Gardening for small spaces

© Nick Upton - 2020VISION

You may only have a balcony, a tiny lawn or a patio but it’s still possible to create your own private nature reserve.

All it takes is a bit of ingenuity and imagination, so says Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust member Mark Muir who in just over a year transformed the small brick-paved garden of his town centre terraced house into a haven for wildlife. “Our garden is a postage stamp with a small patch of gravel and two raised beds. There’s no grass at all,” says Mark. “But since last Spring we have grown all kinds of vegetables and attracted a range of butterflies and bees.”

Mark and his partner, Julia, began changing their garden when they received a packet of wildflower seeds as a wedding favour and decided to see what would grow. “We caught the bug and decided we wanted to turn our little urban patch into a pocket of flowers, herbs and vegetables. Bit by bit we added more pots in the garden and along the window sills.”

Their imaginative use of space meant that no area was out of bounds. Mark even recycled an old Vauxhall Astra tyre to successfully grow a marrow. “There’s a pair of split wellies too, which are no longer any good for festivals. One is now nurturing a dill plant, the other has thyme growing in it,” he says.

Once the plants were established, the garden soon began attracting other wildlife. Julia explains “We noticed large white butterflies visiting, and bees and hoverflies tending to the wildflowers in the raised beds. The highlight was finding four large elephant hawk moth caterpillars feasting on our fuschia bush and watching them grow by the day. We also found a slow worm in the small patch of gravel.”

The cost of starting a wildlife garden is small, yet Mark and Julia found that they could save even more money by sharing plants and seeds with family and friends. Better still, a good harvest was able to provide them with their own supply of home grown veg. “We grew veg for the first time this summer, fed ourselves and also attracted a more diverse array of wildlife in our garden, all whilst spending very little.”

We were encouraged by the number of pollinators attracted to the herbs and veg. This included two different varieties of tomato, cayenne chillies, bell peppers, lemon courgettes, two varieties of potato (“In a potato sack from the pound shop!”), lemon crystal cucumbers, patty pan, garlic, butternut squash, chard, herbs, red spring onions, beautiful purple carrots plus “some delicious salad leaves in a recycled Quality Street tin. The artichokes and beetroots didn’t make it, but we’ll try them again next year!”

Having a small garden also means that you don’t have to dedicate too much time to the plants. It’s low maintenance pretty much all year round and Mark says it is the perfect introduction to gardening for wildlife. “We started small as we have little spare time. That would be my advice to anyone thinking of giving it a go. Simply plant a few seeds and make sure you water them frequently.

“We used organic soil wherever possible and no pesticides or artificial fertiliser. Any snails we saw we simply relocated to places where they could do less damage. Just by doing these simple things it’s amazing what you can achieve and grow!” he adds.

For ideas of how to start your own wildlife garden, please visit our website: