Your garden can be a beautiful relaxing place, alive with the sights and sounds of birds and insects. All you need to do is to create different habitats to provide for their needs in terms of nesting, shelter and feeding.
This is the advice that Chris van Niekerk, curator of the Botanical Garden on the Potchefstroom Campus, has for eish! readers hoping to attract wildlife to their gardens.
“When selecting plants for your garden, keep the climate and the full-grown size of the plant species in mind,” he suggests.
“Choose plants that will survive the winter cold and not outgrow the space available. The goal is to provide shelter, nectar, pollen and seeds/fruit to attract a diversity of wildlife.”
In larger gardens, planting tree species will encourage birds to nest. Good choices are wild peach (kiggelaria africana), white stinkwood (celtis africana), wild olive (olea europaea Africana), karee (searsia lancia) and buffalo thorn (ziziphus mucronata).
Smaller species that are suitable for smaller gardens are wild pear (dombeya rotundifolia), mountain silver-oak (brachylaena rotundata), sagewood (buddleja salviifolia), puzzle bush (ehretia rigida), bluebush (diospyros lycioides) and kei-apple (dovyalis caffra).
Nectar feeders such as sunbirds, white-eyes, finches and starlings can be attracted by planting nectar-rich, tubular-flowered species such as aloes, pig ear (cotyledon orbiculata), Cape honeysuckle (tecomaria capensis), red-hot pokers (kniphofia), agapanthus, giant honey flower (melianthus major), honeybell bush (freylinia lanceolate), tree fuchia (halleria lucida) and wild dagga (leonotis leonurus).
Most of these plants have inflorescence composed of many flowers opening at different times to release nectar. You will notice that sunbirds will visit the garden at similar times each day, looking for the most recently opened flowers.
To attract doves, starlings and mouse birds, plant berry or fruit-bearing plants.
Species such as wild olive, buffalo-thorn, white stinkwood, African dogwood (rhamnus prinoides) and guarrri (euclea) are favoured by fruit-eating species.
To provide nesting material and seeds, tufted indigenous grasses can be planted as ornamental plants.
Seed-eating bird species such as finches, canaries and waxbills forage on the ground for seed. Suitable grass species include ribbon bristle grass (setaria megagphylla), Guinea grass (panicum maximum) small heartseed grass (eragrostis capensis), stipa grass (stipa dregeana) and cat’s tail asparagus (asparagus densiflorus).
Omnivorous and insect-eating birds such as shrikes, boubous and robins will help to control garden pests. Plant species that can attract insects to your garden include cat’s whiskers (becium obovatum), African potato (hypoxis hemerocallidaea), silky buttons (cotula sericea), carpet geranium (geranium incanum), wild scabiosa (scabiosa columbaria) and Cape dandelion (arctotheca calendula).
During the evenings, owls are on the hunt for rats, mice and moles that leave their burrows. If you spot owls in your neighbourhood, you could consider fitting an owl shelter into a large tree or onto a south-facing wall to attract them to your garden.
Lastly, remember to add a water source to your garden.
Birds do not require complicated water features, a simple bird bath or grind stone will be sufficient. You do not want to use containers with steep and deep edges. Birds like containers with shallow sloping edges enabling them to walk and bathe in the water.
Chris van Niekerk, the curator of the Botanical Garden on the Potchefstroom Campus, tells us which plants attract wildlife to our gardens.