A garden plays many roles. It’s full of beauty, scent, food, and even your own personal history, all laid out in plants.
Your garden is also an ecosystem, and whether you do it intentionally or unintentionally, this ecosystem hosts innumerable tiny creatures such as worms and many larger ones such as birds.
When this ecosystem runs smoothly, your entire garden and the animals that use it will thrive.
Nature is messy, but that mess serves a purpose. What might look like a weed or a dying plant ready for discarding is actually an essential part of your garden ecosystem. Get a little lazy in the garden, and you’ll find that your ecosystem flourishes, and you’ll have more time to sit in a garden chair with a cup of tea and watch the show.
Keep the Weeds
Tired of weeding? Why bother? While you will likely weed upon occasion, some of the weeds in your garden actually fulfill a key ecological role. The lowly but happy-faced spring dandelion is a key nectar plant for bees. Keep those dandelions around, and you keep the nectar flowing for local pollinators. Clover, too, is a source of nectar, and it’s also an excellent winter cover crop, moving nitrogen from the air into the soil. Before you weed, do some research and see if your weeds are actually serving an ecological function.
Success Through Diversity
The cottage garden is a gardening style that’s packed with diversity. Wildflowers bloom in profusion, attracting many types of pollinators. By planting an intentionally diverse garden, in which plants bloom at different times and sport different types of blossoms, you’ll attract many kinds of pollinators throughout the gardening season.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
In the fall, the big mess arrives. If you live in a place with deciduous trees, the trees begin to drop their leaves, and chaos ensues on the forest floor and on the ground in your garden. It’s a good chaos, with decomposers scrambling upward to munch those delicacies and turn them into soil. If you don’t have many leaves in your garden, borrow some from a neighbor.
You can also mulch your garden using straw, the stalks from grains minus most of the seeds. Mulch plays a number of roles in your garden. It keeps your garden moist, and it helps moderate temperature, so that the sun and the cold interact less directly with the soil surface. It also provides a home for invertebrates, insects and other creatures like worms that gradually convert all of this fibrous material into soil. It’s a good mess.
Stalking Your Garden
As the spring and summer flowers gradually fade, it’s tempting to pull them out or cut them down entirely and replace them with something new and pretty. While doing some garden maintenance is just fine, keep some of your empty stalks around the garden, either standing or on the ground as a mulch plant. Why? They’re like tunnels for the tiny animals that live in your garden. Invertebrates such as mason bees love to hide in and nest in these stalks.
Bumblebees Don’t Dig Turnover
In the spring and fall, it’s tempting to give one last big dig in the garden, waking it up or putting it to bed. However, while transplanting or weeding makes some digging necessary, it also disturbs soil life. You’re digging into someone’s house and making a mess of their habitat. This is especially visible when you dig up larger animals, such as ground nesters. Those fuzzy bumblebees that grace your garden are one example: they get very disturbed when a shovel comes near their fragile underground nest.
Many Types of Messes
While your parents may have asked you to clean up your messes, Mother Nature isn’t that particular. In fact, growing a diverse garden with lots of mulch, useful weeds, and hiding places for helpful invertebrates is one of the best ways to encourage invertebrate diversity in your garden. When the bugs come, so, too, do all sorts of other creatures, like birds and amphibians. Although it’s a mess to our eyes, to nature it’s a kind of order, an order that helps support diverse species in your garden ecosystem.