A Tithe Garden

A tithe garden is one that is shared with people and other animals.
        

Tithes were a Christian Church levy: you paid a tenth of your income to support the Church and help the poor. And though tithes were abolished decades ago, I have a feeling that the Church may have got it right - when it gets down to it, a tenth of your income/effort/land is probably what most of us can spare. (Often of course we can - and do - spare a lot more. But a tenth is a good BASIC amount.)
 

A tithe garden is one that is shared with others- both with people and especially with other animals.
 In a tithe
garden you can either assume that you own the garden, and plan to share a tenth with others, or assume that humans simply rent the world and that one tenth of the garden just for you is a fair share. 
 

I don't think it really matters morally which one you choose- all of our circumstances are different (we happen to have a lot of land and a reasonable climate and the knowledge and experience to make a small bit of land feed us. If you can only spare one tenth, fine. It's the decision to share that's important.)
 

Either way, a tithe garden means accepting that others have a role and rights in your garden; that it's not for you alone.
 

We have a 'one tenth for us and nine tenths for everyone else' sort of garden. Nine tenths is planted with seed producers and wild fruit and blossomers and vegies gone to seed and one tenth is planted with crops or flowers just for us.
 

Actually there's no clear distinction between plants for us and plants for animals: I enjoy the nesting thickets and the grevilleas too...and of course the birds and others pig into our crops too.
But I did make a conscious decision that we wouldn't have a garden of apple trees, roses and carrots: the first priority is the animals' needs, not ours - except for one tenth that is just for us. 

 

Once you acknowledge that you don't 'own it all' your sense of injustice at depredations (mostly) vanishes. Instead of really getting mad at the rosellas (a little bit of jumping up and down at them is good exercise and cathartic too) I just say: Okay, they're taking their share. (Maybe we just need to conquer an inbuilt human desire to conquer and control all that we see.) 
 

 It's as though there's a mental barrier you have to leap over ... we've been bought up to accept that humans should have it all ... but when you cross that barrier and say: this is for you, this is for me ... well, most of your anger disappears even when the bastards take the lot.
 

As I write there are rosellas in the apple trees out my window, guzzling their way through the Gravenstein apples. At first sight it seems like the blighters are hogging the lot - especially as they've been at it for days. (I do yell at them sometimes but they don't take any notice. I'm just a crazy human who dances under the apple trees - not a real threat.)
 

When I actually look at what they've eaten, though, they've probably only taken twenty percent - two tenths not one, but then you can't expect birds to stick to the bargain absolutely. And while they've eaten more than their share of the Gravensteins they haven't got into the Johnnies yet or the Delicious or Lady Williams - all of which I like more than Gravensteins, and in fact they won't eat more than a tenth at all.  (One reason for their limited depredations of course is that they have plenty of wild species in our garden too, birds prefer wild fruit.)

 

 Most of our vegie garden is open to wallabies, snakes, bush rats, lizards, goannas, wombats, possums, roos, but there is a definite portion (finally) that is fenced to keep EVERYONE away and that bit's MINE. So now we do have corn again (it took the wallabies twenty years to realise corn was good stuff and scoff the lot every year). 

 

I don't know if any of you accept the theory of morphic resonance (that once someone knows something the knowledge is diffused throughout the race) but it certainly seems to work with wallabies. Once one blighter decides something's good the whole population move in the next day. It took the wombats ten years to discover that watermelons are good - but the next season every wombat was crunching them open... but maybe I'm just forgetting that wombats gossip on moonlit nights. Sorry, I know this is a digression - blame it on the tithe system - animals are so much of our lives here that stories about them keep creeping into other work too. Back to the subject...
        

Anyway now at least a bit of the garden is enclosed we do have carrots again too - yes, it was my fault the wombats learnt that carrots are delicious - I started feeding the 'house wombats' carrots then kicked myself when every one was dug up. If I'd had any sense I'd have fed them parsnips instead. Wombats are very fond of parsnips - fonder than I am and unlike carrots we always have parsnips to spare.
        

