I discovered this little treasure this week in a Cercis tree on the front terrace, just near the front door and at perfect eye height. It’s a Willy Wagtail nest, a perfectly round felted pod, palm size, smooth and soft and cupping three tiny speckled eggs. A masterpiece, built with a beak and found materials…and we think we’re the architectural and construction experts! The mother guards it fiercely, with a chikka chikka chikka!!! warning to all passers by. Watching this little family hatch will be such a joy, and such a privilege to have a front row seat.
We never tire of these discoveries and always feel humbled that so many of our beautiful native birds have chosen our home as theirs. The sweetest tiny blue wrens, little honey-eaters, magpies, parrots, happy kookaburras and of course our beloved Whistling Dick (a Shrike Thrush that sings like an angel).
We are also joined by a myriad of ingenious insects, my favourite the blue banded bee completely enamoured with the lavender. We have busy little lizards like skinks and bearded dragons, and lazy big ones, bog-eyes and blue tongues that embody the lounge lizard image by groggily soaking up the warmth on the rocks.
Gardeners have such an important role to play in providing habitat for these fascinating and beautiful beings, and the rewards are endless. There is a wonderful sense of community when living with these creatures, and a realisation that whatever we do impacts existences far beyond our own, hence our touch must be considered. We garden here with these friends in mind, building layers of planting to provide food and shelter.
I have listed below a bundle of ideas that we have used in our garden to attract birds, insects and lizards. I’m sure they would work for you too!
- Plant diverse layers of foliage from groundcover to tree canopy, making sure there are plenty of dense thickets of shrubbery in between. This provides options for different nesting places and protection for all types of critters.
- Provide a water supply for birds and bugs – a low wide bowl is great, with gently sloping sides that can be gripped by little feet. It is best placed among planting for shelter and a quick escape if needed, and somewhere you are able to watch on. The birds love our big steel bowl and splash in it regularly, a treat to watch. Bees too need plenty of water – we place a large rock or floating piece of timber into the water troughs for them to land on, they can drown easily otherwise.
- Plant flowering plants (a mix of natives and exotics) with flowers of differing shapes and seasons to cater for birds and insects that feed from different flower forms. Tubular flowers for example are loved by honeyeaters (they adore the salvia and melianthus here), while umbels and daisies are fabulous for attracting beneficial insects. I often find ladybirds sheltering under the umbrella blooms of Queen Anne’s Lace, fennel and parsley flowers.
- Plant non-invasive shrubs with edible berries for the birds, and be prepared to sacrifice a little of the fruit on your fruit trees to keep the birds happy.
- Bees are attracted to blue and white flowers, they love the lavender, buddleia, viburnum and salvia. Birds are evidently most attracted to red flowers, so include some natives like correa, eucalypt and bottlebrushes.
- Allow corners of the garden to go wild – a bit of chaos provides the best habitat, and the seedy blousy layers of plants is heaven for our tiny friends, and beautiful for us! Plus, it gives us an excuse to relax a little.
- Allow plants to go to seed, birds and insects love it, plus they look gorgeous in their drying forms and give you a ready supply of seeds to propagate for next year.
- Allow fallen leaves to decay naturally around trees and garden beds. I lay all cut perennials back onto the soil to break down and enrich the soil, plus they provide warmth and shelter for ground dwelling insects, and a spot for birds to scratch to find them. If the material is diseased or infested with bad bugs, then by all means remove it!
- Place tufted foliage and large rocks and logs within the garden for lizards to shelter beneath and sunbake on. Sure there is always the risk that snakes will also enjoy this habitat, but they will come anyway, even if the garden is little more than lawn and concrete. Just be mindful and stomp around a bit before you dive into these garden beds – standard procedure when gardening in Australia in the warmer months!
- Don’t spray insects around the home and leave cobwebs on the house. Your friends really won’t mind, and the birds will keep the spiders to a minimum anyway by eating them for lunch! It’s better for our health too.
- Don’t run out and spray at the first sign of aphids. Wait for the ladybirds to come, they will feed off the aphids and control them in a flash…and they are the sweetest little.
So there you go! With a bit of careful planning and attention to the needs of those with whom we share our plots, we can create garden habitats that will encourage our native creatures to come and settle. They return the favour by keeping pests at bay, pollinating plants, and simply being a pleasure to watch.