5 ways to create an ecological wildlife haven
1 Chose wildlife-friendly plants, such as salvias or Verbena bonariensis, that attract butterflies and bees, and trees and evergreen shrubs that will provide shelter for birds. Try to leave a patch of nettles, as they are beneficial as food to caterpillars. 2 Use certified FSC wood and re-use old materials. Martijn has used remnants of the timber used for the house to make the trellis for the garden shed. He adds chipped pruned wood to the paths every year.
3 Create a water feature or a pond and collect rainwater to refill the pond, which helps prevent flooding. Make sure small animals can get out of the pond easily by creating a boggy area around it.
4 Enhance biodiversity. Don’t tidy your garden too much. In autumn, Martijn and Leilah leave all plants and leaves that have died off and don’t start cleaning them up until February. The dead plant material offers protection against frost and shelter for insects and other small animals. Most insects like cool, moist conditions, but bees prefer a sunny spot. Never use pesticides.
5 Grow some fruit and vegetables. By producing your own food you eliminate any food miles and help cut down on CO 2 emissions. You can maximise space by using walls and even roofs to grow edible plants. And if you’re feeling very generous, leave some cabbage in your vegetable plot as food for the cabbage white butterfly.
drilled into them, the ‘city’ attracts an impressive list of insects, which thrive alongside various other small birds and animals. “We have salamanders, frogs, toads, bee beetles, solitary bees, bumblebees, dragonflies, butterflies, a hedgehog, bats and many birds, including a kingfisher,” says Martijn.
By constructing large windows and by placing lots of plants near the house, the garden has become very much part of the home. “We don’t have television, but we have a widescreen view of the garden and the pond, so we see the best nature documentaries – in real time,” says Martijn. “One of our house guests said he felt as though he was inside an observation hide. Leilah and I thought that was a great compliment.”
The L-shaped garden is divided into six parts. One of the most striking features is the way the different shapes and colours of foliage and flowers stand out against the dark background of the house and the garden shed. In the generously planted ‘wild garden’ there are large groups of the couple’s favourite plants and special cultivars, such as Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavendelturm’, Rhaponticum centaureoides, Agastache cana ‘Heatwave’, Astrantia major ‘Star of Royals’ and Eurybia radula ‘August Sky’. The plants are allowed to spread across the narrow, brick garden paths.
Spontaneous seedlings are positively welcomed in this ecologically maintained garden. “Quite a few wild helleborine orchids have popped up, and we don’t mind the occasional nettle, because it is beneficial to several butterfly species,” says Leilah. Next to the wild garden is a more formal garden made up of a lawn with a seating area, surrounded by hedges and clipped blocks of Taxus baccata, Elaeagnus x ebbingei and
Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’, which provide a green structure in winter. “That was the only mistake we made and had to correct: we needed more evergreen plants and shrubs,” admits Leilah.
A hand-made trellis against the shed is covered by fruit bushes, and the even more ingeniously the couple’s food production has now extended to the roof shed. “We’ve filled 20cm-deep boxes with a mixture of fresh soil and compost,” says Martijn. “Our cabbage, celery, pumpkins, courgettes, strawberries, potatoes and lettuce are doing well up there – they’re certainly benefitting from lots of rainwater.”
Luckily, the couple are both still relatively young and fit, because they spend a lot of time climbing ladders to reach their crops, and carrying plants and crops from garden to house in numerous baskets and sieves. Rainwater, which they collect from the roof, supplies the pond, around which are plants mainly selected for the variety of foliage. Most of the plants in the garden come from two nearby nurseries: Epimedium (epimedium.be), which specialises in grasses and shrubs, and Jan De Busschere (tuinplantendebusschere.be), which has a large collection of salvias, many of which have found their way into Leilah and Martijn’s garden. “To be honest,” laughs Leilah. “I would much rather we lived on Salviastraat than on Begoniastraat.” USEFUL INFORMATION Address Begoniastraat 2, 8310 Assebroek, Belgium. Email email@example.com Open Sunday, 2 July, 10am-6pm, and at other times by appointment.
Top left Cool plantings of pale-pink asters and Astrantia major ‘Star of Royals’ line either side of a brick path. The blue-and-white Lupinus ‘The Governor’ and a rich-red hollyhock add spots of colour. A Buddleja davidii supplies more vibrant colour later in the year and sustenance for visiting butterflies.
Top right In the vegetable patch near their shed Leilah and Martijn have created an ‘insect city’ out of wooden poles drilled with holes to provide homes for many different species of insects and bees. 7 5 5 6 3 2 4 1
This page Left Ornamental grasses, such as Stipa tenuissima ‘Pony Tails’, provide movement in the borders and interest in autumn and winter. Below left The roof of Leilah and Martijn’s shed provides ample space for the couple to grow vegetables and collect rainwater. Below right Trellises on the side of the shed, up which fruit bushes grow, were made using recycled wood.