Your Wildlife Gardening Gateway


Practical Advice: Plants and Planting

...bringing nature closer to home

Plants and Planting: Basic principles


Plants provide structure. Different kinds of wild creatures need structures to shelter under, or live in. For examples spiders need stems to anchor their webs, garden birds need dense shrubs in which to make their nests and tall branches to provide 'singing posts' Many invertebrates (such as grasshoppers and butterfly caterpillars) need grass that is longer than a closely mowed lawn during the summer Find more about plants for structure here:
Flowers provide food for pollinators. Many kinds of insects use pollen or nectar as a food source. These insects in turn are a food source for insectivorous birds, and bats. So garden flowers are at the base of many food chains. Find more about plants for pollinators here:
Plants provide food for herbivores. There are many kinds of of garden wildlife that feed on living plants in one way or another. While a few of these are regarded as pests, the majority are not. Many species of garden herbivores are vital components of food chains (for example many garden birds feed their young on caterpillars). Find more about planting for herbivores here:
 Lawns are a habitat too. Lawns are often the biggest part of your garden, and the equivalent of closely grazed turf from the point of view of garden wildlife. There are various ways of managing lawns to increase the diversity of wild species that can make use of them, but even traditional closely-mown lawns can be a resource for certain wildlife species so long as you do not put chemicals on your lawn. We will be adding a page on lawns and alternatives shortly.


Ponds need plants. Specialised pond plants provide food and shelter for all kinds of creatures that live in ponds. Marginal plants are also important and they have a special role for the emerging adults of dragonflies and damselflies. We will be adding a page on planting ponds shortly.
Native or Non-native?  There is a lot of mythology about this subject. In fact scientific research shows that in British and Irish gardens there is no need to plant 'native' plants to attract masses of non-specialist wildlife.  Our garden inhabitants will make use of many non-native plant species, so long as they provide food, structure, or shelter. Read a bit more about this here, or a lot more here!  
What plants to avoid?  There are  plants that we would suggest that you avoid, but this is not necessarily connected to whether they are 'native' or not. The two main reasons to avoid planting certain kinds of plants are:
Plant Lists ? Wildlife gardening books and websites are full of plant list, but we are wary of these. They can be very inconsistent, and often reflect one person's experience in one area, and often with one roup of organisms. The Wildlife Gardening Forum is working towards building some better evidence-based plant lists using the principles discussed by Adrian Thomas in his paper available from the button on the left.  Nevertheless, you will find lists on this website, just treat them with a little caution!



Plants are at the heart of every garden. In Britain and Ireland a long tradition of horticulture has given us a huge range of plant material.  Whatever style of garden you want, formal, informal, contemporary, traditional, functional or simply planted for the pleasure of flowers, there is a large range of plants to choose from.


In recent decades, the idea of a special 'wildlife garden' has grown up,  although the idea of growing berry plants to attract birds has been around for a long time, and bee keepers have recognised for centuries that certain types of flowers provide especially good forage for their honeybees. The special 'wildlife garden' has become associated in some people's minds with 'wild flowers', 'native' plants, or a measure of untidiness. Some people equate 'wildlife gardens' with 'wildness' and 'wilderness' and see them as an experience that has nothing to do with them.


In fact scientific evidence shows that a special type of 'wildlife garden' is not necessary in order to provide food or a home to wildlife. There is nothing wrong with such a garden, but you can make your garden fit for the wildlife which visits no matter what style of garden you have. Simply by filling your garden with flowers of all kinds you can provide a diversity of habitats and food sources; a kind of contrived diversity. Of course if you cover your garden in concrete slabs or decking, or just have a lawn and nothing else, the scope for wildlife will be limited. But if you find some space for flowers, shrubs and climbers, and provide some variation in the hard landscaping such as a permanent log pile, a pond, or a rockery,  you will make your garden much more hospitable to wildlife. 

Gardens like this, with plenty of structure and lots of different plant species are good for wildlife. 
Making better plant lists