By Candy Venning

A favourite trend I’m seeing in gardens of all sizes is the movement towards growing plants which feed and support some of the 367 identified bird species that call the Hamilton area home.

Simply by leaving the assorted hard and soft berries, rosehips, plus various seeds on your plants for the winter, you can provide a food source.  Leave coneflowers uncut and you may see a goldfinch perching to peck out the seeds as a snack.  Towering grasses look great in winter, adding movement and even a bit of colour against the snow with their pretty food filled seedheads.

There’s no place like home: Native species

Photo Credit Janet Davis

OK, you’ve heard this before but why? Why should you bother planting natives in the garden? The absolute best reason is because they’ve adapted and co-evolved alongside the very birds, bees and butterflies that need them for food and shelter. ( A bird or insect is unlikely to risk its life eating something it hasn’t evolved through generations of familiarity eating or adapting to)

Hard berries from native trees and shrubs can provide a concentrated elixir of fats and vitamins for wintering birds or birds on a migration journey. Suggestions abound online but my top picks would be Serviceberry, Elderberry and Arrowwood Viburnum – a caterpillar host that also bears fruit, as a front-runner pick.

Aside from the plants in your garden let’s not forget that in spring, nesting birds will be foraging for insects and caterpillars plus other grubs & larvae as they need to feed their chicks who cannot digest seeds. Butterflies may be beautiful but they, along with moths and beetles also provide essential larvae as a protein rich food source for our birds!

There’s been quite a buzz concerning the diminishing numbers of insects and the approx 3500 different species of wild bees in North America. (Naturally this shortage affects bird populations too) Consider how your garden can ‘give back’ by providing pollen-rich plants & homes for these essential links in the food chain. Researching host plants for insects in our region as well as leaving various leaves, branches and hollow stems for insects to lay eggs in can be very helpful for the insect/pollinator/bird cycle.

Adding Echinacea, Aster, Liatris, Culver’s Root, Chocolate Boneset and the Monarchs’ all time fave, Milkweed/Asclepia, to your garden is a good start. If you have a shade garden, allow leaves to break down and support the various organisms living in the soil. Nutrient dense and fertile soil is best created by a process of natural leaf and plant matter decomposition, in turn, supporting ephemeral native shade plants like ferns and trilliums.

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. (Nature deficit disorder) Have a walk through Sunset Cultural Garden near Bayfront park (Google maps knows where it is) to see a naturalized planting area that supports all kinds of insects, and by extension, birds and by extension, humans.  🙂