By Candy Venning
Looking back over my 20 years of professional gardening it seems that many of us used to be divided between growing vegetables and fruits (homesteading) vs ‘Pretty gardens’. The pretty garden camp was further divided into perennials vs annuals and now the whole garden world has been tipped upside down with a movement to plant native Ontario species. (which is great!)
Let’s demystify and reunite all the garden peoples. No garden is an island, there are beneficial insects, insects that eat other insects and there are insects that eat your plants – turns out the caterpillars chomping through your parsley are excellent bird food (baby birds cannot eat seeds and parents must feed their young thousands of insects a day) not only is it GOOD to have something eating your plants but that caterpillar may turn out to be a gorgeous Swallowtail butterfly. If something is eating your garden then you’re contributing or at least participating in the life cycle of the planet we live on. Also, let’s mix our plants up. I like to grow some annuals, some perennial herbs, more and more native plants but still adore my tree peonies and climbing Hydrangea.
If you’ve read any of Douglas Tallamy (please do read ‘Bringing Nature Home’ via HPL or google some of his speaking engagements on youtube) he suggests we keep 30% of the garden to ourselves with zucchinis, roses, peonies, dahlias or other favourites while considering a slow turn over, of the rest of our plants as natives to feed the declining numbers of insects and birds that co-evolved with those plants.
This is a tricky process, best approached slow and steady, many native plants require cold stratification to get growing (easily done with a little research into winter sowing) are not readily available in garden centres and are hard to recognize when not in bloom. (could someone please invent an attractive, long lasting plant tag!) The plant names can be confusing like Milkweed vs Butterfly weed – some native species like common milkweed (that is used to battling through tall grasses in a poor soil, dry meadow situation) can be aggressive in our cultivated soft beds. (choose well behaved Asclepias tuberosa instead) The Following is only a partial list that you might find helpful, a lot can be learned by observing what birds and insects come and for which plants (native trees provide the earliest flowers and nectar sources for our native bees yet many of the flowers are so insignificant – to us- that we don’t consider them)
Annuals that pollinators enjoy; Nicotiana – the tall white variety not the multicoloured dwarf varieties (hummingbird and sphinx moths come for this evening scented white flower) Cosmos, Borage, Parsley, Dill, annual Sage/Salvia, Sunflowers, Nasturtiums, Cleome, Tithonia, Zinnias, Lobelia, Canna lily (particularly for hummingbirds) and Artichoke if left to flower (a very beautiful annual if you’ve got some space and full sun)
Perennials that are native-ish (there are many cultivated varieties in garden centres but all can be found as a true native species from a specialty nursery or seed supplier); Black eyed Susan, Liatris, Solomon’s seal, Tiarella, Asters, Tradescantia, Monarda, Cranesbill, Columbine, Echinacea, Penstemon, Coreopsis, Phlox
Non native Perennials that seem to create a lot of buzz; Russian sage, Lavender, Sage, Chives, Echinops, Hyssop, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Veronica/Speedwell, both Creeping Phlox and Garden phlox (tall)
Easy to grow native plants from seed (germination does not require cold stratifying) ; Aquilegia canadensis, common yarrow, anise hyssop, pearly everlasting, silver sage, harebell, lance-leaf coreopsis, purple prairie clover, blanket flower, blue flax, lupine, bergamot, dotted mint, evening primrose, white aster, mountain mint, Culver’s root.
Many of the nurseries have excellent links to plant lists or resources by soil type, sun or shade and plants that work well together. Nurseries and sources nearby or online for native plants or seeds; Wildflower farm, Bee Sweet Nature (Puslinch), Kayanase.ca, Onplants.ca, – also check out the Monarch Awards as well as Hamilton Pollinator Paradise.org