Guardians of the Garden - Chameleons, Lizards and Frogs!

I am sure we all have memories of seeing Chameleons in our gardens, putting them on our fingers and walking around with them, then returning them to their branches, as well as, watching a lizard lying in the sun dead still, warming itself and hearing the frogs “talking” at night! These are just memories for me because to feel, see and hear these Guardians is a rare experience nowadays!

The Lizards that are most commonly seen living around our houses and in our gardens are the Striped Skink (above) - they accepted humans as their neighbours, and they will come close to people, on occasion. They grow to about 15cm and will prey on any insects and pests in your garden, like worms and beetles. Skinks are natural pest control for our gardens, however they are extremely sensitive to their environment so if they are absent from your garden, it is a sign that the natural habitat has been affected and/or that the pesticide levels in your garden are too high!

Skinks catch all the critters that are harmful to your plants, but their natural habitat is getting less and less, so please encourage them to stay in your garden by not using pesticides and having a good organic soil mix in your  pots and beds that encourage organisms to increase in your soil, that little worms and other insects feed on, which will ultimately attract the skinks! Most importantly, do not use weedkillers as these will deter most of the critters that you want in your garden. Use mulching rather as this will keep your beds cool and moist, and also provides shelter for skinks.

Also remember to grow groundcover plants in your beds to reduce water loss from your soil as well as to provide shelter for these guardians. They love to burrow under logs and stones and take shelter in low ground level growing foliage. Ideally use Indigenous Groundcover species that will thrive in our area, as they are easy to grow and attract butterflies, bees and birds. Some groundcovers to consider that will be a delightful sight and will fulfil their purpose towards the skinks are Carpobrotus edulis (above), Crassula dejecta and Arctotis stoechadifolia, to name just a few, however there are many, many more!

Lastly, if you can create a rocky section in your garden or a rock garden it will provide crawling spaces and rocks to sunbathe on! A plus would be a pond or a rock pool or an even a sunken container that will suffice as a make -shift garden oasis - it really does not need to be too extravagant. Consider planting some climbers or vines against your walls that will give chameleons and lizards an easy structure to move up and down the walls with. Also making your own compost will encourage more natural critters that will be food for lizards and chameleons.

Chameleons, these days, are endangered and exceedingly rare! It is illegal to move them from one area to the next but if you create your garden to be friendly to them, they will naturally move into your garden. Consider planting more indigenous plants in your garden and if your shrubs and bushes grow into each other it will create the ideal habitat for the chameleons as it will enable them to move freely in your garden. A few big indigenous trees and shrubs to start you off with, could be Bolusanthus,Annona or Crassula ovata and then a few medium and smaller indigenous shrubs to create different levels would be ideal, for example, Ericas and Restio’s,sweet thorn acacias. Please be careful when you are trimming your bushes and shrubs that you are not removing or destroying the habitat of a chameleon family and remember that pesticides and poisons are a big problem for them. Chameleons are natural pest controllers as they eat many flies and others small insects. They are struggling to survive, as their habitat is declining due to urbanization so it is up to us to create homes for them again, before it is too late!

Frogs and toads are our other garden guardians and they consume mostly insects like moths, cockroaches, flies, slugs and more. To attract frogs to your garden, you’d need to start planning on a pond that has aquatic plants both floating and submerged. Also, indigenous grasses for the surrounding area will be a great advantage - Restios, again, will do the trick. You can also add logs, rocks and stones in and around the pond, as they would need hiding spaces.  An electric light would be very helpful to attract the nightly insects that would be on the supper menu for the frogs!

Take a fresh look at your garden and see where you can bring these “Guardians of the Garden” into your space. All the plants can be grown from seed and it will be extremely rewarding to see these familiar, friendly fellows keeping a watchful eye on your garden!

About the Author

Adele Siemssen is the Seeds for Africa Operations supervisor.  Adele is a qualified horticulturist with 30 years of hands on experience and loves pets and assisting customers to make their garden dreams come true!