The open area

Last month I introduced you to the four habi­tats that make up an ideal wildlife garden. Now we take a more in-depth look at one of these four habitats, the ‘open area’. Most gardens have an open area, in the form of mowed lawn.

Although this area may look ster­ile, it is an ideal habitat for certain wildlife spe­cies, particularly birds with long legs such as the Hadedas, Plovers and Dikkops. These birds prefer a clear view around them as well as a ‘runway’ for taking off. The lawn supports a huge insect population as long as chemicals are not used, and these provide a source of food for many wildlife species. The Fiscal shrike will sit on a branch at the edge of the open area and swoop down as soon as movement is detected. Hedgehogs will venture into the open area at night and then retreat to the exclusion zone as dawn breaks. The Olive thrush and other avian species can be seen dragging worms out of the lawn in the early morning.

The lawn is an important area for controlling the flow of rainwater. By ‘dishing’ the lawn, run-off water can be trapped and given time to soak into the ground. The lawn can also be used to channel the water into a pond or an area of the garden that has a high water re­quirement. This is far more preferable than hav­ing the water run onto the street and into the storm water drains. A soil that is wet to a depth of 500 mm or more ensures that less irrigation is required, thus reducing costs and preserv­ing a valuable resource.

Then the children have left the home and there is less need for a mowed lawn, the open area can be modified to reduce the high main­tenance. Planting indigenous veld grasses gives the landscape a unique African feel. Veld grasses can be limited to a section of the open area or the brave may even wish to replace the whole lawn. Most retail nurseries will not carry veld grasses as a stock item but they can be ordered. Alternatively, seed can be ob­tained from farming cooperatives. The veld grasses will attract certain butterfly species and you will have the great pleasure of watch­ing the finches feeding on the grass seeds rather than jostling on a feeding table. Instead of veld grasses, groundcovers may be used to replace the lawn. There are a large number of prostrate groundcovers which will provide colour all year round.

Pathways through the veld grass or groundcovers will make the gar­den a more interesting place to visit. Rocks and logs can be scattered throughout the open area to create wildlife habitats and make the land­scape more attractive.

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