All aflutter: Create a garden friendly to butterflies and birds
A biodiverse garden is a good host to all manner of life, and those life forms help it thrive too. See how to pick the right plants and tend to them in ways that make room for everyone.
How much do you really know about the birds and the bees? Jokes aside, it’s an important question when planning a garden — whether in an outdoor space, on a balcony, or just in a window-box. This Earth Day, learn how to build a biodiverse garden, one that draws a range of birds, butterflies, dragonflies and bees to it.
A palette of greens
Birds, bees and butterflies use plants and trees for a variety of reasons: as a source of food, a source of shelter, a place to rest. Manicured lawns and ornamental plants such as the duranta, snake plant and money plant attract little to no biodiversity.
So, what’s a good bet if one wants plants that are perfect hosts? The options range from lemongrass to kari patta and roses. Roses of all kids attract bees. Jacaranda flowers are a source of food for sunbirds, as are hibiscus flowers. Flowers of the West Indian jasmine plant are a nectar source for butterflies, who incidentally lay their eggs in common shrubs such as the kufiya.
“Biodiverse gardens are stepping-stone habitats, patches of landscape that offer living things refuge as they move between patches of their own habitat. In cities, they can even attract more biodiversity to an area,” says Prerna Agarwal, ecological design consultant and founder of the Pune-based ecological consultancy Ecosphere Connect.
Don’t have a lot of space to spare? Agarwal suggests edible and flowering plants. “The kadi patta plant is a great host for butterflies and its flowers act as a nectar source,” she says. “Bulbuls like to eat their berries.” Tulsi and drumstick are similarly hospitable.
Grasses such as lemongrass and citronella and climbers like Malabar spinach and blue pea can create the illusion of layers of vegetation. “These layers create room in which a variety of birds and butterflies can co-exist,” Agarwal says.
Make room for creepy-crawlies
Insects and bugs are a garden’s friend. They help with pollination, eliminate harmful pests such as mealybugs and leaf miners, and act as a food source for birds and insects. Green lacewings, ladybirds and garden lizards are natural predators, and their presence is a sign that a garden is thriving.
It’s important to create space for moths too, says Bengaluru-based lepidopterist Pritha Dey. Not only are they a food source, the nocturnal insects are also great pollinators of night-blooming plants such as jasmine and tuberose.
Keep your garden slightly unkempt. Let some dead leaves and twigs stay where they fell, so that the moths have somewhere to hide during the day, Dey says. If you have the space for it, says Agarwal, create a log pile. Put out some bird baths. And it could soon be a haven for you, and for dragonflies, damselflies, ladybugs and birds.
Treat your garden like your masala box, Agarwal advises. “Just as every spice adds flavour to your food, every organism contributes towards the health of a garden. So create room for everyone.”