Gardens as Habitat Islands

By Meagan Breems, Assistant Education Instructor, Central Lake Ontario Conservation

As the first leaves are starting to turn the colour of the Monarch butterflies gathering in anticipation for their Mexico Migration, we are enjoying the bursts of bright yellows from the sweet oxeye and goldenrod, along with the purples of asters and blazing star at Enniskillen Conservation Area. These blooming beauties adorn our pollinator gardens around the education centre.

Eight years in, this mostly native garden is in its full glory and over the years has supported the caterpillars of monarchs, black swallowtails, woolly bears and American ladies, as well as a kaleidoscope of various flying pollinators and the occasional turtle nest or toad.

The monarch butterfly is a species of special concern and, since our garden contains both milkweed (larval food source) and nectar (adult food source), we were able to register it as a Monarch Waystation through Monarch Watch.

Back in 2017, sponsored by Ontario Power Generation - Darlington, students from Courtice Secondary School and Courtice North Public School helped us add more habitat features to our gardens including butterfly boxes and a large AirBnB/bee and bug hotel. Students constructed a frame with shelves and added various insect nesting materials including dry grasses, pinecones, logs drilled with holes and bunches of hollow phragmites stems. When the AirBnB was full, high school students covered the shelter with a coarse wire mesh allowing insects to enter, but keeping hungry bird beaks at bay.

Later that year we were pleased to discover some holes in the logs sealed with mud from mason bees and leaves from leafcutter bees. We knew safe inside these sealed chambers were wee baby bees munching on their pollen ball beds.

With these new wildlife habitat additions, this past August we also registered our gardens as a Certified Wildlife-friendly Habitat with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. If you are interested in gardening with wildlife in mind, we recommend that you start by avoiding pesticides and planting native plants. Providing habitat for wildlife can be easy.

Did you know that some butterflies eat mud? If a bee hotel or bird bath is not your thing, perhaps consider providing butterflies with a place to drink mud. Simply leave some of your garden un-mulched and, when it rains, butterflies will have a place to stop and slurp up a nutritious meal. If you’d prefer the mud to be more contained, any shallow dish complete with a mud pie will work just fine and can be made especially delicious for our four-winged friends by adding fresh compost, manure or rotting fruit.

If you already garden with critters in mind, consider registering your garden as a Monarch Waystation or Certified Wildlife-friendly Habitat. You, too. will receive acknowledgement for your efforts including awareness plaques that officially recognize the importance of your garden as a habitat island for wildlife, hopefully encouraging others to do the same.

All thanks and recognition for these official designations and the annual spring-to-fall beauty of our Enniskillen Conservation Area pollinator gardens goes to Central Lake Ontario Conservation’s Education Instructor Cathy Grant. She faithfully maintains and enhances our gardens year after year, ensuring that they are both beautiful and functional wildlife habitats.

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