Want to attract wildlife? Just add water

This year’s Chelsea Flower Show focused on sustainability, wildness and ‘weeds’, a combination that’s the new rock ‘n’ roll for garden owners who love wildlife. As keen gardeners and outdoor living fiends we make wildlife as welcome as we can, and we’ve had huge success with water. Whatever size your garden, even if it’s a tiny city patio, adding water will attract wild things like a magnet. Give it as little as a week and your water will contain life. Best of all it is super-simple to do. Read on – and enjoy some photos of our own ex-swimming pool wildlife pond down the page.

Water in the garden – Build it, and they will come

Our story is a good example. In our old city home, whose patio was about the size of a king size bed surrounded by flowerbeds, we set a large ceramic pot into the ground up to the rim and filled it with water, adding a couple of aquatic plants and some gravel. A few days later the water had gone green, a sign it was ready for life. By the end of the first week we had insect larvae swimming in it. By the end of week two the newts had moved in, along with a few visiting demoiselle flies. It was like magic. That’s literally all it took to attract wildlife.

Mum’s small garden is full of little pools made from sunken pots, each , teeming with life. She’s set more mini-ponds into the patio, an idea we love. All you do is take up a paving slab then dig down and line the square hole with Butile pond liner.

In our first country garden we just filled old galvanised water tanks and enamel baths with water. They quickly flourished, attracting a surprising variety of creatures in just a few days.

The presenters at Chelsea suggest much the same thing. Pick a container – any container. Fill it with water. Wait for the water to sweeten, which happens once the added chlorine and fluoride in tap water have faded away. Add water plants to oxygenate the water. Then sit back and see who arrives first.

In our current garden we’re lucky to have an old swimming pool turned into a wildlife pond, and a weird and weedy muddy pool fed from below by a natural spring. They’re both stuffed with wildlife. When we filled a large pottery planter with water it was quickly adopted by creatures, proving once more that when you build it, however simple or small it is, they will come.

Ideas to attract wildlife with a pond in your BBQ garden

Here are some ideas about adding the best-performing wildlife pond to your BBQ garden.

  • Put it somewhere your guests won’t fall in, knock it over, lean on it or step in it.
  • To attract the best variety of wild things without drowning them 😉 make sure toads, frogs, newts and hedgehogs can get in and out of the water safely
  • If you have room, give creatures places to hide around the edge. Piles of stones, rocks and driftwood make great hiding places. If you’re into re-using and re-cycling, use piles of old terracotta plant pots, broken and whole, to make hiding places, adding flowering ground cover plants to soften the look

How to make an old swimming pool into a wildlife pond

Before we got started – a neglected, scary-looking pond with a dangerous edge, overlooked by a damp, smelly old shed.

After – a wildlife pond stuffed with life.

First we re-laid the surround so it was safe. Then we surrounded the pool with planters to soften the edge and make it look natural.

We’ve added lots of pond weed and pond plants.

We made a way for wildlife to get in and out of the water safely, using long fallen tree branches to make a natural bridge on and off a mat of weed and water lilies.

We had some spare lawn turf we’d dug up from elsewhere, which we arranged around the pond edge on top of some compost. It lived! Despite having very little earth to grow on, the grass thrives – and when it grows long in spring it hides the hard edges of the pool.

We made wooden platforms out of old pallets then lowered them into the water, placing heavy rocks on top to keep them down and planting / adding potted plants on top. The two islands we’ve made look great. They each have an alder tree growing on them, which arrived out of the blue from seed.

We got a load of unwanted rockery stone from a neighbour, which we arranged around the pool edge to make it look more natural. Three years later they’re moss-covered and look like they’ve been there forever.

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