I’m often asked by people how they can either create a more natural looking garden because they live in the countryside and don’t want anything that’s ‘overly designed’ or folks that are deeply concerned for the environment and want to do their bit for wildlife.

There are also a lot of people who want to attract wildlife to their garden without having it look like a messy field. So I thought I’d cover all the scenarios in this article…

I’m going to mostly address this from a design perspective. I don’t consider myself an expert on the how-to of Eco gardening, so whilst I will give some tips – if you want more in-depth information head on over to somewhere like Ecosystem Gardening.

Firstly, let’s look at the difference between a Natual Garden Style vs a Wildlife Garden

For me as a designer, a natural looking garden means the planting is wilder with large swathes intermingling and there are often areas of long grass and trees.

But when a client specifically wants to attract wildlife, they don’t always want a wild looking garden. And perversely, just because a garden may look quite wild, it doesn’t necessarily attract much wildlife…

I would urge those of you who do want the natural-look garden style to make it beneficial for wildlife too, so all that wildness gets put to good use! Here’s how you do it…

To attract wildlife your garden will need to have the following elements:

  1. Flowers that attract pollinators and if possible some native plants
  2. Undisturbed areas where insects and smaller creatures can make a home
  3. An area of water

The garden must also avoid:

  1. Pesticides and chemicals
  2. Invasive non-native plants (try saying that fast 3 times after a glass of wine!)
  3. Hybridised flowers that produce little or no nectar

So with a little plant research and even a small area of ground set aside, you can do all of the above in any garden, quite easily without it really impacting the design and layout.

Mixed native and non-native planting schemes in California

Designing a Natural-Looking Garden

This is something that can really trip people up, especially if they’ve seen my videos or attended one of the free garden design web classes because I teach a simple design formula, they think it can’t possibly work with a natural style garden…

Because it’s well, formulaic (which is what makes it so effective and enables complete amateurs with no previous experience to be able to design like a pro) it appears like it wouldn’t work in a ‘natural setting’.

Think about it this way – even with a natural style garden, you still need it to be functional. You’ll probably still want somewhere to sit, relax, points of interest, maybe some paths to get from A to B etc.

That’s exactly what design is – ORGANISATION OF SPACE. In any gorgeous garden, the flow and layout have been planned, no matter what style it might be.

A design layout can be really quite formal and still LOOK natural. See the images below – they are of the wonderful East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden in Norfolk. As you can see, very wild and free planting in this part of the garden but with straight mown formal grass paths.

Formal layout, but still a ‘natural design style’

What REALLY determines a design style are the plants and materials you use. Yes, of course, design layout does play a part, but not as much as you might have thought…

Admittedly, it’s easier creating a natural look if you are designing the space using free-flowing curves but I hope you can see that even they aren’t essential.

Wildlife garden plans – free form vs formal

What Plants Should You Put in a Natural Garden Style?

Depends where you live.

Yes, it really is as simple as that (see list earlier for specifics).

We, humans, LOVE to complicate things. But really, if you want to do yourself and the surrounding wildlife an enormous favour – go with nature, not against it. Grow what grows well in your region. It can be spectacular!

US vs UK ‘Superbloom’! Californian Poppies and Bluebells

Not that I’m suggesting you grow the plants above in your garden as they can be pretty invasive but they serve to illustrate the next key to successfully creating a wonderful natural looking garden…

A single variety of a particular wildflower can be breathtaking but that really limits how long your garden will look good for. So even though you lose some of the big WOW-factor, I recommend you mix several plant species together.

Mixing species look good for longer than a single plant variety

So to sum up designing a Natural Style & Wildlife Garden:

  1. Design the garden layout that works for the shape and function of your garden
  2. Incorporate areas for wildlife including water when possible
  3. Choose plants that attract wildlife including some native plants
  4. Free-flowing curved borders look more natural, especially in the countryside, but don’t let that limit you. Straight-line paths can also look natural with the right materials and planting
  5. Don’t use chemicals (yes, that includes artificial fertilizers)!

Any garden can attract wildlife with a few strategically placed wildlife homes and plants – here’s a few I’ve found online:

There are plenty more choices on our Wildlife Shop page

If you’d like to learn more about the design process…

Visit https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/free-classes for more info.


*Photo credits: Images 1, 3 & 4 Karen Roe        Image 2: Ron Fraizer Oakland School Butterfly Garden





Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

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