Category Archives: Bees & Pollinators

Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies

by MJ Parker, Master Gardener

I recently downloaded “Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies” from my local library. This book was a fabulous find for me because I am currently planning a buffer area by the water in our new place. Going through this book reminded me of when I was a kid with a new Sears or Eaton’s catalogue – always an exciting event – something only people of a certain age will remember.

Book cover

The book was written by an entomologist, Jaret C. Daniels, currently living in Florida but the area covered by the book is the upper Midwest which is roughly parallel to us here. I have ordered plants from Minnesota before with no problems and some of the plants I currently grow are in the book.About 1/4 of the book is devoted to why we should plant gardens for birds, bees and butterflies. He does a brief summary on a number of topics about the actual mechanics.

False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

Most of the book, however, was a precis of individual plants roughly divided into sun, shade, and bog. Each plant started with a picture, then a summary of what it would attract and ended with specific location and cultivar tips. And this plant section was the part that I found extremely interesting and helpful.

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)

So what I did was I sat down with a pen and paper over a number of days and compiled a list of what would work for me and plants I wanted to get. I ended up with a comprehensive list of plants, some I had forgotten to bring from the old place and some completely new to me.

And to date I have already placed 2 seed orders for some of the things on my list.

Google Lens (free!) for all of your identification needs

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

If you’re outside enjoying the fresh air, and happen across a flower or bird or insect and you’re not sure what you’re looking at, a new feature from Google can help you out.

Google Lens lets you search what you see. Using a photo, your camera or almost any image, Lens helps you discover visually similar images and related content, gathering results from all over the internet.

All you need to do is: On your phone, open the Google app and in the search bar, tap Google Lens. Point your camera at the flower to identify the plant. Swipe up to learn about the discovery.

On Android, Google Lens is likely already built right in — open the Google App or Google Photos app. Tap Discover or tap the Google Lens icon.

On Apple, Google Lens is part of the Google app — a separate app from using Google on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Go to the App Store and download/install Google as a unique app if you haven’t already done so.

When you open the Google App, you’ll see a screen like this with the Lens icon. It’s your window to discovery!

Last week, I went for a long walk and checked out a lot of the volunteer trees and plants along the rural roadway. Sometimes I wanted to verify an item I thought I already knew, but more often I wanted to determine the name of a common but name-unknown item. Google Lens scored on both fronts. Now if only I could remember all of those names!

If you have a bug infestation, use Google Lens to identify the bug if you can get it to sit still long enough!

There’s plenty more you can do with Google Lens, too, including pulling the contact information from business cards, identifying unusual foods and almost anything else. It can also translate words on the screen into other languages, and read them back to you.

The ability of the app to actually CORRECTLY identify plants and bugs is pretty decent, and will get better over time. It helps to allow Google to use location services, so that it’s not searching through the entire rain forest to determine the name of the plant in your neighbourhood. You can also allow Lens access to your photos, so that you can identify items you’ve already taken pictures of.

Best of all, it’s free and will always be free. Try it!

The Golden Glow Has Got To Go

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Last year around this time I wrote a blog about reclaiming a garden bed from the dreaded ditch lily (Hemerocallis fulva), now considered an invasive species by many organizations including Ontario Parks and the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the U. S. National Park Service. If you’ve ever struggled with this plant you know what I mean.

The other plant growing in our large Lakefield garden when we moved in (more than 20 years ago) is what I was told was called an ‘outhouse plant‘. I eventually learned that the Latin name for this plant (also called golden glow or tall coneflower) was Rudbeckia laciniata “Hortensia”.

Rudbeckia laciniata “Hortensia” or Outhouse Plant, circa 2005 in my garden

It’s a cultivar of our native Rudbeckia laciniata, also known as Cut Leaf Coneflower or Green Headed Coneflower, which has a lovely simple daisylike flower (whereas the Hortesia cultivar is a double ‘puffy’ flower).

Our lovely R. laciniata elsewhere in the garden. It will do better (and flop less) if it’s in a garden bed with other tall and native plants.

The outhouse plant was pleasant enough so I let them grow for years in what I call our ‘back 40’, meaning our naturalized garden area at the back of the property, behind the cedar rail fence. Yes they were tall and gangly, and fell over in thunderstorms. Yes they spread, but they gave the prolific Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) a run for their money in August/September. And hey, I had more than enough to deal with in the rest of my more organized garden!

