How to Create an Eco-Garden

Updated on January 7, 2018
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Catherine is a California-certified nursery professional. Her interests are birds, insects, integrated pest management, & organic gardening.

Plant a Garden for All Seasons

A gulf fritillary butterfly is attracted to the bright orange and pollen-rich tithonia in my summer garden.
A gulf fritillary butterfly is attracted to the bright orange and pollen-rich tithonia in my summer garden. | Source

What Defines a Garden?

A garden may be a small sensible plot or a grand display of majestic trees, sweeping lawns, and flower displays like a city's arboretum. Despite design and scale, they all have one thing in common: these spaces are teeming with life both visible and unseen.

We use these spaces to give our homes curb appeal, to grow our victory gardens, or to provide places of beauty and fragrance for relaxation and outdoor entertainment. Birds, insects, reptiles, and small mammals use them for food, shelter, and reproduction. Whether we notice or not, our gardens are sustaining a host of living things. Even our soil is alive with both beneficial microbes and fungi which help our plants grow vigorously and decomposers such as worms, ants, and pill bugs which break down organic waste. It is an active ecosystem!

One of my greatest pleasures is waking up to the cheerful sound of the birds. I can see the excited activity of the hummingbirds at the feeder outside my kitchen window while I make my coffee, and I can hardly wait to enjoy it while watching the foraging in my backyard!

The canopy of trees and my birdbath attract many visitors, but it is the selection of plants with their pollen, seeds, berries, and insects that will keep them returning day after day and season to season.

Consider the Wildlife

Next time you visit your nursery, think of the wildlife that depends on your choices.

  • If you like hummingbirds, for example, consider which plants attract them. These are often red and orange with fluted or bell-shaped flowers. Choose some berry-producing shrubs and seed-producing flowers for your songbirds. These will keep them around through the seasons.
  • Attract helpful butterflies and bees. Butterflies often like blues and purples. Bees like yellows but will visit most pollen-rich flowers. Good choices would include buddleia, hollyhock, lantana, verbena, gallardia, salvia, scabiosa, yarrow, hyssop, and alyssum.
  • Night-active moths prefer fragrant plants such as night-blooming jasmine, honeysuckle, nicotiana, brugmansia, and cereus. Herbs, including thyme, rosemary, borage, and lavender, are nice companions for flowers and help to encourage visits from active pollinators.

Berries, rosehips, and spent seed heads are delightful winter feasts for foraging birds:
Berries, rosehips, and spent seed heads are delightful winter feasts for foraging birds:

Encourage Nature's Food Chain

Adding a birdbath, toad house, or lizard habitat will help to keep your areas naturally pest-free. Toads like to rehydrate in shallow pools and saucers then retreat under logs, rocks, and low leafy plants. Lizards and skinks prefer warm surfaces for lounging such as rocks, concrete, and terra cotta. Keep these things tucked into garden beds and along borders. Mulches of leaf-litter and overhanging vines are perfect places for lizards to hide while feasting on the insects there. Take some time to research your native flora and fauna. Choose to attract your personal favorites.

Lizards Are The Best Defense Against Grasshoppers

A Southern Alligator Lizard prefers rocks or walls for warmth and leaf litter for shelter. They are a great benefit for the pest control of grasshoppers.
A Southern Alligator Lizard prefers rocks or walls for warmth and leaf litter for shelter. They are a great benefit for the pest control of grasshoppers. | Source

Don't Be Too Tidy

Gardens are not meant to be flawless. They are places to witness the cycles of life. Be willing to sacrifice a bit of your personal Eden. Take off your glasses and step back. Do you really need to be concerned about perfect tidiness and stressed over chewed leaves and earwigs in your roses? The insects will bring hungry birds who will linger in search of tasty tidbits like tomato hornworms and other caterpillars. Finches love the tiny seeds in spent flower heads, and those they disperse will sprout next season. Fallen leaves create a natural mulch which attracts earthworms, conserves moisture and dissuades weeds. They also provide shelter for lizards and salamanders which eat garden pests.

