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Gardening for Wildlife

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

A few weeks ago I joined a small environmental movement in Norway. I'm not one for joining big environmental movements; I like to just quietly get on with things myself. But this one spoke to me because it is something we already do and I wanted to expand on that.

It's the WWF pledge to leave a certain amount of space in your garden for wildlife. The idea is to allow native plants to grow, not to mow and let the space become wild. Every member pledges a few square metres of their garden to become wild and so far Norway has pledged 969, 398 sq m (as at 1 May 2022).

Scandinavian gardens tend to be more on the wild side anyway. They are rarely very formal, and native plants and trees are hugely popular. Where gardens border fields and forest they are allowed to blend into one another and big fences and hedges are avoided.

We are also very lucky with our local municipalities' management of roadside verges. Verges are usually left to grow without constant mowing and pesticides are not used. So those areas become havens for insects and small animals that love the abundance of plants and flowers from April to October.

Andre and I have a reasonable amount of space to dedicate to gardening and our garden has evolved to include practical areas like our BBQ patio and vegetable gardens to less formal areas that we leave alone completely. I have had my fair share of very small gardens, as is commonplace in English homes, and I can confidently tell you that even with a tiny space we can pledge some space to wildlife.

I want to show you how I do that here in Norway and how you could too with just a few small actions that will benefit the environment and your garden.

Norway meadow
Leaving a small area of natural grasses and plants benefits the insects

Leave a small space unmowed

If you have grass (or even if you don't yet) leaving a small amount unmowed and without pesticides and fertilisers is probably the easiest, quickest and least labour intensive way of welcoming wildlife into your garden. Even the smallest space can make a difference to the insects in your garden. All you need to do is not to mow and let the native plants take hold. If you have a space of bare soil that you want to use you can find packets of native wildflowers online that you can sow in the space. Be sure to check that they are native for your area. Remember that the plants you think of as weeds are often those that occur naturally in your area.

blue birdbox
Birdboxes are a lovely way to enjoy the wildlife. The vivid blue of Millie's birdbox doesn't put the little birds off!

Hang some birdboxes

Most of us have a birdbox or two in our gardens and there is something very rewarding about seeing your birdbox being used. We like to hang our's a little lower so that Mia can be lifted up to look in. We have some very tolerant great tits nesting in one of our boxes and provided we don't fiddle around too much they don't mind us taking a look inside.

Wood sorrel
Limited use of pesticides helps the wildlife and allows you to forage from your own garden

Limit or eliminate your use of pesticides

There is probably a no-brainer for most people. What we often consider weeds are vital for insects and wildlife. Take dandelions for example. They are some of the earliest flowers to bloom in the spring and are a crucial source of nectar for early emerging insects like bumblebees and some of the butterflies. If you take a good look at a dandelion flower you will see just how beautiful they are - like a small chrysanthemum (they are in the same family after all). If the "weeds" truly annoy you, try digging them up instead of using weedkillers.

Insect hotel Norway
Insect hotels and not only useful but look pretty too

Provide insect hotels

Insects need to overwinter in safe and warm places which is why we so often find them inside our homes in the spring as the weather warms up. Insect hotels are about the size of a birdbox with lots of little hotels and spaces for different insects to seek safe refuge. You probably won't actually see the insects inside, but you may see the small holes filled as solitary bees create their own little doors.

Log pile NOrway
Log piles can look pretty and rustic and also be a welcome refuge for reptiles and beetle larvae

Log piles

Surprisingly our region of Norway has quite a few snakes and reptiles. We only have one venomous species, the adder, but they all balance the ecosystem and are a vital part of any environment. We also find that they do a very nice job of keeping the mouse population down, certainly in our garden. To encourage them into areas of our garden and hopefully keep them away fro other areas, I have created a pile of old logs. The nook and crannies provide hidey holes for reptiles and toads and as the logs rot they play host to beetle grubs.

Broken plant pot, garden
Broken plant pots needn't be thrown away; they can make homes for toads

Toad and reptile homes

For some reason these always bring to mind Beatrix Potter stories where little animals live in adorable homes made of the roots of trees or upturned plant post. If you have a cracked plant pot or two do't throw it out, but turn it upside down and pout it somewhere out of the way as a home for toads. You might not like the sound of encouraging toads into your garden, but you rarefy catch sight of them in the daylight hours and they LOVE to eat slugs which is a wonderful way of naturally keeping the pests down.

Compost bin
Homemade compost is great for the garden

Compost bins

I'd love to have more compost bins as our's fill up quite quickly, but even one small one can make a difference. Whilst you are getting rid of organic waste from the garden and vegetable scraps from the kitchen you are also providing a tiny ecosystem for insects, bacteria and worms and doing your garden some good.

Stumpery Norway
Natural gardening styles can look pretty and be more welcoming for wild visitors

Try to garden in a more natural way

For most gardeners this is something we do without much thought. We follow the seasons because we have to. We prune when the the plants need it and it has the lest effect on their growth. However sometimes it's tempting to cut things back and prune hard simply because we want to and have an idea of a style we are trying to achieve. This can have a damaging effect on the wildlife like nesting birds and caterpillars. So carefully consider theses things before rushing in. Another idea is to incorporate natural areas into your garden like this stumpery I have just started above (inspired by an edition of Country Living Magazine). I'm using old stumps for architectural touches interspersed with natural planting of native plants.

I hope I have given you a few ideas to garden with wildlife in mind and remember that the smallest action can make a difference. Even planting some native wildflowers in a pot on your doorstep or windowsill is a step in the right direction.

Are you a member of the Living a Nordic Life Facebook group yet? If not, we'd love to see you there. We chat about all things Nordic from food to decor to Nordic habits.

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