20 wildlife garden ideas: transform your garden into a nature-friendly space

With our wildlife garden ideas it's easy to create a welcoming haven for creatures big and small

wildlife garden ideas
(Image credit: National Trust )

Even if your outside space is just a patio, our wildlife garden ideas can help your local wildlife to thrive. Despite what you might think, it doesn’t mean you need to have a ‘wild’ garden either, as sleek, modern and well-maintained spaces can be just as appealing to creatures great and small. 

A successful wildlife garden will encourage all manner of animals, birds and insects to spend time in your garden, helping you to get closer to nature in the process. Recent events have meant we're all spending more time outdoors than before, with many of us taking great enjoyment from getting closer to nature, seeing the benefits it can bring to reducing our stress levels and promoting a feeling of wellbeing. 

The key to any wildlife-friendly garden is to create as many different habitats for animals as possible. The reality is you're probably already doing more than you think thanks to simply having flowering plants, hedges, a woodpile or a small water feature. But there's also plenty more changes you could make to encourage an even more diverse range of creatures to enjoy your outside space. From making smart planting choices, creating super-chic feeding stations to bigger projects such as building a bug hotel or keeping bees, there are endless ways you can do your bit for nature and raise your garden’s style credentials in the process, too. 

We’ve put together 20 easy ways you can encourage more wildlife into your garden, which will help to boost the local eco-system too. Once you've got the lowdown on how to get a nature-friendly space, you'll find more ideas for garden updates in our garden design ideas gallery. 

1. Provide a mini watering hole

garden birds having a drink from a bird table

(Image credit: Crocus)

Having a supply of fresh water is just as important to birds as being fed, especially during the colder months. So use the opportunity of seeing them drink and splash about as a chance to add a stylish new garden feature. This elegant Turned green marble bowl from Crocus, is simply stunning as the beautiful interior is enhanced by the water and creates a still, reflective pool when not occupied. Raise it up on a stone plinth or a neat side table to keep it out of the reach of predators and refill daily. A couple of pebbles in the centre will provide an extra handy perch for your feathered friends. We've got lots more tips on how to attract birds into your garden in our handy guide. 

2. Go for sculptural feeders

garden birds feeding from a number of bird feeders

(Image credit: Crocus)

Give our beautiful feathered friends one of the best bird feeders they can be proud of. These designs from Crocus provide a safe and convenient feeding point and create an eye-catching statement too. Hang them individually or suspend them from an overhanging branch, one below the other, using the co-ordinating hooks and brackets. Brass and copper finishes are a great choice for bird feeders as they look mesmerising set against vibrant autumn leaves.

3. Add a statement home for bees 

Bee Posts set in flowerbeds to encourage bees to the garden

(Image credit: Green & Blue)

Made by mixing concrete and Cornish Granite aggregate, this tall and stately Beepost by Green and Blue is designed to provide nesting opportunities for the UK’s declining population of solitary bees. Important for the pollination of crops and flowers these bees are non-aggressive, so completely safe to encourage into your garden. The contemporary posts work well in groups and contrast beautifully with any style of planting.

4. Create a chic bird station 

bird bath and bird feeder combined in one design

(Image credit: Green & Blue)

Want to bring nature into your garden without going rustic in style? Yes? Then this modern bird bath and feeder from Green & Blue are for you. Made in Cornwall using 75% China Clay waste they have a pale, ethereal tone and a seductively smooth finish. Constructed from stacking cylinders you can choose the perfect height to suit your garden, before adding the final concentrically stepped dish on top. 

5. Grow flowers for pollinators

dahlia flower

(Image credit: iBulb)

Did you know that flat-shaped blooms with open centres are a firm favourite with bees? With colourful petals guiding them to the nectar and pollen laden stamens, these plants are a vital food source for these essential garden visitors. Dahlias, Osteospermum, Asters and heleniums are all great for late summer colour and will provide nourishment right up until the first frosts. Check out Sarah Raven’s extensive collection of dahlias and our guide to the best bee-friendly plants for more ideas. 