Practice Integrated Pest Management

Instead of reaching for a pesticide, consider the balance of things and the natural food chain. Even organic insecticides like neem oil, pyrethrin, and spinosad which target specific bugs can cause a proliferation of others and should only be applied when bees are not active.

Always start with the least harmful deterrents such as water blasts, hand picking, diatomaceous earth, insecticidal soap, and sticky pheromone traps before moving on to harsher ones. Bio-controls are much better than insecticides. Praying mantis, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and beneficial nematodes are all available for home delivery through tiptopbio.com.

Our gardens are resilient without human interference, and you will find that nature's food chain is quite efficient. We can help keep things in balance by making compost, using worm castings, reducing tillage, and using natural mulches to encourage decomposers and to keep soil microbes healthy. Great soil translates into vigorous plant growth.

Choose Suitable Plants

Wise plant selection is very important. Take note of plant size, water needs, and preferred sun exposure. Other factors might be pest resistance if you are plagued with deer, rabbits, mole,or gophers. "Trying to make it work" in less than optimum conditions will only lead to weak, pest-attracting specimens which will cost you time, money, and frustration. Plan ahead with wire barriers if root chewing animals are a problem, or remove turf in favor of native plants. Native varieties are clearly a wise approach to your landscape. They will attract and support native fauna and are most likely to thrive with little help. This means good value and more free time to enjoy relaxing in the garden.

Get The Family Involved

Encourage your kids to create a cute and functional habitat for ladybugs, bees, and other beneficial insects:
Encourage your kids to create a cute and functional habitat for ladybugs, bees, and other beneficial insects: | Source

Kids Learn by Observing

Grab a local nature guide book and learn to identify the new visitors you've attracted to your backyard. Our family has seen nearly 50 different varieties of birds in our yard this past year, some of them migratory species that come in winter and early spring.

What about squirrels, rats, and mice? What value do they have to the urban garden? In addition to being part of the food chain for snakes, hawks, and owls, they clean tree canopies of unpicked nuts and fruit, and their caches of seeds often help with propagation of trees and other plants. I enjoy squirrels for their energy and backyards antics. Their determination to outsmart me in getting to the bird feeder keeps me on my toes. Kids also benefit from watching wildlife and often develop a life-long appreciation of nature from early observation.

If you provide a haven, wildlife will come. In these times of disappearing bee colonies and butterfly populations, it is more important than ever that each us do our part in attracting these pollinators to our gardens. Share time outdoors with your family, make some peanut butter/birdseed pinecones to hang, and learn some new facts. It's nice to relax in the knowledge that your efforts make the world a better place and that your beautiful garden is sustaining a lot more than just you!

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Catherine Tally

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      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

        Gray water usage makes SO much sense! It is challenging to keep a garden going in drought esp. since lawns and lush flower beds are ever popular. I am a big believer in reseeding perennials, native plants, bulbs and tubers, container gardens, deep less frequent watering, and lots of mulch!

        Thank you for the kind comments.

        Cat:)

      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

        Always amazed at the beauty here. We are in drought in CA right now, so am using a gray water system to keep my plants happy!

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hello Mary, Isn't it fun to watch the Monarchs colorfully flit around the garden and to have them lay eggs for the next generation on your milkweed? We are awaiting the next pupae stage as the latest caterpillars grow fatter and are amazed that the milkweed can recover so quickly after being stripped bare! Thank you for the nice comments and for sharing my hub. I wish you happy days in your garden!

        All the best,

        Cat :)

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi Phyllis,

        Container gardens on a patio make so much sense because it's easier to control watering, and they can be planted up in so many creative ways to attract wildlife. It's great to heat that yours draw the birds, bees, & butterflies! Thanks for the thoughtful comments:)

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hello thumbi7, Thank you! I appreciate your stopping by to read and hope that you are also enjoying some time in your garden :)

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hello Audrey,

        Isn't it wonderful to see the bees on our flowers? I just get so excited!

