It's important for all of us to find ways of gardening with nature, whether we have a tiny town garden or a rolling rural estate. I have always enjoyed the wildlife on my doorstep, and it is quite obvious from the public reaction to my books, radio and TV programmes, that enormous numbers of people in the UK feel the same. As a horticulturist who learned his craft in the 1960s, I spent years being taught how to kill things. In those days, wildlife in gardens was generally seen as one of three kinds of problem - a pest, a disease or a weed - but I soon learned that a good gardener can turn that attitude on its head and work with nature to create a garden that is beautiful and full of life. By choosing plants carefully, avoiding poisonous chemicals, and tolerating a little decay, even the smallest of gardens can become a safe haven for all manner of native plants and animals. Provide a further boost to the garden habitat with extra food, some nesting boxes and a dependable source of unpolluted water and even more wildlife will visit regularly from the surrounding neighbourhood.
It has always seemed obvious to me that wildlife in the garden brings benefits for people, and now there is scientific evidence that contact with nature close to home can reduce stress and really make us feel better. Equally important is the growing recognition that the way we garden can make an important contribution to the wellbeing of the wildlife itself. Whilst post-war farming practices have seen loss of habitat on a massive scale, in the towns and villages where most people live and work, many kinds of wild plants and animals are doing rather well. The half million hectares of domestic gardens are a major factor in the fortunes of a whole range of species. Garden ponds have been the salvation of the common frog, the toad and the newt. The colourful flowers in our borders, tubs and hanging baskets boost supplies of nectar and pollen for the bees and butterflies. Suburban hedges, worm-rich lawns, chemical-free slugs and snails and piles of autumn leaves are all a hedgehog needs to make it happy. Where a neighbourhood network of flowery gardens is set beneath the canopy of trees, like glades in an urban forest, then spectacular species such as sparrowhawks, green woodpeckers and tawny owls are thriving.
Gardening with nature is well worthwhile for the most selfish of reasons. It brings real personal pleasure, from the first song of the dawn chorus to the last bat of the evening. Now, thanks to the advice offered here, it's possible for all of us to see how just a little extra effort can also make a really significant and lasting difference to the fortunes of the nation's natural heritage.
Chris Baines is the author of the best selling book How to Make a Wildlife Garden and he built the very first wildlife garden at Chelsea Flower Show as long ago as 1985. Chris is a national Vice President of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts and President of the Urban Wildlife Network. He is self employed and works as an independent adviser to industry and to central and local government. He writes and broadcasts regularly for the BBC. He has a small garden, full of wildlife, in inner city Wolverhampton.