Creating dedicated small wildlife areas in a garden, or at
least giving a passing nod to the idea of so called
‘mini-habitats’ for wildlife, has always been one of the keys
to encouraging a range of creatures to our gardens. Couple
this with ensuring that the whole area is wildlife friendly
and managed organically wherever possible and you could be
well on the well to making the perfect wildlife garden.
However the concept of creating a woodland habitat is a rather
an intimidating prospect for most of us, yet a contained shady
area is known to be brilliant for attracting a wide variety of
creatures including birds and mammals that may not be seen
elsewhere in the average urban or suburban garden. So how can
such a seemingly large area be incorporated into a small
garden and is it worth trying? Can we create an area such as
this without it taking over the whole garden? In even the
smallest garden, it is certainly worth a try.
advantages of shade in a wildlife garden are many, but at
least as important is the shelter that an area such as this
can create in your garden. Most shrubs are impenetrable at
certain times of year and few of us scramble about up in the
crown of a tree (except perhaps to put up a bird box in winter
time) so these areas remain undisturbed for long periods. And the term ‘woodland edge’ need not be daunting! If you
really don’t have room for a small tree, a mini-woodland can
be created with a shrub or two, native or non-native, coppiced
annually if necessary (although every other year would be
better) to keep it confined to a small space. Add appropriate
plants in the under-storey, bark, logs and twigs beneath, and
you can make an area that goes some way to reproducing the
shade and shelter created along the edge of a small woodland.
You won’t have anything approaching the area of shady habitat
of a copse in the countryside, but your efforts will be well
rewarded by the range of birds, mammals, insects and
amphibians that will visit your habitat.
key to the success of a project such as this lies in your
choice of plants, location and of course maintenance. If your
garden is tiny there is no doubt that you will need to keep
everything under control by pruning your tree, coppicing or
pruning hard any shrubs, and ensuring that your under-storey
plants are managed in a way that creates the minimum of
disturbance to the creatures you have attracted. A tall order
but it can be done! And the advantages are many. A whole
different range of wildlife is likely to visit you including
birds such as warblers that you would not necessarily see in a
garden without dense vegetation or the height of a small
First choose your site Your first task in the
creation of any new wildlife habitat is to choose your site.
Bear in mind that both shrubs and a tree could grow rapidly and
take up quite a bit of space if you are not intending to prune
them back hard each year. In a small garden a corner would be
a good option. An existing fence or hedge will create a
boundary for two sides which will partially contain your
mini-woodland, but don’t forget that it will be necessary to
cut the hedge from time to time. If you are happy to let your
hedge become a part of the habitat, perhaps only cutting the
top, you will need access from the other side - in the winter
months it might be possible to creep behind to clip the hedge,
but possibly not if you have planted a holly, blackthorn,
hawthorn or any other prickly customer! Next consider the
aspect. It may sound obvious but don’t overlook the fact that
if the majority of your garden is sunny, a tree is going to
create shade. This is what you are trying to achieve, but not
at the expense of areas where you sit and enjoy the sun, or
have created sunlit nectar borders and it is easy to
underestimate the shade a tree will project. Choose a corner
in the north or east of your garden and don’t forget that if
you decide to include a tree it will shade neighbouring
gardens. Reassure your neighbours that you are planning to
keep the tree to a reasonable height.
Next – select your tree A
garden woodland edge habitat doesn’t have to include a tree
but there are plenty of small species and varieties that will
add to your garden environment. If you have plenty of space
you could try a native tree such as a crab apple which will
reach roughly 6 meters at 20 years old, a downy birch (9
metres), bird cherry (10 metres), wild cherry (14 metres) or
rowan (12 metres). These lovely trees will all attract a good
variety of birds and insects but would still be too tall for
the smaller garden. There are plenty of non natives though
that could help to create your woodland edge feel. Ask for
advice at your local nursery but my choice of non native would
be an apple on a dwarfing rootstock (Beauty of Bath has
wonderful flowers) or a flowering Prunus, both providing
nectar and pollen for insects in the spring and excess fruit
would feed the birds. If you are less concerned about
something that looks traditionally tree-like, a goat willow
has more than 250 different insect species associated with it
and can be cut down drastically every year if necessary.
Better though to make sure that at least something of your
tree substitute remains over the winter, providing a song post
for thrushes and robins. An alternative to the willow could
even be a Buddleia which will quickly grow to a good height
and can be maintained in a tree-like form. This would be
excellent for butterflies, moths and bees and provide height
in the garden without too much shade.
natural woodland has an under-storey of some sort – a selection
of smaller trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, bulbs, mosses,
liverworts and fungi, which serve to make up this habitat. We
can reproduce this profusion of vegetation by planting beneath
our tree or large shrub with wildlife friendly varieties.
Again choose either native or non native plants here, its up
to you. The important thing is to have as wide a selection as
you have room for. It would be better to have one Lamium (or
deadnettle), plus bugle and a couple of foxgloves, rather than
simply a ground cover of Lamium – each plant will attract
different invertebrates, thus increasing the wildlife diversity of
the area. Small shrubs that tolerate some shade could include
Daphne, some Viburnums, wild roses or dogwoods with coloured
stems. Bulbs will provide colour in the spring - native
bluebells, daffodils and squills and non-native crocuses are
good early pollen providers. As the area develops take
inspiration from woodlands you have visited and add plants of
varying heights to mimic the vegetation beneath those trees.
To complete the woodland floor, mulch with bark and add twigs
and logs to create habitats for invertebrates. Mosses, lichen
and fungi will appear of their own accord as long as the area
retains some moisture in the autumn and winter. Any logs,
piled up in the dampest corner will soon rot down to give a
home to a huge number of creatures including frogs and toads,
invertebrates such as earthworms, centipedes, woodlice and all
manner of beetles, both adults and larvae. You may even
attract a hedgehog looking for a hibernation spot.
Looking after your mini-woodland
Maintenance of your woodland is relatively straightforward.
Trees and shrubs will need to be kept under control by
sensitive pruning or even drastic coppicing in late winter
(willows and Buddleia can handle this tough treatment, others
will need a more gentle approach). Bark plus leaves from
around your garden can be added every autumn, and log piles
topped up from autumn until early spring. This should be the
only time it is necessary to disturb your woodland – regard it
at other times as a no-go area to avoid the secretive
creatures that will take up residence.
woodland edge is one of the most wildlife friendly habitats we
can make in our gardens. You could greatly increase the
diversity of creatures that dwell in your plot this winter by
choosing a spot, adding a small tree, and employing a little
Make a Small Woodland Edge
Choose a suitable spot on the north or east side of your
Clear all perennial weeds by digging out or cover the ground
with mulching material.
Plant your chosen tree, taking care with the preparation of
the hole and stake if the spot is windy.
one or two shrubs of your choice if you have enough space.
Plant shade-loving herbaceous plants and bulbs.
Mulch with bark and/or leaves.
twigs and logs as piles or strewn randomly to mimic a