To have a wildlife friendly garden, you don’t necessarily have to plant only native plants. And I’m not talking about the big critters, such as deer and raccoons, but the small and even tiny wildlife that really count in the garden ecosystem: bees, butterflies, wasps, and other beneficial insects, plus soil organisms, birds, lizards, and frogs. These are the “boots on the ground” for a healthy organic, pesticide and herbicide free garden.
Here are some guidelines to help make your garden a thriving ecosystem where you can harvest your veggies too.
Plan for Diversity: Edibles, Natives, and Ornamentals
In her excellent book, The Habitat Garden Book, Wildlife Landscaping for the San Francisco Bay Region, author Nancy Bauer recommends using a simple and flexible planting formula of one third each native plants, edibles, and ornamental plants. With a little research you can identify attractive flowering and fruiting plants native to your area that do well in suburban and urban landscapes, and ornamental plants that encourage pollinators and other beneficials.
In our garden (below) a Fremontia or California Flannel Bush, is a favorite with bumble bees, and the Pyracantha behind it attracts honey bees with profuse white flowers. Birds love it for the dense cover and berries it provides in the winter.
Leveraging Your Edibles
After I learned that many culinary herbs are well loved by different types of bees, I let my herbs go to flower, including parsley, which attracts insect predators. You can use this to your advantage in the garden. If you prefer to harvest herbs before they flower (for better flavor) plant enough so that you can let some go to bloom. Some of the favorite flowering herbs for bees are oregano, thyme, sweet marjoram, parsley and basil. Many edible flowers are also great for companion planting among your vegetables.
Wildlife needs food, water, and shelter. Shrubs and trees attract birds that will control the insect population, and if you provide fresh water in birdbaths, they’ll move in almost instantly. We found that removing our lawns and replacing them with mulched areas was a huge bird magnet. They love to scratch around for bugs in the mulch, and take dust baths in the bare patches of soil. Lizards appreciate having ground cover in a rock garden or a small brush pile, and they’ll eat their share of insects. Butterflies like very shallow water (a saucer with stones) or a mud puddle to drink from.
As Bauer points out, an overly tidy garden has less wildlife habitat. Leave some leaves on the ground for a natural mulch that decomposes and enriches the soil and gives small creatures a home.
Take Time to Plan
You don’t have to get it done all at once, but you can gradually transform your garden into your very own wildlife sanctuary and enjoy watching nature in action, up close and personal.
Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke