Wildlife Garden

Wildlife Gardens

Wildlife gardens are natural or artificially created gardens that attract wildlife without using bait or tape lures.

In this article, I will explain how to create an artificial wildlife garden for home wildlife photography.

There are many advantages to creating a wildlife garden, such as:

  • They’re cheaper than baited hides
  • There are no time limits or restrictions imposed on you
  • You’re in charge of the entire shoot
  • They aide health and well-being
  • Wildlife gardens improve concentration, breathing and shooting skills

Artificial wildlife gardens are cheap to create and can easily be installed in the back garden. Furthermore, you don’t need planning permission from the local authorities to build one.

You’ll need the following materials to create your wildlife garden:

  • A sturdy, A-Frame bench, the longer and broader, the better
  • A black tray of the exact dimensions as your bench that’s 5-8 inches deep
  • Pea shingle and pebbles
  • Plants
  • Turf
  • Props

In addition, you’ll also need the following equipment to complete your setup:

  • Camera
  • Camera lenses
  • Remote or infrared shutter release
  • Tripod
  • Mobile hide with chair

A-Frame Bench

Tall A-frame benches work well for wildlife gardens because you can add more plant material to the back and sides of your setup, i.e. taller grasses, shrubs and fruit-bearing trees.

A-Frame benches are more robust and you can add more plant life to your setup


Trays can be purchased in most garden and DIY centres. Ideally, you want a tray that resembles the one in the image below. The tray filled with water will sit on the top of your A-frame bench.

Plant trays can be purchased from most garden centers

Shingle and Pebbles

Pea-shingle and pebbles can also be purchased from most garden centres and will help protect soil, moss and turf from drying out and prevent your small plants and plant roots from rotting.

Pea-shingle and pebbles will protect your plant’s roots from rotting


Plants are essential for providing cover and a haven for birds and insects. Therefore, you may want to choose Lavender, Mint, Butterfly Weed and Milkweed, all of which will attract bees, butterflies and moths etc.

These plants are best planted within your tray around the sides and to the back. It’s best to include plants and trees that flower and bear fruit throughout the four seasons to ensure you’re also getting maximum use from your wildlife garden.

In addition, adding a mixture of evergreen plants and trees will help cover birds and potentially new nesting sites.

Fruit-bearing trees and shrubs will attract birds too. Therefore you’ll want to include species such as Barberry, Cotoneaster, Rowan, Roses, Elderberry etc. These plants and trees are best kept in their pots, which you can add to the side seats of your A-frame table, while taller trees can be placed at the back of the table on the floor.


Turf (grass) provides homes for many insects eaten by birds and other wildlife and can provide seed for birds. Planting your turf along the sides of your tray on top of the shingle is best to avoid root rot.


Props and perches are ideal for smaller wildlife species, such as snails, slugs, spiders, etc.; therefore, collecting props from local fields or woodland is essential. Plastic props are unsuitable because they often emit glare, they look unnatural, and smaller species of insects, such as spiders, beetles and woodlice, cannot inhabit them.

Ideally, you’ll want small logs covered in moss and debris, which birds and insects love. Perches are also great for birds to sit on and groom themselves while eyeing up their prey from below.

You may also want to try rope; rope provides birds with physical activity and stimulation; however, it’s important not to include any materials such as cotton.

Please ask the landowner’s permission before collecting natural props from local fields and woodland. Alternatively, you may find logs and perches in your own garden.


Any decent full frame or cropped sensor camera will do, though, you may find a camera with interchangeable lenses beneficial to ensure you’re placing enough distance between you and your wildlife garden. Compact cameras with non-changeable lenses are helpful. However, they do have limitations.

Camera lenses

I’d recommend the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 or the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 for small and large bird photography.

In addition, I’d recommend the Sigma Macro 105mm f/2.8 or the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 for shooting smaller subjects such as spiders, beetles, moths etc.

Shutter Release

Depending on whether you need one, a shutter release is always handy to minimise sudden movements in the hide. Shutter releases prevent camera movement and shake, while the same cannot be said of the camera’s shutter button.

Some remote releases – wireless ones – allow you to stand farther away from your camera while taking a picture; this is beneficial for placing more distance between you and the wildlife garden.

There are various types of shutter release such as:

  • Cable releases with a wire directly to your camera
  • Wireless camera remotes that can trigger your camera from much farther away
  • Smartphone-based remotes, where you can trigger your camera via an app. These are great for shooting wildlife from within your home instead of sitting in your garden hide, though they do have their faults and rely on Bluetooth
  • Specialised camera triggers, including products like lightning triggers and motion detectors


Your tripod must be capable of bearing loads of your camera, lenses and additional equipment, i.e. flashes, plamps etc.

Ideally, you’ll want to aim for an adjustable lightweight tripod.

For birds fast and flighty, the Manfrotto 055 MK055XPRO3-3W remains a good choice.

Meanwhile, the Bonfoto B690A aluminium tripod offers many useful features–all for a low price.

For more information, please read my article here: The Ultimate Guide to Tripods.

Mobile Hide

There are so many hides on the market to choose from. I prefer a two-person waterproof pop-up mobile hide with plenty of viewing points and different photo levels. Pop-ups are great because they’re lightweight and easy to set up and pack away.

Pop-up mobile hides work better in the home garden than static hides


Setting up your wildlife garden is fun and entirely down to you how you want to arrange it. With that said, it’s best to keep the wildlife garden looking as natural as possible.

Ideally you’ll want to set up your wildlife garden away from the house, where there is plenty of light but not direct sunlight. Place your A-Frame bench on a level surface with the tray on top.

Fill the tray halfway with water, adding enough shingles for plants to sit on without getting soaked or blown over in the wind. You’ll want to maintain a clear viewing point to see the sides and back of your wildlife garden. Therefore, smaller plants are best situated to the side of the tray.

Taller plants and grasses can be placed on the side seats of the A-Frame bench, while potted trees should ideally be placed at the back of the A-Frame bench.

Props, perches, rope and larger rocks can be situated at the back of the wildlife garden, thus adding depth and a more natural look.

Mobile hides are best situated around 10-15 meters from the wildlife garden to avoid any potential disturbance when photographing birds. However, this all depends on the capabilities of your lenses and whether you want a large or narrow depth of field.

Depth of Field


Wildlife gardens are a cheap yet practical way to shoot wildlife from the confines of your home garden. Wildlife gardens attract wildlife, such as birds, moths, rodents, squirrels, foxes etc.

Wildlife gardens attract wildlife naturally without using bait or tape lures, meaning the images you capture have been shot ethically.

Wildlife gardens can be set up in most outdoor home environments, including small or large gardens, terraces and balconies.

Wildlife gardens improve concentration, breathing, and shooting skills and are excellent for beginner photographers wishing to learn more about the basics of wildlife photography.

However, unlike hides that use dead or live bait, the only disadvantage of the wildlife garden is that you won’t see an immediate abundance of wildlife visiting your garden.

It takes time for wildlife to become accustomed to the wildlife garden, but it’s worth every penny and the wait.

J. J. Williamson | The Norfolk Photographer

My name is Jon Williamson; I’m an ethical photographer and writer with fifteen years of experience in the industry. I shoot landscapes, seascapes, riverscapes, fine art, and portraits. I also run workshops, run tours, and offer one-on-one photography feedback.

Published by J. J. Williamson

Prints, frames, stock images and portrait services.

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