If I was starting a farm again I'd leave nine tenths of my land alone and assume my share was the rest. But large parts of our place have never been cultivated, and I don't include those in the tithe system. We're custodians, not owners - that bit isn't mine to give. So the tenth we do use is really a tenth of the 'humanised' land we inherited, the paddocks that used to be orchard and market garden, nine tenths of which we are 'letting go' back to bush.
       

  ('Letting go' is a most accurate way of putting it too - simply relinquishing control. There's a terrible myth that humans have to manage things to make them work. This place doesn't need reafforestation: just leaving alone while the gums grow back and the gullies fill with rainforest.)

What You Gain By Having a Tithe Garden

 

1. Pest control
When I first came here we had probably every pest that this region would support - including codlin moth, year round fruit fly, scale and dozens more. Most of the trees were dying of pest or disease attack, most of the crop was lost.

        

Now twenty years later I don't use pesticides or fungicides except to experiment. We still do have the pests, or most of them, but they no longer have an impact on the crop.

        

We practice natural pest control - designing areas where the predators control the pests for us. There isn't space here (the publisher is probably already grinding his teeth because this book is too long to be cost effective) to describe how it works. It would take a book in itself, which has already been written. See 'The Wilderness Garden', Jackie French, Aird Books, $17.95.

        

As a summary however - we don't have to spray, buy or mix sprays or worry about pests. This in itself may be enough of a reason to have a tithe garden.

 

2. Fertility

As any one who has kept a budgie knows, one bird produces an awful lot of manure. And we have hundreds of them, permanent and visitors.

        

Birds recycle nutrients in your garden and help feed your plants especially if you have nesting birds feeding elsewhere and dropping their lovely dung on your place. It's hard to quantify the amount of fertility we gain but I reckon its equivalent to several bags of Dynamic Lifter a year.

3. Entertainment

We don't have TV. Who needs it? There are lyrebirds dancing on the garden chairs, frogs sticking their tongues out at insects on the window at night (much more exciting and bloodthirsty than 'The Gladiators'), bower birds doing somersaults as they try to grab the kiwi fruit on the pergola outside the kitchen, baby swallows learning to fly and going flop on the paving and there's always a wimp who has to be coaxed to make that first jump. I could go on for pages and pages. In fact forever as I just described what I can see from the window outside - a continuous entertainment according to the season.

        

It is a far richer, more complex entertainment than you'll get on TV. Infinitely complex (why are there more juvenile bower birds this year? What is so fascinating to the eastern spine bills in the balled up roses? Your thoughts can run for miles.) It is also irrevocably linked to our lives. Who wants soap operas? We have plenty of our own.

        

(Edward's friends here don't miss TV either - they're too busy watching wombats play, lyrebirds roll giant zucchini down the hill, rosellas dribble apple pulp, spinebills hover as they stick their beaks into the sage.)

4. Complexity

See above. If you have fantasies of living in an artificial satellite with hydroponics and other humans well, this book isn't for you.

But if your dream of the Garden of Eden is one where other animals and birds are all around well, that's what you gain with a tithe garden. I could sit here all my life and just observe and work out why and how. It makes life in an air conditioned office seem awfully tame.

 

5. The future of the earth

Humans impact on earth and its ecosystems is increasing. More people treading more heavily and expecting more and more too.

        

Humans can't survive without other species, without complex systems around us. We haven't yet created an artificial biosphere that works, much less one that works indefinitely. Yet so many humans refuse to accept that the earth belongs to others too or at least hope that the bit of it other species will be given is somewhere far away ''This isn't a National Park, it's my back garden' as someone said to me recently complaining about the possum in her cherry tree.

        

If animals own the earth as well they own all of it, not just the sort of reserves whites once tried to herd native Americans and Australian and other indigenous people into. National parks are essential, but we need to allow other species into our everyday lives - not just for their sake, but our own.

 

6. Something indescribable

Do I mean soul? Or spiritual depth? Or just the wakening of ancestral memories when we too watched the wolves and hunted deer and were hunted in our turn? Or just a feeling of being one animal among many, the knowledge that this is the richness of the earth..

        

I don't know what it is or at least can't put it into words. But if you've felt it you'll know what I mean. Just like life is richer after you've been on a bushwalk, after you've watched a lizard darting at mosquitoes for half an hour, understood how yellow robins eat aphids because you've watched it, have a wombat choose to sit with you while you eat breakfast, two animals on a hill . . .

