If you’re a nature enthusiast and want to transform your cottage into a haven for wildlife, creating a wildlife-friendly garden can attract animals to your yard by providing food and shelter. One of the joys of visiting the cottage is the opportunity to get back to nature and observe interesting critters like birds and butterflies, and a wildlife-friendly garden will allow you to view these animals from the comfort of your own porch. Wildlife-friendly gardens can also attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, all animals that benefit cottage properties by pollinating plants so that flowers bloom and fruits and vegetables grow. Sharing cottage gardens with wildlife also helps preserve species at risk like monarch butterflies by providing crucial habitat where animals can feed and rest.
Don’t worry if you’re not blessed with a green thumb and would rather spend time relaxing in a hammock than pulling weeds. Delaina Arnold, Education & Stewardship Coordinator with the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve, says: “Gardening with wildlife in mind is actually much easier than other forms of conventional landscaping because you’re going to spend less to near-zero time and money on maintenance.”
Here are some tips to create a wildlife-friendly landscape at your cottage without breaking a sweat.
Choose native plants
Native plants are species that are found naturally in an area. Because they’re not supposed to need any help, being adapted to survive and thrive in their home landscape, they’re the lowest possible maintenance choice for a garden. “The most successful wildlife gardens use native plant species, which do not require resowing each spring, rigid watering regimes, and fertilizers,” says Arnold. Native plant species can be just as pleasing to the eye as traditional garden flowers—for example, swamp milkweed, black-eyed susan, and blue flag iris are all plants native to Ontario that produce beautiful flowers while also attracting butterflies and other wildlife. Cottagers looking for native plant options in eastern Georgian Bay and the Muskokas can visit the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve website for their “Best for the Biosphere” list of native plants. And for cottagers across Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Federation website provides a list sorted by province of plant nurseries that supply native species.
Rethink the lawn
Lawns take up a lot of outdoor space and reduce habitat for wildlife. They also demand quite a bit of upkeep from property owners, as anyone who has devoted time to watering, fertilizing, and mowing them can attest. Reducing a lawn’s size or eliminating it altogether from a cottage property frees up natural space for native plants, while also saving time and money for the cottager. If you’re not ready to say good-bye to your lawn, you can still help create a wildlife-friendly environment by putting off cutting the grass. A research study led by Dr. Lerman from the University of Massachusetts in 2018 advocated a “lazy lawnmower approach” after finding that suburban lawns cut every two weeks had significantly more bees than when the lawns were cut every week, thanks to increased blooming of small lawn flowers like clover.
Let things get messy
Don’t worry about keeping the wildlife-friendly garden tidy: this is one area of the cottage that can get messy. Particularly in the fall, avoid raking and removing all the autumn leaves and sticks from the cottage. Instead, leave the leaves where they fall, or sweep them into garden beds. Not only will leaves nourish the soil as they decompose, many animals such as frogs, toads, salamanders, caterpillars, and worms use fallen leaves and brush for shelter. Leaf litter can in turn attract birds to the property, which will search piles of brush and leaves for insects to eat.