These days it seems like everyone is into gardening. Being outdoors, getting your hands dirty and growing your own food is an easy way for us to reconnect with nature. The associated health and wellbeing benefits of gardening have also been widely recognised and promoted. This desire to live off the land is reflected in the popularity of programs such as Gardening Australia and the Gourmet Farmer as well as nature-care campaigns like National Tree Day and the Winter BeardsOn Challenge.
Many of us are now turning our front yards, backyards, verge spaces, community lots and even balconies into herbs, vegetables and fruit gardens. Growing our own produce helps us save money (particularly for those living in expensive Sydney) and reduce our environmental footprint. However, I think that it is a missed opportunity to have a garden that is exclusively used for the production of fruits and vegetables. I believe that with some simple tips such as those outlined below, you can transform your garden into a thriving habitat (depending on how much space is available). One that will boost the productivity of your garden, as well as provide a refuge for native wildlife.
Flowering native plants:
The simplest and most effective way to transform your garden into a lively habitat is by plantings. The best place to get information about ideal natives for your local area would be your council, local nurseries or landcare groups. When planting natives, it is important that they flower throughout the year and that the different plants grow to different heights. Species such as grevilleas, callistemon and leptospermum and native grasses are excellent choices. Plant them next to common garden herbs such as lavender, mint, basil, sage and rosemary. These herbs also flower throughout the year and are good at attracting bees to the garden.
Beehives have been a very popular addition to gardens, particularly in urban environments. They are small enough to be placed on rooftops, balconies and backyards. For serious hobbyists and gardeners, they can be a timely and often expensive pursuit. However, the honey that bees will produce can be a worthwhile reward. The pollination service that bees provide will increase the productivity of your vegetables and fruits. Because bees can forage large distances, having them in your garden will help other gardens in your area.
Many of us though may not be ready for such an investment or for fear of allergies and unaccepting neighbours. If you do decide that a beehive is something you want in your garden, then locate it in a sunny corner away from the public. It is also incredibly important to check with your local council to see if there are any regulatory requirements for having a beehive on your property and whether it needs to be registered with the State Government. If you cannot afford a beehive, simply drill some holes in your habitat logs which will be ideal for native Australian bees (many of which are solitary and stingless).
A thriving habitat garden attracts all sorts of beneficial insects, invertebrates and small mammals. By leaving a habitat log in a sunny corner, you will provide them with a place to sleep, hide, hunt and warm themselves in the sun. Depending on the amount of space available, you can leave logs all over your garden, including under shrubs and foliage. Habitat logs are incredibly important in Australia as many native bee species live in burrows in logs, tree stumps and bark. If there is no room for a habitat log, then mulch can be a great alternative as it will provide a place for bugs, insects and slugs. By adding mulch, you will also help suppress weeds and retain moisture in your garden.
Habitat rocks perform a similar role to habitat logs. Leave a few rocks around in your garden to get maximum benefits. Larger rocks in sunny areas will provide the ideal spot for any lizards or other reptiles in your garden to warm themselves in the sun.
Insects, invertebrates, birds and mammals in your garden will need somewhere to drink water. You can use any small, shallow container such as an old plate which is capable of holding water. A partially submerged flat rock or some floating wine corks can also be added to provide somewhere for the insects to land. It is important to keep an eye on the insect watering hole to prevent mosquitoes from using it to lay eggs and for keeping the water filled.
Nest boxes are a great way to provide refuge to some of the larger birds and mammals that might be found in your local area. Often, multiple animals might use the same nest box throughout the year. For nest boxes to be effective, they need to be located high up in the tree canopy. As such, it is often best to approach your local council or professionals in your area to have your nest box installed. Nest boxes can either be purchased and there are multiple designs that are suitable for certain birds and mammals. Alternatively, you can build your own nest box by finding tips and instructions online.