From Sarah’s garden to yours
When you think of a perfect garden, it isn’t static like a photograph. There are sounds and movements as well as the visual effects. You may hear the wind rustling through the trees causing them to gently sway in the breeze, or maybe the soft tinkling of windchimes playing a relaxing sound. Water can be another contributor by adding sound and movement such as the casual splashing as the water flows through a fountain or water feature.
There are elements that a gardener can bring to a landscape to give it a sense of life; however, it can still feel a little flat without the added benefit of actual wildlife. A garden filled with creatures feels alive and harmonious. No garden is complete without birds chirping in the trees, cicadas adding to the summer soundscape, and butterflies flitting from flower to flower like brightly coloured decorations.
Many of the creatures are more than welcome in the garden, and add value in more ways than one. The pollinators are often the most highly regarded, and we are constantly encouraged to invite them in, especially if we are growing edible crops. These are beneficial insects, and bees are often the most recognisable. However, there are more insects than honeybees that pollinate our plants, other bees such as solitary bees, bumblebees and native bees also help out. Flies have a bad reputation, especially the ones that linger in our homes, but there are many fly species that are also great pollinators.
Of course, butterflies are obvious pollinators as they flit across the garden, but moths also do their bit to ensure plants are able to set seed. Beetles are not always thought of as pollinators, but can also assist plants with the distribution of pollen. Nectar loving birds also pay for their sweet feasts with an exchange of pollen.
All of these creatures should be welcomed into the garden with open arms. To invite them in make sure they not only have plants that they want to eat, but also plants that meet their needs at all stages of their life cycle. All butterflies and moths start out as caterpillars, whose diet is different from their winged parents. A welcoming habitat for overwintering will also ensure they will be back in the next season.
Other beneficial creatures may not be pollinating your plants, but will be helping out in other ways. The predators are to be welcomed into the garden as their diet is mostly the insects that will harm your plants. Ladybirds and lacewings will make short work of an aphid infestation if you allow them time to find their feast before reaching for an insecticide. Sometimes the problem may become too much that you will have no choice but to intervene if you are to save the plant, but it can be a good idea to allow the predators an opportunity to do their thing before moving to plan B.
Wasps, as annoying as they can be at a picnic, have a stage in their lifecycle where they need protein and can be seen plucking fat caterpillars from plants. There are also parasitic wasps who can lay their eggs directly into caterpillars. By being slow to remove unwelcome caterpillars from the garden, you can allow the beneficial creatures to flourish.
Other beneficial creatures work tirelessly behind the scenes, breaking down organic material in the mulch and leaf litter layers or deep down in the soil, turning it all into nutrients that are bioavailable to plants, whilst improving the soil structure. Without the beetles, worms, fungi, and micro communities, the garden would struggle to thrive.
While a water feature may bring a pleasant sound and a visual display – having water in the garden can also benefit the wildlife. Birds will visit a bird bath to drink and splash about and putting a shallow bowl of water filled with pebbles can provide hydration for bees and other flying insects. A pond can invite frogs who will in return to their best to take care of the slug and snail population in the garden and protect your tender plants. A pond can also encourage the presence of dragonflies who will snatch up flying insects and can help control mosquitoes and midges in the garden, making it more pleasant to be in the garden.
Much of the wildlife invited into the garden can benefit not only the garden but also the gardener by creating a landscape where there is an advantage for everyone in the space, all working together for the greater good.
However, it isn’t always this magnificent utopia environment, and not all wildlife is there to the enhancement of the garden community, some are only concerned with ensuring their own progeny survives the season to go on into the next. Although to be fair, this is the main purpose of all of creatures, including plants. It isn’t that they don’t belong in the landscape; as a part of the circle of life, they have just as much right to be there, however, their existence doesn’t benefit our ideal garden situation.
The most important thing to consider when looking at the wildlife in the garden is balance. Too many pests will cause the demise of the wanted inhabitants and plants, but without them there, the beneficial predators will have nothing to eat, meaning the garden isn’t a desirable location for them to live, which in turn makes it attractive to the pest insects therefore balance is key.
A garden filled with a diverse population of wildlife, is like a functioning society with everyone fulfilling a role and making a garden hum with life, creating a vibrancy that elevates a garden beyond the static appearing of just “looking good”. Wildlife adds something special to a garden that can’t be created by the gardener alone.