The Joy Of The Wildlife Garden

By Betsy Anderson | May 4, 2016
Image by Betsy Anderson
by Betsy Anderson
May 4, 2016

For around 25 years Betsy Anderson worked in the high pressure world of Finance. Gardening was a great way to relax after a hard day. Now Betsy works as a Transformational Coach and Wellbeing Therapist. She finds she has more time to garden and combines this with her passion for photography to create a gardening blog – Betsy’s Garden, where she shares stories, tips and ideas from her garden.

You can plant a myriad of bulbs, seeds, seedlings, plants, bushes and trees and there’s a fair degree of certainty that if you treat them right; give them good soil conditions (and for those who prefer it mean and keen, poor soil conditions) and the right balance of light,heat, water and nutrients, they’ll flower, produce and generally deliver as expected (some, if not most of the time). However, you can produce the right environment, provide the correct nutrients and the perfect habitat but that doesn’t guarantee that wildlife will take up residence in your garden. They can be picky. So when they do, or even if they simply pay a fleeting visit, it feels special, magical, rewarding and exciting. Over the course of the year, we work hard to create a garden that wildlife will want to visit. We provide regular and consistent food and shelter and attractive and enticing flowers and plants. As a reward, we get many opportunities to see fabulous birds, bees, other insects and land and pond dwelling creatures in our wildlife friendly garden.

We grow lots of bee and butterfly friendly flowers, bushes and trees to attract the bees and butterflies. The buddlei, foxgloves and lupins are the favorites and I never have to wait too long to capture these beautiful creatures flying in for some nectar. When the bees fly deep down inside the bells of the foxglove, the whole bush resonates with a deep vibrating hum.  I love spotting the different species of butterfly with their distinctive and colorful markings and I’m fascinated by the different types of bees, some colony and some solitary and the different habitats that they favor. They work so hard visiting flower after flower to fill their pollen sacs.

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The butterflies need the warm summer afternoons and calm, balmy evenings to emerge and dance on the buddlei whereas the bees are warm blooded and can brave the cool morning air and cooler spring season. The bees are often out as early as the crocus.

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Other welcome insects are the ladybirds. They have a ferocious appetite when it comes to aphids so they’ll always be the gardeners friend. We have a couple of varieties in our garden and they bring a welcome burst of vibrant color and they’re a very attractive addition to any garden.

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The ladybird larvae, on the other hand, is a rather fearsome looking black leathery armoured creature with bright yellow dots. When I saw one, I rather naively assumed that he was not a friend of the garden but thankfully looked him up and discovered that not only is he a friend, he has an aphid appetite that would put his parents to shame. Proof that you should never judge a book by its cover.

dsc_0425-e1450726145998We have 4 nesting boxes in the garden, two of which have been home to recurring broods of blue tits and great tits. Every Spring, the birds send round the Realtor or Estate Agent bird to check out the new houses on the block.


After a bit of squabbling we have some new residents who flit around the garden gathering
up all sorts of materials to line their nests. They love the dog hair.dsc_0380-e1450718701186When we brush the dog we put the hair and lint from the tumble dryer into an
empty fat ball feeder on the feeder tree and the birds come along and take what they need. The feeder tree is like a one stop shop for all your bird needs.dsc_02421

For the first time last year a family of great tits decided to find alternative accommodation in a rather unusual place. We have a Japanese style pot nestled in a rockery outside the front door. The pot is on the ground so we assumed it wasn’t somewhere birds would build a nest but it seems that the long, tight neck is just wide enough to let the birds come and go but not wide enough to let curious cats or other predators in. Because it was so close to the front door we had to be careful on our exit so we didn’t collide with a parent bird out looking for food. They successfully fledged a healthy brood of chicks so they’ll hopefully be back again next time.dsc_0170We were particularly gifted to get a visit from a very special and unusual bird this year. The first thing we noticed was his unusual call. He had a deep nasal, clipped call and a melodic, warbling song. He was very easy to spot and very obviously not from these parts.

img_3343-e1433495112613He also seemed, not tame exactly, but more approachable than a genuinely wild bird.  We also noticed that he was tagged. We first saw him sitting on the fence eyeing up the bird feeders which he seemed reluctant to come down to. We put some small pieces of bread in a hanging basket on the feeder tree and he quickly came down and sat feeding for ages.  The whole time he was feeding he would call out. It was fairly obvious that he was calling for a reason but we had no idea what that reason was. We were worried that he’d be a target for other birds because of his unusual plumage but he seemed to be comfortable around the other birds. He would retreat to the trees in the nearby wood at night and would reappear the following morning, calling out incessantly. He visited for 4 or 5 days. We looked him up and found out he was a Blue Eared Starling (from South Africa). After some searching and a number of local people having seen him around, it was discovered that he had escaped from a local aviary in an animal sanctuary. Turns out he had a mate there and that’s who he was calling out for. The aviary sent someone to lure him back with a false mating call. Unfortunately he’d moved on by that point but was later spotted on someone else’s bird table and was successfully captured and returned home to his mate. A very unusual and welcome visitor.

