A few suggestions for the pollinator garden: Mountain Mint, Golden Alexanders, and Rattlesnake Master

A friend of mind is experimenting with native plants in her perennial beds and is doing research on how well they perform as host plants for caterpillars and as nectar and pollen sources for pollinators. She claims that the hands-down winner in her garden is Common Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), a beautifully scented native with delicate blooms that is an attractive garden specimen in its own right.

My personal favourite is Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), a plant that I became aware of after seeing it in her garden. It’s attractive and is a host plant for black swallowtail butterflies – what’s not to love?

Eryngium agavifolium
Eryngium agavifolium

Eryngium has a lot of drawing power for pollinators. Although not native to Ontario, I can vouch for Eryngium agavifolium, also known as Agave-leaved Sea Holly. I worked at Lost Horizons last summer and it was by far the most popular plant in the nursery for bumblebees. It is also a very striking architectural plant for design purposes, though a bit spiky to handle. A close second were some vibrant rose-coloured nativars of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa); bumblebees would invariably cling and hitch a ride rather than abandon ship when customers brought pots to the cash counter.

Check out more examples of native plants for the garden in this great article by Benjamin Vogt:

15 Native Flowers That Feed Native Bees
These perennials offer superfood to hundreds of bees and are gorgeous in their own right

Botanical brawl over native plants

I spotted an irresistable tweet this afternoon; it was by @ThomasRainerDC and it read:

The native plant debate can get pretty ugly. Check out the comments on Garden Rant goo.gl/7TIi6f

Naturally, I checked it out. I love a good botanical brawl as much as the next person, and have fond memories of the hair-pulling slap-happy fights that used to go on in the orchid forums. This one, however, ranks as more of a girl fight. Quite civilized actually.

Still, it's worth a read if only to get acquainted with the ideological arguments that go on in the garden world over the use of native plants. The hard-liners that I have met are generally new to gardening, convinced that the way to save the planet is to banish ornamentals and grow "native plants" instead.  It's not so different, I suppose, from the high-minded ideals that draw beginners into vegetable gardening, motivated by fears for food security and the conviction that every inch of neglected space in a fat first-world city should be devoted to growing food.

Whatever it takes to draw new gardeners in, be it ecological passion or passing 100-mile diet fad, I say: Welcome. At least you're not boring.

I'm going to give the last word to Kermit, a rational voice in that "ugly" thread:

In the … ideological conflicts I’ve seen in my life, it seems that often the enemy camp isn’t attacked so enthusiastically as allies who fail to toe the most severe party line… In the 21st century gardening subculture we usually ignore folks who build and move into suburban developments – other than a passing comment on the boring lawn monoculture – but attack gardeners who aren’t “doing it right”.

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