A few centuries ago, landowners mainly used their land to grow crops for their families and livestock. However, some landowners, particularly the aristocracy, liked to display their wealth by clearing their land of trees and wildflowers and replacing them with pristinely manicured lawns[i]. While this look did, in some ways, it wasn’t exactly a positive for the local flora and fauna. In more recent years, many landowners are opting for a more organic look to their estate and are allowing their lawns to revert to fields of natural weeds and wildflowers. They are also planting more trees for a rustic, nature-friendly garden. And so can you! Here’s how to rewild your garden to benefit you and local wildlife.
What Does It Mean To Rewild Your Garden?
So, what does it mean to rewild your garden? Well, rewilding your garden is purposefully taking measures to revert it to its natural state before the land was cleared of trees, weeds and other plants. This usually drives animals away as well. Rewilding a garden is becoming increasingly important for several reasons. As we clear more land for new suburbs and more housing, nature is losing precious ground and seeing the possible extinction of many native plants and animals. By rewilding your garden, you can give nature a fighting chance and turn your home into a tranquil sanctuary for local flora and fauna and a stunning place where you can escape too.
How To Rewild Your Garden
Before you embark on your crusade to rewild your garden, you must understand what you’ll need and should avoid. You should first look around your property to see what is growing naturally, paying extra attention to the native plants you can find. There are also a few other things you can do that are equally important if you want to know how to rewild your garden.
Ditch The Chemicals
Manicured lawns may look good, but they are far from environmentally friendly. To get lawns looking pristine and perfect requires lots of chemicals to fertilise the yard and more chemicals to keep weeds under control. These are pretty harmful to the environment and can destroy the quality of your soil. Although chemicals may eliminate weeds and pests, they also eliminate beneficial worms and insects that work the ground and add essential nutrients. These chemicals also harm birds and other animals, which can significantly reduce their numbers. If you are worried about keeping weeds and pests at bay, consider this – if you make your garden wildlife-friendly, these critters can control the pest population, as they are a food source for many creatures.
Let The Grass Grow
There are a few ways you can rewild the areas of your land currently covered by lawns. The first step is to stop using chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weed killers. Pass over the soil with a rake to aerate the soil a little and scatter handfuls of mixed seeds over the ground. Then let the grass grow tall. This will entice wildlife to wander onto your property as they can move naturally without being spotted by predators. Cut the grass late in the summer or as the weather cools in autumn, and this will encourage new growth of natural grass and wildflowers for the spring. The easier option is just to sit back and let nature gradually take over again.
Or, Replace The Lawn Altogether
You can replace the lawn if you don’t want just to let the grass grow. This may mean you need to remove the top layer of turf to reveal the soil underneath. You can then let nature do the rest of the work for you, or you can create areas that are definitely flora and fauna friendly. Create a few rock gardens around and plant things like succulents or add some rock piles where plants can naturally spring from, and the rocks will also provide great shelter for a variety of small animals and insects. If you don’t like the idea of piles of rocks on your property, you can always plant a variety of shrubs or ground cover such as moss, perennials and other plants to cover what used to be your lawn.
Leave The Weeds Alone
Most people are obsessed with getting rid of weeds without realising how beneficial some weeds can be. For example, a field of dandelions looks stunning in the spring with those bright yellow flowers, which are essential for bees, and if you are creative with your cooking, you can add the leaves of dandelions to various dishes and salads. If you know your herbs and natural remedies, you probably know that you can actually use most of those “weeds” to make herbal teas and other home remedies. More importantly, many weeds are favourite foods for grazing animals such as deer, while many insects eat the nectar and roots of these weeds. Also, by keeping the weeds, you will attract insects bringing other smaller animals such as hedgehogs, field mice, etc.
