Thinking outside the box ,starting out on my rented city houses wildlife friendly garden. Part one keeping animals in and out

An unusual post for a costume blog but we have moved to a new house that has some wildlife challenges including a large number of visiting foxes ,several hedgehogs that passed through but didn’t visit properly.
Three grey squirrels
squirrel trex
and a range of birdlife from the tiniest of tits

blue tit and nuthatch

to magpies.

magpies feeding shed

.Originaly there were no frequent bird visitors except  around a dozen magpies of which  only four visited regularly.Two of these  looked very sorry for themselves with lost feathers ,,apparently parent magpies often get out of condition caring for their juvenile offspring’s demands (so its not just human parents who have teenagers that cause problems )
magpie parent
We also had pigeons ,both woodpigeons and the standard pigeon.

and crows

We see occasional bats pass by mostly larger ones .Add to these the smaller slugs ,snails insects and butterflies which were attracted by a very large buddleia and which I like to watch but which I also have a totally illogical fear of.
butterly one

We have pets  ,A large Norwegian forest cat that loves the outside


And a very timid part Bengal

Plus two dogs a medium sized Belgium Shepherd  and cavalier King Charles Spaniel
All these needed accommodating.I also wanted to encourage fungi and native flora.

We live in a privately owned ex council house ,so there were limits to how much we could do in the garden ,though our landlord is very happy for us to sort fences and plant small shrubs etc .Its a semi detached on a very quiet road ,but we no longer had the extensive gardens we had at our last house just a small front garden mostly pea gravel .
front garden
A narrow very short drive that provided off road parking and was concrete.
side house drive
I had to block this off with some bought railings to stop our dogs escaping and foxes getting in but its looking pretty untidy at the moment as this is still a work in progress as we rent the house and cant fix permanent gates.I am ordering shrubs for the planers next week .It keeps the dogs in and so far has kept foxes out as though the fence is short its a wide fence as there’s planters at both sides and I put the bins near by .I will be putting nicer much larger planters there in the next couple of weeks which will make it nicer and more effective.

front garden side
I don’t think it would be possible to completely fox proof the front  garden while it has its current gate which is low ,however I haven’t seen foxes in it since I made the barrier as they don’t like not being able to see clearly were they can jump and probably more importantly its much easier just to go in our neighbours gardens as they don’t have hedges.I left gaps at ground level for the hedgehogs which has been effective.
drive front

I put wire across some large gaps in the gravel part of the garden as the dogs got out through them  and the foxes came in there.The wire  isnt visible and worked well .I have a small table ,chair  ,granite slabs and planters  which focus attention on that corner rather than the more or less invisible green chicken wire
garden front pro

I also added some stainless steel “balls” which deter the magpies from settling on the ground and leave the space free for smaller birds to eat from the feeders and off the table


I have now more or less finished the front garden,The finished garden cost less than £60 including  the bench  and planters but not the chair  transfom  this

front garden

To this

front garden done


I bought some shrubs from a hedging nursery where they are much cheaper

frotn garden fin bench

A guelder  rose cost around £1 as did a pear ,silver birch ,lilac and  hazel .I also bought a Mahonia which was around £5 .I cut back the hydrangea in late winter and stuck   the prunings in a tub all of them have taken so I also planted two of those ,I have now  taken cuttings from the new shrubs and trees .I bought Hostas from a cut price shop which came up fine andsome sorry looking fruschias for £1.50 for two

The slate  and limestone chippings were the main expense at £5 each

The planters cost £2.50 each and the Bench was £25


The other side

front garden gates spring

The patch to the left of the “gates” looked like this

front garden ide b 1

now looks like this

new bench


front garden from drive finishedi

The main garden
We also have a fairly decent sized back garden with hedges.
back garden
This backs onto one of those small hundred or so sq metres of lawn with a bit of green space and mature trees that are a common part of council estate planning and encourages wildlife.However that fact  that we now live on the edge of a big city (all be it surrounded by large areas of park and woodland)I originally assumed we wouldn’t be able to attract wildlife but this is far from the case so I thought I would post a few progress reports .

