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Rewilding your garden

With biodiversity under never before seen pressure, we can and should all do our bit by creating a wildlife refuge in our garden

Neat gardens and green lawns look beautiful, but they’re something of a green desert in terms of being a habitat for wildlife. Here are a few things we can do to rewild our gardens and make them more attractive to butterflies, bees, birds, bugs and chameleons, to name but a few.

Every bit helps

The most important lesson that people can learn is that no space is too small to be a home to something. Even a few flowering plants and a birdbath on a balcony can help in the survival of some little soul.

Blooming

We all want pollinators in our garden, because on the whole they are pretty and desirable garden occupants, and they do good things for our fruiting and flowering plants. When we talk about pollinators we’re obviously talking about honeybees, but there are also countless other pollinators to welcome into your garden – birds, other species of bees (there are over a thousand in South Africa alone), butterflies, moths, wasps and many other insects. If you want to truly help these little fellows, try to have a few plants flowering throughout the year, so they never go hungry and move elsewhere (if they have somewhere to go, that is!).

Water on tap

Every living thing needs water, and one of the easiest things that we can do for wildlife is supply a source of fresh drinking water for any passers-by. (Who knows, maybe they will stop being passers-by and make your garden their home.)

A pond or stream is first prize, because it gives a diverse habitat for wildlife as well as a place to drink. However, that’s not possible for most of us. If you’re supplying drinking water, the water source should be fairly shallow, and not have steep edges – small animals can easily get trapped and drown. Place stones or even gravel on one side of the water source so that anything that does fall in has an easy escape route.

Variety

Yes, swathes of a single plant can be incredibly effective in a planting, but try to give the birds and bees some variety. If they are forced to feed on just one plant for weeks on end they will almost certainly develop nutrient deficiencies, just as we do if we eat nothing but potatoes.

Go local

Native plants are obviously more attractive to local wildlife, so try to incorporate a number of local species, in decent numbers, around your garden. We’re not suggesting that you go entirely indigenous and lose out on all the garden stalwarts from around the world, but if there is a local alternative that will fill the role you want filled in your garden, why not give it a chance.

A grassy knoll

When we say plant flowering plants, remember that grass flowers too! More importantly, the flowers turn into seeds that birds absolutely love. South Africa has so many beautiful indigenous grasses that can be stunning in the garden, and birds will thank you for planting them. Aristida junciformis is a landscaper’s favourite, but we also love Natal red-top (Melinis repens) and broad-leaved bristle grass (Setaria megaphylla).

Creating a meadow

A successful meadow or wildflower garden consists of a combination of flowering perennials, grasses and annuals that will flower throughout the year, including some that will self-seed. Gaura lindheimeri, Cosmos bipinnatus, Digitalis purpurea, Limonium perezii, Papaver aculeatum, Leonotis leonurus, Osteospermums, Echinaceas, Rudbeckias and Kniphofias are good flowering plants options for a meadow garden.

Meadows also need good soil, water, feeding and maintenance, like deadheading regularly, to keep them looking good. Choose a sunny position and prepare the soil well before planting. As the year’s go along, a natural ecosystem will make the meadow sustainable and it will require less maintenance. Amongst your grasses and established flowering plants you can sow annual and perennial flower seed to enhance the meadow effect. All you have to do is to prepare the soil well with compost and bonemeal, and to follow the instructions on the back of the packet of each type of seed. The soil should never dry out after sowing. If necessary, give a light sprinkling of water twice a day. As soon as germination is completed and the first true leaves show, you can give less water. You can sow these seeds in September: cornflowers, godetias (satin flower), cleomes (spider flowers), sunflowers, love-in-a-mist and zinnias.

Shelter them

To feel safe, to breed and to thrive, all wildlife needs somewhere to lay its head at night, and neatly manicured gardens are often devoid of these areas. Try to incorporate some thick shrubberies in your garden, as well as patches of grass and even some bare soil (for burrowing bees and the like). Also, try not to isolate patches of shelter from each other with wide lawns – think like a chameleon, who will need to cover a fair bit of ground to find food, and won’t want to do so without cover.

Don’t kill what you attract

It would be pointless to attract wildlife to your garden and then spray it to death – you’d be creating a trap, not a refuge. Use pesticides only as a last resort, and when you do try to apply them only to the problem area or pest. Use biological agents such as PestPro and LarvaePro from EcoBuz, which kill selectively. And if you’ve got a cat, please put a bell on it to warn birds and lizards of its approach – we love cats, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know that Mr Whiskers isn’t actually a cold-hearted killer at heart…

Work as a team

Creating your own mini Kruger (without the Big 5) is wonderful, but imagine if you could persuade your neighbours to do the same, and they could persuade their neighbours! The result would be green pathways for animals to traverse and proliferate in. It would make diversity easier to achieve, and create a legacy you could be genuinely proud of.