Habitat – creating a garden for us to live in.

When we create a place for urban wildlife, we also create a great environment for ourselves.  In this way having a wildlife friendly garden is a win-win for us and the creatures themselves.  For them it is because urban habitat is under threat, so every backyard makes a difference.  For us it is because many of these creatures benefit our gardens directly, not only with their aesthetic appeal, but also in dealing with garden tasks like pollination and pest management.

I am frequently concerned when I see the outdoor spaces or courtyards being entirely paved or lawned, with very little space given to garden beds, simply because the owner didn’t know what else to do.  The planting palette in these garden is usually very limited too, and sometimes literally just a few strappy leaf plants.  Such spaces then are not friendly to wildlife, and probably not to us too if we are honest enough to admit it.  If large sunny areas are paved or covered with synthetic turf these become heat banks and add to the urban heat island effect, raising ambient air temperatures around them by up to 15 degrees.  If given a choice, wouldn’t everyone want to see some birds collecting nectar from flowers, butterflies flitting past or tireless bees buzzing about their work.

You may not consider yourself a gardener, maybe you are just a yardener, and as such are overwhelmed by what to do in your outdoor space.  Nurseries and garden centres have staff who can help you make great plant choices to create something to bring in the wildlife and make it more interesting for you as well, or you could engage the services of a garden designer or landscaper to help design your space.  However before you start making plant and design choices for your outdoor space, it can be helpful to think about the feeling you want from your garden once it is created.

What do you want from your garden?

Think of the gardens you love to be in, whether the Botanic gardens, a public park, a friend’s garden, or even ones that appeal to you in books or on television.  What is it about them that you like?  Is it the feeling the garden evokes or is it the structure that resonates with you.  This is quite a personal thing and what appeals to one person may not appeal to another.

Gardens as a sanctuary

I believe that gardens are a sanctuary from our fast paced crazy lives.  We all get stressed and look for ways to relax, and gardens offer a place for us to relax and forgot the worries of our lives.  For me personally, being in my garden, surrounded by nature, allows me to focus on the beauty and realness of what is around me, forgetting the angst, stresses and worries that would otherwise churn around in my head.  Whether it is watching the birds, bees and butterflies flit from flower to flower, hearing bird song or a cricket chirrup, or even the sound of the wind through the leaves, and observing the changes of the seasons and growth in a garden, all these observations are very life affirming.  For many people they experience this when they go on a bush walk or visit a national park.  However when you have a garden, you can actually experience it on a daily basis, every time you go out the back door.

My preferred garden

Personally I want a garden to feel relaxed, peaceful and harmonious.  We might describe the inside of a house as being ‘homely’, meaning a place we feel quite comfortable to just ‘be’.  For me, a garden should evoke the same response.  If you have kids, it is also important to have a garden which is child friendly in terms of plant selection (no spiky plants, no slow-growing formal clipped hedges which can be easily damaged), and gives them places to explore and foster a curiosity and love of Nature.  I also like to feel safe, sheltered and enclosed in a garden.  If you live on a busy street where cars are forever whizzing past, you can plant a hedge or tall screen of assorted plants to give you a visual barrier, so that you do feel safe in your space.  Trees also help to offer a feeling of security, rather than being out in an exposed empty backyard where everything is low or flat.  If using trees consider whether you want some that are deciduous, evergreen or a mixture of both.  In summer usually I want to feel cool, yet in winter I want to feel the suns warmth if it is out.  Deciduous trees do this by allowing winter sun into a garden space which could otherwise feel cold, shaded and gloomy.  On the other hand, evergreen trees can help to soften a tall neighbouring building which would otherwise dominate a space.  While hedges, screening plants and trees do take a few years to get established, the sooner you get them in, the sooner you will feel their benefit.

So to try and demonstrate this in my feature garden, there are soft paths which draw you into the middle of the garden where the vibrant entertaining area is surrounded by lush layered planting and enclosed by a high canopy of large trees.  For a day lounge or cubby house with a twist, I am in the middle of weaving a human nest, woven with grape vine prunings and furnished with a mattress and soft cushions.  There are colourful vegie beds filled with luscious home grown vegetables and surrounded by colourful herbs to create a relaxed homely feel.  I have also included whimsical elements to create a sense of fun such as painted concrete pavers set in the paths as well as a flock of giant bright orange butterflies which fly overhead.