I suspect it's my recent success in increasing the bee population of our property that has reminded me that gardens are not just about plants.

They're also about wildlife, and what you encourage - bees, monarch butterflies, frogs, birds - is a matter of personal preference.

I used to have to be careful that whatever I encouraged did not fall prey to our cats, but now aged 10 and 14, they're no longer interested in catching their own food unless it flies into their mouths on the dot of five with a sprinkling of cat biscuits on top.

So I'm keen to establish some lizards here, because I always loved them as a kid. I went to primary school in Dunedin with an interesting little boy called Keith who was a consummate lizard catcher. He knew where to find skinks and even geckos, and occasionally brought them to school in his pockets. It's illegal to collect lizards in New Zealand now and they're protected by law, but were it not for Keith's transgressions, I would probably never have met a gecko and wouldn't even be thinking of creating a habitat for lizards.


There are about 80 species of lizards found in New Zealand and for the style-conscious among us, there's a broad range of colours and patterns. Sadly you can't buy the ones you like at your local design store, so the deal is that you create the perfect lizard environment, and wait until word gets around the local lizard population. A sort of "build it and they will come" philosophy.

When you start creating your lizard hotel, you'll probably find you already have some elements in place, but just in case, here's the list.

*Plant thick ground cover so they can travel incognito.
*Put berries and nectar producing species on the menu so they have fruit and insects to eat.
*Offer private rooms - rotting logs, rocks, bits of old bark, and layered or stacked rocks or terracotta tiles.
*Get some climbers going up walls so they can rock climb.
*Try your hand at building stone walls. The worse you are at it (lots of gaps and crevices) the better your guests will like it. Face it to the sun so they have somewhere safe and warm to sleep. Otherwise, build rock stacks or piles of old concrete tiles with small gaps between.
*In summer, provide shallow water basins nearby.
*Don't encourage hedgehogs, stoats, ferrets, rats and mice. If you have cats and they're keen on investigating the lizard habitats, put some netting over them (the habitats, not the cats).

When your lizards check in, respect their personal space. They're wildlife, not pets, so they don't want to be picked up, stroked or cuddled. Observe them quietly from a distance and enjoy that they're there. You'll need to enjoy it, because chances are you'll have them for ages. Lizards will stay in more or less the same place for years, and they're long-lived - one gecko found in Canterbury was estimated to be over 40 years old.

Make a habitat

If you have space, planting a garden specifically for lizards is a great project.

Choose a quiet area in a warm, sunny space and collect all the junk around your garden - stones, old pieces of timber, decaying logs and even pieces of corrugated iron to create stacks that will appeal.

Arrange them artistically and call them sculptures if you like, but make sure there are plenty of gaps and holes for your lizards to occupy.

Plant crocuses and other bulbs between the rocks for a nectar and pollen supply, and to enhance your new garden's look.

Stack old concrete, bricks and stones loosely so there are plenty of cracks and holes. Spiders, slaters and beetles will head inside, especially when it's cold. That's good news for lizards that feed on them.

Smear yoghurt on some stones and lichens may grow. If your rock pile turns into a rockery, plant bulbs such as crocuses between them. Your bees will have an early nectar and pollen supply.

If you can lay your hands on some Onduline (lightweight corrugated cladding made from organic fibres saturated with bitumen), cut it into 400mm squares and stack them with small stones between the layers. If you set each piece at a different angle you'll end up with something both artistic and useful.

Place in a sunny spot and pack-plant ground cover, shrubs and tussock alongside. Lizards like thick planting so they can hide.

Plants for a lizard garden
Tussock grasses
Native clematis
Climbing rata
Mikimiki (Coprosma propinqua)
Porcupine shrub (Melicytus alpinus)
Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia axillaris)
Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium)
Coprosma crassifolia
Muehlenbeckia astonii
Wild Irishman (Matagouri)

Odd facts on lizards

*Skinks are generally carnivores, but they'll eat a berry or two.
*Geckos and skinks can shed their tails.
*Both sunbathe to raise their body temperature.
*Geckos can't blink so clean their eyes with their tongues. Gross!
*Geckos have loose skins they shed, but skinks hang on to theirs.
*They chirp, chatter or croak.
*Geckos and skinks are exceptionally keen of smell, sight and hearing.