However, as I started to learn more about both native (and invasive) plants over the years I realized that I might have a problem. The outhouse plant isn’t a huge problem per se, as it can be controlled through digging, Chelsea chop etc., but its double shape means that it offers minimal benefit as food for our pollinators. And I wanted plants that not only look beautiful but have an ecological benefit. So I sat in my hammock and pondered.

Sitting in my hammock contemplating the outhouse plant’s fate
(he’s watching on the right)

As a result of winter sowing (first time this past winter – highly recommend!) I have lots of new native plant seedlings, including some of the ones I featured in my May blog – A Few of My Favourite Native Plants – Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum Virginicum), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata). I certainly have lots of the native Rudbeckia, as well as Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Giant Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), and Purple Giant Hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia).

So the clearing of the outhouse plant began in earnest last week, and by the end of two afternoons I had an area to work with.

The initial chop of material
Then removal of the actual plants and roots

Definitely not light work, but not too difficult either compared to other plants. The area is now clear, and I’ll be putting in Green Headed Coneflower (the native), Boneset, Giant Ironweed, and Purple Giant Hyssop. They can all tolerate a little competition (a good thing for native plants, especially tall ones) and basic soils.

If I have space I might even mix in some shorter plants like native Bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) and Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) in at the front as they can tolerate dry conditions. The area is mostly sunny all day. Unfortunately my beloved Cardinal Flower and Turtlehead are too dry for this location.

We’ll see how this experiment works and check back in with you all on another blog. If it works we’ll expand into another area of outhouse plant that I recently cut down, but haven’t removed yet…a work in progress. There are only so many hours in my (still working part time) day. And I still need to get that Canada Ggoldenrod under control…but that’s another story…

Outcompeting Invasive Plants, Part II

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

This article was published in err a couple of weeks ago, and is being republished today as a corrective measure. Apologies. -Ed.

Back in a June post[i], I referenced the Ontario Native Plant Council’s best management practices for Alliaria petiolata (Garlic Mustard).[ii] In it they referred to certain native plants that can be used to outcompete it. I would like to mention one other that I am fond of having in my garden. Packera aurea (Golden Groundsel) has a diminutive orange inflorescence and is native to the Peterborough area. It can be aggressive as it reproduces through rhizomes and adventitious shoots on the stems. It is better situated in moist soils and so it may be more subdued in a drier location. In her blog, The Humane Gardener[iii], Nancy Lawson discovered that when she inserted clumps of Golden Groundsel into patches of Garlic Mustard, the latter quickly became surrounded. Garlic Mustard is known to be allelopathic and inhibits the growth of some plants. However, Golden Groundsel does not appear to be inhibited by it.

Golden groundsel, Packera aurea

Anemonastrum canadense (Canada Anemone) is a beautiful vigorous native ground cover that performs well in sun to shaded environments; although it can develop brown leaves in more arid conditions. I am using it to limit the advance of Campanula rapunculoides (Creeping Bellflower). The intent is to envelope it so that it is unable to photosynthesize, grow more foliage, and store energy in its roots. One might argue that this is simply a matter of replacing one problem with another. While it is true that Canada Anemone can be overwhelming, it may be limited by deadheading the flowers, removing rhizomes, adding mulches, and by installing edging below the soil surface. As a native plant, it supports pollinators such as miner bees, sweat bees, and hover flies. The Xerces Society notes that it supports “conservation biological control.”[iv] This is a plant that attracts beneficial insects to your garden which in turn will help control other insects that damage your other plants.

So far, the Creeping Bellflower’s development has been slowed but there are still some basal leaves within the patch and at the perimeter. Right now, it is still a team effort: Canada Anemone and me.


