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A suburban paradise

Written by  Staff
| in Tuin
| April 7, 2015

As people, we are constantly striving to create a feeling of harmony and tranquillity in our lives; to de-stress, relax and just be. But in today’s fast-paced times, this is no easy feat.

One great way to unwind is to spend time in nature. And while getting away for weekends and holidays certainly helps, it’s even more beneficial to bring nature to you, in the form of a lush, healthy and abundant garden.
        By creating a hospitable garden environment, you can encourage all sorts of interesting wildlife to share your outdoor space, including butterflies, dragonflies, bees and other insects, birds, frogs, toads, hedgehogs, lizards and even chameleons. The sight of butterflies flitting around, the sound of frogs croaking and birds chirping is a great way to feel like you’re out of the hustle and bustle – no matter how suburban your home.
        There are plenty of other benefits too. Birds, for instance, control garden pests like aphids and snails, while frogs eat everything from mosquitoes to cockroaches. Hummingbirds and other nectar-sipping birds are great pollinators of flowering plants. And the more vibrant and colourful your flowerbeds, the more birds and butterflies you’ll attract. Many birds also eat weed seeds, helping to keep weeds under control.

How to go about it

april-tuin-birds-1Exclusion areas

Create exclusion areas in your garden. These are areas densely planted with shrubs and other plants that will attract a host of birds, frogs and lizards. The trick is to ensure the area is far away from your busy living areas and preferably inaccessible to your pets. An exclusion area thrives on neglect, so unlike the rest of your garden, it can remain largely untouched by your gardener. Place a feeding table in the thick bush to encourage happy, long-term inhabitants.


Trees are vital to a thriving ecosystem. Many fruit trees and berry producing shrubs attract birds, as well as provide home-grown fruit for you to enjoy. If you have a large enough garden, make sure you have at least a couple of really tall trees, which provide lookout and nesting opportunities for a variety of birds. Consider trees with thorns, as they provide protection for small birds. The Fever Tree and Paper Bark Acacia work well, especially when planted in groups of three or four. The Wild Peach (Kiggelaria Africana) is an indigenous, evergreen tree that will attract butterflies.


Plan your shrub garden carefully to ensure it is visually pleasing and as habitable as possible for a variety of creatures. Choose shrubs that grow at different speeds and to different heights, and that bear a variety of different coloured flowers. The Cape leadwort, lavender, butterfly bush, bush violet and the honey bell bush are all excellent shrubs for attracting butterflies and an abundance of other garden visitors.  


Indigenous grasses provide food and shelter for ground-nesting birds and other animals, as well as nesting material for birds that make nests in trees.



Some birds will find all the food they need naturally, but if you want to attract seed-eating birds like widows, bishops and weavers, you might want to consider feeding them. Birdfeeders can be bought at most gardening centres, or you can get creative and make your own. Fill them at regular times with good quality bird food, as well as things like fruit peels, cooked rice and raw oats.

april-tuin-birds-2Bird baths

These too, are available at nurseries, gardening centres and some hardware stores, but are not necessarily the best choice, and besides - making your own is a lot more fun and rewarding! Using cement and any number of other materials, you can create a birdbath that will live in your garden for many years and provide an all-important reliable water supply to your feathered visitors. Most birds prefer a bath that is ground level, in a shady area. Rather place your birdbath in a slightly sheltered area, than out in the middle of your garden where birds will feel more vulnerable. The best birdbaths are those that mimic the birdbaths in nature. So think small puddles and shallow pools, with a gentle slope so birds can wade into the water. It’s also important that the bottom is not slippery and that birds will feel safe to wade around.

Nesting areas

Many birds will find their own nesting area, if you have provided the right environment. You can also help them along, by placing nesting logs in appropriate areas. Hollow logs and wooden boxes can be placed high in the branches of trees to attract owls and birds like barbets and hoopoes. Hang bags of twigs, leaves, feathers and grasses in trees; birds will then easily be able to “shop” for the right materials to build their nests.

Logs and stones

Log piles and stacks of rockery stones are excellent for attracting mice, insects and spiders. Just be sure to build it a comfortable distance form your home.  


Ponds are essential for frogs, toads and dragonflies. You can of course also populate it with Koi, goldfish and other fish. Remember that the pond should have gently sloping sides to make it easy for your visitors to get in and out. At least one of the pond’s edges should taper off into surrounding moist vegetation which provides food and shelter. Choose your location carefully – ponds need some direct sunlight to survive, and frogs need shelter from the heat and mist vegetation, so it’s a balancing act between light and dark. Plant a really good mixture of indigenous pond plants; your garden centre will be able to advise you on which work well together. If you are building your own pond, a good tip is to use a spirit level to make sure the sides are even, otherwise the water will look like it’s sloping.

april-tuin-birds-3Important tips

Be careful with insecticides, as this goes against what you are trying to do – which is attract “friendly” inhabitants. It is possible to maintain a good balance between the wanted and unwanted visitors; speak to your nursery to find out the best way to maintain this balance.

Clean beds might look neat, but they are not really conducive to encouraging wildlife. When you do a clean-up, don’t remove all the leaves and clippings from the garden, rather put them in between shrubs to offer shelter and food for insects and nest-building materials for birds.

Try to use mainly indigenous plants, as they are best suited to attracting local wildlife, don’t interfere with indigenous plants and trees, and are better adapted, so they need less water to survive.

Exclusion areas should be densely planted, left mostly untouched and only pruned once a year, only if necessary.

Dead trees can be cut down to a few metres so as not to be a hazard, but don’t pull them out as they will attract a host of wildlife, including squirrels and the beautiful woodpecker.

Seek information from your local nursery – tell them what you are wanting to achieve and let them advise you on which trees, shrubs and plants are best for your needs. They will also be able to advise on seasonality, planting instructions and more.

Remember that gardening for wildlife is not something you can do in a few days or weeks. Start small, have a good plan, ensure a reliable water supply, make clever planting choices, and then let nature take its course. Within a year or two, your garden will be brimming with wildlife and you will be co-existing with nature, without having to pack up and move to the country.

Happy gardening!