Connectivity of green and blue infrastructures: living veins for biodiverse and healthy cities

Nonhuman gardens?

If nonhuman animals made gardens, or if we made gardens for other animals, what would those be like?

In my last post on what gardens are, I suggested that they are collections of plants and other things (animals, rocks, etc.), that they have an inside and an outside, that they make imaginative reference to other gardens or landscapes, and that they are relatively static. Now, we could try to find out if any other animals make arrangements with all of these properties, or we could try to imagine whether a garden made by or for other species would have different properties.

Some animals do of course collect and arrange natural elements in specific ways to produce an aesthetic effect, such as the bowers of bowerbirds (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPbWJPsBPdA). Other animals do less collecting and arranging, but facilitate the formation of particular species communities in particular areas that they frequent, like the grazing lawns of degus that I discussed in the blog on animal cities. Beavers create pond ecosystems through the construction of their dams (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyNA62FrKCE). All of these things have something in common with gardens, but seem a bit different from gardens in same way things like art installations and national parks are different from gardens.

If hoverflies made gardens, they would probably be complex mosaics of textured shrubs, herbs and grasses mixed together.

If degus (Octodon degus) made gardens, I think they would have a large lawn crossed by paths, with a flowering herb border.

If guanacos made gardens, I imagine they would have clusters of a diversity of fragrant trees interspersed with little open patches with short and long grass, where one could repose in neck’s reach of a nice meal.

If snails made gardens, I suppose they would be rock gardens of smooth rocks with many nooks, crannies and interstices, with plenty of overhanging plants with large shady, interleafed leaves over soft bare soil spaces.

These are easy answers, but we could go deeper. Are there species that would prefer constant change and reorganisation over stable arrangements? Could you argue that some species already make gardens, but with an aesthetic that lacks an inside/ outside distinction?

Once we start thinking this way, it seems obvious to ask whether we could create urban gardens for biodiversity that were actually gardens for biodiversity, gardens from the perspectives of other species. There are, of course, bee gardens or bee-friendly gardens, but these are typically gardens full of flowers that bees like—a farm to produce food for bees rather than what a bee would think of as a garden in the sense I mean. It’s a good start though (https://friendsoftheearth.uk/bees/gardening-bees). To make gardens for other species we could draw on existing practices such as habitat management and habitat restoration for protected or reintroduced species, or the design of enrichment for captive animals. The first seeks to maintain an optimal habitat type for a species, given its niche and distribution. The second seeks to understand what animals need and enjoy, and to create durable infrastructures to provide that. A garden for other species would do something combining the two, by collecting and arranging natural elements that represent an ideal habitat full of pleasure and satisfaction.

Sources:

Haslett, J. R. (2001). Biodiversity and conservation of Diptera in heterogeneous land mosaics: A fly's eye view. Journal of insect conservation, 5(2), 71-75.

Root-Bernstein, M., Bennett, M., Armesto, J., & Ebensperger, L. 2014. Small mammals as indicators of cryptic species diversity in the central Chilean plant endemicity hotspot. Global Ecology and Conservation (GECCO) 2, 277-288.

-- Meredith Root-Bernstein, 1/02/2019