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GARDENING: Wildlife boosts city’s gardens

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The parks, pavements and gardens of our towns and cities provide important habitats for urban wildlife

October 7 is World Habitat Day. The commemoration day, the first Monday in October, was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985 and first celebrated the following year.

World Habitat Day encourages citizens to consider the state of a country’s towns and cities and the basic right to shelter.

As towns and cities grow to accommodate the human inhabitants, so the habitats of urban wildlife become smaller. Parks within these built-up areas provide green spaces which are not only beneficial for people to relax and unwind, but essential for birds, insects and many other creatures that live within the city limits.

Several years ago, pop-up parks or PUPs, were a popular sight in a number of cities across the world, from Europe to North America and Australia. These may be small or large, temporary or permanent and are created in unused or derelict lots, old parking areas, in town squares or along pavements. Pop-up parks do not only provide a place for people to gather and connect with nature, but also boost city biodiversity.

A study was conducted in Melbourne, Australia, to determine the impact of pop-up parks on biodiversity. Researchers studied planters of native grass species placed in a six-week pop-up park. The study revealed that in the presence of these planters, insect activity increased by more than 160%.

Creating a habitat

Pollinators such as bees and butterflies will frequent your garden if you include a range of flowering trees, shrubs and perennials. What amphibians and reptiles can you encourage to visit your garden and make a home there?

Frogs and toads

These are great guests to have in the garden as they naturally keep down the number of unwanted pest populations, feasting on beetles, cutworm and slugs. To attract these creatures to your garden, adopt organic gardening principles. Toads need shelter during the heat of the day, so place some overturned flower pots, propped up with stones, in a quiet area of the garden.

Frogs need water sources for breeding and a garden pond is a great way to encourage them to stay. Frog-friendly ponds have sloping sides, with stones and pebbles for perching and marginal plants that provide shelter and shade. In Cape Town the invasive guttural toad poses a threat to the survival of the western leopard toad, a local indigenous and endangered species, as they compete for habitat and resources.

The City of Cape Town urges residents to report sightings of the guttural toad. The two species look fairly similar, so check images on the website to identify the toad correctly. Access the reporting tool here.


The Cape dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion pumilum) is found in the Western Cape. Picture: Anton Bredell

A chameleon-friendly garden starts at soil level and extends to flowering perennials and shrubs that attract myriad insects to the garden. Plant species with different stem and branch diameters to allow both adult and juveniles plenty of places for perching.

A chameleon’s diet comprises a number of insects, including spiders and woodlice. A good layer of compost mulch, log piles or an insect hotel will provide a habitat for these insects, which in turn attracts chameleons for a tasty meal.

Habitat verge

While your pavement does belonging to your local municipality, it should not be neglected as it creates a first impression when guests arrive. It’s also an important green space that can be used to provide a habitat for the wildlife in your suburb.

How can you make your verge more wildlife friendly?

First check with your local municipality regarding any by-laws there may be in terms of flora on verges in your area.

If your verge provides a walkway for pedestrians, you’ll need to accommodate them with a space to pass safely.

To save water, remove as much lawn as possible and replace with low-maintenance plants, drought-tolerant and locally indigenous species.

Consider the view from the driveway and up the street and choose lower-growing plants to avoid blocking the view or posing a security risk. Low-growing species to consider include African daisies (Osteospermum), lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina), pelargoniums and the burn jelly plant (Bulbine frutescens).

Pelargoniums are hardy, water-wise plants for a verge garden. Picture: Lukas Otto

Taller varieties can be planted along a boundary wall. Consider a lavender hedge, Cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis), agapanthus, wild iris (Dietes grandiflora) or the honeybell bush (Freylinia tropica), with honey-scented, tubular flowers that attracts butterflies and moths. Honeybells are large shrubs that can be trimmed into a medium hedge.

After planting, add a thick layer of mulch to help retain moisture, but also to encourage increased insect activity. An arrangement of driftwood or small stumps looks attractive and serves the same purpose.

Choose organic products to control destructive pests where necessary.

Identify frogs in
their natural habitat

The field guide covers hundreds of frogs,
with tips for handling and identification. Picture: Supplied

Are you interested in learning
more about frogs and how to
identify various species? Field
Guide to the Frogs and Other
Amphibians of Africa, by Alan
Channing and Mark-Oliver
Rödel, is the first guide to cover
all 788 frogs, 23 caecilian and
four salamanders of Africa. 

The book, published by Struik
Nature, features an introduction
section with tips for handling
and identifying amphibians as
well as an illustrated guide to
each family group, a first step
towards species identification.

Each species is described with
its common and scientific name,
a detailed physical description,
distribution maps, habitat
and colour photographs.

index is provided too. ISBN:
9781775845126. RRP: R400 


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