about this blog



I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

echiums, lizards and learning lessons


I recently went to a talk with the intriguing title of Lizard Lounges and Butterfly Bars.  I found this talk electrifying, as in setting off light bulbs! Finally I understood the value of indigenous plants! Indigenous plants are best suited to attracting native fauna because they have evolved together and have complementary needs. For decades, I have been trying to attract wildlife, but in a largely random hit and miss manner. I thought it was enough not to use chemicals.

I don't think I'll totally retrofit the garden, but I think I can put some of the ideas into practice. Some non - native species attract wildlife anyway. For example, nearly every day a magpie enters the front garden, snacks on a few black olives, then takes a bath.




Another thing I learned from the speaker, Brian Bainbridge (BB), was that indigenous nurseries were much better for sourcing plants to attract wildlife than commercial nurseries. Because they don't clone plants, plants flower at different times. This gives wildlife the opportunity to stay in the garden for longer periods of time, hopefully completing their life cycle in the garden, and laying their eggs for the following year.


BB explained the importance of preserving sunny patches for lizards and other wildlife. Hence the idea of lizard lounges - rocks, stones, a place for a lizard to sun itself.  BB talked about grassy plazas, an open space with grasses, a mosaic of small habitats, that provide microhabitats for minibeasts. I used to often see lizards, butterflies, hoverflies, beetles and dragonflies, but hardly ever see them now. There wasn't much open space left in the garden, and it was much shadier than it used to be.

One of the plants I had been filling spaces with was Echium. Why Echium?  Well, because I like it, but mainly because it is so obliging. All you have to do is stick a bit in the ground and it grows quickly into a large-ish shrub that survives heat and drought. 

When you change the garden with new plantings, it is a slow business. But change it by removing things, and it is instantly and dramatically different! Removing two small Snow Gums and several Echiums created an instant sunny grassy plaza of sorts.

The  2010 shrubby Echium look

The 2013 grassy Lounge Lizard look

My new 'grassy plaza' is actually a spring wildflower field, with a few native plants, like Derwentia perfoliata (Diggers Speedwell) and wildflowers like Californian Poppies. I've put out a dead branch to attract and provide comfort to any chilly lizards that will hopefully turn up. I've managed to restrain my former tendency to grow Echium all over the garden. I'll probably fill any gaps in my plaza with  indigenous grasses. 


If I was starting again I'd probably do things differently. Although then I suppose I'd just make different mistakes, and learn different things as I go along. It's heady stuff, this gardening passion.

The garden as it used to be. more formal and less wildlife - friendly, I think ...
than this,
and this.
Human juvenile wildlife in the garden


In her (highly recommended) blog, Plant Posting, Beth has a quarterly meme called Garden Lessons Learned. It's all very confusing. Beth is in the northern hemisphere, so her summer lessons are our winter lessons. As if that weren't enough to contend with - it's difficult to be sure whether this post / lesson is late for (our) winter or early for (our) spring.

   Stypandra glauca, Nodding Blue Lily, a native flowering grass

Eucalyptus leuxocylon

Grevillea shiressii, Blue Grevillea


35 comments:

  1. Catmint - I'm glad you shared what you learned because it explains why my lizards are always on top of my elcheapo solar lights -- they are sunning themselves! I don't mind the bees, birds, butterflies and other assorted bugs but I could do without those lizards! Do you eat your olives?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Linda, Your solar lights obviously double up as lizard lounges! I'm surprised you don't like lizards. I think they're cute, and they're very useful, keeping lots of bugs in check. Yes, we eat the olives, give them away to whoever will have them, as well as share with the birds.

      Delete
    2. Lizard lounges, cute! I'm not crazy about lizards because they are always skittering across my dry leaf mulch and my first thought is, always, "SNAKE!!!"

      Delete
  2. I do like these Echiums. In our country they are not hardy, but in the past I sowed them in my greenhouse and put them in the garden in spring. They show so beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks for the comment Janneke, I agree, they are unusual and very special plants.

      Delete
  3. as another blogger said - a mess with a plan. We are tidying some bits, and keeping others as they were for wildlife. When I water the roses, lizards dash out for a drink.

    If I was starting again, I'd try harder to choose the right plants for our wildlife. As the garden grows and changes, I need reminding of why I did that like that. When we first made our rain gardens I watched the mud wasps busy at the damp edge. Very overgrown with foreign dwarf papyrus, but I've opened up sections again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How wonderful - I'd be overwatering the roses, just to see the lizards drinking!

      Delete
  4. I do like the natural look in your garden. The native plants are very attractive, especially the Nodding Blue Lily. At one time, eucalyptus were planted throughout California and especially here in the Central Valley. I always loved the fresh fragrance but I guess they have become invasive and since they are non natives, are not so welcome any more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In general the look of the native plants is different to the exotic ones, they are not so colourful, more subtle and understated. I believe eucalypts have become weeds in several countries.

