Garden Design for Wildlife

We all know someone that has foxes, badgers, rabbits or even deer getting into their gardens. Or garden owners that make an effort to get birds nesting, newts and frogs swimming or even just a few nesting solitary bees. Covering some 4% of the 93,000 square miles of this island we’re lucky that our gardens are truly the biggest wildlife park we have in the UK. What’s more it’s not just our individual gardens that are important but the sum of gardens that is vital to biodiversity and garden designers have an important role to play in getting wildlife into gardens.

Individual gardens are usually quite small and it is the sum and, especially, the variety, of plants and features within an area’s gardens that is valuable. Other features such as canal, railway embankments, street trees, parks and other communal green space also contribute to the variety of habitats and resources but it’s our gardens that are important. The message is that whilst you might not have a pond for wildlife, your neighbour might and if you can include trees for birds and flowers for food in your garden design it will work with the gardens nearby that provide shelter for other wildlife.

One of the big stories in recent years has been the demise in honey bees due to many different factors, not least the use of pesticides in the countryside. Interestingly honeybees were thriving in our cities and it’s the solitary bees that are really on the decline. The huge increase in hives has though not come with a huge increase in food sources so even though you don’t have a hive think about planting design with lots of bee friendly plants. Rothamsted Research studied an important group of pollinators, the bumblebees, in gardens and farmland and found that gardens support around 5 times as many nests as farmland, with about 36 nests per hectare, regardless of garden size. This was put down to two important features of gardens: presence of potential nesting sites and food resources. Gardens offer a variety of nesting site opportunities, such as compost heaps and bins, bird boxes and flower-beds and a long and continuous season of flowering plants. The abundance of flowers in gardens provides much more nectar and pollen, from early spring to late autumn, than is usually found in the countryside. The conclusion was that gardens are one of the most important refuge for pollinators in Britain!

We can all do our bit and for those low maintenance gardeners out there you’ll be pleased to hear that it doesn’t matter too much about the state of your garden as a few piles of leaves, debris and even a few bricks can be great nesting sites for our bees and insects. But if you want to be more proactive and help these creatures then start building some bee hotels into your garden design using all the materials you might find around your garden but normally throw away. A few upturned flower pots stuffed with dead leaves is as simple as it can get or you can create some wildlife towers. You can also design some quite snazzy wildlife homes to fit into the style of the house that the garden belongs too. How about a modernist bee hotel for that modernist house, or a Victorian terrace bird box for the terraced garden? Whatever you do think about wildlife when you start a garden design and everyone will win.

Create Gorgeous Gardens: 5 Useful Free Garden Design Software Features

Today, in the increasingly competitive free garden design software market, some of the skills of professional landscape designers are already built into the software itself. For example, in the past we have to depend on the professionals to select suitable plants that will thrive in your local climate. Today, the USDA Hardiness Zone Map is encoded into most paid and free landscape design software, so selecting suitable plants for your climate has become a much easier job.

Over the years of using both free and paid garden design software for garden design projects for my clients, I noticed that there are 8 “must have” features in the software that can help to save lots of time and avoid garden design mistakes:

1) Large searchable plant library with Hardiness Zone Maps

I cannot stress the importance of correct plant selection enough. Fortunately, access to Hardiness Zone Maps is just a few clicks away with the correct software. Experienced gardeners will tell you that it is pointless to plant something that will not survive in your climate.

Therefore, to avoid the disappointment of seeing dying plants, it is important to know your hardiness zone before deciding what plants you want in your garden.

2) Ability to design gardens in 3D, and produce 2D drawings

From experience, many people, me included, have problems visualizing how the garden will look like by just looking at a 2D drawing. Unfortunately, many professional landscape designers still like to communicate the garden design concept to their clients. For example, by looking at a “bird eye view” plan, there is very hard to imagine how a bird bath looks like beside a raised flower bed. Some clients absolutely love it; however some clients want the bird bath removed after it was installed. Such costly design errors can avoided if the client was shown a 3D photo of the future garden.

Anyway, 2D drawings are still important. It contains much important information, such as the size of the garden, and the location of every garden element. Therefore it is crucial for paid and free garden design software to have both 2D and 3D design capabilities.

3) Ability to import your front yard or backyard photos

This type of free garden design software is probably the easiest to use, and it is definitely the most practical for gardeners who has only a small garden to work on.

This type of software allows you to import your front yard photo and add garden features around them. So, it is particularly useful for creating “before and after” comparisons. Some software even can create different lighting effects so that you can see how your future garden looks like in the morning as well as in the evening.

However if you have a large garden, this type of program is probably not for you. The reason is, if your garden is a large one, in this type of program it is not possible to design in every single detail.

4) Plant growth simulation

With the Hardiness Zone Maps installed into the software, some landscape design software nowadays can also predict how your plants will look like in the next 3 months or 5 years. This is particularly important so that adjustments can be made for space constraints which are not apparent at the first look.

Besides, it is also a great experience to see how your garden will become more and more gorgeous year after year, without the need of time travel!

5) Ease of use

The ease of using your paid or free landscape design programs is one of the most underrated features. Many beginning garden enthusiasts pay too much attention to whether their software has a certain type of plant in their plant library.

Obviously having a large plant library is very important, but I always belief that gardeners should never let the software difficulties limit our imagination. If the software is way too hard to use for you, just change to another one, since there are dozens of them out there.

These are the top 5 features that I will recommend to all garden enthusiasts to keep an eye on whenever they want to install any paid or free garden design software. Once you make a wise decision and install the correct software, you are already one big step nearer to creating the garden of your dreams.