My aim was to allow the foxes ,hedgehogs and a possible polecat that I see glimpses of to continue their journeys across what was their territory while ensuring our small Cavalier King Charles couldn’t escape and that if a cat was cornered by a another cat ,a fox or the polecat it could escape and have easy multiple access routes to our garden .
I also wanted to widen the bird life ,when we first arrived there was only the magpies and pigeons that visited regularly ,no songbirds and only an occasional blue tit .
First problem limiting and controlling  access
Making the garden secure ,We had a lot of foxes that passed through the garden and three semi residents that sat or lay down in it at night.
fox and vixen
Plus two juveniles that appeared often but not nightly. We also had what was clearly a foxes earth at the very end of the garden. I loved to see them but the foxes had made quite large gaps in the hedging out of which our spaniel escaped regularly as there was almost no other barrier except random panels of chicken wire and a broken picket fence along two sides. They marked their territory in the garden which I didn’t mind but our spaniel insisted on rolling in the fox poop.which made her very happy but meant fairly regularly having to bath her
tilly dirty
It was also worrying to have the quite large foxes in both the front and back gardens at night when they came within a couple of feet of the house and front door and we needed to let the dogs out to relieve themselves before bed .Despite the commonly recited “fact” that foxes are not much bigger than domestic cats several of ours are very large indeed ,,almost the same height as our Belgium Shepard dog ,though much  more lightly built.
I took photos of the foxes next to garden chairs to compare them to dogs sizes. This is one of the smaller foxes
vizen chair
Not all the foxes are timid ,though the local cats seemed to scare them and I have seen them waiting  in line behind one to eat some food that had been left out in a garden  I know all the local cats wander about at night and in the streets the foxes pass by within a few yards and tend to avoid them but I have also seen a few missing cats posters so I keep our cats in now at night. .
Also the foxes would run off our dogs ball if we forgot to put them up high ,which was funny.(I did at one point have to do something I hadn’t done since childhood and knock on a neighbours door to ask if I could have my ball back ) but it was starting to work out expensive.
.I read a great many blogs and sites that all claimed there was no way to exclude foxes from your garden and the best way to deter them was to make sure there was no food out ,unfortunately several people in the area feed them regularly and our garden is a route to those other gardens and we also had an earth that seemed currently to be unused but which had been used recently. I was determined that I would exclude the foxes completely as it was the only way to keep our Spaniel in as she’s much smaller than the foxes so were they get in she can easily get out, I still wanted to give the foxes access though so I therefore bought an metal arbour and a lot of varying widths of coated chicken wire . I made a second barrier at the end of the garden nr the earth and the fence gaps were the foxes mostly came in ,this gave a passageway behind the sheds to the food sources for the foxes and secured the garden . I did this by assembling the arbour ,which only took a hour or so and so special skills or tools as it came flat packed .I then attached the wide space gauge chicken wire to the arbour and shed up to a height of 7 feet curving it slightly at the top to create an overhang it left a wide very clear path to the other gardens.
arbour fence
I threw dog food along the alternative route for a few days and the foxes are quite happy to go that way now and don’t bother trying to get to the garden through that route .The wire is wide enough to allow small birds access to the shrubs

Though the photos above show the arbour ,fencing and the corridors looking a bit bleak I have since planted them  up with  shrubs and some plants also the undergrowth has gown over the wire ,this is our wild bit of garden and I now have a gate which goes to the semi wild  trees and grass space behind the house.

wild bit 1


and while it looks a bit untidy close up

progress hsot top garden


It looks very picturesque from the bottom of the garden and the house

garden top progress 1


I left a small hedgehog sized gap at the bottom of this and all the fencing for the hedgehogs and ground feeding birds.I planted a Rowan ,a Mahonia,a myrobalan plum ,a black current and some red stemmed dogwoods plus a couple of peony’s and  these have already established them sleeves fairly well .Expenditure on this top part of the garden including the Arbour and chicken wire was around £100,I again bought hedgeing plant shrubs and trees ,many cost less than £1 