        

This is the heart of what I'm writing about and I don't have words to explain it. But if you've ever felt a hint of it, you'll know why I wrote this book.

 

Designing a Tithe Garden: Useful Items in a Tithe Garden

Fruit trees - lots of them. Birds like fruit. So do humans - it's one of the world's great joys to give away baskets of fruit.

        

EVERYONE has room for fruit trees - even if you only have a patio. Stick dwarf trees like dwarf peaches, dwarf nectarines, 'Ballerina' or other dwarf apples, cumquats, calamodens, chinottoes, strawberry guavas in pots; grow banana passionfruit up wire netting on the wall or over the balcony. (Banana passionfruit, Passiflora mollissima, are the most cold tolerant of the passionfruit and will even fruit meagerly in Canberra on a hot north-facing wall. Their flowers are glorious, big and gaudy pink. They are incredibly fast growing, drought hardy and wonderfully prolific. Birds adore their fruit and there'll be so much that you can snaffle a few for yourself too. They aren't quite as sweet as black or purple passionfruit - but fine for fruit salads, topping pavlovas and cakes.

        

One of the glories of a friend's childhood in Canberra was the most enormous conventional purple passionfruit vines that her parents had planted on the north-facing wall of their house. It covered the two storeys, framed the views from within the house out the windows and bore an embarrassingly gigantic crop of the most delicious fruit - so huge that all the neighbourhood children would gather and we would have seriously messy passionfruit fights. So they are certainly more cold tolerant given certain parameters than usually thought.

        

If you only have a small garden - and want a good amount of fruit for yourself - plant trees close together, say two metres apart in a hedge around your property. Now prune off the lower branches to let light down below (otherwise you'll have a garden like a dingy prison cell). The trees will hedge and if you don't mind using a tall hooked stick to get your fruit - or persuading a few kids to pick it for you - you'll get a good range of fruit all year round because so many trees mean you have a greater variety.

 

Who Gets What Fruit?        

If you relax and assume the birds deserve one tenth of the fruit you'll save yourself a lot of stress. I accept that all the high fruit belongs to the birds; the lower branches belong to any kid who wanders by and feels like a snack; the middle branches belong to me. If the birds refuse to follow this rule see 'Birds'.

 

Native Fruit        

Birds and fruit bats prefer native fruit. If they have native fruit they'll leave yours alone. See the chapter on birds for possible native fruits for your area.

         Native fruit has other advantages. As well as feeding - and decoying - birds and fruit bats, it provides reliable tucker in harsh seasons.

 

Fruit Without Fruit Fly        

Well there ain't no such thing but except in very bad fruit fly seasons you can be fairly sure that the following are pest free. So if you don't want the fruit for yourself but do want to grow it for others - try:

crab apples, especially M. floribunda, M. rubra and other small crab apples; cherry guava, kiwi fruit (they mature in cold weather and are gone by spring, avocadoes (currawongs love avocadoes and once they've pecked a hole in them the small birds peck too), cumqauts if you pick them all before summer, elderberries, orange tamarilloes, native figs or olives.

 

Flowers        

Flowers are perhaps the most valuable item in a tithe garden - even more than fruit. Many birds and other species are nectar eaters but insects are attracted to flowers too - and most species in the garden from nesting birds, even if they normally like nectar, to wasps, lizards, frogs, and certain possums love insects.

        

See 'Birds' for a good range of constant or regular flowerers that produce nectar or attract insects. Every garden should have at least six things flowering at any one time, and I don't mean six varieties of rose.

 

Climbing things        

Most of us don't want a jungle stretching along our garden. But most don't mind the odd bit of jungle going upwards.

        

Vines up posts and trellises tangle wonderfully - a perfect habitat for small birds' nests, possum nests, rats' nests (all right, you may not be so keen on that possibility), lizard hideaways, frog leaves, -they'll be relatively safe from predators and look good too, because even though the inner bit is a tangle of vines and old leaves, the outer covering may be covered with flowers. Consider climbing geranium, jasmine, honeysuckle... even the ones that may invade the rest of your garden are reasonably safe if you grow them up a tall post that you can mow around.

