What is a wildlife garden anyway?

Surely any garden is a wildlife garden. It's hard to imagine a garden that does not benefit wildlife in some way. Even a paved patio with a few potted-plants attracts bees and butterflies as well as the odd unwelcome guest such as slugs. But a wildlife garden sets out with the intention of attracting wildlife.

Why bother?
Why not? There are so many benefits to wildlife gardening. If you haven't got time for gardening but enjoy a but of greenery and colour then a wildlife garden is a practical alternative to a paved or gravel garden - and it's much cheaper too.Don't worry about the odd weed or two, that's part of the package. There's bound to be some creature that will keep them in check. Just help out every so often to stop things getting out of hand. No more worrying about moss in your lawn, just give it a bit of a trim when it gets to knee height!You'll be helping the local wildlife immeasurably. Have you noticed how few butterflies there are around these days compared with ten or twenty years ago. It's partly down to the lack of food plants for their larvae (caterpillars to you and me). Many of the familiar garden species feed on common stinging nettles. Just allow a small clump to grow in a corner of your garden and you'll be rewarded with colourful butterflies in the summer. Young birds (even seed eaters) and bats rely on a constant supply of insects. You don't get them in a sterile yard or a garden sprayed with insecticides.
Aren't wildlife gardens messy? - my neighbours will complain.
Let them! Who says gardens have to be neat and regimented. Leave your neighbours to their formal gardens and neat 'room outdoors' patios. Think of a typical English country garden - thatched cottage, climbing roses, hollyhocks, that sort of thing. Picture-postcard pretty but not neat. With a bit of careful management a wildlife garden can be a stunning show-garden. Creating a wildlife garden does not mean leaving everything to become overgrown. All nature reserves are constantly managed to give nature a helping hand.And don't feel that it has to be all or nothing. If you aren't ready to give up your whole garden to nature, then what about a neglected corner. If you're garden is too big to maintain neatly, then let the wildlife have some of it. If the kids need a play area all the better, there's not better way for them to be introduced to the wonders of nature than to play amongst it.
Do I have to stick to native plants? They are so boring!
Who says? Going native is good in that it will provide more food plants for larvae but as long as the plants you choose are of some benefit to wildlife, who cares? No wildlife garden is complete without a buddleia (known as the butterfly bush), plant one of these and your garden will become a magnet for butterlies and bees from miles around. But the buddleia is not native (although ironically, they seem to one of the first plants to colonise wasteground). And who says native plants are boring? Imagine for a moment that you'd never seen a rosebay willowherb or fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)
OK, I'm convinced. What do I have to do?
Firstly dispose of the insecticides (properly), you won't be needing them any more. Next make a plan. Take into consideration how much space you have and how much time you have. Then plan your garden just as you would plan a traditional garden, the only difference is that most of the plants will be free. A word of caution though - don't go digging up plants in the wild. In most cases it's illegal and in any case you are damaging the environment. Instead collect seeds. Most won't need careful propagation or care - just stick them in the ground and wait.Trees and shrubs are good as they don't need much maintenance. Don't forget to remember that your wildlife garden is your own personal microcosm of the British countryside. Make it accessible, viewable and something to be proud of. Plan it so it can be viewed and enjoyed easily. Think about how tall plants and shrubs grow and remember to leave room for paths in your grand design.
What about a pond?
Great idea! You'll greatly increase the diversity of wildlife using your garden if you make even a small wildlife pond. Do think about safety though if you have small children. A fence and gate will not stop the wildlife but it will prevent a potential tragedy.While you're at it, why not include a bog garden too.
Will I need any extra tools?
 

Probably not. You might even be able to sell some! If you want to go completely green, then a spade, fork and grass-hook should be all you really need. But if you're garden is big or you are short on time then a brushcutter is a good investment. A brushcutter is like a strimmer but with a metal blade instead of a nylon cord capable of cutting quite think plants and weeds such as brambles and small tree sapplings. If you are buying new and your garden is quite large, then a petrol engine modular system is a good investment. These feature an engine and shaft onto which you can connect a range of heads such as strimmers, brushcutters, hedgetrimmers, cultivators, mini-chainsaw pruners etc. Stihl make a very robust range. Don't put the lawnmower on Ebay just yet either. A lawn is an important part of a wildlife garden if you have the space. Many garden birds such as blackbirds, song thrushes and robins will use a lawn to hunt for worms and other insects.