Before You Start
Welcome wildlife to your property with a bit of planning and care by transforming your small space through the creation of a container garden.
When we think of wildlife habitat, we tend to picture large areas of wilderness that allow wolves, bears and other creatures to wander freely to find the food and shelter they need to survive. But there is value in smaller habitats as well. Though they might not support a grizzly, urban environments can provide the necessities of life for many small species of wildlife.
Although they're often taken for granted or even scorned, smaller creatures are amazing — capable of surviving and even thriving in harsh surroundings filled with concrete, pollution and noise. Their tenacity and ability to eke out their survival against incredible odds is something to be admired.
If we stop to watch and study these creatures, we may well discover fascinating behaviour and unappreciated beauty. An abandoned city lot can be a wealth of tiny jewels in the form of colourful insects, bright garden spiders, flashes of striped garter snakes and twittering sparrows hopping among the weeds. Once we start to appreciate the beauty of these often-overlooked creatures, we realize how important it is to provide a bit of habitat for them.
More and more Canadians are actively creating habitat on their property to attract a diversity of birds, butterflies and other wildlife. This not only supports the animals but also provides pleasure to landowners who enjoy watching their wild visitors. But what if your property consists of a balcony or postage stamp-sized garden? With a little bit of thought, even the smallest outside area can be transformed into an oasis for wildlife.
Although it's more of a challenge to attract wildlife to a small space, which, by definition, can't support the same diversity as a larger plot of land, the rewards of creating habitat for wildlife even on a small scale are well worth the effort it may take to bring nature to your doorstep. Butterflies and other pollinators will take advantage of flowering plants that provide them with nectar and pollen. Birds will feed on insects attracted to these same plants and some, such as robins and house finches, have even been known to nest in potted plants high up on apartment balconies.
There are a few tricks to creating habitat in a small space. The first is to think in three dimensions. Don't be confined by the square footage of your balcony or small garden: Think vertical. Fast-growing vines climbing up a barren wall can add valuable shelter and nectar or berries for wildlife, not to mention adding privacy or camouflaging unattractive elements of your own habitat.
Keep in mind that your limited area is actually an extension of neighbouring habitat. Consider the tiny Ottawa townhouse garden that regularly attracts the extraordinary pileated woodpecker. On its own, this garden would not be enough to support these colossal birds. But the garden was created to mirror some of the habitat elements of a neighbouring ravine. A single tree combined with a small cedar hedge and a carpet of ferns and other native plants helps pileated woodpeckers to see the small yard as an extension of their woodland habitat.
So look to your surrounding areas — a nearby meadow could spill over into your garden with the addition of a variety of colourful perennials. Extend a neighbouring woodland with a potted shrub or small tree. You stand a better chance of attracting wildlife species that are already in the area by reflecting aspects of the habitat they already use.
Try to add the maximum variety of plants that your space allows, to help you meet the habitat needs of the greatest number of different wildlife species. And think of animals' different needs, depending on the seasons; evergreens, even potted ones, are always a valuable addition because they provide winter shelter and early spring nesting spots.
A little forethought and planning can help you provide crucial habitat for wildlife even if your property is, shall we say, space-challenged. Your generosity will be rewarded not only because you will have created a beautiful oasis of greenery and flowers but also because a steady stream of wildlife visitors will complete your own small, private patch of wilderness.