Ecology of the Garden

When you look at your garden what do you see?  Grass?  Decking?  A perennial flower patch?  In actual fact it’s not only that, but so much more and in this post I’m going to tell you the secret world that goes on within your green space.

Don’t worry, I get as confused by scientific jargon as anyone else so this isn’t going to be an in-depth science lesson. Instead this post will hopefully give you some ideas as to how your green space works and why it’s so important to look at the entire space as one big ball of life rather than just the parts you assume to be living.

What is Ecology of the garden?

Your garden, allotment, orchard, courtyard or even balcony are host to a very clever complex interconnecting, layers of nature that interact and work in tandem with each other to make plants flower, trees grow tall, apples fruit and brings food to our tables.

It’s called ecology and it’s the balance of your work alongside the natural environment of your green space.

the branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms

Source: Dictionary

All parts of your garden, whether you plan them or not, will make up an entire ecosystem.  Within this ecosystem individual (or whole) habitats exists.

Isn’t that amazing!  It’s like you’re the original earth creator, but without all the disciples.

But what does that actually mean?

Well the easiest way to explain it is to think of a pile of logs.  A random pile of logs stacked up in a corner of your garden.  They are just sat there because you never got around to moving them and now they look all wet and dirty and you don’t want to move them.  Thing is, longer you leave the logs the bigger (and better) the ecosystem is created.  Woodlice, fungi, frogs, newts, centipedes, beetles, snails and of course not forgetting the slugs!  Will all take refuge in the home created by the logs.

Those smaller insects will help to breakdown the wood, creating valuable nutrients to the soil while bigger creatures such as birds and small mammals will feed on the insects without upsetting the natural balance of insects Vs mammals.

In a wider sense a garden can contain any number of smaller habitats to feed into the overall ecology of your space.  A pond, a flower bed, a compost heap, a fence full of ivy, mature trees, veg and fruit patches.  These bring worms, birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, and thousands of minuscule insects and bugs each working hand in hand to help you as the gardener make the best your garden can become.

Of course garden’s aren’t normally called ecological gardens.  They are most notably known as either organic gardens or wildlife gardens, both of which you’ve probably already got in some capacity in your growing spaces already.

Wildlife Gardening

To get the best out of any cultivation areas it’s always better, and far easier (much to the frustration of chemical industries) to work with nature and not against it.  That way you stand a much better, cleaner, more enjoyable gardening experience.

At one time, many centuries ago, if you grew a crop and it got a pest munching away at it, or a disease curling the leaves then it meant you’d loose that crop pretty quickly.  But then people studied crop growing much more intently and discovered there were a few tricks to growing crops that could ultimately make the job a lot easier.  Crop rotation, biological controls (such as soap sprays), soil cultivation, planting to encourage certain birds and insects, and planting companion plants together are all incredibly easy to do, cost very little to implement (if anything), and work exceptionally well and provide added benefits to you as the cultivator to get the best crops possible.

The secret garden

While you busy yourself with creating a compost, or planting and watering your crops, a bunch of other tiny processes are starting to happen.

As the soil condition improves (in both pots, raised beds, and cultivated ground) worms will begin to move in and multiply working on your soil and making it even better, thus improving your plants.

Those worms will attract birds that in turn will help to keep aphids and other small pests at bay from your garden.

Once plants start to flower it will start to attract butterflies, moths, and bees, hover-flies to name but a few, that in turn will help to pollinate your crops, and other plants to ensure they produce fruit.

You won’t see much of what goes on day to day as most of it will happen either underground, or by minuscule creatures that do the manual labour for you.  So how do you know it’s working?

Signs of a working wildlife garden

  • The more birds that come into your garden shows the more bugs and insects there are for the birds to feed on and if there are lots of bugs and insects it means you’ve got a wealth of good stuff in your garden, working well.
  • Pests and diseases will still happen but minimal intervention will be required as the balance is restored by either moving plants, adding more nutrients to the soil or protecting crops.
  • You will likely see hedgehogs, or if you’re really lucky (some might say unlucky depending on if you view them as pests or not) you’ll have visitors such as sparrowhawks, foxes and badgers (deer and pheasant in the country).
  • Your pond will be alive with frog spawn and algae will be minimal, if non-existent and attract many visitors
  • Plants and crops will flower well, and produce the harvest you want with minimal work all year.
  • Your soil will be manageable and crumbly – just the right texture for planting all year round.
  • The compost heap will be a place you can go to often to get spadefuls of nutrients to top up your beds and planting areas with
  • You’ll be amazed at all the wildlife you can count and show off with next time you have visitors
  • You’ll cultivation area will be alive with wildlife day and night
  • Perennial plants will come back year after year without you ever having to do anything but sit back and enjoy watching them grow.

Growing plants is a craft.  One that has many years of experience, that has evolved over time.  While that craft has sometimes been actively encouraged, by clever marketing, to dump centuries of experience in the name of pesticides and chemicals (which often do long terms damage far beyond the original problem), those ideas have only ever been temporary. Eventually gardeners and crop growers come to their own conclusion that encouraging bio-diversity within an ecological garden is the best way to ensure the very existence of life itself.

And it all start in your cultivation space, right here.  How amazing is that?


What wildlife areas have you got in your garden?  Do you think pesticides have any place in a cultivated area?  Have you ever had a pest/disease that you’ve not been able to shift using wildlife/organic gardening techniques alone?


7 responses to “Ecology of the Garden

  1. Hedgehogs! We don’t have those outside of pet stores here. Toads, squirrels, birds, rabbits, hawks, possum, skunk, deer, etc. in my neighborhood. And plenty I’m sure I don’t see in the meadows at the edge of our street.

      • None where I am now but my parents do. We got flocks of them (and pheasants) growing up, but fewer now. My parents also get coyote, nutrea, and the rare wildcat. As well as pesky pesky gophers!

  2. Oh I wish we had Hedgehogs. I don’t think I’ve actually seen one since I was a child. I wonder if there are any tips for actually encouraging them? I certainly have enough slugs and worms for them to eat! x

  3. I’d love to see a hedgehog but I doubt they would be able to get in.

    As for wildlife areas, I hope all of the garden is one. But, in particular, I do have a pile of wood which I hope is a haven for insects and maybe even a toad (apart from birds they tend to be the biggest wildlife I get).

  4. I have the good fortune to live in a wild garden forest a haphazard rambling of grass shrubs trees splurge out from the house and then becomes forest. I despair often at the wild of it as paths disappear and ticks are more numerous. the wild can happen in a backyard and frontyard for that matter as you so well explain…everything is habitat. out of concrete plants will push thru the cracks such is the tenacity of life to create. pesticide does not have a place – we are choking on the poisoning of our landscape oceans and air. I reckon if we cant find a softer answer grow something else – generally what works in terms of fighting disease is having a diverse range of plants and creatures ie encouraging the wild alongside the ‘cultivated’ .

So, what do you think?

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