This morning as I sat on my back patio looking around at the back garden drinking a coffee, a butterfly almost landed on my head. How delightful that sensation was once I had got over the initial shock response! I watched it fly away and cross the path of two other butterflies in the process. As I reflected on the growing number of insects I have been seeing in my garden lately I was reminded of a conversation that I had with my sister yesterday. Somehow the conversation got around to the praying mantis egg case that I had discovered before and after hatching. She commented on how lucky I am to have that happen in my very own garden and told me that her husband’s brother had just bought a praying mantis egg case because he couldn’t seem to attract them to his garden. She asked me what I was doing that I thought might be helping them thrive in my garden. The truth is that I am not really sure. I think that a garden is such a complex system with such an abundance of variables that it’s hard to isolate one or two things that make a difference, but here are the things I think are making a difference.
- I garden organically with no insect control whatsoever, not even white oil. The only way that insects die in my garden by human hands is by being accidentally squashed, squished, crushed or eaten (note: accidentally!). Otherwise I leave it to other predators in the food chain and I think the birds are quite happy about that! Not to mention the praying mantises and lacewings.
- I try to put the beneficial insects and suffering plants in the same vicinity. For example, the Lacewings seem to like laying eggs on my clothesline pegs so I simply take them off the line and peg them to a plant with scale or aphids. Lacewing nymphs will eat each other in the absence of a ready food source so I figure that I am not only controlling aphids and scale I am also maximising the population of their main predator. I am not worried about being taken over by lacewings either, because the birds seem to appreciate them as a snack. Recently I “saved” two Tuckeroo saplings with this method. It was fascinating watching the transformation as the Lacewings took over the aphid and scale populations and the saplings grew new healthy growth. Both trees are thriving now!
- I make an effort to maximise biodiversity in my garden. An obvious way to do this is to plant a variety of species and I do that with an effort to preference endemic and native species. I also remove or control invasive species to stop them smothering other plants, particularly the endemic plants in our natural bush gully.
- I let some of my annual herbs and leafy vegetables flower. Basil and lettuce in particular seem to attract so many beneficial insect species!
- I leave piles of “garden debris” for nesting purposes. My garden isn’t tidy, because gardening for me is more about the wild delights of nature. Apart from that I’m busy and I’d rather have a messy, wild garden full of biodiversity than a tidy collection of low maintenance species. I don’t have a problem with the latter… if it floats your boat go for it!
This issue of insects is an important one. A quick google search reveals an alarming number of studies showing a decline in insect populations around the world. Without insects, other species in both plant and animal kingdoms won’t last long. I would love to see a revolution in the way that we think about them so that we can celebrate their place in the system and all the benefits we reap due to their “little” lives.
Gardening, for me, is therapy and that therapy is far more effective when it’s full of a delightfully wild variety of things that grow, glow, climb, bloom, crawl, sing and fly, but more than that it’s about the surprises, the astonishment and all the amazing learning about this wonderful thing called life!
Wishing you an abundance of insect life in your garden,
PS Have you seen my video showing all my newly hatched praying mantis babies. If you’d like to see it Click here