.I feed the hedgerow birds in an overgrown part where the magpies cant get and I intend to add some much wider gauge chicken wire over the tops of some of the shrubs and brambles and plant some hawthorns to create a safe space for smaller birds to eat and nest as this should create a barrier to the squirrels and magpies and prevent the nests being raided in spring. I used green plastic coated chicken wire which is invisible from a distance (I put green ribbons at intervals to avoid the birds flying into it)The Arbour is the only thing that’s noticeable when you look up the garden ,I intend to further disguise it by adding  more native trees and shrubs to the top of the garden this winter
There were several other transient foxes that came front next doors garden through ours and out the other side into neighbours gardens all the neighbours gardens has gaps that the foxes got through and so I wanted to leave our fox visitors a route too . I blocked as many big gaps as I could with plastic mesh fencing pieces and just left ones I could get to ,I also blocked off completely large gaps in the hedge at one side .This left half of the garden with a long narrow corridor that would comfortably allow foxes along to get to the back route behind the arbour .however it meant they also didn’t have unlimited access along the fence and had to go that way .I made three of these barriers with branches pulled across in-between .The blocked off parts had gaps big enough for cats and hedgehogs to squeeze under and but not for foxes as there wasn’t enough space between the barriers which were extremely well intermingled with branches . It also meant while our cats could get in through comfortable sized gaps the route was far too restricted for a fox or our spaniel . corridor hedge

I will be sowing wild flowers in parts this gap so that theres some food for butterfly’s and bees ,I plan to plant honesty and feverfew which I have found will grow more or less anywhere .I am also gradually adding bits of rotten branches and chunks of logs from my walks to promote a nice range of bug life for the hedgehogs ,birds and as homes for burrowing bees etc ,these will reinforce the barrier parts but also provide habitats. I will further plant some climbers such as sweet briar and honeysuckle to cover the wire were its visible but not block the routes. I have already run the wire up to seven feet high on the hedge side and the top part is narrow wire to prevent big birds access, I intend to add another panel of wire higher up and curved over to enclose parts of the hedge against squirrels and magpies then add bird boxes for tits etc. Further along I am going to add wider still plastic fencing to make spaces wide enough for blackbirds and thrushes but not magpies or pigeons which are bigger
pigeon eyc


the corridor section of hedge has now been planted and looks much better ,I planted a Hawthorn ,a hazel ,mock orange blossom and pussy willow,plus a honeysuckle cutting which took well

progress shot side corridor garden
.I don’t think it would exclude a determined squirrel but later I may try to come up with something more effective.

The corridor solution is extremely effective ,we  had no  regular fox visitors  in the garden after its completion.We saw  an occasional one which was worked its way through parts of loose wire so we just fastened  bakc it down .The dogs cant get out but the cats can get in and ,the hedgehogs still come across the garden,its also a very handy way of creating protected planting spaces that your dogs cant dig up or kids run on ,it stops balls getting on the beds and it would be possible to create cat free zones for planting bulbs . While we are lucky to have a mature hedge at three sides ,this could easily be done in a more exposed garden as the fencing is supported by the arbour and where it isn’t the chicken wire is easy to support.if I were starting entirely from scratch I would use chicken wire attached to young native small trees planted at regular intervals  .I plan a second arched arbour in one corner to create a bigger song bird space . As the gardens a work in progress this was the first and to me most important part ,securing it safely for pets ,kids and for security as we do live in an area that has a large student population which is regularly targeted by burglars looking for laptop and ipad hauls. This double fencing creates a perfect burglar deterrent as its tall but too insubstantial to climb and too wide to get over .


I actualy started to miss seeing the foxes so we eventually left some gaps at staged sections so that a clever agile fox would walk in  a z shaped route but the dogs didnt realise there was a route out

Lastly with regard to limiting access.Once I started feeding birds the back garden attracted a lot of magpies and pigeons that would hang around waiting for food and the magpies scared off small birds.I sorted this problem by placing a number of shiny objects on top of the shed they used to perch on ,they now avoid spending too much time there ,most wont go on at all one perches briefly then fly’s down to the ground,I don’t mind feeding either the magpies or pigeons but did want to prevent them being a permant problem to small birds,They also terrorised our cat swooping down on her when she crossed the lawn.

Part two Will focus on how to attract a diverse bird life and creating spaces for all the birds “good” and “bad”  to feed and be happy in.


About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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