GROWING INDIGENOUS PLANTS FOR BIRDS
Some visitors are very quiet when they enter my garden. I can imagine their suppressed horror and their hands itching to clear it. They might venture something along the lines of “Your trees are so green” and happily move indoors. Others exclaim with delight and say something along the lines of “I hope we’re going to have tea outdoors.” I enjoy the latter.
Of course there are a myriad commonly planted flowers that not only look beautiful, but are attractive to a variety of pollinators. Years of drought cycles have taught me the harsh lesson about the amount of water required to keep flowerbeds looking attractive year-round. Indigenous plants, on the other hand, may not be as ‘showy’, yet they have consistently proved to be hardier and require a lot less water.
We all know that the availability of water is an important factor when gardening. For me shade (our summers get very hot), privacy, pollinators, and especially attracting birds have been priority guiding factors in my gardening endeavours – another is that I get by with very little assistance.
On with indigenous plants that birds also enjoy.
Aloes may look drab to some for much of the year. I enjoy their various shapes and spiky leaves. When they are ablaze with colour during the winter, however, it is difficult not to admire them.
Their nectar-rich flowers emerge at the time of year when food is more difficult to find. Apart from insects, a host of birds are attracted to the flowers. These include weavers, Cape White-eyes, sunbirds, and Blackheaded Orioles.
Our garden is too large for one person to handle comfortably and so, since our arrival, I set the bottom terrace aside as a ‘wild’ garden. I call it my ‘Secret Garden’ and – other than clearing a path through it once a year – let it be. This section is dominated by an enormous Natal fig that attracts African Green Pigeons, Knysna Turacos, Redwinged Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds, Black-collared Barbets, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Paradise Flycatchers, Redeyed Doves, Hadeda Ibises, and Grey Sparrows, to mention a few. We have planted many other indigenous trees over the decades, which have now matured and provide both food and shelter. Clivias also abound in this garden.
As you can imagine, the leaf litter here is thick and spongy underfoot. It is regularly raked over by Olive Thrushes and Cape Robin-chats. Red-necked Spurfowl comb through it as do pigeons and doves. I strongly suspect a Fiery-necked Nightjar has found refuge there too. Wood from dead exotic trees has been left to rot: providing a home for insects and food for Cardinal Woodpeckers and Green Woodhoopoes.
You could accurately describe my garden as ‘wild and woolly’ – many regard it as being unkempt. I love it: I garden for birds and my monthly bird lists prove that a wide variety of avian visitors do too. Some indigenous plants, such as the Cape Honeysuckle and Canary Creepers, are rampant growers that need to be kept in check by pruning once they have flowered. Both provide a rich supply of nectar that attracts a variety of bird, bees, butterflies and other insects. Here is a Cape Honeysuckle:
This is a small sprig of canary creeper:
The indigenous Plumbago not only produces beautiful blue blossoms that attract various pollinators, but the thickly tangled stems are ideal nesting spots for Cape Wagtails, Cape Robin-chats and Cape White-eyes. Plumbago also needs regular pruning to keep it in check.
Large Erythrina caffra trees dominate our back garden. Apart from hosting Hadeda Ibises at night, their bounty of lichen-covered branches, seasonal leaves, seeds and beautiful scarlet blossoms attract a host of birds such as weavers, Cape Crows, African Hoopoes, Fork-tailed Drongos, African Green Pigeons, Speckled Mousebirds and Green Woodhoopoes.
A similar variety of birds are attracted to the Crossberries that have seeded themselves all over the garden as well as this Puzzle Bush at our back gate.
They also enjoy the Dais cotonifolia trees – some planted and others self-seeded.
The very beautiful Cape Chestnut tree we planted about thirty years ago attracts a variety of pollinators and birds too.
Birds and indigenous plants go hand-in-hand and are a recipe for tranquillity and joy – whatever the season!
The genus Erythrina contains over a hundred species in different regions of the world. Six of these are indigenous to South Africa and two of them are common in the part of the Eastern Cape where I live. During our recent trip to the Western Cape and back, I was struck by the number of Erythrinas that are still in bloom. The smaller Erythrina lysistemon is probably the most widespread and was commonly seen at various places along our journey. This tree is growing next to the N1 just outside of Grahamstown:
These trees flower prolifically during the winter and early spring and brighten up the countryside:
The scarlet flowers are very eye-catching with their relatively long petals that enclose the stamens:
Growing next to this was an example of the other fairly common species, the Erythrina caffra. Its flowers are more open and have an orange hue. Note the backward curving petals and exposed stamens:
Three of these trees grow in my back garden, their pretty blossoms also appearing during winter and into the spring:
The flowers of both these trees attract a variety of insects and birds, providing much-needed sustenance during these ‘lean’ seasons of the year.
BIRDS EATING FLOWERS
I have often noticed the tubular flowers of the Cape honeysuckle lying on the ground as if something had deliberately cut them off – well, that ‘something’ has generally proved to be one or other of the weavers that frequent our garden! Keen to get to the store of nectar at the base – and having beaks far too short to reach inside – the weavers simply nip off the base of the flowers for their prize snack.
During July and into early August, I have observed the stalks of the Aloe ferox growing outside our lounge have increasingly been stripped too. This time I caught a pair of Streakyheaded Seedeaters in the act. Apart from probing the base of the flowers to get to the nectar, they also eat the buds, anthers and stamens – this picture was taken through the window:
Other birds enjoying the rich source of nectar from aloes – only they have the long curved beaks to poke into the flowers – are the Green Woodhoopoes that chuckle and cackle their way through our garden every now and then:
The tall Erythrina caffra tree in the back garden hosts a wide variety of birds throughout its fairly long flowering season. Cape Weavers appear to be very partial to nectar and are considered to be among the more important pollinators of aloes. This one is snacking on one of the Erythrina caffra flowers:
A Blackheaded Oriole takes a turn to feast on the flowers too:
MY DELIGHT: PRETTY SKIES
To celebrate the changing nature of the sky, we will begin with a beautiful sunrise:
Then move on to the early morning mist filling the hollows of the countryside:
As the sun rises higher, we can enjoy a beautifully clear blue sky set off by the scarlet flowers of Erythrina caffra:
In this dry land, the sight of clouds gathering is always a hopeful one:
So are beams of sunlight shining through the cloud cover after a storm:
Whenever a Berg Wind whips up dust, or there have been veld fires in the area, we get to enjoy particularly spectacular sunsets: