This spring we longed for nature like never before, quiet streets meant clearly hearing birdsong. With more time to notice each flower, you may want to know how your little or large, patch of urban garden can contribute, here’s my top seven ways.
1) Birds: planting native species in your garden that support our feathered friends not only in the seeds & fruit a plant provides but also the insects and larvae it is a host to. Birds primarily feed their chicks soft caterpillars & other insects in spring, in fact, that’s all chicks can eat. One good example is Arrowwood Viburnum, a caterpillar host that also bears fruit for mature birds before they migrate.
2) Butterflies: provide larvae for birds and aside from being beautiful are diminishing in numbers and along with moths and bees, pollinate flowers. Consider adding Echinacea, Aster, Liatris, Chocolate Boneset, and the Monarchs all time fave, Butterfly weed /Asclepias. (not Butterfly Bush which is borderline invasive)
3) Native Bees – much has been written about the diminishing numbers of bees, but less about the approx 3 500 different native bee species in North America alone. The European honeybee is NOT endangered and in some studies is shown to be in competition with native bees for the same pollen. Your garden could be providing a pollen rich buffet for bees. Monarda, Helianthus, Goldenrod, Liatris, Hyssop, Echinacea, are all great choices
4) Native Plants OK, you’ve heard this before, but why should you bother planting natives in the garden? Simply, they have evolved alongside the very birds, bees and butterflies (see above) that need them for food and shelter. (& vice versa) Native Trees are one of the earliest pollen sources for the bees as well as providing food and habitat for insects and birds. Consider planting a city tree (free through the City of Hamilton) or if space is limited try a smaller native tree, Pagoda Dogwood, a multi-stem Serviceberry/Amelanchier or Redbud/Cercis canadensis (all shade tolerant btw)
5) Beauty and mental health; Aside from making your neighbourhood more beautiful, seeing green makes us happier & even live longer. I don’t have the space here to explain but please ask your friend Google. It’s science so it’s real! Numerous studies have shown reduced anxiety, depression and aggression for those living near parks, mature trees or with ready access to a garden.
6) Growing your own, veggies & Herbs The satisfaction of picking herbs or veggies from your own garden is delightful and if you try it, you’ll understand the reward. Community gardens are a great place to learn, even if you’re not ready to manage your own plot, they always need volunteers.
7) Invasive Species: As you add native plants to draw in all the creatures, start to eliminate the plants that cause major problems for our local ecosystems. Periwinkle, Ivy, Lily of the Valley, Garlic Mustard, Phragmites and the most aggressive, Japanese Knotweed, should all be learned so they can be removed from wild spaces and even our own backyards. After all, it’s because these plants were in gardens and then ‘escaped’ that we now have such problems in conservation areas and parks. Remember that these species provide no nutrients or food of any kind for local insects or birds because they are from other continents.