You're not the only one to reap the benefits of your backyard. Encourage wildlife to flourish, and both animals and insects will enrich your outside space.
For me, one of the greatest things about being outside in our garden is watching the wild creatures that visit, from the ladybirds who hungrily hoover up the aphids, to the fox I call Clint because he's so handsome!
Much of our wildlife is increasingly at risk, with animals' natural inhabitats threatened by urbanisation and industrialised farming practices. But, thankfully, our gardens can easily become alternative places of refuge, with many creatures helping to keep our gardens healthy at the same time.
Interacting with wildlife is good for us, too. The delight of seeing a large, colourful butterfly or an unusual bird really can lift your spirits, helping relieve stress and promoting that all-important feel-good factor. Children love digging for worms, hunting for ladybirds and getting their hands dirty. So gardens that attract wildlife are perfect for them, enabling them to learn from and treasure our threatened heritage.
Home from home
By planting a diverse range of plants, and providing shelter and water, you can entice a variety of wildlife into your garden. And you don't have to compromise your chosen garden design either. People often think a wildlife garden means an unkempt one. But even the most formal garden can accommodate our wildlife friends.
Hedgehogs are very common, spiky but shy visitors who can be spotted in the evening toddling around the garden looking for slugs and snails. Who needs poisonous slug pellets when hedgehogs will quietly eat them up for you? A friend of mine has hedgehogs hibernating under her shed, but piles of logs or leaves in a shady area are just as welcoming and have the added benefit of attracting slug-munching ground beetles too. Introduce these and frogs and toads won't be far behind, which suddenly makes a wildlife pond seem like a very fine idea. Not only will they have a home, but your pond will also provide essential drinking water for all creatures that inhabit your garden.
Welcoming new friends
If you have room for a small pond, choose a sunny site, and provide a wide range of plants, including reeds and water lillies. Make sure the sides are gently sloping so birds can drink and bathe, frogs and toads can spawn, and hedgehogs can escape and haul themselves out if they fall in.
If you don't have room for a pond, even a small bird bath will become a wildlife magnet, but be cautious with water when small children are about, as only a few inches can prove fatal.
The plants you choose will have the biggest impact on your wildlife-friendly garden. Try native plants like birch and cowslips, and non-native plants like Buddleia and snowdrops. You can provide shelter and plentiful food with berry-producing evergreen shrubs like pyracantha, holly and cotoneaster or by planting ivy and honeysuckle to climb up walls and fences.
If you have a wild, overgrown area, think about making a feature of it by mowing a narrow path through to encourage wild flowers. We have a small wild flower meadow that starts in early spring with pretty daffodils and cowslips, followed by ox-eye daisies, clover, bugle, yarrow and native grasses. It's my favourite part of the garden. If insects are your thing, plant marigolds, lavender and fennel to attract lacewings, ladybirds and hoverflies - great for devouring aphids like greenfly. And nectar-rich shrubs like Buddleia, lilac and Choisya, and herbaceous valerian (Centranthus), Sedum and Verbena bonariensis will soon have those colourful butterflies dancing all over your patch.
No matter how large or small your garden, you can help to defend our beautiful and diverse native wildlife, enriching your own life and boosting bustling garden life too.