6. Leave a gap for wildlife

hedgehog crawling through a hole in the bottom of a fence

(Image credit: RSPB)

Yes, we all love privacy in our gardens, but many of our smaller wild visitors need to be able to move freely on their search for food and shelter. Hedgehogs, toads, newts, frogs and many other small mammals will travel a mile or more to mate and discover new hunting grounds, so it is important to link our green spaces together. Cutting small gaps at the base of wooden fences, incorporating short drainpipes above ground level when building new walls, and growing climbers up and over boundaries and buildings will all help to create wild byways and let these creatures thrive. 

7. PLANT A CLIMBER

a flowering rose arch in June at a National Trust property

Rose arch in June at National Trust Mottisfont in Hampshire

(Image credit: Marianne Majerus/The National Trust)

Climbing roses have a double use – they are beautifully scented and give us a lot of joy as we spend time in our gardens, but at the same time they provide cover and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. Birds can nest in matured climbers and bees and butterflies can feed, rest and hibernate. Other good climbers to consider are honeysuckle and clematis, both of which are lovely varieties to have in your garden and great choices for a cottage garden scheme. 

8. Put up nesting pockets

nesting pockets for birds

(Image credit: Simon King Wildlife)

Not just for small birds such as robins, treecreepers and wrens, these brushwood nest pouches from Simon King Wildlife are popular with dormice and woodmice too. Made with a strong metal frame which incorporates a handy rear hatch and a waterproof roof, they are tough enough to deter predators and easy to clean out too. Position them in trees, climbers or woody shrubs at least 1m above the ground, and secure them in place using garden wire.

9. Encourage bats

bat box on the side of a shed

(Image credit: CJ Wildlife)

Okay, so bats might have had something of a bad press this year, and we’re probably not all keen on the ideas of them flying around our heads, but they need as much love and care as our other wildlife friends do. They rely on nooks and crannies for shelter and roosting, and as buildings get knocked down or repurposed they often lose their homes. You can help them by popping a bat box or two up in your garden to provide a safe place for them to live and raise the young. 

10. Go for a green roof

wildflower meadow on top of garden building

(Image credit: Wildflower Turf)

Turn a dull roof into a rich and diverse habitat with flower-rich, living turf. Not only do the wildflowers and grasses attract a wide range of insects and birdlife, they make a beautiful, ever-changing display that’s a delight to look out on. There are many green roof systems available including interlocking pre-sown units, but established turf mats tend to be favoured by professional installers. Wildflower Turf has a carefully nurtured range of different turfs that can also be topped up with specialist seed scatter mixes and shade-tolerant bulbs. 

11. Leave a wild area

wildflowe meadow surrounding a natural pond

(Image credit: Wildflower Turf)

No matter how big or small your outside space is, a grassy area that is left untouched is a sure-fire way to attract a wide range of bugs, amphibians, birds and mammals. Dedicate a quiet corner, an area under a tree or a couple of window boxes sown with a meadow mix of seeds and it will soon draw in visitors. If you are uber-keen to see results, give nature a hand by laying a few square metres of wildflower turf. There are plenty of different wildflower combinations available including the vibrant Native Enriched Wildflower Turf from Wildflower Turf, a mix that is shade tolerant.

12. Plant a hedge

garden bench painted in a number of colourful exterior paints

(Image credit: Cuprinol)

You can’t beat a native hedge for creating a safe wildlife haven, and let’s face it they are much more attractive than most types of fence and wall too. Not only do they provide a safe nesting site, they often provide food and essential shelter too. Plant a diverse variety of native species – such as hornbeam, hawthorn, holly and blackthorn – for maximum seasonal interest and added home security or try beech or yew for a more uniform look that will retain its leaves all year. Our guide to the best fast-growing hedges has lots of advice on how to create a new boundary, fast. 

13. Step back from your mower

manicured lawn

(Image credit: Suttons)

Lawns provide a rich habitat for beetles, worms and other insects and are an important part of the eco system that allows birds, frogs, newts and hedgehogs to thrive. A perfectly manicured lawn is an achievement to most, but if you can leave off mowing it for a month or two, or keep a few sections free from cutting, you will be helping the wildlife to blossom. And you might even see some new wild varieties of flower popping up – buttercups and daisies, for example, will provide some lovely food for bees and butterflies. 

