“It was what I wanted: a land not so big, but fenced to avoid the inconveniences of a public road; an abandoned land, arid and scorched by the sun, favored by thistles, wasps and bees. Yes, it was my wish, my dream, always cherished, always disappearing into the mists of the future.
So writes JH Fabre in his book The world of insects. I may not be such a passionate naturalist, but the older I get the better I understand his philosophy. Growing habitat loss and overuse of pesticides have put our insect populations at risk, so hopefully this year’s abundance of insectivores indicates a recovery in the food supply.
Those migrating here to escape the constant traffic noise associated with urbanization might be disappointed to see it replaced by the deafening chorus of 10,000 frogs, but these are our adorable slug-eating friends, heralding another season of growth. The deafening cacophony of amphibian lust is a comforting lullaby that assures us that Mother Nature is still at work. The morning din of flocks of voracious robins is music to the gardener’s ears, which perhaps explains why we call them “songbirds,” even though they never sing in key. The early bird may catch the occasional worm, but it also eliminates many more less welcome pests.
The native garter snake is another devoted consumer of unwanted visitors. His food preferences inspired David to shop for some, only to find that they are a protected species that cannot be traded. This has led to a disturbing practice of moving those he finds on his own into our garden, which is why I stopped emptying his pockets.
David also sent for a parcel of ladybugs to eat aphids, but when he released them, they went home!
I can’t do much about the loss of wildlife habitat, but I can make it a haven in my own backyard. Bill Merilees, in his book Attract wildlife from the garden, says their basic needs are adequate space, shelter, food and water. He continues: “The larger and more diverse an area, the more wildlife it can support.” Thus, if one wanted to attract tree frogs, one would need to provide a swimming pool in the garden and appropriate surrounding vegetation. If enough backyards and balconies provide these necessities, perhaps we can support the existence of wildlife despite the destruction of other habitats.
An example is providing nests for mason bees, which we have done. A third of our mason bees hatched in the early warm spring, but then the freezing nights and cold days returned and delayed the flowers they depend on for food. Hopefully they succeeded on their own; pollinating 80 fruit trees myself is a tedious business.
I like to leave part of my garden undisturbed so wildlife can use the space undisturbed. I let grass, St. John’s wort, and ivy grow amidst the pile of rocks and branches on one side of my yard where I’ve set up a self-watering container for anything that needs it. The wise gardener learns to delegate, and my little staff does a tremendous job.