[i] Outcompeting Invasive Plants: Part I. https://peterboroughmastergardeners.com/2022/06/13/outcompeting-invasive-plants-part-1/

[ii] Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata): Best Management Practices in Ontario. Ontario Invasive Plant Council.  https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/OIPC_BMP_GarlicMustard.pdf

[iii] How to Fight Plants with Plants. The Human Gardener. Online: https://www.humanegardener.com/how-to-fight-plants-with-plants/

[iv] Habitat Planning for Beneficial Insects: Guidelines for Conservation Biological Control. Xerces Society. http://www.xerces.org/publications/guidelines/hab

Holes in Leaves

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

Several years ago I heard a wonderful talk by Martin Galloway on “Holes in Leaves.” His philosophy was that you can never totally eradicate pests from your gardens, so you should enjoy the beautiful lacing they do to your leaves. At the time, I was skeptical about how I could love holes in leaves and the pests that put them there. However as a Master Gardener, I now understand his perspective and I do try for a balance using safe methods to control pests. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a practice where pests are controlled using environmentally safe and economically sound values. Biological controls like BTK or parasitic nematodes can be used. Barriers such as diatomaceous earth, wood ashes or sticky boards are mechanical control methods as well as hand picking. Cultural methods include plant nutrition, sanitation, planting pest resistant varieties and plant rotation (in the case of vegetables).

Although we don’t want bad bugs in our garden, we do want the beneficial bugs that are predators and parasites. These include dragonflies and damselflies, lady bugs, lacewings, spiders, wasps and some types of flies.

Aphids or plant lice are one of the most common pests to attack your plants. They are tiny soft bodied creatures that can be black, red or green in colour. They suck the sap from your leaves, and leave a sticky substance behind. You will often see them in a long line on your stems. Red aphids are common on garden phlox. You can use an insecticidal soap for aphids. Or use a blast of hose water to knock them off your plants.

Beetles are hard bodied insects that are generally easy to find on your plants. There are many types and they are often named after their plant of choice, like scarlet lily beetle. The most effective method for controlling beetles is hand picking. Look for the striped cucumber beetle inside the blossoms. When handpicking, place a hand under where the beetle is to catch it as they tend to jump when you touch them.

Caterpillars are another garden pest that are easily spotted. In spring you may find your Hydrangea arborescens has closed, puckered leaves which are holding the common leaftier. You can gently open the leaf and remove and destroy the caterpillar inside or pluck of the entire leaf and squish.

Slugs and snails are sometimes difficult to find as they like dark damp places and feed at night. But you will know you have them when they are munching on your hosta leaves. Check out Gardens Plus for Dawn’s formula for slugs.

As we enter the dog days of summer, we are all battling voracious bugs eating our beautiful flowers and vegetables. The healthier your plants are, the less they will suffer from a deluge of bad bugs. That is why it is important that you give your plants the water and nutrients they need to be their best. Good soil health and good fertilizing methods will give you healthier plants.

Remember that anything you apply to your plants to kill those pests can also hurt pollinators and will be on the vegetables and fruit that you ingest.

To make your garden less inviting to pests

  1. plant the right plant in the right spot to keep it happy and not stressed
  2. do not overcrowd plants which encourages dampness and pests
  3. diversity in your garden will help with pest control – if there are a variety of plants, specific pests will not take over
  4. keep nitrogen levels moderate as many pests like aphids thrive on plants with high levels of N.
  5. Remove garden litter; if pests are present as they can overwinter there.

My favourite method of hand picking beetles and slugs and hosing down aphids is no cost and gets you out into your gardens….where you can enjoy your own “Holes in Leaves.”

For more information on garden pests go to https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/help-for-the-home-gardener/advice-tips-resources/pests-and-problems.aspx

or try https://cdn.dal.ca/content/dam/dalhousie/pdf/agriculture/ExtendedLearning/gardenbox/Managing%20Vegetable%20Pests_Garden%20Box_Online.pdf

The Joy of Sharing our Gardens

Reflections after a Garden Tour

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

It’s been a tough few years for all of us because of COVID-19, but I had time to reflect this weekend on why it’s been hard for me as a gardener. While it’s been wonderful to have our gardens as an oasis and source of comfort during the pandemic, I realized that other than a few close friends, no one had seen all the work (and the results) that my husband Grant and I had achieved over that time.

So it was with great anticipation that we looked forward to our Lakefield garden being featured on a garden tour organized as a fundraiser to celebrate 60 years of the Lakefield Horticultural Society.