 

Thickets        

These are tough or dense places where birds, lizards, frogs et al feel safe and mostly are safe. The best places to find nests in our garden are: in the middle of giant rambling rose bushes - birds know, like Sleeping Beauty's evil godmother knew, that only handsome princes would bother to sneak through rambling roses or someone with a very good pair of clippers, ditto the cumquat, a good green thicket, vines (see above), bougainvillea, the loganberry mess down the back (nothing - even I - can find its way through there) and other prickly things.

        

Plant a group of three or more of the prickly grevilleas (G. rosmarinifolia or G. juniperina and their hybrids make a good starting point) and within two years they will have made a mound of intersecting branches decorated with a fairly constant display of flowers and small birds darting in and out of the safety of the tangled branches.

 

Water        

Look around your suburb. If you couldn't turn on a tap and didn't care for chlorinated swimming pools - where would you find water?

        

Water is the greatest constraint on how many animals live where. The lack of water is why you don't find many animals in the desert - or perhaps in your street. Even dogs and cats prefer larger bodies of water to the often hot, sometimes stale, water in pet bowls.

        

Fresh water is easy to provide, once you put your mind to it. There are two sorts of water you need to consider: drinking water and habitat water ie water for other species to live or breed in.

 

Drinking Water:        

Be wary of birdbaths - the birds may get used to it, then when you go away no one fills it up. Birds are much better able to scavenge for food than water and can go for longer periods without food than moisture.

        

Instead attach your bird bath to a dripper, so that tiny amounts are always flowing (less expensive than a dripping tap) or install a timer or a chook watering system - one of those great bottles upended on a drinking dish that you fill every few weeks. Of all of these I prefer the dripper - the water is always fresh but never in great amounts.

        

Make sure the water is in the shade too - sunlight means water evaporates and becomes hot and more likely to grow algae. It will probably get algae anyway unless it's regularly cleaned. The tiniest possible pinch of copper sulphate will destroy algae without killing wildlife.

        

Consider who you're providing the water for. Are they vulnerable to cats and dogs? Do they fly or climb? Simple ways of providing water include:

. hanging birdbaths - often as easy as just stringing up a nice pottery dish or even an old plastic wash basin (aesthetically less pleasing to you) that has a good edge for birds to perch on. Birdbaths are good under the eaves - lots of shade and with luck you'll see the bird cavorting from your kitchen.

. a bucket or other container (even an old garbage tin lid) strapped to a metal post or 'star picket' - buy from garden centres or hardware stores - or a more decorative wooden post.

. a basin under a dripping tap (if you're fairly sure birds won't be pounced on by neighbourhood cats)

  Wherever and however you arrange the water, make sure its

. always there

. in the shade

. clean and fresh

. has a spot to perch - and preferably a spot to observe and queue.

. in the same place every day - most birds and animals are creatures of habit.

        

A sprinkler going over the water supply for the odd half hour for a few days will let birds and other creatures know the water is there. Otherwise it may take weeks or months for them to discover it.

 

How to Make a Hanging Bird Bath (for possums, dragonflies, lizards and others too)

        

First of all you need raffia or waterproof string that won't rot in the rain and an attractive bowl. It doesn't matter how big the bowl is, or what shape. If it's wide and flat the birds will perch on it and splash; if it's deep they'll cling onto the edges and drink - but in both cases they'll be grateful.

 Turn the bowl over and fit the string around the rim - then tie it a little too small. Make another four rings the same size for extra strength.

Fit the strings around the bowl - they should just sit there without falling off - if they slip off make them smaller. Cut 12 lengths of string, plait them so you now have four plaits, then tie the plaits onto the ring of strings.

When you turn the bowl over you should be able to hold it up by the plaits. Now tie some cross pieces under the bottom for added security, tie the plaits to a tree branch, fill with water and watch the birds.

Moist habitat         Ponds aren't just great places for frogs and tadpoles. Lizards love them especially if there are rocks for basking on. They like to catch the insects that cluster over the water. Birds enjoy them, dragonflies need them to breed - in fact you'll find your garden is much richer if you have a wet spot.

