Planting certain species close together can improve pollination and fertility of plants, and also reduce pest or disease problems. A widely used companion-planting scheme is cultivating flowers such as pot marigolds (Calendula) and gaillardia, which are known to be attractive to bees and other beneficial insects, next to plants that rely on insects for pollination.
Another tradition is to plant french and african marigolds (Tagetes) in the greenhouse and conservatory to deter whitefly. Growing garlic and some other members of the onion genus (Allium) around roses is believed to control aphids and fungal diseases, such as mildew and black spot. And planting members of the pea family (Leguminosae) can also improve growth in nearby leafy plants, because of their ability to ‘fix’ nitrogen in the soil. Companion planting does not always work, but is certainly worth trying if you are an organic gardener or concerned for the environment.
As the flowers and foliage of essential but mainly short-seasoned plants die back, the garden can start to look tired. Spring bulbs and summer bedding plants are typical cases, but the potential problem can be overcome by overplanting with, for example, dahlias as a replacement for early bulbs, or tulips and winter pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) for summer annuals. Alternatively, by naturalising bulbs such as snowdrops (Galanthus), crocuses and narcissi in clumps between herbaceous perennials that are dormant in winter, the full beauty of flowers can be enjoyed in early spring and the surrounding perennials will grow up to disguise the bulb foliage before it dies completely and can be removed.
Most gardens contain at least one utilitarian object that is less than attractive – a shed, perhaps, or compost heap, or even just the dustbin. There are several backyard landscaping ideas you can try, but a simple and effective method is to introduce plants to camouflage or completely hide the eyesore. Suitable climbers, for example, can transform an outbuilding into something that is far more acceptable, especially if the surrounding area is designed to integrate the offending object rather than merely conceal it.
If traffic pollution and road noise are troublesome, these can be reduced to more acceptable levels by screening the road with dense, pollution-tolerant plants and, in the case of roads that are salted in winter, salt-tolerant species. Mature trees and shrubs will absorb a considerable amount of the noise, and also conceal the traffic speeding past.
One of today’s most popular and environmentally beneficial garden plantings is the wildflower ‘meadow’. Most modern plots are not large enough to accommodate a meadow in the true sense of the word. However, giving over a part of the garden to an informal mixture of native meadow grasses – or even a wildflower border, along the same lines as a herbaceous border but containing indigenous flowers – is an ideal way of attracting wildlife into the garden. Beneficial insects, butterflies and moths, as well as small animals such as hedgehogs and dormice, will all use the cover provided by the border to shelter and forage.
Garden plants do not need to be of native origin to be of benefit to wildlife. Most of our loveliest herbaceous border flowers act like magnets for hoverflies, while seed-eating birds will appreciate any unpruned plants in autumn and winter. Berrying plants such cotoneaster and pyracantha can sustain many a hungry bird during the hardest months, and shrubs and climbers are all potential nest sites.
A damp or badly drained area can readily be converted into a wildlife pond, which will soon be teeming with frogs and other amphibians. These are to be welcomed because they will devour many of your most irritating pests, particularly slugs and snails. A pond will also encourage delightful insects such as damselflies and dragonflies, which are predators of many aquatic and semi-aquatic pests. Surround the pond with suitable marginal plants so their leafy cover will protect young amphibians and newly emerged insects before their first flight. A wild garden will not only bring great joy to you and all who visit your garden, but will also become a haven for your local wildlife.