Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Wildlife friendly garden workshop with Cassia Read

Posted on 28 November, 2016 by Connecting Country

Among exuberant flowers and darting pollinator insects, twenty people gathered in Cassia Read’s Castlemaine garden on Saturday the 19th November 2016 to learn about wildlife friendly gardening. Cassia’s mission for the workshop was to inspire and inform people about how to nudge their gardens in a wildlife friendly direction. Cassia suggested elements that could be added to any garden to make it more biodiverse, whatever the gardeners needs and values.

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Cassia (left) talked about how we could all nudge our gardens in a wildlife friendly direction.

Cassia explained that she’s passionate about wildlife friendly gardens because life in the garden brings beauty and joy; it fosters a connection between people and nature; and, because gardens can provide a refuge for wildlife in a changing climate.

A garden is a community of plants and animals, living together and interacting with each other. Cassia introduced the concept of garden community ecology with a drawing of a food-web in her own garden. This illustrated how energy, harvested from the sun by plants, moves up the food chain; from pollinating and leaf eating insects and seed and nectar eating birds, through predatory insects, reptiles, frogs, small bush birds, bats and phascogales, to larger carnivores such as kookaburras and boobook owls.

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Foodweb in Cassia’s garden, showing ‘who eat’s what’ and the movement of energy harvested by plants from the sun, up the food chain to larger predators (Illustration by Cassia Read).

Cassia drew attention to the importance of insects in bringing wildlife to the garden, because many of the larger vertebrates either eat insects directly or they eat the insect predators. Even small honey-eaters supplement much of their diet with insects living in the tree canopy.

Cassia invited participants to spend a moment quietly observing life in the garden in two different locations, using two different ways to observe: an unfocussed, dreamy gaze that allows you to see all the movement in the garden with your peripheral vision; and a focused gaze to see the detail of particular species and individuals going about their daily lives. Cassia commented that observation is the key to wildlife friendly gardening. The more you look, the more you learn and enjoy and are inspired to create a living landscape around you.

Cassia discussed the spectrum of garden styles that range between pavement and bushland, with biodiversity in the garden increasing as you moved from a low diversity, simplified landscape like a park, through to a garden with different vegetation layers, different micro-habitats and more indigenous species.

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Spectrum of garden styles, from pavement to bushland, with garden biodiversity increasing with complexity of vegetation structure, micro-habitats and indigenous plantings (illustration by Cassia Read).

During the guided tour around her half acre block, Cassia discussed elements she has added to her garden to create shelter and food for wildlife. Standing around her small pond, participants discussed how the creation of even a small pond, planted with local water plants, brings frogs, dragonflies, aquatic invertebrates and a place for quiet reflection and observation. Other important elements included:

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Cassia’s pond has Pobblebonk tadpoles but no mosquito larvae because she’s introduced native Murray Rainbow Fish that eat wrigglers but not frogs eggs.

  • Growing indigenous and exotic flowers for native pollinators such as native bees, wasps, hoverflies and butterflies. Through extending the flowering season with thoughtful planting you can extend the time nectar and pollen are available to pollinators;
  • Planting dense and prickly shrubs where small bush birds can hide from cats and aggressive or predatory birds;
  • Building leaf litter, mulch and woody debris for insect habitat, which in turn provide food for ground foraging birds, reptiles, frogs and phascogales;
  • Adding nest-boxes and artificial hollows to trees for birds and bats – but watch out they aren’t placed too high or you won’t be able to evict Indian Miners and other wanted pests;
  • Planting a drought-tolerant native lawn that provides food and shelter for moth and butterfly larvae, and seed for native pigeons and Diamond Firetails;
  • Creating varied rocky habitats for basking lizards, including rock on soil and rock on rock. Also, pupae from ant colonies that live under the rocks are an important food source for ground foraging predators.

The workshop concluded in the shade of a gum tree, with an exercise and conversation about nudging our own gardens for wildlife. What more could we do and what were our barriers? Cassia guided participants to think about their gardens in terms of management zones, from high maintenance and input zones such as the small orchard, to low maintenance and input zones such as areas of drought-hardy, native shrubs planted for screening at the front of a block.

Thanks to all attendees for coming along, and to Cassia and Melanie Marshall from the Mount Alexander Shire Council for their work presenting and bringing this event into fruition. Much was learned from Cassia’s unique perspective on how to build a garden and engage with nature.

For further information visit our Wildlife Friendly Garden webpage here.

This workshop has been supported by Connecting Country, through funding from the Australian Government and the Mount Alexander Shire Council through their Sustainable Living Workshop Series.

 

2 responses to “Wildlife friendly garden workshop with Cassia Read”

  1. Pat Robins says:

    An inspiring workshop in Cassia’s wonderful garden. It provided many ideas for improvements to my garden. Thanks for organising the workshop. Pat

  2. Kim Michelmore says:

    This was an outstanding morning – what Cassia and her family have achieved is incredible. I came home packed with ideas. Thanks to all – Cheers – Kim

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