1) Great access – from your house to your yard. Many of the older houses were built when outside space was more for hanging laundry or growing veggies than the spa-like oasis we expect of a garden now. Many houses often have odd access to the yard and if possible – consider changing the layout from indoors to out before adding a big deck or patio.

2) ‘Fun’ So maybe my idea of fun is different than yours (coaxing native plants into accepting my garden and then counting and identifying the various pollinators that come for them) but I won’t pretend that stock tank pools, firepits, trampolines, swing sets, hot tubs and tree houses aren’t immensely enjoyable BUT it’s unlikely you have a park for a yard, so pick one! Pergolas are great as they can be multi use, for items like hammocks and swings, curtains and string lights. (all of which can be changed up depending on the situation) ‘Built in’ fire pits are not multi purpose and are technically illegal in Hamilton so to extend the season with flames, consider a propane fire/hearth or a movable brazier that can burn charcoal while cookin’ yer smores and sausages.

3) A sense of privacy & good fencing – a native tree or a Pergola covered in clematis does this very effectively as well as giving some shade  – consider lowering your deck, lower, lower – yes there – closer to ground level means better connections to the yard as well as much more privacy than the typical ‘stage’ suspended 4’ in the air, overlooking the neighbourhood.

4) Pathways and paving – this really doesn’t have to be complicated – if you’re losing the lawn then you’ll want to leave some space to thread through the garden beds, cedar mulch or a some random stepping stones is good enough – try to pave only areas required for tables and chairs. We’ve all seen photos of idyllic gardens with moss carpets BUT moss does not withstand constant dog/child or human footies – if you can’t mow it then it will look weedy if not cared for – decide if you’re ok with that level of maintenance before removing the grass. A lawn is still a living thing, is cooler than stone and can be biodiverse with the addition of native groundcovers like strawberry, and even non native clover plus anyone can care for it.

5) Pollinator plants, shrubs or trees.  Consider how your garden can ‘give back’ by providing pollen-rich plants & homes for insects, they’re essential links in the food chain. Can you imagine caterpillars eating your plants is a GOOD thing? Caterpillars, grubs, and larvae also feed some of the 367 identified bird species that call the Hamilton area home, remember, baby birds cannot eat seeds. So what about that most popular of all pollinator species, bees? Native bees are some of the most misunderstood creatures around. Popular misconceptions are that they all make honey, they’re all black and yellow, they all sting, and they all live in hives. But the vast majority of Ontario’s 350 species of native bees don’t live in hives, are not black and yellow, do not sting, and none of them make honey. (surprise!) Native bees are endangered, not European honeybees.

In addition to helping the birds, bees, and butterflies, we can also add beauty and health to the benefits of creating wildflower and habitat gardens. Many of us acknowledge a primal longing for a ‘dose of nature’ and tests have shown ready access to a garden or living near a park reduces anxiety, depression and aggression.