While we spent a few very crazy days trying to put the final touches on our garden (my husband decided he would build a beautiful pergola [awesome] a week before the event [not so awesome] so plants had to be moved into pots and then back into the beds just a few days before) — sorry I digress — everything was perfect on the day — the weather was spectacular, we placed the last bits of mulch to cover a few empty patches and we looked forward to welcoming our guests.

The new pergola.

As the first people arrived (I think our first visitor was a man on a bicycle!) I began to realize how much I had missed the joy of sharing our gardens with others. And as the day progressed, it was wonderful to hear other people’s perceptions — for some it was inspiring, for some a bit overwhelming (we have a 3/4 acre property in a small village), for some they loved that we had plants they had never seen before (not your typical garden). Everyone seemed to leave with a smile on their face, which made our day.

Grant created numerous raised beds over the past few years — at my request — and we’ve had great success with them. We also purchased a “COVID present” for ourselves — a long wished-for greenhouse to extend our gardening season, and it’s been put to good use.

We’ve spent time over the past few years planting more native plants as I learn more about the benefits of creating habitat as well as having an aesthetically pleasing garden. Hey, it’s not all about me!! Doug Tallamy’s book is a great start to understanding the benefits we can provide in our humble gardens to the greater ecosystem.

There is definitely a balance — we’re aiming for a 50/50 balance of native/non-native — because I love my daylilies and peonies and don’t want to give them up (they give me pleasure), but I also love the hundreds of pollinators (bees, butterflies, wasps etc.) that flock to my Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), and Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) because I am choosing to plant native plants.

Boneset (white) and Cardinal Flower (red)

Last winter I grew some native (and non-native) plants using the Winter Sowing technique (because most native plant seed requires winter/cold stratification) and it was a great success (with some lessons learned – but that’s another blog).

Grant set up a Plant Sale area for the garden tour and people were able to buy plants that they saw in the garden (although alas, I did not take any cuttings on my amazing orange Butterfly Weed – a type of milkweed – which really caught everyone’s attention).

The Plant Sale area

Over the day I saw many gardening friends I hadn’t seen in several years, and made all sorts of new friends. It felt like my community was coming together — like we were reconnecting after a long time apart in a beautiful place. And I realized that gardening is both a solitary and a very social activity. We even got featured in the local newspaper.

We raised funds to support our local horticultural society, we got back to feeling ‘a bit normal’, and most importantly we got to reconnect with people over a common passion — the love of gardening.

I hope that all of you will find opportunities to reconnect with people this summer and share your gardens and plants and trade stories about attracting pollinators etc. with others. It’s a feeling like no other. #happygardening

Our lovely rudbeckia and greenhouse in the background.

A Few of My Favourite Native Plants

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

I’ve been gardening for more than 25 years and, like many of you, thrill at the opportunity to discover new plants for my gardens. Over the past few years these have been mostly native plants, as I learn about all the benefits that they bring – here’s just a few examples of why native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees do so much more than just add beauty to the landscape:

  • They support birds, pollinators and wildlife – native gardens attract birds and butterflies and provide habitat and food for native pollinators
  • They increase biodiversity – native plants increase garden health and resilience, and help contribute to a broader effect to nurture and sustain living landscapes
  • They’re tough and low maintenance – because they’re adapted to grow in their native range, locally native plants tend to thrive with little to no care and conserve one of our most precious resources – water
  • They help you save money AND create a healthier environment for people – native plants don’t require expensive fertilizers and chemicals, or toxic pesticides and herbicides
  • They help with climate change – no lawn mower costs or exhaust! and long lived native trees help store carbon dioxide
  • They make gardening easier – if you select the right native plants for your garden, you don’t have to modify or amend your soil

I’m just going to share three favourite native plants in my garden, with hopes that you may consider them for yours.

Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum Virginicum)

Culver’s Root offers a strong upright, architectural accent to any perennial garden that attracts attention from both people and pollinators!! It can reach heights of 5 feet if it’s happy (although mine hasn’t achieved that yet) and the spikes of white flowers open from the bottom up in mid-summer. It has finely toothed leaves that are lanceolate and occur in a whorl of 3 to 8 leaflets. The inflorescence has several wand-like flowering spikes that resemble an elegant candelabra.