      Delete
  5. I too like the natural look but also your previous overflowing flower beds. I find gardening goes through phases with what people want and appreciate. If I did not design gardens for over twenty years, I would not be so aware of this fact. Personally, I like the wildlife and plant with that purpose, but I also design formal gardens as well. My own garden is a bit of wild and a bit of formal. The one I designed here before the current was more informal. It is a matter of change. I like change. I have heard the "evolving together" reasoning, and while true, it still does not account for insects using non-native plants. In my next post, one PhD documented what plants insects used in her garden of over 400 different plants, both native and non-native. Her findings are surprising. I believe insects and birds feed on what they like and it is not always what we expect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Donna, I'm so pleased you've written this, because I want to be free to keep combining natives and non natives, and I'm observing native insects feeding on exotic plants. I want a wildlife - friendly garden, but don't want to have to obey rules.

      Delete
  6. What a lovely post, Sue. I think any time you have lessons is a good time to post about them. I'll update the equinox post. I'm fascinated with lizards--probably because we don't have them here. So every time I travel to a place that has them I get very excited. That Blue Grevillea is a fascinating plant!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks, Beth. I'm fascinated with lizards too, and hardly ever see them in the garden any more.

      Delete
  7. It feels so natural and pleasant! When those birds and other animals found your garden, I think they will never go away. They like familiar surroundings I think. The birds that come to my garden is always the same. Not sure if they are actually the same but the same type will come again and again and almost at the same time. That plant, Echium, I like too :-D Btw, those wheat grass, if the weather is dry, it needs a plastic cover rather than cloth of steamer cover. You have a great week!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Steph, thanks for the comment, and the tip about the wheat grass.

      Delete
  8. I love how your garden is evolving into a natural reserve for wildlife. It is the sort of place I love to walk around and as a child could lose myself in play because it inspired my imagination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks Lynne, that's exactly how I want it to be, and it is finally becoming like that.

      Delete
  9. I wonder how many gardeners would do things differently if they could start again. And I wonder about the wildlife. There are different birds and insects now than years ago. It is also warmer than years ago. Does the new wildlife adapt to the indigenous plants or do the plants change as well?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hi Denise, thoughtful questions - everything's changing so fast, maybe an important role we bloggers can play is just to observe and record the changes.

      Delete
  10. Sue I really like your aside: "I suppose I'd just make different mistakes." None of us can ever make a perfect garden because we are ourselves imperfect and our conditions are forever changing. But there's something about having an intention that makes all the difference, and that's where you succeed. It's uncommon for gardeners to consider their garden to be a microcosm of a bigger world and treat it with due custodianship. You do though, and that's why your work is an inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. dear Faisal, thank you so much, what an incredible compliment.

      Delete
  11. My garden is a funny mix of formal and wild ...because we've got an acre and I can't always get round to sort things out!
    I'm slowly altering things so that it is more nature friendly...we have bucketloads of frogs, toads, newts, dragonsflies etc (and waaaay too many slugs and snails!), so I must be doing something right, but I've not yet achieved that glorious look that your garden has got! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. dear NG, lovely to hear from you, it's been a while... having all those critters is a brilliant achievement!

      Delete
  12. Sue this is a wonderful lesson. I learned it several years ago and have been redoing my garden to attract wildlife and create a habitat in a sea of chemicals and lawns that surround me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Donna, It's tough, isn't it? I'm in a similar position with a few exceptions. And if not lawns and chemicals, then it's houses covering the whole block, with maybe a concrete courtyard and some potted plants.

      Delete
  13. So important to attract wildlife to our gardens, especially here where so much countryside is being swallowed up by development. Since moving here 23 yrs ago, when there was hardly any wildlife in the garden, we are now living in a nature reserve! By providing habitats for various insects and mammals they soon move in and we co-exist together, its wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks for the inspiration, Pauline.

      Delete
  14. To garden is to make mistakes. I continue to make the same ones over and over again. Your gardens new more wildlife friendly look is beautiful although your echiums were gorgeous too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks og, I still have echiums, but they know their place - for the moment! I try to think of mistakes as learning opportunities, or creative experimentation??????

      Delete
  15. hi, Very nice blog:)
    I am a new gardner and a new blogger myself, check out me blog.

    http://seedgerminator.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/cabbage/

    Any suggestions and feedback will be appreciative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks Shipra, I look forward to checking out your blog.

      Delete
  16. I've been trying to strike a balance between natives and ornamentals. With my dry shade grow deeper every year, I find myself buying more and more plants that thrive in dry shade but don't attract wildlife. To compensate, every plant that grows in the sunnier parts of the garden, including all of my containers, must attract/support wildlife, with the exception of my roses.

    I started creating microhabitats this summer that I thought would attract our native skinks (type of lizard) and amphibians as well as pollinators. I'm not sure if the skinks ever moved out from under our very sheltered stone patio steps to venture over to the teensy rockery, but that's ok. I'm adding more rocks to my redesign this fall just in case any other lizards show up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Tammy, we have skinks too. Dividing the garden into microhabitats is a good way to go. I'm also looking for more and more plants for dry shade.

      Delete
  17. I love your blog posts. They always make me stop and think a bit. I like your concept of a grassy plaza. I'd really like to make my garden a bit more wildlife friendly - unfortunately, what the mostly means now is raccoons, and cat poop. I've never seen a eucalypti bloom before - pretty awesome!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks so much Wendy - wouldn't birds and insects accompany the mammals?

      Delete

Popular Posts