 

Garden Ponds        

These can be the classic lily pond - either homemade or bought prefab. Home made ones are relatively easy as long as you have a bit of confidence in shoving things together yourself.

 

How to Make a Home made pond        

Dig a hole. Make sure the edges slope gradually. Line it with old chook wire (from the dump or redo the chook house) or new chook wire. This makes it more flexible and less likely to crack.

        

Buy sand and cement. (You can buy it premixed but it's much more expensive.) Make a good mix of 1 part cement to four parts sand. Add water till it's the consistency of a loose cowpat. Spread thickly over the wire in the hole. Let it dry a little then smooth.

        

This is of course just the basic recipe. Add the odd big rock around the edges or even in the centre (make sure the seal is good between the rock and the cement. Seal it half way up the rock if you can. In any case a few, or lots of, rocks around the edges with plants in between greatly increase the attractiveness of the habitat. You can also bung in a few rocks in the middle when it's set but gently, gently so it doesn't crack.

        

Pond liner is even simpler than concrete. Real pond liner is a butyl rubber and very strong and resilient but not cheap. Black plastic is cheaper but doesn't last and can taint the water too.

        

Now fill with water.

        

Well-planned lily ponds have a drain at one end so you can let the water out. If you are good with plumbing you'll find several good books in the library that will give you instructions. We just bucket ours out when we want to clean it - the thickish water (what with weed, algae and assorted droppings) is good for the garden. and there are very many buckets full. You can also siphon the water out if you want to water an area below the pond - this is the best if you don't want to stir the pond up - you can even choose which part of the pond to drain - you can concentrate on the murky layer at the bottom or you can replace the warm deoxygenated water further up.

        

The easiest way to fill a pond is with a hose. We have a hose connection poking up through the base of ours and an ordinary microjet attached to that. When the microjet is on we have a simple fountain. (I say it's ours but the birds probably would claim it too.)

        

See 'Frogs' for way of keeping cane toads out of ponds. Dogs are best kept out by saying No in a firm voice (assuming your dog is trained enough to recognise the word) or by covering with builders mesh. Builders mesh may look ugly but birds love perching on it.

 

A Tyre Swamp        

Water is fun - but a very little is all most animals need. Boggy bits are just as useful.

        

To make a simple swamp forage a few old tyres from the local garage. Place them in a circle or any pattern you like for that matter. Now bury them so that their rims are level with the soil.

        

Part fill the tyres with sand, smoothing it up so that the centres are neat egg shaped cavities rather than deep holes. Dig out the spaces between the tyres and line them with sand too, so you have a pattern of bumps, lumps and hollows.

        

Cover the whole lot with pond liner. Place rocks in between the tyres - small piles if you can so they have lots of crevices for beasties to hide in. Fill crevices with dirt.

        

By now you'll probably have hauled the pond liner up a few times to deepen some bits and raise others. Just give yourself a few hours to play around and see what works.

        

Finally water well. Part of the dirt will slide into the ponds, so you need to add more to the rocky bits. Eventually you'll have sandy dirty ponds (which will soon clear) and hummocks of rock and dirt. Plant the hummocks with ground covers. Plant out the rocky bits, then place pots of waterlilies et al in the swampy bits or plant watercress or mint at the edges.

        

The secret of a home-made swamp is to plant is as soon as it is made. Otherwise it'll be an eyesore. Most water edging plants grow very fast, so you should only have a few weeks of ugliness.

        

But the birds, frogs and reptiles et al will love it.

 

PS. Don't worry about mosquitoes as long as you've got tadpoles and lots of frogs. We have had no more mozzies since we built our pond, in fact maybe fewer as we have more frogs. Ours breed mostly in damp foliage anyway.

Island or Moated Gardens         If there's a damp or boggy bit in your garden consider major earthworks - build up islands so that instead of a flat boggy patch you have high ground and low ground - or islands and moats. Grow crops on the islands. (They'll also be far more frost free, safe from wallaby and goat attack - or stick a chook house there for free fertility so the chooks are safe from foxes.)

 

Plants for Wet Spots        

NB The more plants in and around your pond the better - for shelter, for food (and to attract insects for food for other species) and for general aesthetics. Most creatures seem to prefer a well vegetated pond.

