It’s not just your home: Wildlife gardening with Channa Ekanayake


By Bernadine Rodrigo

Channa Ekanayake is a well-established and rather popular artist in Sri Lanka, whose work thankfully gets the recognition it deserves. Perhaps his work has become so popular during his lifetime itself, unlike many artists who achieve posthumous success, because of its uncanny relevance to the present.

Ekanayake mainly creates abstract art, dabbling mostly with lighter colours and emphasising more on the structures in the image. However, he is not just an artist; he is a great enthusiast of nature and works towards conservation and advocates tirelessly for the protection of the environment.

As such, it may not come as a shock that his favourite pastime is gardening. Not only does it allow him to get close to nature, which he rightfully appreciates, but it also allows him to be creative and artistic.

Being such a fervent advocate of mother nature, especially in Sri Lanka, he certainly didn’t wish to keep all of his gardening knowhow to himself. He was more than happy to share details of how he spends his free time with the “Be Creative” initiative by the charity organisation Appe Lanka.

Whilst many nowadays are focusing on making their gardens a source of food, Ekanayake focuses more on making whatever space you have that can attract any creature of nature, a sanctuary for them. Notwithstanding, he does want to make sure that people understand that growing your food in your own garden is certainly something which must be done.

“The beauty of edible gardening is that we can deal directly with the original sources,” he said. “There will be no distance between the garden and the kitchen. There will be no distance between the kitchen and the dining table. The farmer and the consumer become one. This is intimate, eco-friendly, and primitive consumption. Primitive is the deeper meaning of sustainable lifestyle.”

Then he spoke about wildlife gardening. “We have invaded their space,” he says, “and then we don’t allow them to come and make their homes. We must share our spaces with other animals.”

Hence, he has decided to show people, through the use of various media, how to make this happen. He has extensive experience in this field; he has been engaged in forest gardening since the 90s and has created in his own garden – many an abode for all kinds of creatures, ranging from those that fly to those that crawl.  

While his garden is a 14-perch yard, he says that one can quite easily create a forest-like environment in a smaller space, even one’s balcony. He has proven that this is possible by doing so on his own balcony itself and mind you, these small spaces are not only home to plants, but birds and insects too.

He said that there is no need to hassle yourself and run to shops trying to find all kinds of products, as most can be found in your home. Especially at a time like this, he said, there are many ways to engage in a recreation such as gardening and also create these beautiful spaces with any utensil you may find lying around in your house; plastic buckets, broken gutters, old clay, metal crockery, etc. He said clay is a material which can become more firm with time, so it is perhaps the best to use. However, there is no need to worry too much about it, he shared, because if you use the right amounts of soil and put in the proper plants, it would turn out perfectly fine. He spoke about cement pots saying that when mixed with too much sand, cement can become very fragile over time, however, if you maintain a proper ratio of cement to sand to water, it would be just fine.

Touching on soil, he said it was nothing to fuss about either. He simply uses normal sand that one could purchase at a hardware store; even using the sand lying about on the road is fine, he said.

On his balcony and the rest of the garden too, Ekanayake adds compost to enrich the soil and provide a nutritious base for his plants. He makes this compost at home using waste, and simply sprinkles it on the topsoil of his garden. Making your own compost is greatly beneficial for many reasons.

He said he makes sure, nevertheless, to never forget to maintain places for animals to entertain themselves or live. He is a strong advocate of birdbaths, which he says are not at all difficult to maintain in one’s garden. He has made many birdbaths for his garden, once again out of discarded utensils.

With every tree he has grown, he has created a home for some creature. “I always try to make every plant I grow a host plant so that it can be a home to another living thing,” he expressed. While having built nesting areas for birds, he has grown many creepers on his trees too, so that more and more animals can live there.

He spoke about the many animals that can be found in his garden with pride and affection. Yellow-billed barbers, cavity-nesting birds, woodpeckers, and oriental magpies are all frequent visitors in his forest garden. Now and again he sees our friends the monkeys, but he shared that the creatures he really cares for deeply are the poor, discriminated insects; he believes that all insects are vital for the maintenance of the Earth’s ecosystem.

Even gardening for consumption can help attract wildlife, Ekanayake shared. An example is the kathurumurunga tree, a common green consumed in Sri Lanka. It is home to a butterfly species known as the common grass yellow.

So far, Ekanayake has been extremely successful, being able to attract many animals including birds, insects, mammals, and even reptiles; he has seen them enjoy the spaces he has provided in his garden and balconies. He is also very happy about the great amount of indigenous and endemic plants he has grown and also plants that can be used for consumption.

While he implores people to do as much as possible to create such areas for animals in even the smallest space possible, he said: “Wildlife gardening is no longer about attracting fauna into your garden, but rather allowing species to survive. Increasingly, there is nowhere else they can live; we still incorrectly feel that wildlife is lives elsewhere. By being greener, we are also leading a silent revolution, a revolution against the devastating food culture.”

To encourage people further, he mentioned that engaging in this type of gardening has a great amount of therapeutic benefits too. “You open your personal space for the rest of the living beings who are not demanding to live.” The artist in him continued: “The garden suggests that there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway. Here, a weed is but an unloved flower, which silently suggests you should change your values.”