Several years ago I was honoured to receive a plaque from the Canadian Wildlife
Federation (CWF), recognizing my garden as a wildlife-friendly habitat. I’m very
proud of that, and here’s the best part: anyone can get one, and it’s easy to do. Go to The Canadian Wildlife Federation to learn more and as well, visit the Garden Habitat Certification Program.
I have frequent visits from foxes, chipmunks and red squirrels, as well as the typical
grey and black squirrels, raccoons, skunks and possums. Also, my garden is full of
birds: hummingbirds, orioles, jays, cardinals, wrens, sparrows–as well as several
red tailed hawks that swoop through, hunting for a meal.
Several toads are in residence and though I’d love to see some snakes I haven’t been
so fortunate–yet. Spring usually sees a few frogs in pond, but they soon disappear
after something gets into the pond at night, overturning plants, and splashing
duckweed everywhere. The frogs vanish one by one and I’ve always blamed the
raccoons–the prime suspect for all pond thefts–until I saw a mink slinking through
the garden! A mink! It was thrilling–even more so because I don’t live in the
country. I live on a standard-sized, modest plot in a very urban and busy area in the
To make your garden more attractive to wildlife, you simply need to provide a few things: water, food and shelter. And, you need to ensure you don’t use any toxic chemicals that will injure wildlife or the soil. This will help create a balanced
ecosystem of plants, birds, mammals and insects–as well as organisms in the soil–that thrive together. The bonus is you get to enjoy the year-round visits from wildlife, which adds energy and joy to every garden.
You should plant a variety of native perennials, shrubs and trees to provide food and shelter for birds. These will also support pollinators and insects that need specific native host plants to survive and successfully reproduce, but you’ll also increase habitat for migratory birds–many of which are vulnerable or at risk.
I feed birds year-round, though many people prefer not to feed in summer. If you plant a variety of shrubs that have seeds and fruit–like serviceberry, elder, viburnum, birds will happily feast on those. And if you plants perennials like rudbekia and asclepias, you will be providing a buffet for wildlife.
Ideally you will provide a source of water, especially in the winter. All animals need water year round–and while we may think to feed birds we often forget water. I have a pond that I keep open with a small floating heater, as well as a heated birdbath.
Basically, a wildlife garden asks you to do less, not more. Less clean up. Less maintenance. Less lawn. Don’t cut perennials stems down in autumn. That will allow birds to eat seeds, and insects to hibernate in dry stems. Also, birds and small mammals will need to gather leaves and plant fibers to build their nests in spring. If you can’t resist tidying–then wait until after frost to cut everything down and leave the stems on the ground or piled in a hidden corner of your garden until spring, until insects have emerged.
Hang onto your leaves and branches–don’t put them out to the curb. Instead, pile them behind shrubs or behind a shed, to allow insects, amphibians or small mammals to have shelter, especially over the winter. Since brush and leaves aren’t food waste there’s no worry your piles will attract vermin, and they won’t be an eyesore if tucked behind plantings.
Some people fear that wildlife gardens will look messy or that they will attract vermin, which isn’t true. If you walked past my garden I doubt very much you’d dismiss it as ‘messy’. It’s full of blossom and fragrance, from both native and exotic plants and it’s beautiful–and I also have the benefit of frequent visits from local foxes and chipmunks, as well as dozens of bird species, butterflies and moths.
Of course I hear a lot about ‘nuisance’ animals, like raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, skunks and possums. They definitely visit my garden but whether they are in fact a problem is all a matter of perspective. Nocturnal mammals, like skunks, possums and raccoons, dig through the garden looking for slugs and beetles. Yes, they can make a mess, but it’s only as big a deal as you make it. And they are beneficial; despite several recent bad years for Japanese Beetles, I never saw one in my garden. And, I have dozens of hosta plants and never have slug damage–because the skunks, birds and chipmunks eat them all.
Sure, squirrels will dig everywhere–either looking for food or burying things randomly. But, since I’ve been providing peanuts they aren’t eating my plants. In fact, they’re getting fat—which makes them easy prey for my fox friends who visit. Nature…it does balance out.
My dream is to have the garden full of foliage, fruit and blossom, but also to be humming with insect and pollinator life. Having all those insects in the garden encourages other creatures to visit, looking for food. Insects will feed on plants, and birds and mammals will feed on the insects. And, occasionally a larger mammal might come hunting. Everything in the garden is interdependent. It’s a balance, just as everything is on Earth.
Many people think they are pests, but they are wonderful guests to have visit your garden. An adult possum will eat up to 5,000 ticks a year, and they also eat roaches, rats, mice and carrion. They are the garden clean up crew. They are the only marsupial native to North America, which has to count for something! Look at the poor mama carrying around her kids–if that doesn’t soften your heart toward opossums…