So, what does that mean exactly? Well, for me, it means to garden with an eye toward creating a sanctuary for birds, bees and other wildlife. To create an environment free of the toxins—the herbicides, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that are poisoning us and the world around us—in which the local wildlife can eat, breath and reproduce without harm (at least intentional harm from me; I have no control over the natural predatory instincts of others). It’s actually surprisingly easy to do, if you’re paying attention.
One of the many wonderful things about gardening is that gardens are chock full of life; not only plants, but mammals, reptiles and insects of all shapes, sizes and colors. Even if you garden without wildlife in mind, many will show up anyway. However, if you use toxins in your garden, you are—whether intentional or not—contributing to the very real degradation and destruction of the delicate ecological balance that exists on our marvelous planet.
So, step one in becoming a wildlife gardener – put aside all of those nasty chemicals and noxious powders and learn to embrace organic gardening, pests and all!
Step two is to garden specifically with wildlife in mind through plant selection and habitat construction. Again, this is simpler than it may sound.
My gardens happen to be in the country. We have 135 acres, the majority of which remains woodland and wetlands (130 acres or so). When we bought the place, the 5 acres near the house were mostly lawn, pasture and some flower borders near the house with the occasional tree and shrub. Since I began gardening in earnest in 2012, we now have a potager (mixed vegetables, herbs, flower and berry garden), small orchard with a mix of apple, plum, pear and cherry trees, and various garden spaces around the house with mixed borders of annuals, perennials and shrubs. But it’s also possible to garden for wildlife in a suburb (or even a city) (see The Wildlife Gardener by Kate Bradbury).
What you will learn, as you steer in this direction, is that there are an infinite number of unexpected benefits to enticing a wider array of wildlife into your garden. Nature is wondrously interconnected. When our actions upset that balance, the ramifications can be immense. When we encourage this interconnectedness, the results can be magical. Gently turn over the compost in your compost pile and you’ll discover a miniature universe filled with millipedes, woodlice, and earthworms—and thousands upon thousands of microscopic beings you can’t see with the unaided eye—that work furiously and constantly to break down the organic matter in the pile until it becomes the rich, sweet goodness we know as compost. Look closely at a rose and you may see hoverflies and lady bugs feasting on aphids. The lesson is this – you can plant to attract beneficial insects and birds that will in turn feed on “pests.” You do not need toxic sprays. You can plant to provide much needed, toxin free, pollen for bees. You can create habitats to encourage reptiles and other small animals to take up residence on your property.
I’ll write about specific ways to do so in later posts, but for now know you just need to garden with the basic needs of wildlife in mind; every species needs shelter, food and water.