        

The following are my favourites:

Plants to grow in the pond itself. (Plant in large pots at least 30 cm deep):

Lotus - sacred (Nelumbo nucifera).

        

All parts of the sacred lotus are edible. Temperate to hot areas, though there is a southern native lotus that is also apparently edible.

Waterlily (Nymphaea spp)

        

Choose your waterlily according to your climate - once established they tolerate extreme neglect. Eat the cooked rhizomes or peeled stems; other parts of the plant are also edible. Waterlilies provide shelter for tadpoles from marauding birds.

Iris - several species are water tolerant, especially Iris kaempferi or Japanese iris.

        

There is an enormous arum lily relative that goes by the name of Green Goddess - it is huge and has wonderful green and cream lily flowers that will grow in the water or at the edge.

Plants for the wet edges and swampy bits:Kuwai, water potatoes, duck potatoes, false water chestnuts (Sagittaria sagittifilia sinensis).

        

We were given tubers of this by a neighbour - they'd grown for decades in poor soil, died down in Braidwood's freezing winters and returned each spring. Kuwai is very like the waterchestnut, but much hardier, tolerating colder winters and longer dry periods. Don't eat kuwai raw.

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis).

        

Choose the cultivated marshmallow if you can get hold of it, not the weed form. Cultivated marshmallow has mucilaginous edible roots, once used to make marshmallows (gelatine is used nowadays). The young leaves can be used as a cooked or raw vegetable.

Mints (Mentha spp)

        

These prefer damp soils. Some like spearmint and eau de cologne mint and watermint will grow in still or running water. We grow them around our fountain - and they invade the pool happily. Many 'escapees' (not from our garden) grow wild in our creek, as do at least two native Australian mints. (See 'The Book of Mint', Jackie French, Harper Collins 1993) for a full list of possible mint varieties. Vietnamese mint (Polygonum odorata) also prefers wet soils.

Sweet Flag, Calamus (Acorus calamus)

        

This is mostly grown for its sweet root, used in perfumery, but it is also edible and can be eaten candied or used to perfume jellies. It won't flower unless grown in wet conditions, preferably by the side of ponds or dams.

Taro (Colocasia esculenta 'Euchlora').

        

Tolerates hot to temperate climates, but only mild frost. The plant grows to about one metre high, with wide leaves and a swollen stem base or tuber, harvested when it's large enough to bother with (it can get enormous but is usually harvested after 6 - 8 months). The small side tubers are then replanted. The cooked roots are edible but need experience to prepare. Other varieties are grown for their edible or ornamental leaves.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

        

This will grow in cool sun or semi-shade, in moist soil or in running or still water. It is suitable for cold to cool temperate climates, or hotter climate with cold water. In cool to cold areas it stops growing in winter and may die down; in warmer areas it grows all year. Sow seed at any time of year, cut when it's big enough to bother with.

Water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcius)

        

We grow our water chestnuts in damp soil, they can also be grown in shallow water. they tolerate total drying out for weeks once the bulbs are large. They are suitable for hot or cold climates. Harvest the root in autumn before the leaves die back in the cold, eat thinly sliced raw or stir fried with other veg. Feed well for good growth though the plants survive in poor soil.

Ferns - Blechnum spp and most other ferns love growing round the borders of swamps and ponds.

The ones above are reasonably easy to get hold of. More specialist suppliers can provide you with:

Siberian Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Water avens, geum (Geum rivale)

Gunnera (Gunnera manicata)

Bog sage (Salvia uliginosa)

Cunjevoi lily (Alocasia macrorrhizos)

Saw sedges (Gahnia spp.)

Nardoo (Marsilea drummondii)      

Fringed water lilies (Nymphoides spp)

Bulrush, Cumbungi (Typha domingensis)  

 

Tall trees and pergolas        

This is a way of getting more garden for your space. You may only have a quarter of an acre flat but if you send your garden skywards you can have two or three times more.

        

Birds, possums, bats et al like to roost up in tall trees - or at least perch and survey the world. If you don't have a tall tree - and don't want one either - stick in a tall post, with a cross piece on it and grow a creeper up it. The birds can perch up it, and myriads of creatures will nest in the thicket of the creeper.

