If I had a shelf of gardening books to choose from, a ‘Companion to Wildlife Gardening’ would not have grabbed my attention. I think of myself as being reasonably knowledgeable on the subject, but I found the book to be a very accessible and enjoyable read and I have happily come away with a list of plants to acquire and changes to make.
When it was first published in 1985 this book was ground-breaking. Since then gardeners have become much more aware of the important role our domestic gardens play in supporting wildlife, but the reissued and updated book doesn’t read like a history lesson. It begins by talking about the importance of wildlife as a calming influence on our busy and stressful lives, and how important urban green space is to replacing the natural habitats that have been destroyed.
What follows are detailed chapters on how to create new wildlife habitats in your garden by including woodland edges, hedgerows, wildflower meadows and ponds. While Baines does cater to some extent for people with balconies and courtyards, you can see from the topics that the main audience will be people with gardens, although even someone with a small garden can adopt more than a few of the ideas.
Each chapter contains practical instructions and really helpful lists of plants that are particularly beneficial to wildlife. Baines doesn’t encourage you to abandon your traditional garden, instead he suggests ways to make relatively small changes that will benefit wildlife and in turn give you much pleasure by observing and studying them. He has a refreshing focus on the enjoyment that we as gardeners will get from watching the creatures that we can attract. I particularly like his concept of gardens as wildlife service stations, and the steps that we can take to stock the service stations throughout the year. Lists of native wildflowers that are suitable for adding to an existing border are ordered by colour to make border design easier.
His enthusiasm for even the smallest of insects is infectious and has already made me look at my garden with fresh eyes. I now appreciate the ingenuity of wildflowers such as clover and daisies that are gradually taking over our lawn, and their ability to flourish despite regular mowing (although my Other Half whose job it is to look after the lawn might not be so easily persuaded). We have a small wildflower patch under an old apple tree and this book has made me realise that I didn’t think about what birds and insects I was aiming to attract with my choice of plants, and I also now understand why we have lots of bees in the garden but not as many butterflies as we would like. Baines gives brief details of the habitats and food requirements of a range of creatures so that you can ensure a greater diversity in your garden.
The book focusses only on British wildlife, and while it will probably be of some relevance to our neighbours in Europe, it will merely be of passing interest to anyone gardening further afield.
If you are interested in encouraging more wildlife into your garden this book will certainly give you some ideas. Even if your garden is already wildlife friendly, I would be surprised if you don’t find some inspiration, or at least a renewed enthusiasm.
Royal Horticultural Society: Companion to Wildlife Gardening
Author: Chris Baines
Book details: hardcover, 256 pages, ISBN-10: 0711237913; ISBN-13: 978-0711237919, UK published 1 September 2016 by Francis Lincoln.
Available in the UK from the RHS Shop – £20.00
Available in Australia from Murdoch Books from October RRP $49.99