by Lori Austin
Creating small pockets of wildlife habitat within a neighbourhood is beneficial but even better is to create a continuous corridor or flyway. This is the objective of the David Suzuki Foundation’s “Butterflyway Project”, led by Lindsay Coulter, AKA The Queen of Green. I joined last year in order to improve my own wildlife garden, to learn more about our local butterflies and bees, and to share ideas with other gardeners.
I highly recommend visiting the website of master of master gardener, entomologist, and author, Linda Gilkeson. Here she offers free videos and a wealth of local gardening tips. Gilkeson is the author of “Resilient Gardens”, which has a section on pollinator gardens.
Bumble bee in sage flower. Photo: Lori Austin
Do you know what species of bee is in the photo above? Send your suggestions to BurkeMtnNats@gmail.com
Below are a few guidelines I have found helpful in creating my pollinator garden:
- Open-pollinated flowers of different colours, shapes and sizes are needed. Bees and butterflies have different tongue lengths best suited to specific flowers. Some suggestions from the Butterflyway Project include bee balm, nodding onion, lupines, black-eyed Susan, and Douglas aster. I’ve also had great success with my herb garden: oregano, mint, marjoram, sage, chives, arugula and lavender. Bumblebees love our raspberry patch too. Hummingbirds also come to the sage and bee balm.
- Insects can forage more efficiently from large groupings of like flowers. It is better to buy individual packages of wildflower seeds rather than a mixed wildflower package. The mixed seed packages may contain seeds that are not local or may be invasive. I have had poor results with the latter!
- Some flower seeds need to experience a cold stratification process, a period of exposure to cold and moisture, otherwise they will not germinate. These types need to be planted in the fall. Apparently, you can also refrigerate seeds to get the same effect, but I haven’t tried this.
- It’s important to plant flowers that will bloom early, mid and late season to feed pollinators from spring through to fall. If you only have room for one type of flower, sweet alyssum (Lobularia) is highly recommended. It will last through the whole season. I use a combination of native species (flowers, shrubs and trees) and cultivated species (flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits). I used to think “native only” but there are many introduced species that have naturalized and can be beneficial. I allow a little herb Robert in my garden as the insects seem to like it.
- Butterflies need both host and nectar plants. The David Suzuki Foundation has an excellent resource for our local butterflies and their plant needs.
- According to Gilkeson, when buying seeds or seedlings, choose the least modified types of flowers. Avoid “nativars” which may be wild or cultivated species that have been selectively bred. For example, choose “echinacea purpurea”, the original prairie native, over other coneflower types which may be modified for colour and not provide the same quality of pollen. Some insects are only attracted to specific native plants and will bypass nativars of different colours.
- Messy gardens are more habitable. Seed heads can be left to be eaten by birds or to self sow. Fallen leaves and old plant stalks create habitat for overwintering insects. One exception: I cut most of my lupines when they’re finished blooming. They disperse extremely well!
My wildlife garden is a little different from the sharply groomed landscapes and cultivated shrubs in my neighbourhood. It has its own beauty in different seasons: a little less tidy, more natural-looking, with ground covers (sedum, wood sorrel), wildflowers, shrubs (salal, Oregon grape) and vine maple trees creating different levels. Many birds and bees visit and a few butterflies. I think my garden could be further improved with more host plants and larger blocks of like flowers. I regularly check on the popularity of my plants with the pollinators. My garden is a work in progress as I try out different species. Nature, as always, makes the final adjustments!
Bumble bee in raspberry patch. Notice the ‘pollen pants’ on this bee! Photo: Lori Austin