Mention deserts and people picture dry sandy desolate, wind-blown stretches of endless sand. But today, as we continue to pave over and eliminate our natural landscapes and expand our acres of lawn grass, we are slowly creating an urban desert incapable of sustaining a real diversity of nature. Even parks and school grounds with large grassy football fields cannot be considered natural habitats.
Habitat restoration is not just something you do with groups on conservation weekends as wild spaces can easily be recreated in your own garden area.
Your natural habitat area needs to provide four essential elements; food, water, shelter and places to raise the young. They will also improve the environment, not only for the birds and insects, but also for children to see and experience nature.
Once I had established our vegetable garden, a small orchard and housed the chickens, there was little room left for an area of habitat restoration, so I set about creating it on the verge. Nature abhors a monoculture, so I planted a diversity of herbs, flowers, unusual sub-tropicals, shrubs, and what some people would call ‘weeds’ like dandelions and plantain.
One great reward for creating this riot of vegetation was the mix of people who stopped to observe and comment on the unusual plants. The kids from the local kindergarten had a positive outdoor experience when they encountered the highly scented peppermint pelargoniums on one of their outings. I even met a local Frenchman who asked if he could harvest some of the artichoke heads for a family gathering he was cooking for.
One plant that always attracts attention is the Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). An architecturally stunning member of the thistle family with its silver grey serrated foliage, it is similar to the globe artichoke in appearance. You will need plenty of space for this Mediterranean native with its spiky purple thistle-like flowers. It can grow up to 2 metres tall and expand to become a permanent garden resident.
Left to seed, cardoons can easily become a weedy pest, so once the bees and butterflies have finished gathering their pollen, the flower heads can be cut off. Cardoons form perennial clumps, and can be propagated by the lateral offshoots.
Habitat restoration on the verge continues to provide a glimpse into nature’s wild world and a relief from the constant hum of lawn mowers. The peace and quiet is simply stunning.