Why Create a Pollinator Garden?

Content & photos by: Karen Keay, Landscape Designer, keay+summers landscape design inc.   May, 2019Choose the right plants for your garden and you will attract local insects and support the natural pollination process. What are the right plants? Native plants! Readily available, easy to grow, beautiful. These plants have a lot to offer in terms of sustainability and aesthetics. I’ve listed some examples later on.

Designing your landscape with as many native and drought-tolerant species as possible is both beneficial and economical. Native landscapes are generally more successful. It just makes sense. These plants are already adapted to the soil and climate, so less fussing and chemicals are necessary, saving water, time and money.

If you plant it, they will come.

The added benefit to native plants is that they will attract “pollinators” – like local bees, butterflies and hummingbirds – with their nectar and pollen. These insects will in turn attract birds that feed on those insects as well as on the seeds and berries of the plants. Right here in Toronto, we have over 360 species of bees (many that don’t sting) and 112 butterfly species! Invite them into your garden. Having plants flowering from spring through fall will ensure a pollinator-friendly garden habitat all season long.

Cross-pollination is what happens when wind or animals move pollen grains between two flowers. 90% of flowering plants rely on animal pollinators for fertilization. (source: David Suzuki Foundation Pollinators Plant Guide 2018 davidsuzuki.org)

Many of these “pollinator” plants are native to Ontario, such as Paper Birch, Barberry, ferns, Trilliums, Swamp Milkweed and my favourite, False Indigo (Baptisia) – it looks like a shrub of Lupins! There are so many plants to choose from for both sun and shade. Some spring-blooming plants include Wild Strawberry, Chokecherry, Columbine, Dogwood, Honeysuckle, Ninebark and Hyssops. For summer/fall flowers, grow New England Aster, Joe-Pye Weed, Bee Balm, Black-eyed Susan and Goldenrod to name a few. It’s good to group several of the same plants together, to help attract the insects from a distance – good for them and beautiful for you!

Fun fact: many people believe they are allergic to Goldenrod, however, most are not. It just happens to flower at the same time as Ragweed – which many people are allergic to. How to spot the difference: Ragweed is only about a foot tall and has a ferny type of leaf and very insignificant flowers. Goldenrod is taller with oval leaves and showy yellow flowers.

Be cautious of your plant selections though. Make sure you’re putting these plants in their preferred site conditions. Also, be very cautious not to add highly invasive plants to your garden – although not necessarily native, very easily grown. Some of these include: Dog-Strangling Vine, Purple Loosestrife, Wild Parsnip and Giant Hogweed (which in addition to being invasive some may cause severe burning if the sap comes into contact with skin and is exposed to sunlight). Adding the right plant in the right place will reduce your overall maintenance.

As a landscape designer, I haven’t met a client yet that said: “I’d like a high maintenance garden please!” Everyone wants low maintenance. The good news is: the more native, hardy and drought-tolerant a plant is, the more low maintenance and successful it will be, and it will attract beneficial insects.

Join hundreds of Canadians who are creating BUTTERFLYWAYs. They are creating butterfly-friendly pollinator patches across neighbourhoods to encourage and feed butterflies such as the Monarch. (source: David Suzuki Foundation/The Butterflyway Project davidsuzuki.org)

People are educating themselves more and are realizing that there are many environmental and health benefits to hosting a native garden, which has the added bonus of attracting pretty pollinators.
Gardens can be food for pollinators and therapeutic for us. The more engaged we are, the better. Our gardens give us a sense of responsibility, allow us to nurture, keep us connected to living things and all of this helps us to relax and feel happier. Who doesn’t want that?

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