The story of my pollinator garden

I’m not exaggerating when I say that creating this pollinator garden is one of the best decisions I ever made, and that it has changed my life.

You can read about why and how I created my garden in a blog post I wrote for the Wild Pollinator Partners. Perhaps you will be inspired to start your own pollinator garden.

Turning lemons into lemonade

In January of 2017, we lost a tree in our front yard, and I had to figure out what to do with this new empty space. I decided to read some new-ish gardening books for ideas. Bringing Nature Home (at the Ottawa Public Library), Planting in a Post-Wild World (at OPL), and Pollinators of Native Plants all begin with depressing stories of habitat loss and its effect on birds, bees and other wildlife. Thankfully, these books also offer hope. They share a similar message that native flora and fauna have evolved together and are dependent on each other, and we can help compensate for habitat loss by planting native plants in our yards.

I decided to follow suit and created a new garden specifically for pollinators. Even in its first year, my garden was a tremendous success – more than I ever imagined it could be. It makes me feel like I’m doing something tangible to help the environment because I can see the bees, butterflies, and birds right in front of my eyes. It has also been fascinating, educational, and even entertaining to observe the activity in the garden.

This picture from Google Street View shows that my pollinator garden is located on a very busy corner, with a shortcut running through it, and a rusting fire hydrant. (Early August 2017)
End of September that same year (2017)! Annuals filled in the garden while my native plant seedlings matured.

The bees move in

Starting in May, as soon as I started planting, we watched mining bees digging nests in the ground and collecting pollen from our new pussy willow shrubs. You can watch my video on YouTube of a mining bee excavating a nest. (In May of 2017, I had only begun to plant my pollinator garden, so this particular bee wasn’t in my yard because it. However, I noticed this bee because of my preceding pollinator gardening research. This bee was likely gathering nectar and pollen from the native shrubs and trees already in my yard and nearby yards, such as pussy willow, red maple, wild plum, wild cherry, hawthorn, and service berry.)

Mining bee nest entrance

Shortly after, large bumblebee queens visited our chokecherry and crabapple trees, and flew back-and-forth close to the ground searching for nest sites. Tiny carpenter bees dug nests out of the previous years’ coneflower stems. Leaf-cutter bees cut pieces of leaves, and carried them to their nests between rocks in a dry stone wall.

A sampling of leaves used by leaf-cutter bees to line their nests.

Male wool carder bees hovered around patches of penstemons, while the females scraped balls of fuzz from pearly everlasting leaves to line their nests. In the summer, many worker bumblebees covered anise hyssop flowers drinking nectar, and noisily buzz-pollinated anemones in the fall (video on YouTube).

Bumblebee laden with pollen that she collected from Japanese Anemone flowers using buzz pollination.

In September, we marveled at the number and variety of pollinators on zigzag goldenrod (YouTube video). (Goldenrod’s large, sticky pollen doesn’t cause allergies. ragweed, which blooms at the same time, is the culprit; its fine, dusty pollen easily flies through the air and into our noses.)

Butterfly visitors

Butterflies also began visiting my garden. We found American Lady caterpillars hiding in webs on our patch of field pussytoes only a few weeks after they were planted. We found Black Swallowtail caterpillars on the rue and parsley host plants that I had planted for them.

Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar munching on curly parsley.

In a grand finale, in September of 2017, dozens of Monarchs and Painted Lady butterflies stopped to rest and eat during their migration. You can watch my YouTube video of them flitting around on our Mexican Tithonia ‘hedge’.

Two Monarchs, a Painted Lady butterfly, and a bumblebee drink nectar from Mexican Tithonia flowers.

Isn’t it amazing! You never know what you’ll see in the garden.