Old Ottawa South Community Association

Planting native species: a backyard miracle

Planting native species: a backyard miracle

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According to the experts — and common sense — one of the most important things we can do for the environment is include native plants in our gardens. Planting native species of perennials, shrubs, trees, grasses, and vines will begin to restore the natural ecosystems that we depend on for food, air, and well-being.

Native plants evolved here. So they provide the “habitat” that our local birds, insects, mammals, and other creatures need to survive. Habitat means a place where they can find food, water, shelter, and the right conditions to build a home.

We can no longer count on “natural spaces” somewhere outside cities to provide habitat, because those spaces are getting filled up with farms and industry or fragmented to the point where they are too small to support wildlife. People like David Attenborough1 and Doug Tallamy 2 are saying that “bringing nature home” is our best hope for restoring ecosystems and saving the thousands of insect species we count on for pollination, food for higher animals, and breaking down debris. Even governments are getting on board: in Minnesota, the government is paying people to replace their lawns with wildflower meadows.3

Benefits of gardening with native plants

As a volunteer at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden plant sale, I hear time and again, “I bought a couple of Flat-topped Asters [or other native species], and as soon as they bloomed, my yard was filled with butterflies.” Or “My new milkweed plant has Monarch caterpillars on it!”

One plant sale customer claims that adding native species to her garden “changed her life” and says that she and her family now watch the garden instead of TV.4

As an added bonus, native plants are suited to our climate and environment, so they take less care. No need to water or mulch; in fact, most thrive under harsh conditions.

What is native?

Learn what’s locally native. The plants you see at the side of the road or in a vacant field are seldom native species. Most are “alien invasives” – the weeds that were brought to North America accidentally or as medicinal plants and have thrived in our urban environment.

Luckily, we have some local resources. In 2005, environmental consultant Dan Brunton did an intensive survey of urban natural areas for the city and produced a list of all plants he found.5 The list is available online, and it indicates which species are native.

A similar list is available for our region – a 50-km circle centred on Parliament Hill. Local botanists, John Gillett and David White, assembled this small book in 1978, but it’s still pertinent today.6

A better site for gardeners is Ontario Wildflowers,7 where native plants are listed by season, colour, habitat, and more.

These and other resources have been compiled in a Wild Pollinator Partners blog post. To find it, type “Wildflowers: what’s native” into your search engine.

Where can you find native plants?

Ferguson Forest Tree Nursery in Kemptville sells native perennials, shrubs, and trees – order online for later pickup or delivery of larger orders. https://www.fergusontreenursery.ca/native-perennials

Beaux Arbres sells plants and seeds at the Westboro Market. Because of the current health crisis, this nursery is taking seed orders and will send your order by mail. Google “Beaux Arbres seeds through the mail.” https://beauxarbres.ca/2020/03/16/seeds-through-the-mail

Fletcher Wildlife Garden annual sale – first Saturday in June, so June 6 this year, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Knowledgeable gardeners will be on hand to help you choose plants for your garden, and you can see native plants in the FWG’s own backyard garden.

Still not sure how to get started?

It’s worth a visit to the Corner Pollinator Garden, a real garden, but also a web site where Berit Erickson describes how she got started in pollinator gardening. Her example is excellent and her enthusiasm is infectious. Berit also includes non-native species in her garden because she has observed their use by numerous bees and other pollinator species.

Here’s a short list of locally common native species. Many of these are available at nurseries. All are beneficial to wildlife in some way. For example, Pearly Everlasting is a host plant for American Lady butterflies. That means these butterflies will lay eggs on Pearly Everlasting and their caterpillars will live on and pupate on the plants, so you will be helping to conserve this beautiful butterfly.

Pearly Everlasting

Anaphalis canadensis

Swamp Milkweed

Asclepias incarnata

Common Milkweed

Asclepias syriaca

Flat-topped Aster

Doelleringia umbellata


Eupatorium perfoliatum

Joe-pye Weed

Eupatorium maculatum

Grass-leaved Goldenrod

Euthamia graminifolia


Helenium autumnale

Evening Primrose

Oenothera biennis

Brown-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta

Gray Goldenrod

Solidago nemoralis

Rough-leaved Goldenrod

Solidago rugosa

New England Aster

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Blue Vervain

Verbena hastata


Canada Wild Rye

Elymus canadensis

Little Bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparium

Indian Grass

Sorghastrum nutans

The City of Ottawa web site also provides gardening advice, including recommended native plants. https://ottawa.ca/en/living-ottawa/environment/trees-plants-and-forests/plants/garden-care#native-plants

What you can do

Just try it. Please consider adding a few native plants to your garden this year. Keep an eye on them and, especially when they bloom, see what insects come to visit. Later in the year, watch for birds collecting seeds.

If you can get photos of the plants, insects, birds, please send them to me – sgarland@teksavvy.com I’ll add them to iNaturalist , a worldwide, citizen-science database of observations. Let’s see if we can increase plant and animal diversity in our part of the world, and set an example for others.


1. Makortoff K. David Attenborough and Prince William take world leaders to task on environment. The Guardian 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/22/david-attenborough-and-prince-william-take-world-leaders-to-task-on-environment

2. Higgins A. A native plant guru’s radical vision for the American yard. The Washington Post 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/in-the-garden-rethinking-the-nature-of-nature/2020/02/11/656fc87a-46ce-11ea-ab15-b5df3261b710_story.html?fbclid=IwAR3shruzPe-8eAalNBdHNKpvf3KFkXw7ysd_TeGcU7G4yyTTmsUos2eYdv0

3. Dilonardo MJ. Minnesota will pay homeowners to make their lawns bee-friendly. Mother Nature Network 2020. https://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/minnesota-will-pay-homeowners-make-their-lawns-bee-friendly

4. Corner Pollinator Garden web site, Ottawa. https://cornerpollinatorgarden.net

5. Dan Brunton. 2005. Vascular plants of the City of Ottawa. City of Ottawa, Ottawa. https://app06.ottawa.ca/calendar/ottawa/citycouncil/ec/2005/05-24/AppendixA%20-%20OTTAWA%20FLORA%20(APR%2005).htm

6. John M. Gillett and Patrick J. White. 1978. Checklist of vascular plants of the Ottawa–Hull region, Canada. National Museum of Natural Sciences, Ottawa. https://archive.org/details/checklistofvascu00gill/mode/2up

7. Walter Muma. Ontario Wildflowers. Wildwood Canada. http://www.ontariowildflowers.com

Blue Vervain growing in my backyard on Aylmer Avenue. Purple Flowering Raspberry shrubs can be seen in the upper left corner, Spotted Jewelweed (not yet blooming) just right of centre, sedges below it, and a Red-osier Dogwood shrub inserting a couple of leaves into the photo on the right.

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