14. Build a bug palace

DIY bug and bee hotel

(Image credit: Surrey Wildlife Trust)

Learning how to make a bug hotel is a project that the whole family can take part and take pride in. A great way to help tidy up your patch, it can also be treated as a living wall that you can alter and replant as the mood takes you. Start by creating a solid timber frame – a neat pile of wood pallets held firmly in place with timber stakes is a quick and easy option. Once everything is secure, start filling the gaps with nesting materials. Try using everything from straw, twigs, pinecones, garden prunings, wood offcuts and even roof tiles. Repeat some of the materials in different slots for a cohesive – rather than – chaotic look, and remember to plant up the occasional gap with compost and flowering creepers such as nasturtiums, Heartsease and English Lavender. 

15. Bring in the butterflies

peacock butterfly on a flower

(Image credit: RHS)

Marvel at the colour and beauty of these winged beauties by enticing them into your garden. Recent national reports have shown a 76% decline in Britain’s butterflies over the last 40 years, so it makes sense to do all we can to help them thrive. Grow nectar-rich plants such as fragrant herbs, lavenders, nasturtiums and Chrysanthemums in pots and borders and scented climbers such as Star Jasmine and flowering Ivy. Many companies, including Suttons, sell specific Butterfly Seed mixes which combine native flowering varieties with those popular with hungry caterpillars.

16. Get composting

wooden compost bin

(Image credit: Suttons)

Learning how to compost so you can create a compost heap in your garden will give a refuge to many wildlife species, such as woodlice, birds, slow-worms, grass snakes, beetles, hedgehogs and toads. It will provide a warm safe haven for them and will give you some goodness for your garden. You can also recycle your kitchen and garden waste to make a rich organic compost, with a little help from the wildlife that will reside in it of course. You can make your own composter with wood from a DIY store or even old pallets. Alternatively, head over to our best compost bin feature to find a ready-made one for your garden. 

17. Keep your own bees

modern beehive in an urban garden

(Image credit: Omlet)

Ok, it is a commitment – but keeping bees is really rewarding. You get to watch their activities first-hand, learn about these insects that originated over a million years ago and, of course, enjoy your very own honey. With a larger capacity than most hives, the Beehaus from Omlet is also much lighter and easier to use than traditional designs, making it ideal for beginners. Raised off the ground and at a comfortable working height, it makes a contemporary and fun feature on any rooftop or garden. 

18. Plant a pond in a pot

pond created in a large plant pot

(Image credit: Primrose)

Even the smallest of water feature ideas such as a small pond can attract a wide range of animals and insects. Choose a watertight container, ideally wait for it to fill with rain before adding a few carefully chosen aquatic plants. You will need to seek out slower growing, non-invasive species such as Golden Club and Floating Heart for smaller pots but if you want a hassle free and – of course – stylish combination check out the wildlife friendly pond in a trough from Primrose. Keen to take on a bigger project? Head over to our how to build a garden pond feature for a step-by-step guide. 

19. Plant up your paving

gravel planted up with colourful plants

(Image credit: Decorative Aggregates)

Use every opportunity to squeeze in nectar-rich blooms. Lifting the odd paving slab and filling the space with gravel, such as this Cheshire Pink Gravel from Decorative Aggregates, is a great way to soften the look of large paved areas, provide extra run-off drainage and the chance to attract beneficial insects too. Choose low-growing sun lovers such as sedums, Gentians and Sisyrincium. There are even some plants – Creeping Jenny and thyme for instance – that will cope with being driven over, so there is no excuse for not greening your drive. 

20. Don't tidy up!

Grebe House wildlife garden

(Image credit: Charlotte Hussey/The Wildlife Trust)

Having a neat and tidy garden during autumn and winter can actually hinder our garden friends. Keep seed heads uncut for the birds, let the creepy crawlies shelter amongst the plant stems, and the toads hide under the leaves. Ladybirds love to overwinter around perennial plants too, so keep them. Another good tip is not to dig your garden soil unless you are planting, or why not try the no-dig gardening method instead? Not digging really helps earthworm and beetle larvae populations to increase. 

More wildlife-friendly ideas: