Wildlife & Biodiversity

Why everyone should develop a home garden

The joy of seeing plants flowering for the first time or birds building their nests in plants cannot be described in mere words

By V Sundararaju
Published: Friday 10 September 2021
The author's home garden in Tiruchirappalli. Photo: V Sundararaju
The author's home garden in Tiruchirappalli. Photo: V Sundararaju The author's home garden in Tiruchirappalli. Photo: V Sundararaju

I live in a small independent bungalow with a plinth area of 1,500 square feet. The house is built to an extent of 2,800 square feet.

The plot adjacent to our home, with an extent of about 1,400 square feet, is used as a garden with two coconut, one mango, one sapota, one drumstick, two guava, one lemon and five plantain trees.

Biological community is an interacting group of various species in a common location. Let me explain this concept with my home garden as an example.

My home garden has four layers of plants. The uppermost layer consists of trees like coconut, mango, drumstick, guava, sapota, etc.

Below this layer, both annual and perennial (fruit-yielding and ornamental) plants like curry leaf, jungle geranium, hibiscus, papaya, yellow elder, golden arrow, dhobi tree, crepe jasmine, lemon, etc, occur.

The third layer consists of herb species such as tulsi, different types of crotons, various palms, spider plant, rose, money plant, lucky plant, etc. Next to this layer, the climbers form a fourth layer.  

As my wife is fond of growing plants, we have grown three varieties of Allamanda, Adenium, two varieties of Ixora, Tecoma, Plumeria, Mussaenda, Tabernaemontana, three varieties of hibiscus, passion flower, bleeding heart, etc, around our home.

There are two golden trumpet plants with yellow flowers and one each in other varieties of Allamanda blanchetii, with purple flowers and Allamanda violaceae, with cream flowers.

The Allamanda cathartica plant with trumpet-shaped, bright yellow blooms, has grown along the side and rear wall of our home, blooming profusely throughout the year.

We have three desert rose plants with red flowers and two jungle geranium plants with scarlet and red flowers.

The four small yellow elder trees, each standing in the northeast, southeast and northwest corners and one at the entrance, add beauty to our home with bees, butterflies and birds visiting the flowers periodically.

The golden arrow, with white flowers and a yellow centre, stands on the eastern side of our home. Its unusual spoon-shaped leaves are quite interesting to watch.

The dhobi tree, with its modified leaves in pink colour and small yellow flowers, stands at the entrance of our home, greeting visitors.

The crepe jasmine with its white flowers is on the eastern side of the compound wall, just outside of it.

While one variety of hibiscus with red flowers stands at the rear side of our home on the southern side, the other two varieties with pendulum-shaped red flowers on the northern side and the other one with yellow flowers are on the north-eastern corner.

The passion plant with blue flowers is grown at the entrance.

The recent addition of bleeding heart, with crimson petals emerging from a white base, is planted on the eastern side of our home, within the compound, for growing it as a vine.

There is a papaya tree on the southwest corner of our house. The curry leaf plant at the rear side of our home is a favourite of red-vented bulbuls.

We have Mexican mint, Arabian jasmine, Velvet nightshade and plenty of tulsi plants, etc, also within our compound.  

In addition to these plants, we have four varieties of money plant, spider plant, lucky plant, bouganvillea, more than a dozen varieties of indoor plants, palm plants, crotons, hanging plants, etc.

The Pongame oil trees standing at the entrance on the north side and on the east side outside the compound, provide shade.

The two African Tulip trees which were on the east side, outside the compound, posed threats due to their being invasive. They have been replaced with champak and mountain ebony recently.

All the plants are categorised into four plant types — trees, shrubs, herbs and climbers. While most of the trees, shrubs and climbers are grown as earthen plants on the ground, herbs are grown in pots.

Most of the shrubs, herbs and climbers have been grown for beautification except the curry leaf and lemon.

Coconut, plantain, lemon, papaya and mango yield some fruits for household purposes. The drumstick tree yields valuable edible leaves. Other shrubs, herbs and climbers are meant mainly for beautification.

Along with these benefits, they help reduce environmental pollution and soil erosion. Above all, the oxygen which they release and carbon dioxide that they absorb has more value.

We realised this when we removed the two African Tulip trees. The rise in atmospheric temperature we felt then was really significant.

We use only organic fertilisers like farmyard manure, goat manure, groundnut cake and neem cake. When there is some insect attack, we use only neem-based organic pesticide.    

Almost all the flowering plants attract sunbirds, flower peckers and tailor birds. Both, purple sunbirds and purple-rumped sunbirds frequent our home garden.

These birds visit the plants frequently for collecting nectar from the flowers. Their slender, curved bills and tubular tongues are beautifully adapted for probing into flower tubes and collecting nectar. While doing so, the birds help to cross-pollinate the flowers.

In case of sunbirds, only the female is involved in building the nest. Recently, a pair of sunbirds built their nest in one of the hanging pots in our car porch.

The oblong pendulous pouch is made up of soft grasses, cobwebs, waste cotton, rubbish and woody refuse, with a projecting portico above the lateral entrance hole.

It took about a week’s time to complete the nest. After laying the eggs, the mother bird incubated them. But unfortunately, the nest disappeared mysteriously one day to our shock and surprise.

Though we were constantly watching the birds, it happened suddenly. We could not decipher the mystery. After sometime, on my wife’s suggestion, when I rewound the CCTV, we were surprised to see a tree pie detaching the nest.

The other birds that visit our home garden frequently are Indian myna, brahminy myna, common babbler, red-vented bulbul, tree pie, black drongo, spotted munia, blackheaded munia, lesser goldenbacked woodpecker, etc.

Some of the birds like tree pies and red-vented bulbuls eat the fruits of pomegranate and drumstick fruits. We have seen the woodpecker eating the pulp of ripened papayas. At times, we have seen the remains of butterflies left over by the drongo.

We have seen red-vented bulbuls building their nests in the curry leaf plant and in the hanging pot containing the money plant. Tailor birds have built their nests in the velvet nightshade plant by stitching the leaves.

House sparrows, house crows, koels and white-breasted waterhens are frequent visitors to our garden. Golden orioles, rose-ringed parakeets and Indian pittas are rare visitors.   

Butterflies like common mormon, lime butterfly, small grass yellow, common wanderer, blue tiger, plain tiger, common crow, lemon pansy, etc, are regularly seen visiting our garden when there is bright sunlight.

Besides all these creatures, wasps, bees, black ants, millipedes, centipedes and different beetles are also seen frequenting the garden. Wasps have their nests on palm leaves and on money plants in the hanging pots.

Our home garden thus supports a biological community of different plants, birds and insects of various types like butterflies, bees, beetles, wasps and arthropods that interact with each other.

The sustainable biodiversity developed here makes the area more lively and colourful. Most importantly, the role played by the garden in mitigating the atmospheric temperature is significant.

At times, we feel like walking through a forest patch when we pass through the corridor in front of our home within the compound. Passersby and cattle often take shelter under the shade-bearing trees.

Watering and tending to the plants with love and involvement makes us happier and keeps us active as well.

The delight and joy that we experience when we observe the passion flower plant flowering for the first time and the bulbul building its nest in our garden can’t be explained in mere words. This enhances our positive thoughts and improves our mood as well.

If everyone develops a small garden around their homes with less expenditure, it may be of great support not only for the biological community, but also for their happy and healthy life.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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