Hundreds of sparrows chirp tirelessly on a barrh tree as they feast on its clusters of countless figs. An army of ants make their way up, on the long hanging aerial roots, towards the loaded branches, to claim their share of the sweet fruit. Besides this humble tree, on my vegetable patch, I discover a pair of earthworms hidden under the ground while digging for potatoes. As I put my little friends back in the ground, a beautiful yellow butterfly flutters over my hand. Suddenly, I feel the presence of every little, invisible life around my garden and how I am just like them in many ways, and how I am here for the same reason.
As the landscape around us turns into a concert jungle of skyscrapers, green spaces are shrinking, making it difficult for wildlife to survive. But even though our urban gardens are small, one can make the most of them by sharing them with such wildlife as we can.
Long before the first humans existed, nature has been busy growing, surviving, evolving and then regenerating. From the invisible microorganisms to the world’s largest mammal, every living thing that shares this planet with us is playing a role that is not only crucial for its own survival but also has unavoidable consequences for others. Together, all these living organisms make this complicated and astonishing ecological system. And it needs to exist in our cities too!
Creating a haven for wildlife
Garden design means mimicking an environment, and that involves not only how it looks but also its ability to host life. By being aware of and present in your very own ecosystem, you can learn a great deal!
When it comes to designing a wildlife garden, remember there is no need for you to turn your garden into a piece of the wilderness – although, that does look stunning! Ordinary house plants can also attract wildlife, provided there is always food available and that the cycle doesn’t break because of pesticides. Hard and unneeded pruning can destroy the habitats. Let’s face it: some of us are obsessed with ‘tidiness’. Unfortunately, this can disturb the colonies of insects during spring and summer, when all forms of wildlife seem to be busy building their homes.
Creating a wildlife garden and general garden design should ideally be at harmony with each other.
Create a focal point, leave open spaces, chose a mixture of textures, shapes, sizes and shades and create interest. However, there are some key features that will truly make difference in a wildlife garden.
To encourage your very own butterfly colony, plant limes and lemons
Planting for wildlife
If you have the space for it, include a local tree that offers shade, fruits and flowers. Trees are most generous contributors to the ecosystem of a wildlife garden. Birds make nests on them, ants find refuge underground near them, and spiders and various bugs also make it their home. The flowers provide nectar to not only bees but also to some birds. Including evergreen shrubs that offer twigs, leaves and seeds also encourage birds.
Attractively fragrant herbs like mint, thyme, basil and lavender drive wild bees crazy. Vines and plants with stunning open flowers like gourds, poppies and sunflowers also invite hoverflies and bumblebees. To encourage your very own butterfly colony, plant limes and lemons. Butterflies lay their eggs under the leaves. Soon the caterpillar appears and grows into a pupa. It stays as a brown, seemingly dead cocoon for few days and then comes out as a stunning butterfly.
On the other hand, you should also think about increasing the population of pest-eating predators like hoverflies, ladybirds, spiders, lacewings and ground beetles. Creating a diversity of plants will help you achieve this.
Water for wildlife
Just like us, every living thing needs water. Introducing a small pond or water feature will keep your wildlife colonies alive. You will love to see birds diving into it to cool themselves on a hot day!
A pot can easily be turned in to a pond by covering the drainage hole with cement and filling it with water once it is dry. Keeping snails in water will keep it crystal clear! Adding water plants will further make it perfect.
Other features that wildlife loves is a compost heap, some logs, sticks and stones.
What sort of wildlife can you expect – and how to attract it
Hummingbirds, sparrows, mynahs, robins, warblers, bumblebees, honeybees, butterflies, worms, spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, beetles, ladybirds, snails and many others – even in a city, the possibilities are endless.
In fact, here are 10 things that you can do in an existing garden to make it more wildlife friendly:
Place straw and twigs in a clay pot for birds to collect for their nests
Don’t worry about ‘perfection’
If you’re looking to attract some bees, acacia, lavender, sunflower, beri, citrus, clover, ajwain, oregano, thyme, basil, poppy, daisy, cucumber, okra, gourds and other wild flowers, shrubs and trees will do the trick and keep them buzzing!
Once you start observing your very own ecosystem, the relation between humans and everything that surrounds us becomes clearer. You will learn a great deal about how seemingly invisible bugs have a tight schedule and how joyful the birds are that appear to be unattractive. Once you realise what plants and the earth mean to these little ones, you will no longer be planting and growing for yourself alone!
Early in the morning when the first rays of the sun split the sky, the birds begin their search for food. That is the time when the city is quite and all that you can hear is the sound of the birds playing and cuddling each other as they dig the soil to search for live food or nibble on the fresh leaves. As the sun rises further, the bees begin to come back to their duty in my garden. They storm my sponge gourd vine, where soon a bumblebee will start scent-marking tirelessly until the evening. Butterflies usually appear around 1 pm. That is the time when during the monsoons, the koel silently swallows our cherry tomatoes right off the vine. Well, we don’t blame it. Tomatoes are irresistible. Once again, in the evening before the sun loses its brightness, sparrows come back; they usually just fly from one branch to the other and then go home right after the bees.
This is what my small terrace container garden offers us every day. Will a little effort, you can also turn your garden in to a haven for wildlife. Your gardening experience will soon expand from the pleasure of growing plants to that of hosting these creatures too!
Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at cropsinpots.pk. Send in questions about gardening to Zahra@cropsinpots.pk