The makings of a backyard wildlife habitat are often unexpected, small and don't seem like they would be significant at first glance. The same is true for all the wildlife that benefits from the small additions. Most wildlife that will benefit from a backyard wildlife habitat is small and diminutive like birds and beneficial bugs. But these small creatures can provide very large benefits to your outdoor space.
Saving money and time
By working as a partner with these little guys I've stopped having to spend money on bug sprays and killers, I spend less money conditioning the soil to get things to grow well, and my garden maintenance chores have slowly decreased because nature does a lot of the work for me.
Abalone shells as "water features"
Decades-old abalone and clam shells left from a fishing trip on the Bay that happened long before we came here, now grace the raised garden beds I made from chunks of repurposed concrete. The shells catch water from rainclouds or the garden hose so lizards, bees and butterflies can get a sip of water when they need it.
Just about everyone loves seeing butterflies in the garden, but why do I want lizards and bees to have a place to drink?
Why I want lizards in my garden
Lizards are a key component of my garden because they eat a lot of bugs (A LOT). They eat all the bugs I don't want including big nasty flies, young cockroaches and other creepy crawly nasties. And that's not all when it comes to the most prevalent lizard in my garden, the Western Fence Lizard. According to the California Academy of Sciences, the Western Fence Lizard's blood contains a protein that kills the Lyme disease-causing bacterium (Borrelia) that is carried in the guts of ticks. But if an infected tick bites a Western Fence Lizard, the Borrelia is killed off completely, leaving the tick's future bites harmless to other creatures. So the occurrence of Lyme disease is lower in areas where these wonderful little lizards live and thrive. Of course I want them as permanent residents!
Why I want bees and paper wasps in my garden
Bees (honeybees, carpenter bees, paper wasps and others) are also a key component of my garden. They pollinate all the fruits and vegetables to make a good harvest possible. They are all extremely docile while on the hunt for nectar and water. I never worry about being stung. I provide them with year-round nectar with hardy bloomers like the lavender. Even though it's November right now, the lavender is in full bloom again, and the pollinators are happy. The lavender will continue to be a nectar source throughout the bloom-deficient winter months when bees in our climate still forage because daytime temperatures are often mild and above 40F/5C on the coldest days.
Benefits of potted lavender
Again, the lavender is growing in simple terra cotta pots set directly on the ground. They take up little space and are drought tolerant. The large pots also provide habitat for the lizards to hunt in and around. I often find them sunning themselves by one of the lavender pots waiting for a flying insect to come into range so they can pounce on it. Over time, each potted lavender has turned into a mini-hub-habitat. Strategically placed throughout the garden along paths, these pots help to balance each area by drawing the attention of beneficial bugs and critters to every place I need them. The added bonus of the simple system of potted lavender is that the scent of the lavender repels bugs I don't like (e.g., mosquitoes) away from places I like to sit. Another added bonus is I can go out and harvest lavender anytime I want to bring sprigs inside to repel unwanted bugs in the closets or pantry.
Back to the benefits of the simple abalone shells strewn about the garden beds...
If I lift one of the shells, I often find other insects have made a home underneath in the cool damp space out of the sunlight. Skunks and opossums rearrange the shells periodically to get to the grubs living under there. I patiently right the shells that get turned over so they can hold water again and brighten the garden with their pearly interiors.
Why I want skunks and opossums in my garden
Skunks (despite their smelly reputation) are great omnivores that eat insects, small rodents, lizards, and frogs as well as roots, berries, leaves, grasses, fungi (like mushrooms) and nuts. Opossums eat insects too--beetles, cockroaches, snails and slugs. Both skunks and opossums eat fruit that's fallen from fruit trees that would otherwise lay around and stink up the garden as it rots. Thanks to these two great critter species, I no longer have a problem with snails and slugs eating my beloved garden plants. And I don't have to spend money on pricey snail and slug bait to get rid of them either. These two species also keep my home and garden free of small rodents, as well as successfully preventing my garden from being taken over by the non-native bullfrog that can be a nuisance resident.
Little things mean a lot to Mother Nature
Over and over since I embarked on this journey of being a steward over a backyard wildlife habitat, I have had one simple truth reaffirmed... little things mean a lot. This is especially true when it comes to the beautiful balance nature can provide if given the opportunity.