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On 27 September the RSPB’s Wildlife Garden at Flatford was awarded first place in the Recreation category at the annual Biffa Building Communities Awards. The project, led by the RSPB as part of their Homes for Wildlife scheme, relies on a dedicated team of local volunteers, who not only maintain the garden, but also welcome visitors to the tranquil spot, which is nestled on the banks of the Stour, in the heart of Constable Country.
The garden is open between 1 April and 31 October every year, and on Thursdays during the winter months, when the gardening volunteers are on site.
Years ago, I bought a magazine advertising an article about building a backyard wildlife garden.
A successful garden for wildlife is built on four provisions: shelter and protection, food sources, water sources, and nesting areas. Almost all wild creatures use shrubs, trees, grasses and other tall plants and not only for protection from predators.
Your choice of flowers should be another food source to consider when building your backyard wildlife garden. All animals need water to survive and one of the easiest ways to ensure the arrival of wildlife in the garden is to provide a clean water source. When we begin building a backyard wildlife garden, we think about all the creatures we would like to attract; birds and butterflies, frog and turtles.
That half of an orange you put out on the bird feeding tray should be thrown away after supper. Discourage their attendance as much as you can, but…you may have to learn to live with the rabbits, deer and other creatures. Even if all you have is a balcony, you can still attract plenty of birds and butterflies with wildlife gardening.
Don’t forget to provide yourself with a comfortable place nearby to watch your visitors.
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The ceremony took place at Chatham’s Historic Dockyard in Kent, and was attended by representatives from 25 shortlisted projects. It’s a great project, which aims to inspire people to help wildlife by caring for their own gardens in such a way as to help struggling creatures such as honey bees, hedgehogs, butterflies and song thrushes.

Even if you live in an apartment with a tiny balcony or small city lot, you can still participate in wildlife gardening. It isn’t difficult to incorporate any of these things into an aesthetically pleasing plan. If you live in an area where these little acrobats abound, spend a few dollars more to purchase squirrel-proof feeders. The traditional raised birdbath is fine, but how about placing that shallow bowl at ground level to give some other creatures a chance. We forget the creatures we don’t want—skunks, opossums, raccoons and for some of us, Bambi and Thumper. There are some really cool bird baths available now that are meant to be mounted to a deck railing.
Not all birds will comfortably nest on a balcony so close to people, but wrens of all types are usually happy to nest just about anywhere. My father’s tiny wildlife habitat attracts several dozen species of birds, and is regularly visited by butterflies of all sizes. Parking is at the National Trust car park, and there is a cafe and toilets very close to the garden. And then I saw the photographs—a modest sized backyard filled with a falling-down rock wall, a huge brush pile, overgrown shrubs, a dripping hose over a cracked basin, and a variety of feeders and birdhouses crammed into the small space. Seeds, nectar and the insects they attract are all possible food sources for some little creature. As far as these guys are concerned, your garbage can with the loose lid and that leftover dog food on the back porch are both part of your garden for wildlife.
The truth is, once I called a truce in the war against these invaders, I started to enjoy their company.
At my own home in Florida, I have about a tenth of an acre for wildlife gardening, and have managed to attract more than one hundred species of birds, butterflies, insects, reptiles, and more.
If you’re worried about mess from seed feeders, look for sunflower chips, which come without the shells, and buy a feeder that has a tray underneath to catch the overflow. There are even heated versions you can use in the winter as long as you have a grounded outlet nearby. If not, consider adding a couple of small shrubs in pots nearby your feeders, so birds have a place to perch as they scope out the situation. Provide a small nesting box, or try an old-fashioned wren jar, like the kind colonial people mounted near their doors to attracting nesting wrens that would keep pest bugs in check.

In the winter, it’s easy for him to step out onto the balcony to fill feeders and add water to the birdbath, except in the very worst weather. A garden for wildlife doesn’t have to be a jungle of unkempt plant life and rodent attracting eyesores. Don’t discount your hardscape or focal points when building a backyard wildlife garden either. If you must feed the squirrels, as I do, try setting up a feeding station just for them in another area of the yard. Even the lowly toad needs to eat and bats do a better job of clearing out those pesky mosquitoes than any spray on the market.
This is especially convenient if you place that rock in a place where you frequently water.
That low, boggy spot in the yard may be the perfect spot to dig out a hole for a lined pond for fish, frogs and birds. My father, in a rental home in Ohio, has just a little room for gardening, but he makes good use of the space.
For butterflies, try adding a few small host plants, like milkweed and parsley, mixed with nectar plants to create all-in-one butterfly planters.
Remember, plants that will give ‘form and structure’ to your winter garden will also provide shelter and protection.
Brush piles, rock piles and fallen trees all provide shelter and protection, and with a little creativity, you can hide some of these behind other plants or structures or you can find alternative arrangements that are more pleasing to the eye. Hummingbirds are easily attracted to the color red, so red flowers and feeders will draw them to you. Discourage foreign birds by removing perches and buy houses measured specifically for birds in your area. Simply using the space on his back balcony, he attract butterflies and birds that he can watch comfortably from his living room easy chair!
Also, take into account that different birds feed at different levels and eat different kinds of seed, fruit and fats.
It’s sometimes painful to watch the more brutal side of nature, but these magnificent creatures have the right to eat, too.

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