Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tips to enrich your garden's biodiversity

Biodiversity is a term to describe variety of living things within a system or environment.  As I am concentrating on gardens, it is practical to see your garden as a micro-environment, in relation to the size of our country. If all the gardens in SA had only lawn with one or two shrubs and a tree, that would severely limit the biodiversity of the environment under our control.  It would also be detrimental to the health of the country in terms of its biodiversity.

Conversely if everyone in SA who has a garden, focussed on creating ecosystems that favoured biodiversity, imagine what a positive effect that would have in general!

When I look out of my window on a summer day, the air is filled with insects hovering or flying about. I feel like I’m in an aquarium, with all those creatures flitting past me. I like to think that I’ve created a good environment for a rich biodiversity in my garden. I am lucky because I think quite a few of my neighbours have also taken this approach.

So what are we looking for when we think of having biodiversity in our gardens? We are aiming for a rich bacterial and fungal life in the soil, earthworms, a balance of insect life, some snakes, frogs, chameleons and varied bird life.  In order for all these different entities to thrive we need to have some rules:

  • Don’t use poisons in your garden. A fly that has just been sprayed with poison, could be eaten by a chameleon immediately afterwards. Snail bait is dangerous for the endangered leopard toad and your pets. Bee numbers are declining worldwide due to the use of insecticide poisons. Poisons also leach into the soil killing valuable earthworms. Poisoned rats can kill owls.
  • Reduce the amount of lawn in your garden. It is a dead space for chameleons, lizards, frogs as it provides no shelter from predators and no food. It also does not provide habitat for insects.
  • Provide plenty of ground cover in the form of low growing plants like Plectranthus species.
  • Don’t be too tidy in your garden. Logs, pieces of wood, stones and mulch – all provide shelter for small creatures and breeding spots for various insects. Mulch also keeps the ground moist for earthworms.
  • Allow a corner of your garden to be “wild” with weeds and grasses that you allow to self seed. Seeds attract birds and the wild grasses and weeds are a good habitat for breeding insects, and provide food for pollinators. Prince Charles is famous for his wild garden and meadows at Highgrove
  • Plant indigenous plants  to provide foods for local species of pollinators like the carpenter bee and African hummingbird moth. Hypoestes aristata which blooms in autumn is a good choice. Aloes provide good food for bees in autumn and winter.
  • Provide plenty of water in bird baths and low containers, for birds and insects as well as frogs. Your children will delight in watching tadpoles and dragonflies.
  • The small brown slug eater snake likes to hide under planks of wood. Provide a spot for some of these. They are not dangerous.
  • Put an owl box in a tree and a bat box on your wall high up under the eaves. Bats get rid of millions of insects for us, and owls take care of rats and mice.
  • Plant herbs to attract bees and butterflies. I once had a rosemary hedge that chameleons loved. Basil, lavender, yarrow, lemon balm, sage species and nasturtiums are some of the herbs that pollinators love.
  • Allow as many annuals as you can to go to seed. Self seeding encourages a lush environment and birds eat many of the seeds.

Your garden can be a paradise of biodiversity, with interesting creatures and beautiful plants. I’m always amazed how much noise there is in my garden, especially bird song, but also the sound of frogs in autumn and the very loud hum of bees in some of my trees. It is such a privilege to have a garden and a patch of soil to be the guardian of. Let’s unite to create swathes of biodiverse areas where nature is in harmony.