Posted by NM Zitani and RG Thorn, 3 April 2011; updated 22 October 2016
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're not professional gardeners. As research scientists and teachers, we specialize in biodiversity in our professional lives.
We think of our front and back yards as "habitat". Habitat loss is the primary cause of declining biodiversity worldwide. A biodiversity garden full of a diversity of locally sourced native plants creates much needed habitat for hundreds of species. 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 an animal species living there because of the habitat we provided for it.
One of our particular 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 native food plants that our native caterpillars require. And we're planting ample wildflowers of all sorts to provide nectar and pollen for our diverse native pollinators.
We've been biodiversity gardening for about 16 years, but our current biodiversity garden 8 years old. We've planted over 120 species of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. We purchase plants from local native plant nurseries that can identify the source of their stock.
Yes, challenges abound! 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 -- yet. 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're 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're making a difference. Of course the larger the garden, the more habitat for biodiversity, but start small, rather than not starting at all.