Chris van Niekerk is the curator of the Botanical Garden on the Potchefstroom Campus.

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Spending most of our work life indoors, we often see nature as a haven where we can refuel our batteries and find equilibrium and peace of mind. For many of us, however, the nearest “natural havens” are our gardens.


eish! asked Chris van Niekerk, curator of the Botanical Garden on the Potchefstroom Campus, to tell us how to attract wildlife to our gardens to enhance the natural ambiance of these regenerative retreats.


“First of all, you have to change the way you look at it and maintain it. You will have to accept a degree of natural untidiness!” he says.


Small changes make a huge difference


“It’s not necessary to do a total redesign; small interventions can make a huge difference. The aim is to create different habitats to attract a diversity of life, from microbes in the soil to the sight and sound of birds and bees. These habitats will provide for feeding, nesting and shelter for the wildlife in your garden.”


Here are a few facts to keep in mind:

  • Birds love to nest in dense shrubs or trees.
  • Fruit-bearing plants attract fruit-eating birds, while grass species attract seed-eating birds.
  • Flowers that produce nectar attract sunbirds.
  • Organic material in the flower beds provides a habitat for earthworms and micro-organisms in the soil.
  • A water feature at ground level creates a habitat for water-loving insects like dragon flies and frogs.
  • Rocks or stones in the flower beds create warm spots for lizards.


Everything is interconnected


Chris points out that all animal life is part of a food chain and everything is interconnected. “There should be an equilibrium between pests and their natural predators – every time a certain pest or animal is eliminated, an imbalance occurs in the system.”


Although pests such as aphids on roses are unattractive, they are an important food source for sunbirds. Lizards help to combat ants, termites, flies and mosquitoes. As gardeners we must allow nature to take care of itself.


Does that mean you must do nothing? “No,” answers Chris, “but you must change the way you maintain your garden and make plant selections to create a wildlife-friendly garden.”


Sound advice


This is his advice to help you maintain your garden in a wildlife-friendly way:

  • Do not turn the soil every week. This will disrupt the micro-organisms in the soil, cause the soil to dry out, and encourage weed seeds to germinate. Keep the soil covered with a natural mulch.
  • Leave all the dead leaves and other organic material, like dry twigs and bark, between the plants in the flower beds. The organic material will act as a mulch to keep the soil moist and cool and help to supress the growth of weeds. The micro-organisms and earthworms in the soil depend on the organic material as a food source.
  • Do not use chemical pesticides and herbicides. Damage caused by pests is temporary – if leaves were damaged by worms, plants will always produce new ones.
  • Allow seeds to develop on the plants after flowering, as the seeds will attract birds that feed on them.
  • If you have a large garden, you can perhaps allow one part of your garden to become a “wild” section.


“A garden with a mixture of plants should be able to sustain a variety of wildlife. The biodiversity in your garden is the sum of all the living things, plants, birds, insects, reptiles, mammals and micro-organisms. The fact that there are insects, birds and animals in your garden reflects a healthy and balanced garden.”


Look out for the next edition of eish! in which Chris is going to tell us which plant species attract wildlife, making our gardens come alive with bees and birds.