Spotted Eagle Owl

Spotted Eagle Owl overdaying in my garden.

As our cities expand so displaced urban wildlife struggles to adapt and our gardens become sanctuaries for birds, bats, toads, lizards, snakes, small mammals, and a myriad of insects. Gardening with Nature’s creatures is about a little less manicure and a new way of looking at creature’s like wasps, toads and snakes which can be gardener’s friends. Choosing a natural approach instead of reaching for the pesticide at the first sign of an ant’s trail or snail nibbled leaves opens your garden to a host of Nature’s pest control agents. Like miniature versions of the African plains, poison free gardens provide a vibrant setting for the life cycles of a hierarchy of small predators and prey all within a few feet of our front door. In a scene not unlike that of a leopardMantis & butterfly stalking and catching an impala, this praying mantis ambushed a cabbage white butterfly resting on a tomato plant.

Gardening with Nature is not just about avoiding pesticide. It is about providing habitats for beneficial creatures. Birds need water and sheltered roost and nest sites in the form of clumps or banks of indigenous shrubs and creepers and if you have the space, trees. They also need well mulched gardens where they can search for snails and caterpillars in the leaf litter.

By creating a range of habitat types a gardener can add to the aesthetic character of their property and attract a host of gardener’s friends. Garden pond with driftwood photo by KimK of Green  auditsRockeries attract a beneficial `insects’ such as spiders and wasps as well as providing cover from which lizards and geckos can hunt. Untreated `drift wood’ is both an attractive garden feature and a potential home for a range of beneficial carpenter and bumble bees. Water features such as ponds, a marshy area or stream attract dragonflies, toads and frogs which are prolific insect eaters. They also provide drinking and bathing places for birds and small garden snakes. Even a shallow ceramic water dish placed on the ground provides an important source of water on hot days.

soaking up water on a hot evening before venturing off to hunt

Leopard Toad soaking up water on a hot evening before venturing off to hunt

Other areas on your property which are functional rather than aesthetic can also provide homes and hunting grounds for wildlife. These include: leaf litter under plants, woodpiles, compost heaps and vegetable gardens etc. To encourage the Leopard Toads in our neighbourhood to hunt in our vegetable garden we keep a water dish between the tomatoes. The toads come here to rehydrate after a hot day and it encourages them to stay and hunt between the vegetables where they catch the cutworm caterpillars that come out at night to strip your seedlings.

Some creatures may take a bit of getting used to such as the large and scary looking though harmless Golden Orb Web Spider. Usually if they start to span their huge webs where people are likely to walk into them, they can be gently relocated. It would definitely be a good idea for the local snake catcher to relocate a resident boomslang and any other venomous snake. Usually we do not even see the smaller harmless snakes such as slug eaters and herald snakes as they hunt amongst groundcover. Personally I would shoo Hadidas with nest intentions from roosting in my trees. They make excellent candidates for an on your site neighbourhood watch but between raising the alarm at every nocturnal activity, they squabble and bicker all night long so that no-one gets any sleep. Which is probably why they are so argumentative – they are probably sleep deprived.

Looking out for the Insects, Birds, Lizards and Co in our gardens enriches our lives. The glimpses we catch of them as they go about their lives looking for mates, facing off threats and foraging for food awakens us to a whole world within our garden – a Kruger Park on our doorstep.

Extract of a Poem In Granny’s Garden by Sarah Harrison:

My Granny had a garden, jungly wild, through which I used to wander as a child.

It was a most exploring kind of place, where vines and webs would trail across your face.

And in its depths I fancied that there lay dragons and dodos, predator and prey….

KimK – June 2013