        Many thanks to you for the thoughtful comments and your ongoing kindness in sharing my hubs. I appreciate you so much! Bless you,

        Cat:)

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

        My eye was immediately drawn to your photo of the Monarch butterfly on a Milkweed plant. One of my hobbies is planting milkweed, and then watching the Monarchs lay their eggs then hatch out!

        I would much rather have a beautiful yard like this than a lawn! I don't have a large yard now that I downsized, but I do grow plants in pots.

        Beautiful Hub. Voted up, etc and Pinned to my gardening board.

      • Phyllis Doyle profile image

        Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

        Catherine, this is a beautiful and very informative hub. I do not have a yard, but my small patio allows me to grow flowers and herbs that attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. I love gardening.

      • thumbi7 profile image

        JR Krishna 3 years ago from India

        Enjoyed reading the hub. You have some beautiful photos as well.

      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

        I thought I would revisit this one--I see bees by the lavender every time I am out there watering or hanging around--it is a wonderful thing

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hello Nancy,

        I know what you mean about those bird seed sprouts! It does take a bit more effort but is well worth it for the company of birds in the garden and their cheerful songs and chatter. Spending time in the garden and seeing nature at work gives me a healthier perspective overall. Thanks for stopping by!

        Cat:)

      • Nancy Owens profile image

        Nancy Owens 4 years ago from USA

        Hello, Cat! I love the beautiful photos here. I left my sunflowers out all winter last year for the birds to feed on and now I have them coming up everywhere! Pulling them out as I go along. Always so much to do in the garden, but I look at it as my exercise routine, my serenity time, and my grocery bill reducer. P.S... I like Burt's Bees, too!

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi Nancy,

        Thank you! I appreciate the kind comments.

        I hope you are enjoying a beautiful Spring.

        Cat:)

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi Thelma,

        There are few things as satisfying as a summer evening in the garden watching the bird activity and feeling the cool breeze from the trees. How nice that you can spend time each year in the wild garden of your country home! Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

        Take care,

        Cat:)

      • Nancy Owens profile image

        Nancy Owens 4 years ago from USA

        What a beautiful photo. I love watching the birds and squirrels.

      • Thelma Alberts profile image

        Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

        I love wild garden and I have one in my home country where I enjoy a few months of being there. Thanks for the tips and for the video you have posted. Have a nice day!

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hello Anna,

        Thank you for the positive response! I'm so happy that you loved the content. I appreciate your stopping by to read and comment.

        All the best,

        Cat:)

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi Audrey,

        Glad you enjoyed this! Thank you for the thoughtful comments.

        My best,

        Cat :)

      • AnnaCia profile image

        AnnaCia 4 years ago

        Love it, love it!!!!

      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

        I love beautiful wild gardens--your pictures are wonderful and give me a sense of your love of flowers!

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi Rebecca,

        Thank you! I'm so glad you've been inspired by this and are looking forward to your Spring garden. I appreciate your stopping by.

        All the best,

        Cat:)

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

        You have me so eager for spring and making a garden and little ecosystem. This is a good guide to use with helpful hints. I love lots of birds too, I think I will add sunflowers. Thanks!

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi Dave,

        I'm delighted to hear of a program that encourages the preservation of local habitats and the creatures within. I will continue to edit this hub as new thoughts and experiences apply. Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful comments.

        My best,

        Cat :)

      • D.A.L. profile image

        Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

        Hi Catherine,

        sorry to have only just found this great hub and all your advise to gardeners is spot on. two years after you have written this hub, the RSPB here in England have just started " Give nature a Home" project which incorporates most of your suggestions. Your a head of your time. lol.

      • cat on a soapbox profile image
        Author

        Catherine Tally 7 years ago from Los Angeles

        Thank you, followers, for the encouragement!

      • gajanis786 profile image

        gajanis786 7 years ago

        Good informative hub.....keep it up and welcome to the hubpages community.Thanks.

      • Genna East profile image

        Genna East 7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

        As someone who loves to garden, thank you for this informative hub!

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