Posted by NM Zitani and RG Thorn, 3 April 2011; updated 12 June 2014
We've embarked on a
biodiversity gardening project on our property in London, Ontario. The
purpose of this feature column is to document our project, its ups and
downs, its successes and failures and ultimately encourage you to create
a biodiversity garden in your own yard.
We are not professional gardeners. We are research scientists and teachers that specialize in biodiversity research and teaching in our professional lives.
Monarch butterfly gathering nectar on compass plant, Silphium laciniatum, in our biodiversity garden (London, ON, photo NMZ)
of our front and back yards not as "yard" or
"garden" but as "habitat". Habitat loss is the primary cause of
declining biodiversity worldwide. A biodiversity garden creates much
needed habitat for hundreds of species, right in our own back yard.
There are fringe benefits, too. Once established, a biodiversity garden
will require less water, chemicals and care than a lawn or even a flower
garden of non-native plants. And, it is
incredibly satisfying to be able to go into our
yard and find a species living there that would not be there except for
the habitat we provided for it. To read more about biodiversity click
One of our goals is to create habitat for
native butterflies and moths, including their caterpillars.
Caterpillars, the immature or larval form of butterflies and moths, are
amazing little creatures unto themselves, quite apart from the fact that
they turn into beautiful winged creatures that few among us dislike. Most caterpillars are leaf-feeders, so we're planting the particular
food plants that our native caterpillars like to eat. And we're
planting ample wildflowers of all sorts to provide nectar for our native
pollinators, including butterflies and moths, but also many other types
We have been biodiversity gardening for about ten years, but our current biodiversity garden is new, and 2011 will be its third season. In just two seasons we've planted over 80 species of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. We purchase our plants from local native plant nurseries that can identify the source of their stock.
We have had and continue to have many challenges ahead of us. Our property had been neglected by the previous owner so we have serious problems with non-native weeds such as dandelion, sow thistle, green and yellow foxtail, quackgrass, black medic, etc. and invasive non-native ornamental plants such as periwinkle (Vinca minor), English ivy, Pachysandra, garden mint, Ajuga, etc. Our property is also part of the home range of a healthy white-tailed deer population. As innocent and beautiful as they are, deer love to eat our native plants.
Our entire property is not a biodiversity garden (though we hope that it will be, someday). Currently, about 2/3 of our property is devoted to biodiversity
gardening. The rest is a "people play area" with grass, sandbox, patio
etc. We also have an edible garden where we grow non-native herbs, vegetables and fruits. And, we have one non-native
tree (it is a native of the
west coast) that was here when we bought the property. We decided to keep it because it is a
non-invasive species, and it is a large, healthy tree.
If you are considering a biodiversity garden for your property...
Consider this. Even if you devote only a
small patch of your yard to a biodiversity garden, you are making a
difference. Of course the larger the garden, the more habitat for biodiversity, but start small, rather
than not starting at all.