Promoting Biodiversity

Neat and tidy gardening, with straight rows and fussy lawns, is a curiously British phenomenon.

I’m guilty of it too – the need to impose some unnatural order. But sometimes it’s simply best not to bother.

This is the Year of Biodiversity, so I’ve begun to learn more about wildlife gardening, especially how to create wildlife friendly areas in your growing space.

I’ve read a fine book called ‘No Nettles Required’ by Ken Thompson, and checked out the unkempt corners of Chelsea Physic Garden.

Annoyingly, I’ve found that most advice is suited for people with gardens, not smaller urban spaces.

Is there anything we can do on balconies, patios and window ledges? 

I made a call to Helen Bostock, a horticultural advisor for the Royal Horticultural Society. She is also manager of the Plants for Bugs project (see below), which investigates which native and non-native plants are best for increasing biodiversity.

"Although not everyone is aware of it,” she says, “our cities are teeming with wildlife. It really doesn't matter if you live in a crammed terrace or high rise apartment block - you can do your bit.”

In essence, the main considerations are to provide shelter, nests, food and water. Here is some more sound advice:

Choosing the Right Flowers
Go for a mix of colours, texture and shape that will flower right through the season. This applies as much to window boxes as larger gardens.

For example, daffodils will attract the odd insect at the beginning of the season. Mix them with crocuses for bumblebee queens. Through summer add ornamental alliums.

In a shady spots, go for mint and ferns. On a sunny balcony, chives and thyme flowers will attract bees. Hoverflies and lacewings love poached-egg plants.

Feeding Birds
If you live high up, a clever device is a bird feeder which sticks to your window with a sucker pad. Droll Yankee is a good brand (

You can make your own seed and nut mixes, fat balls, and feeders, for example by attaching half an empty coconut to a bracket.

Add a bird bath – somewhere that will feel safe to birds. This can be as simple as a sturdy bowl with shallow sides or a plant saucer.

Make sure, though, that the sides are rough and textured for the birds to grip.

Creating Habitats
Let a small area go wild. For example, deliberately leave gap between a trellis and fence on a patio. Pile up logs and dead branches in a shady corner. If you have a lawn, leave a strip to grow tall. 

“And if there's a roof over your head, stick some sedum matting on it for the insects!" says Helen.