Culver’s Root grows in zones 3-8, in full sun to part shade but it does like moist, well-drained soil. The seeds are so tiny that they should be directly sown on the soil surface in fall or in the spring – I’ve tried winter sowing some this year so we’ll see how that goes.

The plant really has no other synonyms; apparently the name was derived from a Dr. Coulvert, a late 17th to early 18th century pioneer physician who found laxative properties in the plant. More information here.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Who doesn’t love bright red flowers in the garden? For those who say native plants can’t be showy I give you this amazing example to disprove that theory. Named for its scarlet red flowers, its tubular flowers are a magnet and important nectar source for hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies.

Like Culver’s Root the flowering spikes open from the bottom to top and bloom for several weeks. They grow best in moist, rich soils in full sun to partial shade.

I’ve only had my plants for two seasons but I understand that the parent plants will not persist after a few years, so it’s important to either let it go to seed (so it reseeds naturally) or collect seed – this is another plant where I am trying out winter sowing (native plants are a great choice for this propagation method). While many sites will tell you it needs a really moist site mine have done fine, although I do keep the plants well watered in drier times. More information here.

Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

Also commonly called Cut Leaved (or Cut Leaf) Coneflower, this is the straight species, not to be confused with the double cultivar many of us have in our rural gardens (often called the Outhouse Plant – or Rudbeckia laciniata “Golden Glow”).

Not a small plant (it grows 4 to 5 feet tall in my garden), it clumps and spread by rhizomes so only one to consider if you have the space! Its bright yellow, daisy-like drooping flowers with green centre disks (which can be about 3 inches across) bloom later in the summer season. It prefers moist soil, but grows well in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. In nature it is often found in woods, meadows, streambanks, and roadside ditches.

The Cherokee natives call this plant Sochan and the spring basal leaves are a traditional Cherokee food. Butterflies are attracted to nectar from the blooms and songbirds, especially American Goldfinches, eat the seed in the fall. It is moderately deer resistant. More information here.

So I hope you’ll take the opportunity to seek out native plants to add to your garden, finding ones that are native to your region and appropriate to your conditions. Happy Gardening!!

Year of the Garden 2022

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Canadians love to garden!  2022 is the Canadian ornamental sector’s centennial and has been declared by the Canadian Garden Council as the Year of the Garden.  For more information, check Year of the Garden.

Our gardens became even more important to us over the last couple of years while we were sheltering at home due to the covid pandemic.   2022 is a year for us to share our gardening passion and knowledge.  It is the mission of the Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners to inform, educate and inspire the residents of Peterborough and area to create healthy and vibrant gardens, landscapes and communities through the use of safe, effective, proven and sustainable horticultural practices.  Peterborough has even declared itself as a garden-friendly city as part of the Year of the Garden festivities!

So, think how you can “live the garden life” … maybe consider gardening indoors with house plants, or in containers on your balcony or create a new garden in your yard.  You could join your local Horticultural Society to learn more about plants and then perhaps become more involved in the community.  Your next step might be to become a Master Gardener!

The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners will celebrate the Year of the Garden by partnering with the Peterborough Public Library to renovate the gardens around their Aylmer Street building.  The gardens had originally been planted with invasive plants.  We will remove the invasives and replace them with native plants from Grow Wild, Native Plant Nursery.  The Peterborough Kawartha Association of Realtors (PKAR) are providing some much needed sponsorship funding for the project.  We are planning to involve the younger crowd in some of the planting along with our great group of adult volunteers.  We hope that, with some growing time, the gardens will become a haven with native plants and local pollinators and a beautiful spot for human visitors to rest. 

June 18/2022 has been designated as the Year of the Garden day in Peterborough.  The opening of the newly planted gardens at the Peterborough Public Library will be on that date from 10 until 2 pm.  There will also be a story walk for children, a Master Gardener advice table and more.   Another great event happening that day is the Peterborough Horticultural Society’s garden tour.  Tickets will be on sale soon for the tour.  Follow the Peterborough Master Gardeners and the Peterborough Horticultural Association on social media for more information.

Why Do We Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn

If you’re like me, you love to garden. Time in my garden provides me with joy on so many levels — emotional, physical, social, creative — and connects me with the outdoors and the environment. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, one of the silver linings is that we’ve seen a renewed interest in gardening and its benefits, whether you’re working in a large garden or a few containers on your balcony. So I thought I would explore some of the top reasons I think we garden.

