Not too early to be planning for wildlife-enhancing gardens

In January, the gardener’s thoughts turn to seeds: browsing seed catalogues, preparing seed orders, and receiving parcels of seeds in the mail. When we are not obsessing about seed, we are reading nurseries’s lists. It gets us through the winter – dreams and plans  and anticipation that next season will be the best yet.  With a little attention, we can make choices which enhance our gardens’s ability to attract and sustain beautiful wildlife. Let’s look at three ways to increase wildlife benefits: planting for pollinators, butterfly gardens, and planting to feed wild birds.

Pollinator gardens: As the plight of pollinating insects becomes more known, pollinator gardens have become very popular projects with horticultural societies and clubs and private gardeners. The first stage in a pollinator garden usually focusses, for good reasons, on easy native mid- to late summer flowers for sunny sites: Anise-hyssop, Virginia Mountain Mint, Wild Bergamot, Black-eyed Susans, diverse Asters and Goldenrods. These plants have easy-to-access flowers with abundant nectar or pollen, and are able to feed many species of pollinators.

Share your garden with more wildlife and make  your pollinator garden even more interesting by continuing to increase the diversity of native plants. Consider adding some flowers with distinctive flower shapes to provide food sources for specialized pollinators. For example, add Bottle Gentian (for a damp spot), Prairie Smoke, and flowers in the pea family, such as Purple Prairie Clover and Wild Lupin.

Another great way to make a pollinator planting even more useful is to include flowers for very early and very late. Many of the earliest blooms are on shrubs: willows, American fly honeysuckle, serviceberries, among others.  If you can find room for native shrubs (or, ideally, more native shrubs), they offer many wildlife benefits. Even the smallest gardens can find room for some ground-hugging early perennials. The spring ephemerals of deciduous forest make use of early spring sunshine reaching the forest floor. For open sunny places we like Early Saxifrage and Hooked-spur (or Early) Violet to start the season.

The last native flower to bloom in our garden is Silky Aster, which is still blooming at the end of October.


Butterfly bliss: Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya) with Sweet Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) in the back. and seeds and leaves of Wild Senna (Cassia hebecarpa) in the foreground.

Butterfly Gardens: Adult butterflies are among the pollinators we are aiming to provide for with our flower-filled pollinator garden. To truly be a butterfly gardener, however, we need to provide the native plants, often highly specific, upon which the young of butterflies, the caterpillars, live and dine. Caterpillar host plants will draw adult butterflies to our gardens, because mama butterflies are seeking good places to lay eggs.


American Painted Lady caterpillar on Plantain-leaved Pussytoes.

Caterpillar host plants are a diverse lot and include big canopy trees like Hackberries. At Beaux Arbres, we concentrate on Pussytoes and Pearly Everlasting for American Ladies, Golden Alexanders for Black Swallowtails, Showy Tick-trefoil for Eastern Tailed Blues, Bird’s Foot and Hooked Spur Violets for Great Spangled Fritillaries, Swamp Milkweed and Butterfly Milkweed for Monarchs, and Turtlehead for Baltimore Checkerspots. We also offer a number of native grasses, which are hosts for tiny green caterpillars which will become diverse Skippers. New for Spring 2018, we will have some young Hop-trees, for caterpillars of Giant Swallowtails which have been moving north into the Ottawa area in the past decade.

Wild Bird Gardens. Songbirds of all kinds raise their nestlings on a diet of caterpillars and sawfly larvae. Very few of the many thousands of caterpillars needed will be the monarchs and swallowtails you and I are eager to help – most will be caterpillars of moths. Now, moths can be lovely creatures, too, but predation is key to keeping them in balance. You may never see, let alone identify, the many kinds of caterpillars that are feeding the baby sparrows and warblers in your neighbourhood, but it is NATIVE vegetation which is feeding the caterpillars. The more we incorporate natives of all kinds, the more our yards will provide food for nestlings.



Planting shrubs and perennials with berries to attract adult birds is also rewarding. There are many lovely herbaceous plants for woods and woodland edges which have berries in early autumn. We especially like the shrub-sized Pokeweed and American Spikenard, and the more moderately proportioned Blue Cohosh, False Solomon’s Seal, and Starry False Solomon’s Seal. Last fall, we had a flock of grey catbirds descend on our ripening Pokeweed fruit. Other fruit disappeared more quietly but disappear it did, as migrating birds fuelled themselves for their journey.

Using native vines on existing fences and trellises is way to bring more bird-attracting native fruit to a backyard: American Bittersweet (NOT the invasive look-alike Oriental Bittersweet), Glaucous Honeysuckle, and Canada Moon Vine are some to consider.

Nannyberry, Grey Dogwood, and Alternate-leaved Dogwood are large shrubs that can be used in the urban landscape as small trees. We love these handsome native shrubs and have made sure to add them to our garden. In our nursery, we concentrate on smaller shrubs. Our favourite mid-sized shrub, for spring flowers and late season fruits and flaming fall foliage, is Purple Chokecherry, a splendid and under-utilized landscaping choice.

