Gardens to help pollinators

We can help stop, and even reverse, pollinator decline by creating much-needed habitat in our own yards. If we each do our bit, it will add up to a significant change. As the saying goes, “You can’t do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good you can do.”

I turned an area of our front lawn into a pollinator garden (July 2018).

Pollinator ‘victory gardens’

Urban dwellers can help compensate for habitat loss by providing pollinators, and other wildlife, with chemical-free gardens using native plants. If many people create pollinator gardens, they will add up to significant areas of habitat and connect patches of existing habitat. Read “More urban gardens encouraged to help save bees” at GlobalNews, and “Urban Refuge: How Cities Can Help Rebuild Declining Bee Populations” at the YaleEnvironment360 for more information.

With wartime ‘victory gardens’, many Canadians grew their own vegetables so crops could be diverted to our troops and struggling allies overseas. So many people participated that their gardens had a significant impact. Now, pollinator victory gardens can have similar impact. You can learn about this movement in EcoBeneficial’s The Pollinator Victory Garden video and book, and in the book Victory Garden for Bees by Lori Weidenhammer (available at the Ottawa Public Library). I saw this idea in practice on a 2018 summer-time vacation in Toronto. In the neighbourhood where we stayed, many home-owners had planted their postage-stamp-sized front yards with native plants. Side-by-side, the yards equaled a street-long habitat where we saw many bumblebees and Monarchs.

This isn’t a perfect solution. A few recent studies have shown that cities cause some unexpected issues for native bees. Mitigating the Effects of Heat on Urban Pollinators investigates the ‘urban heat island’ effect on bees. In my own garden, I observe few bumblebees on extremely hot days. The Impact of urbanization on wild bees underestimated describes that there are more male ground-nesting bees than females in cities. It takes more pollen, and higher protein pollen, to rear female bees, so perhaps planting more native flowers with high-quality resources will help correct that imbalance. Ideally, it would be best to preserve and restore wilderness for native species. While urban pollinator gardens won’t solve the problem of declining insect populations, whatever we can do to help is better than nothing.


Since I created my first pollinator garden in 2017, I’ve been obsessed with this topic. I’ve thought a lot about how I can help others create similar gardens. Based my research and experience, this is the most important advice I can share with you:

  • It’s easy. I was surprised how quickly pollinators found my new garden. It wasn’t just a fluke; I repeated this success in a school butterfly garden.
  • Mostly native plants: native pollinators need native plants. There are hundreds of native bee species, butterflies, moths, flower flies, beetles, hummingbirds, and more that depend on them. You can also include use some pollinator-friendly non-native plants and annuals, but aim for 70% native plants.
  • Provide food: including flowers with nectar and pollen, and host plants for specialist bees, butterflies and moths.
  • Create habitat: provide nest sites for ground-nesting and cavity-nesting bees, use natural pest control methods, and adjust conventional garden maintenance practices to more pollinator-friendly ones.
Flourishing school butterfly garden created in 2019 (September 2, 2019).

You can do it too!

With my pollinator garden, I feel like I am making a difference. It may be a small difference, but it is a tangible one. I can see right in front of me that I’m now providing food and shelter for hundreds of bees and butterflies, and dozens of birds. I would never have imagined that my new pollinator garden would be so full of life.

If more people, like you, turn some unused lawn into a pollinator garden, the impact of these gardens will add up. Plant it and they will come; it really is that simple. My garden is living proof. Go ahead, you can do it too!