There is a lot of buzz around pollinators lately, and with good cause. Populations of many common Canadian pollinators are shrinking at remarkable rates for a number of reasons. As with many global tragedies, the issues seem overwhelming, the predictions austere and for many, I assume a sense of hopelessness prevails. What can be done by the individual Canadian, what possible difference can one household make? The truth of the matter is that each of us with very little effort and expense can make a world of difference, it’s just knowing how.
Developing and maintaining a garden should not be overwhelming, as a matter of fact it should be an exercise in outdoor movement, observation, diligence and of course patience. The first step is to get past the fear or reticence of actually making the garden. You don’t have to have the most expensive, trendiest bits and pieces to have a successful project. Designer this, that, these and those abound with some working others not so. The point is to use clean containers, a prepared media (bagged soiless mix) and good plants or seed stock. Land is not crucial, just a corner of the balcony or patio is sufficient, this is perhaps the biggest mental barrier. Just consider if everyone in your region planted simply one pollinator friendly plant on their balcony, the results would be amazing. Butterflies, hummingbirds and a great many less distinguishable species would have food and shelter even on the 20th floor. One must keep in mind when selecting a location, that a more protected area is far more desirable than a windswept stretch or corner in the blazing hot sun. The recipe for success includes heaping doses of common sense!
A consideration that is often overlooked when focusing on developing a space for pollinators, is that the garden needs to supply benefits for three seasons. Remembering our elementary school science we can likely connect the dots that honey bees collect nectar from flowers and in doing so their fuzzy bodies get covered with pollen. This pollen is then transferred to other flowers and presto cross pollination. Honey bees also mix some of this pollen with the sweet nectar from the flower to form “bee bread” a protein rich substance that they feed to the larvae. Understanding that not everyone would welcome honey bees to their home, garden or balcony, bees are just one excellent example of Canadian pollinators. One in every three bites of food that we eat in Canada is as a result of some sort of pollination.
Butterflies are typically a more acceptable family of pollinators than bees and as well they add great beauty to any garden. The Monarch butterfly has been in the news for some time now as a species that is in peril, with populations reaching very dangerous levels. These migrating butterflies require specific food plants for their larval stage but are not as precise for adult food. Various species of milkweed (Asclepias spp) are the favoured larvae food and as such with this plant labelled as a noxious weed for many years, the Monarch’s habitat has been reduced significantly over time. Only now are regions of Canada allowing this plant to be grown with many conservation charities providing seed and instruction to increase the monarch’s food source. There are many other butterflies and moths that you can attract to your garden such as the Swallowtails, the Admirals, Hairstreaks and of course moths abound as well.
Rather than go on with a step by step process for developing your pollinator garden, I will offer some excellent plant suggestions to entice a variety of butterflies to your garden or balcony space. This selection of plants offers colour for the entire season, nectar as well as pollen. Keep in mind that perennial plants that are grown in containers will most likely require over wintering indoors with the exception of Canada’s mildest climates. Ensure that there is a water source for the butterflies to drink from. A simple clay saucer with few pebbles scattered in will be sufficient. Fresh water daily is important. The Home Depot stores across Canada will be carrying a selection of perennial plants for pollinators suitable for every region accordingly. The Canadian Wildlife Federation endorses these kits with a portion of the proceeds going to the Federation for conservation education programming.
Rough Stemmed Goldenrod
Autumn Joy Stonecrop
Prairie Blazing Star
New England Aster
The final words are to create, observe and maintain this space with a young person. There is nothing quite like the wonderment and excitement of a child experiencing nature.