Originally published July 6, 2016
By Valerie Easton, former Pacific NW Natural Gardener writer
GARDENERS CHANGE the world with what they plant. Our city and suburban gardens, backyard to backyard, create a swath of green that forms the living, breathing lungs of the world around us.
Our gardening choices have a direct effect on our health and well-being, as well as that of the creatures, seen and unseen, with whom we share space. A healthy, vibrant garden ecosystem depends on which plants we grow and especially on whether we care for the soil organically or douse our garden in chemicals.
A shocking statistic from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that homeowners use 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use per acre on their crops. We need to understand that a garden with a diversity of plants has far less need of pesticides and herbicides, and this mix of plants is what attracts and nurtures pollinators.
In a world where we often feel helpless to affect change, planting for pollinators brings immediate feedback. Do you hear a hum of bees when you step out the door? Are moths and butterflies flitting around a coneflower? Are hummingbirds hovering and songbirds swooping in for a drink?
If not, it won’t take long, with organic practices and changing out a few plants, to create your own wild kingdom. And then all that life in your small (or not-so-small) garden will fly away to spread pollen about to the gardens around you. Good gardening has a decided ripple effect that will help ensure the future of agriculture.
And the good news is that bees, hummingbirds and butterflies love the same plants that we enjoy, so enriching your garden for their needs isn’t a sacrifice. Planting a butterfly buffet of sedum and allium, phlox and yarrow will brighten and perfume your garden while attracting a wide range of beneficial creatures, from ladybugs and centipedes to showy monarch butterflies.
Just be sure to include a few Northwest native plants — because they’ve evolved along with native pollinators, they’re instrumental in supporting the pollinator’s full life cycle. Meaning, they host eggs and larvae as well as the adult pollinator. Some of the best Northwest natives for pollinators include Oregon grape, vine maple, Nootka roses, camassia and milkweed.
Rhonda Fleming Hayes, author of “Pollinator Friendly Gardening” (Voyageur Press, 2016, $21.99), confronts the challenge of manicured gardens vs. more diverse, nurturing ones. “People say they like natural — just not too natural. Neat and orderly is how they like their natural,” she writes.
Key to tending a more naturalistic garden is the idea of working with nature rather than against her. This means changing up our idea of a garden as something to look at, to the far richer concept of gardens as slices of nature that foster life. So let plants go to seed; get rid of lawn; plant in layers for cover, food and nesting. Add a dish rock to collect puddles; plant hostas and lady’s mantle with big, soft leaves that hold droplets of water for birds and bees to sup.
I love that this book offers useful plant lists and plenty of design tips, along with the voices of experts on everything from mulch to nesting bees to what they grow in their own gardens. Hayes emphasizes gardening practices and plants that will serve the health of your family and pets while turning your garden into a year-round pollinator party.