        

In fact even a common garden swing will attract roosting birds - look at the white streaks on swings in playgrounds. As long as it's tall and perchable it will be used

 

Bark        

As in the rough stuff on trees, not what dogs do. Good things live under bark - insects and lizards. And birds like black cockatoos and tree creepers love to eat what's under bark too. Many birds also need bark for their nests.

        

Note: Just as I wrote the above I looked out the window and watched a skink climbing through the rough bark of the pepper tree outside the window. The bark provides cover, camouflage, insects, it's a lot harder for a cat or snake to catch a lizard on a tree than it is to catch a lizard in grass or on a fence or paving. So about six metres of habitat for the lizard and the tree takes up very little space in the garden as we've pruned off the lower branches so the plants below get plenty of light.

Rocks or bricks or a nice hot fence somewhere where lizards can bask in the sun and soak up heat but duck for cover if a kookaburra or cat prowls by

 

Grass        

When I was small I wondered what the world was like before lawn mowers. Didn't the grass grow and grow and just keep on growing till it was over peoples' heads?

        

All grass grows to a maximum length and then stops. Usually not a very tall height either. It's weeds that grow like Jack's beanstalk. And it's mostly weeds that make lawns look untidy too. Grass can be long enough to seed but still fairly even and (almost) neat looking - but add a few weeds and it looks like shaggy Harry.

        

Grass is good stuff. It's only lawns that are unfriendly (especially those lawns that you aren't allowed to walk on. My son's school has one like that. Footless grass is one of the stingiest things in creation) Lawns have to be mown on Saturdays, fertilised, pesticided, herbicided, trimmed. Grass just grows and if it's lucky gets a haircut now and then and a scatter of Dynamic Lifter or other food once a year.

        

Everyone likes grass except the odd fanatic. If you want a native garden try a native grass (a spread of Kangaroo grass can be stunning).

        

Dogs like grass - they like to romp on it, sleep on it, chew it when they're feeling sick. Cats like grass. They can look over it and pretend they're mountain lions searching for their prey. Kids like grass. It's good for cricket, riding bikes and rolling on.

        

Lovers like grass for canoodling on, friends and families to picnic on...

        

Birds love grass seed (a flock of red headed finches sweeping through the grass is one of my favourite sights at breakfast); lizards prowl through grass - they like its protection against birds and other predators and if you're lucky enough to have grass eaters in your garden - from wombats to geese - well, you'll know the importance of a lush green crop.

        

Grow lots of grass, it doesn't have to be turned into lawn and golden grass is just as beautiful in summer as diarrhoea green. Grass is friendly stuff. It's a pity it's been cliched into squares of green carpet that need cosseting and endless resources.

 

Make Use of Your Eaves        

Eaves and the ground under them are mostly dead space - a few spiders' webs (please never get rid of spiders' webs. Spiders eat pests and birds eat spiders... and many birds need spiders' webs to stick their nests together and if they don't have webs the nests fall apart. We had lovely dangles of spiders' webs here for years till the bird numbers increased and suddenly one year we had no webs at all. Now we have the odd web in winter but they vanish by early spring, transmogrified into secure bindings for grass and bark and any bits of wool, wire, fur, feathers the birds find to make their nests with.

        

Everyone has eaves - even if you live in a flat. So hang things from them - bird feeders and birdbaths (which will provide water for other creatures too).

        

Which brings me to....

Hanging Baskets        

Birds love hanging baskets. Not just the tomatoes and other fruits you may care to grow in them (try baskets of strawberries too, blueberries, flowers) but also the coconut fibre or wool liners. They make great material for birds' nests.

        

One window eave should be able to hold at least four hanging baskets - if not more for large windows. Don't hang them in a straight line: a few up, a few down and it looks much better and you can fit many more in.

        

Note: Possums find it difficult to pinch stuff from hanging baskets - they're too unstable.

 

Don't dig        

Digging kills insects. (Anyway it's bad for your back and your temper). Mulch instead.

 

Mulch        

Mulch feeds worms and worms feed birds and lizards. Mulch is also a great shelter for all sorts of things. It's good for gardens too - but that's in other books.

© Jackie French