There is nothing better than sitting in your garden on a Sunday morning – sun shining, coffee in hand and the birds singing you a cheery song. If you listen a little closer, you may also hear them chirp a little thank you. They will be especially thankful if you have taken the time to create a thoughtful garden that benefits you, the environment, and the fauna around you.
If you love sharing your garden with birds, bees, and butterflies you may need to put a little more thought and planning to attract all of these fine guests. There are certain requirements that will provide yearlong food and shelter for them.
I recall learning from a neighbor how to mix together a sweet and colorful nectar to stock my feeder in hopes we would catch the fleeting beauty of a hummingbird. If I had only known then that I could simply plant a colorful garden to keep them in my sights. Hummingbirds search for sources of nectar in brightly colored flora and there are certain plants and trees that can provide natural nectar in spring, summer and late season. In the spring, your garden should have nectar sources like azaleas, foxglove, or lilacs. Summer nectar producers can include snapdragons, zinnia, nasturtium and morning glory. In late summer, hummingbirds will search for the bright beautiful blossoms of gladiolus.
Your garden can be the refuge for many species of birds in the GTA. It is not uncommon to catch a glimpse of a goldfinch, cardinal, sparrow, robin or of course the popular area mascot – the bluejay. The diet of a bird will change with the seasons. In spring and summer they will benefit from flower nectar not unlike the hummingbird but are also interested in the insects within your garden. For birds, a bountiful garden must also include shrubs and trees. They seek the shelter of the boughs, the nest materials of the brush, and the berries and insects they harbor. Birds are resourceful as the seasons change. In the late summer and fall they take advantage of the seeds and waste that drop as plants naturally mature. Though you may be eager to remove the underbrush from your garden as it matures, remember that this houses important insects, nest materials and seeds that the birds need. Think of the late blooming sunflower that produces important seeds the birds will want for the fall and winter months.
Thinking back once again to a younger me, it would have been inconceivable to want a garden that would attract a bee. Now however, it is plain to see the importance of the bee to a garden and the environment as a whole. Unfortunately, different varieties of bees are on the decline, which has repercussions for area gardens. Bees search for nectar (which is commonly converted to honey) and pollen. Pollen, the powdery substance that can be seen on flowers, contains all the nutrients a bee needs to survive. As they forage for pollen, they spread around the powder and in turn pollinate as they move about. Like the hummingbird, bees are attracted to brightly colored flowers but more importantly – flowers that are group tightly together to give them maximum access. A flowering shrub gives the bees an abundance of nectar and pollen gathering potential without having to forage a large area and expend energy. Hydrangea and spirea produce beautiful dense flowers your bee friends will appreciate.
Butterflies are a beautiful sight and if they are fluttering around your garden it is because you provided them with some specifics they need to thrive. One such specific is while they are still in their larval stage. Butterfly caterpillars will happily munch on the leaves of host plants to gain the nutrients they need for transformation. As they chomp through your leaves, rest assured they are not damaging your garden and will pay you back once they transform into beautiful pollen spreaders. Birch and elm are perfect for butterfly caterpillars in this stage. Once the butterfly has emerged, they look for bright aster and coneflowers. Plant flowers in clumps to attract the butterflies. And, as surprising as this is to say, as you are weeding think about leaving behind the bright blossoms of the butterfly weed. Though a common milkweed, it is very attractive to butterflies – hence the name!
Now that you have provided the proper food and shelter opportunities for your flying friends, don’t forget to provide some hydration. Shallow bowls of water that are changed often will provide hydration for all your new friends (and by changing it often you will keep away the not so appealing garden visitor- the mosquito).
So as you sit in your garden for some relaxation, here’s hoping it is accompanied by a cheerful chirp of a bird taking a quick bath, the buzz of a bee flitting from flower to flower, and butterflies darting happily about, for your haven is theirs as well. And rest assured; they are working hard to help maintain your mutual sanctuary.