Give Wildlife Safe Passage
There is nothing more devastating than seeing animals flattened on roads. Human progress has made it difficult for many animals in the wild to travel to their mating or feeding areas without the threat of being attacked by domesticated animals or run over on the roads. While rewilding your garden, consider including some safe passages for the local wildlife. For example, a wildlife corridor gives many animals the means to travel without trying to navigate through exposed spaces. These paths are best around the edges of your property, and you should also talk to your neighbours about leaving gaps in the fence line to allow the animals to pass through freely.
Choose Wildlife Friendly Plants
When we initially cleared their land of plants, we also destroyed the habitat for many species of wildlife. Once you decide you want to rewild your garden, you can scatter seeds all over the place and see what thrives. However, you need to consider which plants will benefit wildlife and which won’t. For example, in recent times we have seen an alarming decline of bees. This is mainly due to the overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, plus the clearing of land and beneficial flora.
Choose flowering plants such as lavender, wild oregano and other wildlife-friendly plants.[ii] These plants will attract bees and other beneficial insects and birds, which are essential for pollinating other plants. Wherever possible, try to find native plant seeds to keep the area you are rewilding as organic as possible.
Don’t Dig Over Soil
Try to avoid digging over the soil while rewilding your garden. Digging over the soil can disturb the natural balance of micro-nutrients and micro-organisms in the soil, which are essential for healthy plants. Instead of constantly digging up the soil, add mulch instead. Perhaps you have left a small lawn area around your house, so use the grass cuttings as mulch. Also, whenever you rake up leaves, scatter them along the perimeter of your property to add layers of mulch that will break down, providing essential nutrients to the soil and keeping the soil moist.
Go Easy On The Landscaping
Gardens with paved or concreted areas may look aesthetically pleasing. However, they aren’t beneficial to local wildlife. These paved gardens do not allow water to run naturally, which can be devastating during periods of intense rainfall. Paths are also bad news for wildlife as they can become dangerously hot in the summer months. Hot paths will burn the paws of passing animals, and can also damage the claws of diggers who rely on them to dig. Wherever possible, try to keep paths natural and limit them to areas directly surrounding the buildings.
Leave Things How They Are
When you start rewilding your garden, leaving some areas alone is a good idea. For example, you may choose to leave a corner of your property overgrown and make it more suitable for wildlife. It’s all about giving nature a helping hand and allowing it to reclaim at least a bit of a garden. When left alone, nature will take advantage of any area you don’t cultivate, flourishing quite successfully on its own.
Consider adding natural shelters in various spots in your garden. For example, creating a woodpile can be incredibly beneficial for a variety of small animals and insects. Plus, you can use the wood for heating a log fire in the winter or allow it to deteriorate. The soil that is under a woodpile contains a lot of decayed matter and makes incredible natural fertilisers.
Another natural shelter you can add to your garden is a nesting box. As we have cleared wooded areas, many birds have lost their essential breeding grounds. Placing a few nesting boxes around your property will attract mating birds. Not only will this be a delightful witnessing, but it will also give bird populations a better chance of survival during nesting season.
Rewilding Your Garden Is Good For You Too
Here’s the best news for those considering rewilding their gardens. There is no doubt that rewilding your garden is good for the environment, local flora and fauna, and humans too. While there may be a bit of work involved rewilding your garden, once you get the initial work done, you can sit back, relax and enjoy watching nature at its best in your own garden. A rewilded garden needs only a fraction of the time and money needed to maintain a pristinely manicured lawn so you’ll be doing something beneficial for yourself and the environment.
If you’re looking for ways to make your garden eco-friendly, check out this article by Stone Zone & Landscaping Centre.
Gemma Sharp is the resident writer for Love Garden Birds, a supplier of premium bird food and accessories. She has had a genuine love for our feathered friends from a young age, and has dedicated a lot of her time to learning all there is to know about them. If you’re struggling to pick the right bird feed for your garden, need help identifying a type of wild bird, or can’t decide where to put a nesting box, Gemma is the person to go to! She is passionate about sharing her years of learnt knowledge with the public. In her free time, she can be found feeding birds at home with her three young boys.