Creature Comforts

An Austin garden nurtures wildlife, both great and small.

By Linda Lehmusvirta


Insects, reptiles, and birds visit the fountain. There are plenty of real animals, too, since her stair-step design offers habitat from treetops down to rocks and even leaf mulch. “Animals inhabit different niches. If you want a balanced mix, then you have to provide a mix of niches,” Bellomy advises.

She caters to picky eaters who choose favorites from a seasonal menu. In spring, insects mob the fragrant flowers of understory trees Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) and Mexican redbud (Cercis canadensis var. mexicana). In summer and fall, the plum’s fruits and redbud’s seeds fuel birds until winter berries ripen on possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua).

Absolute tidiness ends the food chain too early. After perennials serve a flowery first course to pollinators, Bellomy lets them go to seed. When Engelmann daisies (Engelmannia peristenia) flopped over a path, she realized that goldfinches were weighing them down. Caterpillars chomping passion vines signal that another brood of Gulf fritillary butterflies is on the way. “Gardening for wildlife means embracing a certain amount of messiness and change,” Bellomy says. “But it is delightful to view the lively changing landscape, and satisfying to undo some of the harm to habitat caused by urbanization.”

Insect pests no longer dominate. Austin entomologist Valerie Bugh applauds the balance in Bellomy’s garden. “When the plants are diverse and well-suited to the location, the faunal populations that result will be an interesting mix, with no particular type of animal overpopulating to the extent of ruining its food source,” she says.

Restoring lost generations of wildlife takes patience. It’s time well spent, because even a small urban habitat leaves a big legacy to the future’s children: liveliness and discovery in their own backyard jungles.

Photography by Kenny Braun