dsc_0095-e1433495172704Having had such a distinguished guest to the garden, you’d be forgiven for thinking that pond dwellers would not be too elusive. However, it turns out that attracting pond life is not easy. Frogs and toads are very choosy about where they visit and particularly where they spawn. We have a very small water feature (I call it a pond but it’s probably too small to qualify as such) and I’m delighted to say that it has finally attracted some pond life in the shape of frogs and toads. No newts and no dragonflies as yet, but there’s always next year. We built a stumpery (made from felled logs, ferns and other moist woodland plants) which provides a natural safe haven next to the “pond”  for frogs and toads to take shelter, catch slugs, snails (boy do we have a lot of snails) and insects and also provides somewhere to hibernate. I was surprised to find that they sometimes hibernate at the bottom of the pond so it’s important to make sure you break the ice if the pond freezes over or preferably, try to stop it freezing over by keeping the surface moving or by putting a protective, breathable layer over it.

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At least one of the toads has chosen to hibernate in the greenhouse (what a sensible chap). I’m not sure if he or I got the bigger fright when I uncovered him by accident.
The wildlife in the garden bring wonderful character and variety to the garden and hopefully they’ll be familiar figures for years to come. I’m hoping they see the garden as their garden and we can be part of it and watch it grow together for many years.

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  • Maryann Farrell
    Comment added September 25, 2021Reply

    Hi, this is going to sound strange, but I teared up a little reading about your yard and wildlife. I started growing flowers about 15 years ago and then when I moved to a large empty yard, we’ll an over grown invasive weed yard. I started taking notice and researching plants and weeds. Little by little one thing led to the next and a bird feeder was hung , I was planting pollen friendly gardens, researching every insect I came across and have learned that there are the tiniest worlds beneath logs and flower pots. When you see the tiny ecosystem under a log it’s amazing there are little worlds within our worlds and hardly anybody ever notices. Now I plant host plants for 5 different butterflies, but have only had 3 species cycle through after 7 years.
    My yard has attracted. Lightening bugs, cicadas, bees, praying mantis’, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, possums, a new young fox, rabbits, hawks, occasional wild turkey and so much in between.
    My neighbors always comment how active and loud my yard is. They have nothing in their yards and sadly they prefer that perfect landscape look. Some neighbors call my yard a mess, but the wildlife are quite fond of it and so am I. This week after 7 years of hearing a tree frog. One finally appeared before my eyes. A tiny little gray one. It stayed for a week and went back to the wooded lot after it’s visit. I think the giant praying mantis’ were a death threat to it. So I moved them away, but the frog still went back home. My dream is to make a small pond and attract turtles and ground frogs. Idk how they’ll get here, because I’m in the suburbs, but somehow wildlife made it here over the last 6-7 years and make my yard home 90% of the time. I can only hope if I ever move. The next owners will enjoy and respect the hard work I did for years. We must give back to wildlife since we have taken so much from them. There’s nothing better to see when you wake up, but all kinds of wildlife, insects and gardens in the morning sun. Thank you for all your wonderful stores and I apologize for my long post, but I am so excited to have found you and share my love of gardens and wildlife.

  • Rachel
    Comment added March 9, 2017Reply

    I never thought that insects can also be a gardeners friend.I love the fact that you bring wildlife into your garden.
    I'm loving this article.Thanks!

  • Rachel
    Comment added March 7, 2017Reply

    I never thought insects can also be the gardeners friend.This is a refreshing insight for me.They are indeed a very attractive addition to any garden.Wonderful post.

  • Lily
    Comment added February 17, 2017Reply

    It was very informative. Thanks for the post. Looking forward to another blog from you.

  • Laura ~ Raise Your Garden
    Comment added May 4, 2016Reply

    You nailed it with the joys of a wildlife garden. I feel as though I've saved thousands of $$$$ in therapy just by getting my husband a bird feeder. Seriously! He stares at it all day and watching the cardinals and blue jays swoop down and eat gives him so much job. I mean, he's a gym teacher in his 30's!!! Who knew this would work. He's a type A super stressed out type of guy but the birds bring him true happiness! Funny how life works. (he stresses me out so much, haha....I'm always like get more hobbies.....!!!!!)

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