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How to improve your outdoor space for nature: troublesome plants

Ivy growing through a wooden fence
Ivy will grow almost anywhere


Ivy is much maligned but actually a fantastic plant for nature. It’s as tough as old boots, will grow in all soil types and will shoot up and cover anything really quickly. Which can make it a bit of a beast to manage. But, it provides fantastic cover for nesting birds, and it provides nectar and berries right at the end of the year when everything else has finished flowering. The flowers are an anonymous green thing that you barely notice, but stand around an ivy in November and you’ll see hordes of bees buzzing around it. Because it flowers so late its fruit also appears late and provides a vital source of food when there are few other berries around.


Brambles are hated by many gardeners but are actually great for wildlife. Their flowers provide food for flying insects. Worms and beetles of all sorts will eat their leaves. Their fruit gets eaten by everything from insects, to birds, hedgehogs and foxes. That's not to mention all the people who enjoy the blackberries either fresh or made into a job. Aside from brambles as a source of food, their thorny mass is a great safe habitat for animals to shelter in. The problem with brambles is that unless you’re willing to keep them under control they can quickly and easily take over your entire growing space. So if you already have a bramble patch, and you have the room for one, keep it clipped back and managed in the one space. Your local wildlife will thank you for doing so.


This is another weed that can rapidly take over your garden and smother all your other plants. It's also incredibly difficult to get rid of once it's established as it grows back from any fragment of root left in the soil. Unless you have a huge space, or are on a site that already has bindweed. I wouldn't encourage this weed and would remove it as soon as it appears. On the plus side, bindweed provides plentiful cover for nesting birds and the flowers provide nectar for flying insects. So it isn't all bad.

Stinging Nettles

This is a very common weed and is found in most gardens and open spaces. It is particularly fond of damp, rich soil, which is why it is usually found in the shady bits of people's gardens. Or growing around and over the compost heap. Nettles are supposedly highly nutritious and I have had both nettle soup and nettle pesto, which were both pleasant, if not overly exciting. Nettles are also a great food source for a number of larval stages of some of our butterflies and moths including, the peacock, the comma, the small tortoiseshell, the dot moth, buff ermine and mouse moth to name just a few. Nettles are fairly easy to keep under control and plenty of gardeners now allow them at least a patch of the garden.

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