monarch butterfly

Blooms for nature in your flower garden

Annuals and perennials bring garden joy to the Muskoka cottage. And the natural world delights in flowers just as much as we do.

All winter, our world was a sea of white. In spring, it turned to muddy brown with increasing splashes of green. But by late spring and early summer we want to see a glorious sea of colourful blooms in the Muskoka cottage garden.

And if you think you’re happy to see it, just imagine how delighted the natural creatures are with your landscaping plans.

“We find delight in the colourful blooms. Birds and insects find food in flowers. And pollinators help the plants thrive in the garden,” says Karen Tolton, owner of Water’s Edge Landscaping. “It’s win-win-win.”

Sharing blooms with nature

Ensuring that your colourful landscape also benefits the birds, bees and butterflies can involve a bit of a juggling act, Karen explains. “It’s not just a matter of planting a bunch of pretty flowers and watching the birds thrive,” she says. “You need to think about what species you’d like to attract to your Muskoka cottage garden, and what they need.”

Hummingbirds are a great example. Most hummingbird feeders are painted red, because the colour is known to attract the birds. But colour is only part of it. What really matters to hummingbirds is the shape of the flower and the quantity of nectar it provides.

“Hummingbirds need deep-pocketed flowers that suit their long beaks,” says Karen. “And they need to be able to sip from the blooms while they’re flying.” The flowers also need to provide a lot of nectar — a hummingbird burns around 12,000 calories a day, so it feeds deeply and constantly.

Some of the best flowers for hummingbirds include:

  • Bee balm (also known as Monarda)
  • Columbines
  • Hollyhocks
  • Day lilies
  • Foxgloves

These are all excellent choices for hummingbirds, regardless of the colour.

To attract hummingbirds, you can also set out some feeders and offer them some water — a splashing fountain or misting feature is something they love.

Butterfly gardens

Butterflies are also heavy nectar feeders, so many of the flowers that attract hummingbirds will also delight some species of butterflies. However, butterflies also benefit from plants with multiple small blooms, particularly if they offer some structure where they can land.

Some of the plants that attract butterflies are:

  • Lilacs
  • Phlox
  • Corn Flower
  • Lavender
  • Lupins
  • Butterfly Bush (not surprisingly!)

Some species have particular plant needs. Monarch butterflies, and the closely related Viceroy butterflies, do best if they have access to Asclepius plants. (The plant is better known as milkweed, but landscape designers often prefer to use the Latin name. “They’re a highly useful plant with a gorgeous scent,” Karen explains with a chuckle, “and it would be a shame if someone avoided milkweeds just because they have the word ‘weed’ in the name.”)

Adult Monarch butterflies can feed on a great many different flowers, but they will only lay their eggs on milkweedwhich their caterpillars will feed on when they hatch. “Many butterflies are only in their adult form for a few weeks,” says Karen. “If you want to attract them, you need to have plants that their young can use as well.”

black butterfly with white banding
White Admiral. Photo by Brad Smith

Gardens for the pollinators

Bees are vital pollinators, but they’re in serious decline, and many native species are now endangered. Many gardeners are doing all they can to help them survive.

“Some people still turn to insecticides to get rid of bees,” says Karen. “But they’re beneficial to us for many reasons. Luckily, there are easy, natural ways to ensure the bees can thrive without interfering with your outdoor activities.”

Creative landscape design can ensure that bees and people gather in different parts of the garden. And natural deterrents can be used to keep bees — and other flying insects — away from dining or play areas, without harming them.

“Water’s Edge Landscapes has never used chemical pesticides,” says Karen, “and we never will.”

Gardening with native flowers

Native species are often an excellent plant choice for bees and other pollinators, because wildlife is already adapted to feeding on them. They also tend to be extremely hardy, adapted to Muskoka’s conditions that are just too harsh for many visitors. “We have long, snowy winters and short, intense summers. We can have frost in June, drought in July and August, and frost again in September,” says Karen. “Gardening with native plants lets you enjoy flowers that have evolved to cope with all of that.”

Among the pollinator-friendly plants that grow naturally in the Muskoka landscape and look gorgeous, look for:

  • Joe Pye Weed
  • Queen Anne’s Lace
  • Yarrow
  • Wild Asters
  • Black-eyed Susan (also called Rudbeckia).

Native plant gardening has come a long way in recent years, too. While the plants haven’t changed, the demand for them has, and growers are meeting that demand by raising native plants at an incredible rate. The team at Water’s Edge now has access to a much wider range of species than ever before, giving them an enormous pallet to work with.

Keep it in bloom

Finally, if you want to attract lots of birds, butterflies and native bees to your cottage landscape, you should design your garden to enjoy constant blooms. That way, as one species begins to fade, another will be just coming in to flower.

“We like to select a variety of plants that bloom from early spring through late fall,” says Karen. “This includes choosing plants of various heights, including flowering trees and shrubs, and those with a range of flower shapes and sizes.”

It’s another area where nature’s interests and ours coincide: having a parade of blooms all summer is a feature that delights everyone in the garden, no matter what species you are.


For more great tips on gardening with nature, check out these blog posts:

Posted in In the Garden.