Process of elimination

Now that you’ve chosen a location for your garden, assessed the light and soil conditions, and prepared the site, it’s time to choose plants.

A bumblebee (possibly a Northern Amber Bumblebee) on a Tall Sunflower (September 27, 2019)

Lots of lists

There are plenty of valuable, but exhaustive, lists of native plants and pollinator plants. Here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

My favourite books for pollinator plant ideas are by Heather Holm, Bees: an Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide (at the Ottawa Public Library) and Pollinators of Native Plants. I also like 100 Plants to Feed the Bees by the Xerces Society.

So many options

Great, but which plants should you choose for your garden? When I created my pollinator garden in 2017, I felt overwhelmed by these long lists of latin names for unfamiliar native plants. In the following pages, I will show you my process for figuring out what to plant — the process of elimination. I continue to use this method for updating my other garden areas, so I hope you find it helpful too.

This stripey, inverted triangle shows how I narrow down plant options for my pollinator garden beds.

This stripey, inverted triangle isn’t exactly a professional-looking graphic, but it gets my point across. (I like to think that it has an amateurish charm.) Here’s how I do choose native plants for my garden areas.

  • What do I already have to work with? Plants are expensive, and I can’t afford to start from scratch. I first assess what plants I already have with pollinator or wildlife value. Do you already have a garden, and any useful plants that you can divide or move?
  • Light and soil conditions. Once you’ve identified the amount of light in your garden, and the type of soil you have, you can zero in on the suitable plants. This automatically rules out a lot of options.
  • Inspiration. Find pictures of gardens that appeal to you and inspire you. What garden style do you like, formal, cottage-like, or anything else? I am partial to the meadows and woodlands that I see when I visit the countryside and parks, so I am trying to create refined versions of these natural habitats in my urban yard.
  • Choose a colour scheme to further narrow down your plant options. A narrow colour scheme will automatically improve your garden design by encouraging you to repeat colours and avoid a clashing jumble.
  • Consider details, such as bloom time and height to further narrow down your plant list.
I am adding more native plants to the shady areas of our gardens. Here, Wild Geranium, Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera) and False Solomon’s Seal are starting to spread beneath an old Japanese Maple. (June 6, 2019)