Keeping animals was one of main reasons for making the ancient paradise gardens. The other was keeping plants. Few owners now keep animals for the hunt but wild animals and domestic animals remain popular. Owners provide features to accommodate wild animals and garden pets: birds, bees, cats and other animals. In the absence of animals, a cottage garden would scarcely deserve its name. As important pollinators, bees play a crucial role in gardens. Beekeeping is an ancient practice. Bees were domesticated by the Ancient Egyptians and Romans.
Gardens have the potential to create much needed habitats for birds and wildlife. Plants provide food, shelter and a place to nest.
Chris Baines advises that 'Decay is the secret of a successful rich habitat garden' (The wild side of town, BBC, 1986, p.137). Most garden birds and mammals are woodland refugees and it is a good idea to think of your garden as a woodland glade and to let as much material as possible rot in the garden instead of being burned or put with the domestic refuse. Composting is good for sustainability, good for your bank balance - and extreemly good for wildlife. Rotting material attacts hedgehogs, robins, toads, blackbirds and, if you are luck, grass-snakes. Rotting logs also become excellent wildlife habitats: wood-boring insects, woodwasps, beetle larvae, centipedes, millipedes, newts and baby frogs.
The next step is to keep the ground covered. Small mammals are shy: hedgehogs, dunnocks, woodmice etc. 'Try to think of yourself as a little furry animal, looking for somewhere to live' (Baines, p.141). A pile of logs or rocks will keep you safe from cats and dogs.
Then make a pond. It can be a rich wildlife habitat - please see our section on pond construction. There must be a full range of oxygenating plants to keep the water clear without using chemicals which would kill the wildlife. If there is space for a wetland margin, semi-aquatic plants can be grown and a wider range of habitats established.
Birds are attracted to shrubs which produced berries, including Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, Sorbus and Viburnum. Bird-pollinated flowers tend to be unscented and insect-pollinated flowers tend to be scented. Butterflies are attracted by flowers, and especially by flowers which are easy to feed from (yarrow, daisies, buddleia) and which have an attractive scent (heliotrop, viburnum, lilac).
Planting a hedge instead of using fencing to create a boundary for your garden is also an excellent way to encourage wildlife. If a hedge is impractical, a climber such as honeysuckle (particularly popular with bees) can be planted to grow over the fence.
Lord of the cottage