The Tipping Point and Natural Wildlife Gardens

monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly on verbena bonariensis flower.

Is the desire for natural gardens—along with a concern for pollinators like bees and butterflies—at a tipping point? I’m beginning to think so. Now that so much of our world is technologically driven, urban, half concrete-based and half virtual, there’s an instinctual movement back towards the natural world. The urge is primal—a longing for the natural—for, as Joni Mitchell once wrote, “getting back to the garden”.

I’m seeing a return to nature in advertising and fashion: flowers, vegetation, natural forms are depicted over and over. There’s a self-preservation involved too. At some level we know what’s good for our own survival, and the natural world and pollinators are an integral part of it.

A tipping point can be a good or a bad thing. It’s described as

The critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development.

In the case of an infectious disease, that’s a bad thing. But in the case of gardeners wanting to plant for wildlife it’s a good thing. And gardeners themselves are going wild: moving beyond the mere ornamental; craving a holistic garden that benefits the world at large, especially the tiny beings that contribute to our survival: the insects. And I’m thrilled by the fact that some garden centres—including us at Fiesta Gardens—are finding suppliers of native and pollinator-friendly plants for gardeners to plant. Our native plant and pollinator-friendly section is bigger than ever.

Fiesta Gardens butterfly plant listing, Summer 2015

Fiesta Gardens butterfly plant listing, Summer 2015

What made this happen? It helps that the wild world has a flashy ambassador in the form of the endangered Monarch butterfly. The film, Flight of the Butterflies dramatized the plight of habitat loss for a specific insect, the Monarch. I admit it completely galvanized me when I saw it. The penny dropped that even a small pocket of naturalized space, with the correct plantings can save the life of a butterfly.

This was something one small person could do something about. I didn’t have to sign a petition or try to make a politician take action. I simply bought plants for butterflies (nectar-providing, and for butterfly larvae to feed on), and planted them in a sunny space near where I live. I planted:

Of course wildlife gardens are more than Monarch butterflies and honeybees. And it is heartening that people are beginning to learn about native bees, pollinator flies and moths, a huge, less flashy, all part of our ecosystem. When we collectively plant more and more of these spaces we can preserve an entire species. The David Suzuki foundation is a big part of this groundswell, beginning with their tongue in cheek #KnitForMonarchs April Fools spring launch and urging us all to plant more milkweed with their #GotMilkweed campaign. Get David Suzuki’s Pollinator Guide here. It’s a terrific resource for all the pollinators you’ll find in Toronto.

Even the laziest among us can hop on the wildlife garden bandwagon by simply leaving any wild milkweed asclepias syriaca to grow where it pops up on its own in our gardens. I leave a corner of my garden to a small stand of milkweed that arrived on its own, pulling out any strays that would take over the whole patch. I find it’s easy to keep it in check with a few pulls. Apart from its spreading properties, it’s a beautiful flower with a heavenly scent.

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

~Joni Mitchell, Woodstock

* Some Joe-Pye weeds—varieties with whorled leaves, as opposed to opposite—have been recently re-classified under the Latin name Eutrochium.

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