Pollinator garden design: How to get started attracting bees, butterflies, and birds
I think it’s fair to say that pollinator garden design is at the heart of most garden planning these days. Or at least I’m hopeful that it is. I see a greater percentage of homes where the garden is becoming more of the focal point than a traditional lawn. And whether it’s more traditionally planted or bursting with blooms, I can see the intention of planting to attract bees, birds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects.
Planting for pollinators and environmental mindfulness when it comes to the garden are the main threads that weave their way through my newest book, Gardening Your Front Yard: Projects and Ideas for Big & Small Spaces. But it’s not just front yards where you can make a plan to attract pollinators. Your backyard can become a haven, too. Even a small porch or balcony, depending on the location and conditions, can integrate pollinator garden design.
Furthermore, even a veggie gardener who is filling her front or backyard with veggie plants, is still attracting valuable pollinators via the little beacons of tomato flowers, squash blossoms, and cucumber blooms.
Bees, as well as the monarch butterfly, are the most common pollinators that show up in headlines, but there are thousands of species of native bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, wasps, flies, beetles, and more that we can support in our gardens.
Where do you start with a pollinator garden design?
The first thing you need to do is figure out where your pollinator garden is going to go. Are you creating a simple band of annuals and perennials along a back fence? Do you want to rip out your entire front yard? Or do you simply want to work within the bones of your existing garden, adding flowers and shrubs that you know will provide food sources for pollinators.
If it’s the “tear out your whole front lawn and start from scratch” option, you may want to bring in the expertise of a professional, who will think about the grade, where the water runoff will go when it rains, etc. Also, before you do any digging, have your utility company pay a visit and mark where all the lines are. You don’t want to find them yourself!
If you’re interested in doing the planting yourself, but still need some advice, you can hire a garden designer to sketch a garden plan for you, indicating where all the plants go. Not only do they bring their design expertise to the table, they will have extensive knowledge when it comes to plants. They’ll consider form and colour and texture. They’ll know what to plant so you’ll have something in bloom in every season—including plants for winter interest. It’s wise to have input from an expert if you’re new to gardening or if you find it overwhelming to figure out your own design.
Don’t just think about food for the pollinators; think about providing sources of habitat and water. For example, I built my pollinator palace to provide shelter. It includes cardboard nesting tubes for solitary Mason bees.
Your community might even have special programs in place that can help. An organization that’s local to me, Green Venture, has a project called Catch the Rain, where homeowners get free consultations and landscape design sketches that integrate solutions for capturing rainwater and planting native species (which would naturally attract pollinators). It’s worth checking to see if something similar exists where you live.