Designing a native garden is really no different than designing any other garden! You want to choose flowering plants that bloom throughout the growing season and combine them together for visual interest, often using grasses, shrubs, and small trees. One of the most major differences, however, is the selection of plants based on suitability to the existing environmental conditions of your site. Conventional gardening often relies on altering the site’s environmental conditions, through the practices of tilling to alter soil structure, adding chemical fertilizers to support plants suited to richer soils, applying water to plants not resilient to drought conditions, and other resource-heavy practices.
Native plant gardening focuses on using plants that evolved in Ontario, alongside our native pollinators. These plants are already adapted to Ontario’s low-nutrient soil conditions and many grow extensive root systems to help them create their preferred soil conditions while being resilient to droughts, flooding, and the depths of Canadian winters! Once you know the light conditions and moisture regime of your site, try to determine the soil type and then you can work on selecting native plants that will suit.
After planting, these young plants will need to be supported by routine watering and protected from potential predators (often this means bunnies!!) for the first year or two as they grow their root systems. Then, all they need is some basic ecological gardening techniques to thrive!
Listed below are two designs – one for full sun and one for shade. For a full sun site that does not stay wet throughout the year, the design below would provide pollen and nectar across the majority of the growing season, and offer ample diversity in flower shape to appeal to a diversity of native pollinators. Beyond offering pollen and nectar, native plants are required for many native caterpillars – Monarchs are well known for their need of milkweed plants to rear their caterpillars, but many caterpillars will only feed on a single species or a few closely related plant species. For example:
- Glorious Flower Moths (Schinia gloriosa) feed on Dense Blazing Star;
- Spring Azure (Celastrina “ladon”), Mottled Duskywing (Erynnis martialis), and Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta) on New Jersey Tea;
- Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) and the Ozark Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio joanae) on Golden Alexander;
- Pearl Crescent Butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) on Smooth Aster.
For a shady site, like in a space under the shade of a tree, check out the shade design on the above right. These plants will brighten up a shady nook, offer blooms at different times, and offer habitat to over-wintering pollinators (but only if you leave the leaves!). The spring fiddleheads are edible, the foam flower leaves are semi-evergreen, and the wild geranium is considered to be a keystone species as it could host up to 26 different species of native moths and butterflies. You may even find some developing northern pearly eye butterfly caterpillars growing on the bottlebrush rye 🙂
If you have more space, consider also planting native shrubs and flowering trees, which provide important spring nectar and pollen before many wildflowers bloom! By far, the most beneficial trees for pollinators are the oaks (Quercus spp.). There are also many flowering trees and shrubs that can also add a dynamic and structural component to your pollinator garden, providing interest across the seasons.
- Pictured above are the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), and Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), which blooms in the late fall!).
Designs by Thickett EcoScaping