Physical and Emotional Health

Gardening is physical. As a low to medium impact exercise that requires both strength and stretching, you’ll see increased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness over time, as well as improved sleep and diet (if you grow your own produce). On the emotional side, gardening reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and improves self esteem.

It’s good for the mind — gardening calms me down and helps me be more patient with myself and those I interact with on a daily basis. It gives me time to contemplate as I go about my tasks, up to my elbows in soil. Even weeding is cathartic, pulling out those little terrors by the root!

Just visiting gardens helps to calm the mind, bringing a sense of contentment and tranquility from looking at beautiful landscapes, flowers, or just colour and texture.

Building Relationships

While gardening can be a solo activity (some of my favourite moments are just by myself in my green oasis), it’s also a fabulous way to connect with people, whether they be family or strangers!

Teaching people how to nurture a living thing and to be responsible for a little bit of the environment is a lesson and gift we can share with others. Gardening knowledge is shared through generations — I love hearing about plants handed down from grandparents, or children working with their parents to grow seeds for the first time. It’s a great way to pass on critical life lessons — about patience as plants and vegetables grow, responsibility as they look after their care, and loss when flowers die at the end of a season.

Beyond family, gardening helps us connect with the broader community. Whether you plant too many tomatoes or zucchinis and end up giving them away to neighbours, or participate in a community garden plot, gardening can be a very social activity and a chance to learn from, and share your bounty, with others.

Learning Life Values

Gardening teaches you important life values like patience, determination, caring, and hard work. It also makes you very humble as you realize that there is always something new to learn. You need to observe the seasons and the weather, and this puts you in contact with the natural world. I love that I can get dirty and do this very physical activity, working with seeds and plants and seeing growth in all I do.

Growing Your Own Food

Gardening provides benefits for your wallet, your nutrition, and reduces your environmental footprint. By growing your own food (either from seeds or small plants), your food is automatically more sustainable simply because you are doing it onsite or in a community garden. If you control the ‘inputs’ and do it well, you can save a lot of money.

But ultimately there is nothing more rewarding than planting and maintaining your own vegetable garden and harvesting (and sharing) your results. And we all know how much better homegrown produce tastes versus conventional produce at the grocery store. If you have too much produce, then you can just share the love with others!

Connecting With Nature

I think this is one of the best reasons why people have a garden — the sunshine on your face, hands in the dirt, and feeling connected to nature. The garden is so much more than just plants and flowers — it’s the birds, the bugs, the bees, the spiders, the snakes and all the small mammals. I feel like I am establishing a little ecosystem in my own garden and that I am trying to give back for all the benefits that I receive.

Working in the garden also gives you that sense of wonder, accomplishment, and reward. To grow plants is to give life. It keeps you busy but reminds you to be one with the earth. To see the results of something growing from seed to six feet tall is just incredible.

Exploring Creativity

I find gardening to be an incredibly creative activity. Finding the right plant for the right spot, mixing colours, and making sure there is interest for every season — these are real challenges. I’ve spent much of the past few years learning about new plants to consider in my garden, especially natives.

Helping The Environment

Finally, gardening is so important for our planet. Even though we create our gardens (so they are human made) they do represent natural environments, with trees and shrubs and plants that are all taking in carbon and releasing oxygen. The plant roots stabilize the soil and filter water, and the plants themselves support our pollinators.

We live in a symbiotic relationship with our gardens. We give back by planting and maintaining them, but we receive so much more from them than we give.

Why do you garden?

