Monty Don suggests that you have a wild winter. If your garden has some creature comforts it can be a sanctuary for wildlife even in harsh conditions.

Gardeners have come to realize that having a diverse ecosystem is one of best practices for maintaining a healthy garden. It is becoming more apparent that gardens can be a valuable habitat for many different species. 

In gardens, hedgehogs can be found in greater numbers than in agricultural fields. Additionally, songbirds like blackbirds and Robins flourish in back gardens.

But it is important to try to avoid creating a hierarchy of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ wildlife. For far too long gardeners have categorised too many things as ‘pests’ simply because they inconvenience our idea of a garden. 

Monty Don shares advice for natural biodiversity as the awareness of gardens being a vital habitat for a wide range of life increases. Pictured: Monty with his teasels

Monty Don shares advice for natural biodiversity as the awareness of gardens being a vital habitat for a wide range of life increases. Pictured: Monty with his teasels

Our pursuit for ‘perfection’ can upset the natural biodiversity so we are providing perfect conditions for slugs, caterpillars, aphids or moles to flourish and making it difficult for their predators to thrive. Your garden may have an imbalance of wildlife, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t any pests. 

While some animals are naturally more desirable than others, the aim is to balance predator and prey in a way that sustains our garden. This means that we must increase the diversity of the species, rather than just one.


Q What can be done to get rid of the woolly aphids from our apple trees

S Hayes, Derbyshire

Encourage predators like ladybirds, blue tits and lacewings to protect against these sap-sucking bugs.

Q One of my hydrangeas didn’t bloom this year but the other did. I don’t know what kind they are. Please help.

Ken Sharp, Nottinghamshire

The two main types of hydrangeas, lacecaps and mopheads, flower on the previous year’s wood. You should prune them early in the spring to avoid any problems. H. paniculata and H. arborescens, on the other hand, will flower from new wood so prune them hard in March. If in doubt, don’t prune!

Q My lemon tree lived on the patio all summer, and it produced small lemons. Now I’ve brought it into the greenhouse it’s shedding fruit and leaves. Is this normal?

Christine Smith, South Yorkshire

It’s probably either too wet or too dry. After it is dry, water only once per month. The air should be about 10°C and humid, so spray the leaves with a mister once a week. Start watering and feeding in spring once you see new growth, and prune in May once it’s outside and growing strongly.

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Pyramids are the foundation of a balanced and healthy wildlife population. The base is formed of insects and invertebrates; anything you can do to increase them will directly improve conditions for birds, bats, many mammals, amphibians and reptiles – as well as improving pollination for your beloved plants.

For insects, long grass and dry stems are excellent winter covers. Be careful not to over-tieve. Plant seed heads such as thistles, sunflowers and teasels should be left. Birds can pick the seeds and hollow stems are a safe shelter for them. 

It is possible to leave the borders unaltered throughout winter and not cause any damage. Then, once spring starts, it can be cleaned up.

Take a wheelbarrow filled with leaves, and place it in an area where there is no one else. You will have the perfect place for a hedgehog, toads and possibly frogs. Stack wood and bundles of prunings in a corner so small birds, voles, insects and a hedgehog – if you are lucky, they are becoming alarmingly scarce – can benefit from the cover.

Because there’s less foliage to hide in winter, it is much easier to spot garden birds. Because of shorter days, birds spend more time searching for food in winter than summer. This makes it easier to watch them work. 

You should provide food to them. You should avoid seed mixtures that contain grain as these will attract rats and pigeons. The seed I purchase is sold separately so that I can make my own blend. It’s made predominantly from sunflower hearts and combined with dried mealworms, niger seed, kibbled suet, small amounts of grated cheese and windfall apples. 

Spreading seeds to ground-feeding birds like wrens, dunocks, and chaffinches is important. Peanuts and fat balls can also be hung to attract woodpeckers and the titfamily.

Finally, just because it’s winter don’t forget to leave fresh water out every day for the birds – especially when it is freezing. 


Monty said winter-flowering pansies such as the ‘Universal’ series (pictured) should be cut back hard in spring as the plants become leggy

Monty said winter-flowering pansies such as the ‘Universal’ series (pictured) should be cut back hard in spring as the plants become leggy 

I’m a great fan of the gaiety of winter-flowering pansies such as the ‘Universal’ series. Plant in a pot in peat-free compost – they grow and flower in almost any position but fare best in as much sun as winter can provide, and do not like to dry out or be waterlogged. 

Deadheading the flowers will keep them blooming well into winter. In spring, as the plants become leggy, cut back hard, then keep watered and fed in summer and they should be good for at least one more winter’s display.


Hardwood cuttings are a great way to start fruit and flowering shrubs. Cut 30-60cm lengths of stem of this year’s growth, and then halve. You will need to place the stem in a trench or gritty pot filled with compost. You should water your garden every week.