Well it is officially recognized in Canada and the United States, and this is the week: happy National Pollinator Week everyone!

8 weeks ago my wife and I moved into a new home in London, right at the end of April – perfect gardening time.  And the first thing I wanted to do was to transform our boring expanse of backyard grass into some gardens to support exciting plants and trees, bugs and butterflies, and of course song birds.  If you’re thinking about doing the same, either starting from scratch like I did or just upping your pollinator-support levels, read on for an account of what I did – and I’d love to hear your stories and ideas in the comments section or in the facebook comments!

Eyeing the wide expanse of grass with some trepidation, I decided to install two tallgrass prairie gardens and one rain garden.  After some March binge watching of Monty Don’s Big Dreams Small Spaces and Gardeners World I realized that step 1 was to map out a plan: including tracking the sun location through the day, deciding where to plant short and tall plants, those that like full sun and part shade.  The prairie garden, when completed, should require less maintenance and watering so it made sense to go at the back of the yard, and on the south side away from trees where it would get full sun; the rain garden of course had to go next to the house downspouts.

The prairie gardens were installed by placing cardboard over the grass and heaping up about 6″ of soil on top.  The cardboard stops the grass from growing up into the garden and it will decompose by the following year – and it’s a much easier way to install a large garden than digging out all the grass. From there a combination of 4″ pots and 1″ plugs were put in.  I tried to keep plants in blocks so pollinators could go from flower to flower quickly when similar plants were flowering at the same time, and it creates a better visual effect.  Larger plants like sunflowers and prairie dock were in the back and middle and shorter plants like prairie smoke towards the front.

Most plants were sourced from the Aamjiwnaang greenhouse south of Sarnia and St Williams near Long Point, with some from scattered native plant sales including Go Wild Grow Wild in London.  Native plants can be hard to find so some research might be required, but it is a rewarding treasure hunt!

Species included:

  • Wild Columbine
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Cylindrical Blazing Star
  • Wild Bergamot
  • Brown/Black Eyed Susan
  • Greyheaded coneflower
  • Compass Plant
  • Prairie Dock
  • Cup Plant
  • Stiff Goldenrod
  • Zig zag goldenrod
  • Aster New England
  • Aster Sky Blue
  • Aster Arrowleaf Heartleaf
  • Aster Largeleaf
  • Ironweed
  • Prairie Smoke
  • Big Bluestem
  • Indian Grass
  • Canada Wild Rye
  • Serviceberry

The rain garden was a bit more labour intensive.  I carefully lifted sod and shifted it closer to the downspouts to build up grade close to the house, and dug down about 2 feet to lower the grade in the sunken rain garden.  This removed soil was used to help build up the prairie garden, and the rain garden was filled with an organics-rich soil. Channels were also dug from the downspouts to the garden, keeping a gentle slope, lined with impermeable liner, and topped with river rocks.

I decided to add a low maintenance water feature – a bubbling rock over a small basin.  Sourced from a local water garden supply store, it was very reasonably priced.  This would allow birds and insects a spot to drink and did not require high electricity or water refill demand.  (I’ve already noticed many birds stopping to take a drink – success!)

4″ pots and a few 1″ plugs were then planted, and a combination of river rock and mulch were used to fill it in and create a dry riverbed type of look.

  • Swamp Milkweed
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Great Blue Lobelia
  • Ohio Goldenrod
  • Riddells Goldenrod
  • Blue Vervain
  • Northern Wild Blue Flag Iris
  • Joe-Pye Weed
  • Monkey Flower
  • Bishop cap Miterwort
  • Michigan Lily
  • Spicebush
  • Willow Bush

The best part of the gardening has been sitting back the past 4 weeks to watch the plants grow and really come to life – and that’s not to mention the big rain events which have become much more impressive as I watch them fill up the rain garden, soaking the wetland plant roots, and giving them impressive spurts of growth.

Happy gardening!

Blog post and photos:

  • Taylor Jones