Expanding Your Native Plant Palette

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

Last year I posted about Doug Tallamy’s most recent book and talked about how Quercus (Oaks) are the number one “keystone plant species.” A keystone plant is one that supports the entire life cycle of many different wildlife species—all critical to the food web. The list of keystone plants is actually quite short as only 14% of native plants support 90% of butterfly and moth species.[i] Some of these, like Danaus plexipplus (Monarch Butterfly), are specialists in that they require host plants from the genus Asclepias (Milkweed) to complete their lifecycles. Recently I learned that while most native bees are generalists and they seek out a range of plants for pollen, there are certain specialist native bees that are restricted to either a single plant genus or to a few genera. Horticulturist Jarrod Fowler determined that of native bees in the Northeastern United States, only 15% restricted pollen foraging to 33 plant genera and only 201 native host plants.[ii]

Bombus (Bumblebee) on Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed)

As examples of specialist bees, authors Lorraine Johnson and Sheila Colla mention in their book A Flower Patch for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee: Creating Habitat Gardens for Native Pollinators in the Greater Toronto Area, two whose sole pollen source plants include Oenothera (Evening Primrose) and Monarda (Bee Balm): Lasioglossum oenotherae (Evening Primrose Sweat Bee) and Dufourea monardae (Bee Balm Sweat Bee). The former is considered vulnerable and the latter is imperiled in Ontario. A recent online presentation by biologist Heather Holm indicated that there are also specific plants that are the sole providers of pollen to Bombus (Bumblebees). For example, Monarda (Bee Balm) provide nectar to them but they do not provide pollen. Pollen is a necessary protein source as is also nectar as a carbohydrate source. Other plants are required for their pollen sources. This list can help as a guide to some of these.

When I first started gardening, I planted different Milkweed and it was all for the endangered Monarch Butterfly. I think I was influenced more by aesthetics and an influential marketing campaign than anything else. While I will continue to have these plants in my garden and continue to support Monarchs, I have become more thoughtful in my choices—especially since the percentage of native plants that are supportive is so small. What can we do to improve our native garden palettes? A good approach is to choose a wide range of geographically appropriate native plants from the top keystone genera that have flowers of different shapes, colours, season-wide blooming periods, and provide nectar and pollen. Plants that historically or genetically evolved in our region will be the most supportive of the native wildlife in our region. Consider also adding some individual species that support specific specialists. As with all plants, you still need to consider whether your planting site is suitable [e.g., light level, soil type (loam, clay, sandy), pH (acidic, alkaline), moisture, drainage, etc.].

Danaus plexippus (Monarch Butterfly) on Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed)

To help, here are two lists provided by the National Wildlife Federation that can apply to gardeners of the Peterborough area—one for northern gardens in the Northern Forests ecoregion and one for southern gardens in the Eastern Temperate Forests ecoregion. There are also two other related lists for Eastern Temperate Forests and Northern Forests—these also provide examples of ferns, vines, and grasses that are host plants and/or provide nectar and pollen. Heather Holm has also put together a wonderful list of native trees and shrubs for pollinators with their flowering periods. There are a few plants on a couple of the lists that are not found in nature in Peterborough County, however, the majority are.

Euchaetes egle (Milkweed Tussock Moth)

You may be surprised to see Solidago spp. (Goldenrod) listed as the top flowering keystone plant genus. There are 25 species native to Ontario and some of them are easily managed and do not spread like the ubiquitous S. canadensis (Canada Goldenrod) that you tend to see along roadsides and in fields. Last year I added S. caesia (Blue-Stem Goldenrod) to my garden and this year I am looking forward to adding S. rigida (Stiff Leaf Goldenrod) and S. flexacaulis (Zig-Zag Goldenrod). What will you be planting this year?

For Expanded Learning

Johnson, Lorraine and Ryan Godfrey. Get to Know Goldenrod. Online: https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/97fc-DS-21-0224-GoldenRodFactsheetDigital.pdf

Holm, Heather. Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (Pollination Press, 2014).

Ohio State University’s online learning program: Tending Nature: Native Plants and Every Gardener’s Role in Fostering Biodiversity

Pollinator Partnership Canada. Selecting Plants for Pollinators: a Guide for Gardeners, Farmers, and Land Managers in the Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe Ecoregion. Online: https://pollinatorpartnership.ca/assets/generalFiles/Manitoulin.LakeSimcoe.2017.pdf


[i] Narango, D.L., Tallamy, D.W. & Shropshire, K.J. Few keystone plant genera support the majority of Lepidoptera species. Nat Commun 11, 5751 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-19565-4

[ii] Fowler, Jarrod. “Specialist Bees of the Northeast: Host Plants and Habitat Conservation.” Northeastern Naturalist 23, no. 2 (2016): 305–20. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26453772.