas and provides stop off points for insects and birds as they weave their way through neighbourhoods.

The seven pledges that anyone can make to create a wildlife and climate friendly garden:

  1. Plant drought resistant plants
  2. Plant a mixed hedgerow
  3. Plant a broad leaved tree
  4. Make a pond
  5. Use mulch
  6. Add a green roof to your shed
  7. Wild up your decking


Pestival 2009 runs at London's Southbank Centre from September 4-6th. See for a full listing of events

Pledge to London Wildlife Trust's ‘Garden for a Living London' campaign at

See also


Matilda Lee is the Ecologist's Consumer Affairs Editor


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