Make your garden wildlife friendly

By Malaka Rodrigo

The land on which we have built our houses may have once been full of trees and home to birds, butterflies, dragonflies and small mammals. Some may have managed to survive, but others would have been forced to find new homes, having lost their habitat. Why not make your gardens more wildlife-friendly and encourage co-existence?

“Wildlife gardening is popular in European countries, but rather novel to Sri Lanka,” says Dr. Kapila Yakandawala, head of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Gardening, Wayamba University who together with the Postgraduate Institute of Science, University of Peradeniya organised the first ever workshop to be held on this subject on May 15.

It is not as hard as it sounds, says Dr. Yakandawala. You need to first plan out the landscape. Just as there are some fundamental principles of organic gardening (e.g. avoiding chemicals), there are principles that the wildlife gardener should keep in mind, namely providing food, water, shelter and breeding places which are the cornerstones of a wildlife garden.

But the options will vary with the kind of wildlife that you would like to attract to your garden. The nature of these four cornerstones can exhibit enormous variation depending on the target animal group. Breeding places for birds, frogs, butterflies and dragonflies may all be very different. Conversely, a single habitat feature can provide different cornerstones for different animals: a garden pond, for instance, provides an important drinking and bathing facility for birds as well as a breeding place for frogs and other animals.

Hence you need to first decide what kind of animals you want to attract to your garden. Observe the kind of animals that live around your area first. “There is no point preparing a garden to attract those who do not roam around your area,” said Dr. Yakandawala. Birds, butterflies and dragonflies are perhaps the most attractive and the most likely to survive even in home gardens of populated areas.

The birds that visit your garden may have varying food choices, some feeding on fruits, others preferring seeds. Nectar too is the staple diet of many garden birds like the sunbirds.

Providing a nectar bonanza will also be useful to attract butterflies into your garden. Water is the other necessity. Providing a source of dripping water can attract birds, though you will need to ensure their safety from predators like house cats. Also, make sure the water is changed and the bird bath kept clean. Having large trees or bushes provides shelter and will increase the time birds spend on your garden. Even small bushes provide shelter for many forms of visitors.

“Proper planning is the key,” emphasizes Dr. Yakandawala. Animals can quickly vote with their feet (or wings) and if your garden does not give them what they need, they will look for places that do. Provide breeding spaces to garden visitors. The breeding of any animal in your garden will be the ultimate certification that your garden is wildlife-friendly.

Trees, tree holes or hollows on walls can be ideal nesting locations for many animals. Butterflies use different plants to lay their eggs, so it is easy to make your garden a butterfly breeding ground by providing host plants. Use native plants as the larval stages of many insects are spent on them, he advises.

A small garden pond can also be very handy. It can be a breeding ground for dragonflies, be a good small eco-system and also serve many purposes. School gardens are perfect places for wildlife gardens and will give students a window to nature.

Even in small gardens, we can use the vertical space that is often overlooked. An arc of liana will provide refuge for at least a few species, suggests Dr. Yakandawala. Even those in apartments can provide a nectar station for birds and butterflies using pot-plants that have nectar.

“No matter how small your garden is, plan to make it wildlife-friendly,” urges Dr. Yakandawala.

(Dr. Yakandawala is happy to assist The Sunday Times readers – email him at for advice on ‘wildlife gardens’)

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