Choosing a location for your garden

Some people who visit my pollinator garden are interested in starting their own garden, but seem apprehensive. A few have even reached out for help to figure out what to plant and where. The ‘Start’ and ‘Design’ sections of this web site are intended for those who need extra guidance.

I want to bridge that gap between interest and action, to eliminate obstacles, and to give you the confidence to start your own garden. You can also help pollinators, and enrich your life along the way. At any point if you feel like I’m giving you too much information and the task of creating a garden seems daunting, remember ‘Plant it and they will come’. It is that really that simple, even if you make a few mistakes along the way — just like I did. My garden has still been a great success.

So, let’s get started. Where in your yard should you put your new garden? Here are a few things to consider…

As sunny as possible

Pollinators need sun for warmth, so a pollinator garden should receive as much sun as possible.  

When insects cool down, they become less active and can no longer eat, mate, provision nests, etc. The sun helps them warm up even when temperatures are still on the cool side. We see bees and butterflies basking in our yard — sitting on a leaf, wall, or rock in the sun to warm up. Interestingly, bumblebees will choose to sit on knots in the wood on our shed, presumably because the darker areas absorb more sun and warmth.

In my pollinator garden, I sometimes find bumblebees sitting still on flowers. It used to make me sad because I thought they were dead. I later learned that they was just sleeping or too cool to be active. They may also be male bumblebees who don’t live in the nest with the female workers and queens.

Bumblebees can also warm themselves up by vibrating, like shivering. This is one reason you will see them out earlier and later in the day than some other kinds of bees. Flies are important pollinators because they tolerate cooler temperatures and can do the pollination work when others aren’t active.

View from your (window) seat

Note: throughout this garden planning section, I’m using a sample garden plan. It shows a path and stoop (landing at the doorway), living room window, and tree in a fictitious yard.

Sample garden plan

When you walk down a street, most homes have ‘foundation plantings’ — a collection of shrubs, and maybe a few flowers, right in front. This conventional garden placement is fine, but it is intended to be seen by other people passing by your house. For you to appreciate your garden too, you’ll have to stand around on your driveway or sidewalk. When you’re inside, you’ll have to press your face against a window to look down at the plants. I speak from experience; I’ve done too much standing in the driveway and craning my neck to see my plants.

Typical foundation planting

Although I also started with foundation plantings, but gradually expanded my garden to see it comfortably from the windows while I’m indoors. I can sit with a beverage or my knitting and watch the activity in the garden, no matter if it’s minus 20 degrees or plus 30 degrees Celcius outside. Margaret Roach, of the A Way to Garden blog and podcast, introduced me to this idea in Look out the window: garden design 101. What a great idea! No matter what the weather, my family has a front-row seat for watching bumblebees on anise hyssop, or Goldfinch acrobatics while they eat seeds off of native plants.

I bet you’ll also want to sit outside in your garden to enjoy the activity. We placed a bench under the large tree in our front yard, so we can sit in the shade and watch. In our back yard, I am expanding the existing garden to bring the plants and pollinators closer to our seating area.

Working out a new garden plan. The larger garden can be enjoyed from indoors. A mulch path leads to a shaded seating area under the tree.