By Candy Venning

Maybe a bit of a personal question, but just who is your garden for? At this time of year, I really start to dream and plan ahead with my ‘garden goals’. A place for myself in the hammock is high on the list, but I also have other guests on my mind – here’s who I’m hoping to invite:

Birds Although we won’t see them all at our birdfeeder as many are waterfowl and lots migrate south; we will see some Dark-eyed Juncos coming in from further north. In summer we can expect to find a surprisingly large number of species around the Hamilton area & migrating along the lakes. – almost 500 bird species call Ontario home! Birds eat berries, seeds and insects (see below) so planting native plants for the food web is essential as that’s the food chain they co-evolved with. e.g., Arrowwood Viburnum – a caterpillar host, caterpillars feed baby birds, also bears fruit for adult birds.

Bees – Almost 400 native bee species in the greater Ontario region (the European honeybee is not in danger of going extinct anytime soon). Plant flowers! e.g., Globe Thistle/Echinops (a fantastically architectural plant that bees thrive on), Hyssop, Chives, Aquilegia canadensis, Pycnanthemum (Mountain Mint), Solidago & native Asters just for a start.

The bees need more than just nectar and pollen, they require habitat and as most are solitary, ground nests and or empty cavities in stems and branches are home; leave some messy areas just for them.

Butterflies & Moths, wasps flies and other flying insects – sphinx moth, hummingbird moth and their caterpillars are fascinating to watch, often the only food for baby birds. Wasps may be annoying at your picnic (bees don’t want your food) but they are a pollinator and eat many other insect types that you may consider to be pests like aphids. Plant natives like Liatris, New Jersey Tea, and the Monarch’s all-time fave, Milkweed/Asclepias (Asclepias tuberosa or Asclepias incarnata as opposed to Common Milkweed)

Worms, woodlice, centipedes, slugs, snails, millipedes, beetles, spiders, ants- Not usually our favourites, it might be time for a rethink. Distributing seeds, eating smaller organisms, eating dead plant material – they’re the cleanup and recycling crews. I’ve had great success in feeding these creatures what they need (leaf litter and branches or wood chips) so they leave my plants alone. Worms, Insects and their larvae are part of the food chain, (repeating myself but …it’s true) especially for birds. Did you know hummingbirds eat mainly insects?

Soil – it’s a complex ecosystem unto itself, alive with organisms and microbiota. Remember not to keep turning soil over, this effectively sterilizes the beneficial life out of it. Do add lots of leaves and/or top with compost. No need to dig or till it in, rain, worms and gravity will take care of distribution.

Mushrooms – breaking dead plant material down into useable nutrients. I’ve started artistic little brush piles in the shady spots, in hope of seeing more of the fungi kingdom. If you’re a foodie consider logs impregnated with mushrooms – haven’t tried this myself yet but looking forward to it.

Plants – Trees and shrubs, native plants, ornamentals, herbs, teas, edible flowers, vegetables and fruits. Most of us think of this group first when using the ‘G’ word because a garden without plants is…sad.

Plant Native species! OK, you’ve heard this before, but why should you bother planting natives in the garden? The number one reason; they have evolved alongside the very birds, bees and butterflies (see above) that need them for food and shelter. Keep your dahlias and even your roses (although singles are better than doubles for pollinators) but mull over the idea of only 30% of the garden as ‘yours’ to grow non-native plants. A new way of thinking, maybe a bit controversial? However, you just might warm to those garden guests as their own type of interest and ‘garden goals’.