A Bug’s Life — Tauranga’s Urban Insect Haven


Heather Loughlin’s small city garden in Matua, Tauranga is an ever-changing seasonal woodland. Deciduous trees bring drama and colour with the changing seasons, while the curling white bark of Jacquemontii birch trees is stunning by day, and glows in the moonlight at night. The canopy these trees provide creates a microclimate for many mass-planted shade loving plants below.

Heather Loughlin in her garden

Heather Loughlin in her garden


Known as ‘Amberwood’, Heather’s garden was named after her grandfather’s home in England. “My garden tells a story, reflecting my English background which intertwines with my New Zealand home.” she says.

But Heather’s garden doesn’t just provide solace for herself. The site has become an intentional habitat for bugs. This is Heather’s way of recognising the vital role insects have to play in our biodiversity.

“It was only around three years ago when entomologist, Ruud Kleinpaste (better known as ‘The Bugman’), visited my garden and upon spying my one forlorn wētā motel, asked me if I had ever had a wētā in it. I replied that I never did. One quick look around the garden and he said that he wasn’t surprised as there was nothing for them to eat!” says Heather.

Heather learnt from Ruud that bugs, and in particular: wētā, love living in a messy habitat, and need specific native trees and shrubs for food. With his guidance she was inspired to undertake a major overhaul of a significant section of her garden, starting with an existing pond area that already had three large Nikau palms and tree terns — the perfect “bones” for a native habitat for wētā.

Here, everything eats everything, but it is in balance as it should be. I leave them to get on with it!

Heather removed all non-natives from the area and replanted it with hoheria, māhoe (melicytus ramiflorus), horopito (pseudowintera ‘red leopard’), coprosma and more. The bushy habitat was finished off with large mossy and rotten logs, leaf litter and additional wētā motels. Rodent stations were introduced and the base of gates have been blocked to deter hedgehogs.

“The rotten logs, Ruud tells me, are ‘plankton of the forest’ and certainly now home to hundreds of insects. All busy cleaning up debris, composting and aerating the soil. What’s not to love about that?” says Heather.

What started as a thoughtfully designed urban woodland garden now incorporates a successful habitat to encourage bugs and biodiversity. This cool, sheltered and safe native bush area invites a variety of bugs to dwell, and cleverly blends into the more classically “English” woodland areas. The existing canopy of deciduous trees provides dappled shade and their fallen leaves provide natural compost, which Heather lets lie around the garden for the bugs to enjoy. There are watering holes for thirsty bugs in the summer and rotten logs make safe homes for many insects.




Heather’s efforts have meant that wētā now have a home, which serves to attract many other insects. The large and spotted leopard slug is a frequent visitor, who joins an army of worms in the naturally composted soil. Dragonflies helicopter over the pond, where you might also spot a frog or two. Bagworm moths take up residence under the house eaves.

Leaf-cutter bees are provided houses, along with a bumblebee hive — both fantastic pollinators. An insect “apartment block” made out of an old pallet caters for many smaller insects, like slaters, earwigs, centipedes and spiders. Bugs provide food for other insects and birds.

A large swan plant area attracts monarch butterflies, ladybirds, aphids and praying mantises. “Here, everything eats everything, but it is in balance as it should be. I leave them to get on with it!” says Heather.

Even the humble cockroach (which Heather likes to think more fondly of as a ‘wood beetle’) is part of the mix, having an important role in cleaning up dead stuff, composting it and aerating the soil.


It is my hope that a visit to my garden is an enjoyable and educational experience on many different levels. I love seeing people with the happy smiles that the garden gives to them.

Heather aspires to attract stick insects and is always happy to rehome more wētā into her garden. She has appealed to local bug enthusiasts and gardeners to keep an eye out for them, especially stick insects found on or around conifers. Heather is very happy to accept either of these insects as gifts for her garden.

Creating a beautiful home for bugs has meant that the garden’s birdlife has benefitted too. The trees attract many garden birds, and Heather entices tūī and wax-eyes with a sugar water concoction. She also feeds the birds from a ‘bird table’ that is laden with old fruit. “Wild ducks fly in for breakfast every morning, much to the amusement of the neighbours!” says Heather.

Heather’s garden has always been ‘open’ to visitors and groups of garden lovers — something that happens by word of mouth, in addition to her regular spot on the Bay of Plenty Garden & Art Festival trail. “It is my hope that a visit to my garden is an enjoyable and educational experience on many different levels. I love seeing people with the happy smiles that the garden gives to them.”

Heather’s philosophy is to share her urban woodland garden with birds and insects of all shapes and sizes. She believes it should nourish and protect them, and recognises that without them we would simply have nothing.



Location: Matua, Tauranga
Open: All year round, by arrangement
Cost: $5 per person (or BYO weta / stick insect!)
Contact: Heather — 07 576 2288 / 027 4447096