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!

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SPRING FLOWERS IN …

… The Great Fish River Reserve. There might not have been enough rain to fill our storage dams so that we still have to deal with the water supply being on for one day and off for two, but … the light early spring rains have turned the grass green and the brought out the indigenous flowers. The veld is awash with these beautiful Common Gazanias (Gazania krebsiana) that typically grow throughout southern and tropical Africa.

Magnificent shrubs of Crossberries (Grewia occidentalis) are in bloom all over the veld. Some have been browsed so low that they look like bonsais, while others scramble over other trees and yet others have been able to take o the form of small trees themselves. They are all in flower.

Then there are these attractive yellow flowers, which may belong to the Gnidia  – the Saffron Bush) family. I would love a positive ID.

Bright blue flowers sprawl over rocks or peep from under shrubs. These are the Ecklon’s Commelina (Commelina eckloniana).

These delicate reddish flowering succulents are possibly Kalanchoe rotundifolia. There are plenty of them blooming now.

By no means the last of the flowers, but certainly among the very showy ones at this time of the year, are those of the Puzzlebush (Ehretia rigida). Some of these trees have also been browsed very low, whilst others have matured into small trees growing in the wooded grassland.