Gardens for Wildlife

Callistemon sp.
Callistemon sp.

Habitat destruction from urban sprawl, land clearing, degradation, bush fire and a changing climate have contributed to more and more animals seeking refuge in pockets of bushland in our urban areas. However, as our towns and suburbs continue to grow the kinds of habitat that supports wildlife is also under threat. These pockets of natural vegetation are becoming increasingly fragmented, and some are disappearing completely, so it is important we try and restore the balance.

By creating a garden with wildlife in mind we can help link these habitats together creating “Green corridors” through our suburbs. Green corridors can be as simple as planting out our verge areas with native plants, or taking it to the next level and landscaping our properties with wildlife in mind.

Chamelaucium sp.
Chamelaucium sp.
Banksia sp.
Banksia sp.
Westringia sp.
Westringia sp. (native)

The first step in creating a wildlife garden is to observe what wildlife is in your area. This might involve taking some time out to sit in your garden and observe the birds, lizards, insects and other animals that come and go, or you might like to visit a local bush reserve to see what wildlife frequent that space. You might be pleasantly surprised at the diversity of wildlife already present. Once you have an idea of the existing wildlife, then learning about their requirements will inform you on plant selection, habitat creation and water supply.  Perhaps you want to attract a specific type of bird insect or animal, and if so, then providing more of what they need from nature will help you draw them to your garden.

Generally speaking, aiming to attract a diversity of creatures by growing a diverse range of plants at varying levels or layers is the best approach. And the very best plants to support Australian wildlife are Australian plants, ideally those plants which are (or once were) local to your area. Local plants are really more of a ‘community’ of plants, where the species have evolved to live in harmony with each other and are better adapted to suit the specific soil and climatic situation of that area.

The idea of diversity extends to the form and habit of plants too with mid story and canopy plants providing food, habitat and nesting opportunities for birds and animals as well as microclimate and shade for the understory plants. Low growing and ground covering plants provide food, habitat and safety for smaller birds and ground dwelling mammals and groundcover plants also protect the soil and help suppress weeds.

By choosing a diverse range of plants we are also providing different food sources. Consider both nectar producing plants (such as Grevillea, Banksia, Callistemon, Anigozanthos) along with seed producing (such as Lomandra, Poa etc) and berry producing plants (Dianella, Austromyrtus etc).

Cabbage moth on a Pelargonium sp.
Cabbage moth on a Pelargonium sp.
Mixed Cottage Garden border with beneficial insect attracting plants
Mixed Cottage Garden border with beneficial insect attracting plants

The colour of the blooms also plays a role in attracting wildlife whereby bird attracting plants tend to have flowers in red, orange and gold and Butterfly attracting plants tend to be pink, mauve, blue and white.

Bees are drawn to flowers that a rich in nectar many of which happen to be white, yellow, purple, and blue flowers but they will also feed on other coloured flowers that have a strong scent. 

The other essential aspect of creating a wildlife attracting garden in Australia is to provide a source of fresh water in the landscape.  This can be achieved via Bird baths, Bee baths, water bowls, ponds and water features. Consider both high water sources, deep and shallow (for the birds, bees and butterflies, hoverfly’s, wasps) and low water sources (for the quenda and lizards). Having chunky mulch, stones, logs (especially hollow logs) in our gardens also helps with habitat creation and provides protection from predators.

Importantly we need to protect the native wildlife by being responsible pet owners, keeping our pets indoors so they can’t attack or eat native birds and animals. [The number of birds, reptiles and mammals killed each year by cats (domestic and feral) is in the billions]. And we must avoid using pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. There are natural remedies available for garden pest and disease control that are safe for the environment however over time as natural balance is restored to your garden, and beneficial creatures out-number the ‘pests’, you will experience less issues. Also consider the choice of fertiliser making sure it is environmentally friendly and wildlife friendly.

Chorizema cordatum and Hardenbergia sp.
Chorizema cordatum and Hardenbergia sp.
Leptospermum 'Pink Cascade' (native)
Leptospermum ‘Pink Cascade’ (native)
Viola hederacea (Native violets)
Viola hederacea (Native violets)

Keep in mind that an overly manicured garden is not a refuge. Be prepared to see some holes in leaves from time to time. Butterflies lay eggs that develop into caterpillars. Caterpillars feed on plants leaving holes, before they transform into Butterflies. Quenda’s love to dig small holes in the garden in their pursuit of tasty grubs so a regular check may be needed to ensure they haven’t accidently dug up or are next to any precious plants.

Additionally, some insects attach their pupae to plants and some dwell in ground level nest, so leaving some bare ground and some things a little wild works for your wildlife garden. Importantly, don’t forget to design in a space for you to sit, observe and enjoy your wildlife garden. By designing and planting our gardens with wildlife in mind we can make our gardens a sanctuary for wildlife and for ourselves.

Useful Resources:

Zanthorrea Nursery
Wildflower Society of Western Australia
Birdlife.Org
Local Council and Local Naturalists
Backyard Buddies
WIRES Australian Wildlife Rescue Organisation
Gardening Australia

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