Wild roses are in bloom relatively briefly (compared to garden roses) but offer wonderful fall colour and small red hips (fruit) which last into the winter to feed hungry birds. Last fall, I started a shrub and native grasses border featuring grey dogwood, Virginia pasture rose, switch grass, and little bluestem grass. I am hoping that there will be spectacular fall colour and abundant food for wild birds where there used to be a problem too-dry and hard-to-mow bit of lawn. Now my winter garden planning needs to focus on how I can make this shrubby beginning into an even more diverse and bountiful space for me to enjoy and to share with birds and bees. I need to add some early season flowers and maybe some fruiting ground-covers and …


Autumn leaf colour of Purple Chokeberry.

Rosa nitida

Shining Rose (Rosa nitida)

September is a good time to plant

September is a good time to plant native wildflowers in your garden. It is an especially good time to add spring-blooming natives such as pussy-toes, columbines, and violets, if you want to increase wild-life attractiveness and spring colour for next year. These early bloomers grow well in cool soil so even with cooling night temperatures, they have plenty of time to root in well and prepare for lots of bloom for next year.

Pussytoes, both the low, creeping field pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) and the slightly larger plantain-leaved pussytoes (A. plantaginifolia) are host (food) plants for the caterpillars of American Lady butterflies. American Ladies are strong fliers and mama American Ladies are well able to find new patches of pussytoes, even in seemingly inhospitable city gardens.

Violets are also key butterfly food plants. The diverse native species of violets are the hosts for the caterpillars of the several species of Fritillary butterflies. We often see the small Meadow Fritillaries checking out the Canada violets which are growing in lower dampish bits of lawn at the bottom of our garden. And, yes, Canada violets are the aggressively spreading violets which will seed themselves in lawns. We have them in both purple and white form and we like the way they create a floral carpet in that part of the lawn. However, I can quite understand that not everyone wants this effect and why some people are wary of adding Canada violets to their gardens.

We also offer other species of violets, some of which are anything but aggressive spreaders. We have two species of violets for open, sunny, dry places: Bird’s Foot Violet (Viola pedata) and Hooked-spur Violet (V. adunca). They may be especially attractive to the large and glamorous butterfly called the Great Spangled Fritillary, a creature which likes warm, sunny places. Hooked-spur Violet is also called Early Violet and it is a lovely low, early bloomer for rock gardens. Bird’s Foot Violet is a very special species from Carolinian Ontario which has relatively large flowers and which will rebloom in summer. It is an exceptionally nice flower for sunny rock gardens.

September is a good time to plant shrubs. Beaux Arbres carries some of the smaller, decorative native shrubs and this year we are well supplied with Pasture Rose (Rosa virginiana), Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina), Purple Chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia), and Kalm’s St. John’swort (Hypericum kalmianum). The last one, Kalm’s St. John’swort, is a Great Lakes indigene which also occurs in the Ottawa Valley. We are proud to be able to say our Kalm’s St. John’swort is grown from seed collected here in Bristol Township, Quebec.

Beaux Arbres Native Plants has these and many other species of wildflower in stock. We are open until the end of September. Come and visit us soon.

Relentless rain a week before the Ottawa sale

The Rare and Unusual Plant Sale on Sunday, May 14th, at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa is less than a week away and I am past hoping for a spell of warm, sunny weather to bring on some flowers. At this point, I am reduced to hoping fervently that our local ferry service will be resumed so that we can get across the Ottawa River! The 7-day forecast for next Sunday predicts “Rain” — what a surprise! Today it is cold and actually snowing.

We do not have heated greenhouses so what we can bring to the sale is what the season brings and that means this year we will not have any warmth-loving plants. All the summer-flowering prairie species are still below ground. (We will be back in Ottawa for the Fletcher Wildlife Garden Sale, Saturday, June 3rd, so you will have another opportunity to pick up Swamp Milkweed, Compass Plant, Pale Purple Coneflower and many other summer flowers and native grasses.)

Tiarella cordifolia


Some of the native spring flowers, long adapted to the vagaries of Canadian springs, are looking surprisingly good. Diverse pussytoes (Antennaria spp.) and Early Saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis) are sending up flower buds on schedule, despite the inclement weather. Boreal Jacob’s Ladder, from the far north, doesn’t mind this weather at all. The wanna-be evergreen Foamflower and heucheras are very slowly replacing their battered last year leaves with new growth; the new leaves are visible, if still small and curled.

Lovely Wood Poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum), picture above, are looking good — maybe even a flower or two by Sunday. This is the first year I can offer this charming flower for shade. It is not locally native, being represented in Canada only by two small populations near London, Ontario. However, it is an easy, hardy plant for gardens in our area and will even rebloom in late summer if happy.

Also new this year will be Broad-leaved Sedge (Carex platyphylla), which I have grown from seed collected locally on the Eardly Escarpment. Now, sedges are never wildly flamboyant in flower, and this one is not even showy in flower by sedge standards. Broad-leaved sedge has broad (for a sedge), evergreen leaves that are distinctively blue-grey and banded. Think of it as a miniature evergreen hosta, and you may begin to appreciate its possibilities. Full disclosure: I like native evergreen woodland sedges, I just do.


We will be bringing in a diversity of native wildflowers to the sale, even though some will be smaller and less developed than I had hoped: Cardinal Flower, Common Bluets, Wild Columbine, Dwarf Hairy Beardtongue, Golden Ragwort, Sweet Grass,Bottlebrush Grass, Purple Chokeberry, and CarolinaLupin, to name just a few.

See you there, umbrellas and all!


Carolina Lupin (Thermopsis villosa)