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Creating Habitat Gardens


Notes prepared by Emmaline Bowman of STEM Landscape Architecture & Design, April 2024

Creating habitat gardens contributes significantly to local biodiversity and ecosystem health. By carefully selecting native and indigenous plant species, people can provide essential habitats for a variety of wildlife, including birds, insects, and small mammals. Having a holistic approach to habitat gardens means that these gardens will serve as refuge for a variety of native species, offering food, shelter, and breeding grounds. Moreover, they play a crucial role in preserving Australia’s unique ecosystems and combating habitat loss. Through thoughtful design and planting choices, habitat gardens can thrive in urban, suburban, and rural settings, fostering a deeper connection between humans and the natural world.

Above: Image depicting the hierarchy of animals in urban environments. If we plant local, native species, we can help native local wildlife as we can create spaces suited for them rather than exotic species.

There are many issues that threaten our local wildlife, this includes suburban and urban sprawl, development & disconnecting green spaces, deforestation & degraded green spaces, limited allocation of green space, traffic and infrastructure, degraded waterways, pollution, introduced plant and animal species and predatory pets.

It is estimated that over 60% of Australian households have one or more pets.

Cats and dogs are natural hunters and even those that are well fed are capable, when allowed to roam, of killing large numbers of birds, lizards, frogs, small mammals and insects

Common myths for pet owners

  • Bells on collars do not stop cats from predation. Cats learn to walk silently with a bell.
  • Night curfews don’t stop animals from predating on wildlife, cats and dogs adapt to the times they are given to get up to mischief.

To reduce the risk of our native animals being predated on, locate food and water bowls higher, plant your garden densely and situate nesting boxes up high.

Observe your local wildlife

By observing your local wildlife and the native vegetation in your area, you can design to encourage these species. By creating more habitat you will create green links that could connect to parkland, reserves and the wider environment, and as such help with a conservation effort to protect and restore these wild spaces

Plant native:

If we alter the species of plants to be more selected towards native and indigenous species, we can alter the hierarchy of animals that are drawn to the garden they are planted. If we were to have a fully European garden for example, we will create a hierarchy where European species are more likely to flourish, to preserve our local biodiversity we need to select these species to change the balance.

By planting Indigenous and native plants this is a great way to restore that balance.

Indigenous plants mean they are from Local provenance. Local forms have, over many millennia, have adapted to local conditions and by using local provenance in your garden, you are also creating a seed bank and conserving these local genes for future generations. You are also supporting local species that rely on these plants as a food source or habitat.

Even small gardens have BIG impact.

Creating a habitat garden does not necessarily mean that you need a large backyard to provide for wildlife. No matter the size, creating a habitat garden can have big impact, especially if we all do a little something…

Balcony Gardens.

  • Incorporate pots and planters. These planted beds can be planted with native/ indigenous plants that could provide for pollinators.
  • Water bowls- to provide a water source for birds, reptiles and insects.
  • Bug hotels to support and encourage insects.

Courtyard Gardens.

  • Courtyards offer diverse microclimates, which means you can adapt the plants to the environment.
  • Add logs and rocks, which will provide habitat to insects, amphibians and reptiles, they can also become a nature play element to children.
  • Introduce a small water feature or high up bird bath, to provide a water source to animals during warmer weather.
  • Go vertical in plant choices, you will be amazed to see what critters live in vines.

Small & Medium Gardens.

  • Always observe your local wildlife and what is in your closest park or reserve.
  • Introduce indigenous and native plants.
  • Provide a small pond, frog bog, or water feature.
  • Provide logs and rocks.

Large Gardens.

  • Always observe your local wildlife and what is in your closest park or reserve.
  • Introduce indigenous and native plants.
  • Provide a small pond, frog bog, or water feature.
  • Provide logs and rocks.

6 Key points to remember

  1. Stage it: If you are incorporating or designing a new garden, remember that the existing plants are providing habitat.  So, stage your work to ensure you are not displacing wildlife.
  2. Diversity: The more diverse the planting, the more wildlife you will attract.  A broader range of wildlife will occur where differing plant communities merge – where forest meets grassland or grassland meets scrubland as there are more opportunities for food and shelter.
  3. Balance: Creating habitat is about balance – plants in association with insects, water providing hydration and homes, birds and animals living with the available site, soil, nutrients, rainfall and sun.
  4. Natures Art: Rocks, boulders and logs can look great in the garden when planted around they also double as habitat, basking spots and protection to a wide range on animals.
  5. Excess: Using layers of leaf litter, groundcovers, grasses, shrubs and trees will provide a diversity of food
  6. Advertise: Mass flowering of the same plant species at the same time will be more noticeable to those walking by, as well as being an incentive for wildlife to visit.