Celebrating Native Plant Gardens & Gardeners

You know who you are…

Rusty-patched Bumblebee

…you have a passion to not only grow plants and create beautiful spaces, but also to nourish the landscape. It may have started with just one milkweed (Asclepias spp.) plant to support the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. Or perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to attend a terrific webinar with speakers like Lorraine Johnson (author of 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants), Rebecca McMackin (of Brooklyn Bridge Park), Brenda VanRyswyk (Conservation Halton), Sean James (Sean James Consulting) or Catherine Kavassalis (Master Gardeners of Ontario) that just flicked that switch from adding exotic plant species to creating whole ecosystems with native plants. Maybe someone gave you books by author Doug Tallamy that you re-read and quote to friends, family and neighbours. Whatever it was… gardeners like you are beginning to shift the tide from gardens that just look pretty to ones that function as ecosystems (while also being pretty, of course). It’s time to celebrate your efforts and also keep the conversation going with neighbours and friends, by applying for recognition for your garden.

There are many programs out there–from national to local grass roots organizations. Most are supported by non-profits that require an application be submitted and once reviewed, you are awarded signage for your garden (Read more below). You could even create your own recognition program by painting a sign. One of the best I’ve seen was created on a chalkboard by Jessie Blake. It was updated regularly with “What is blooming”. You might also include: “Who’s Visiting the Garden”.

Create your own recognition program by making a sign to let your community learn about your garden. – Credit to Jessie Blake, Dundas, Ontario

There are many programs and resources available to support home gardeners at the website links below. Most of these programs are through self-nomination with a written application form.

There is only one program I could find in Ontario that offers in-person visits offering expert advice to successful Applicants who complete the application & qualify for possible certification as either a Monarch or Caterpillar Award garden. This is the Monarch Awards in the City of Hamilton, the brainchild of native plant advocate and Halton Master Gardener Beverley Wagar.

The first awards year of the Monarch Awards was in 2016. Originating with a group of 6 volunteers from diverse backgrounds, the idea for an “alternative” garden awards program quickly gained momentum. The organizing committee includes staff from the Hamilton Naturalists Club, Environment Hamilton, along with volunteers from the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Crown Point Garden Club, as well as individuals.

Rather than awards based solely on the visual appearance of a home garden, these awards are focused on the function of the garden. The application questionaire asks the gardener to share information regarding: soil, water, plants, materials/hardscaping, cultural practices, and aesthetics.  It includes a Scoring Rubric for prospective applicants.

Here is the overview of the Monarch Awards, which are only available to Hamilton residents.


Working on your garden? Keeping nature in mind? – – Apply for a Monarch Award! Whether your garden is large or small, ambitious or modest, expert or neophyte– the application is the same. If you entered in previous years, you’re encouraged to enter again. Let us know what you’ve been up to! Each year the Monarch Awards program recognizes gardeners who want their gardens to not only LOOK good but also DO good.

  • If you:
    • have lots of diversity, especially with native plants
    • manage rainfall on your property
    • choose hardscape features with the environment in mind
    • are a neighbourhood beacon for ecological gardening

Entry deadline is midnight on Tuesday June 21, 2022 (summer solstice). Site visits are scheduled for mid-July.

Here are some other programs available to home gardeners in Ontario

    • Garden Certification Program – any outdoor space that is influenced by a green (or not so green!) thumbs. Everything from veggie gardens to water gardens, acres of land to containers on a patio, a meadow maintained for butterflies to a curated perennial bed, shoreline properties to urban plots – all outdoor spaces can help wildlife. No matter your location, level of experience, garden style or budget, your garden can be beautiful and beneficial for wildlife.
    • Certify your garden – This is the place where you get encouragement no matter what stage you are at in your garden for pollinators. As part of the project, we offer a free certification program where people who plant pollinator patches can register and we’ll add their location to a map that lists patches across the city. You can certify your new or existing Pollinator Paradise patch to show that you are creating habitat and contributing to pollinator conservation in Hamilton.
  • IN THE ZONE – Carolinian Canada
    • What you plant matters! In the Zone helps people transform outdoor spaces with native plants to support wildlife, water and our ways of life. Restoring healthy ecosystems helps bring life back to communities, backyards, farmlands, gardens and balconies.
    • In the Zone participants are helping to Grow Canada’s Biggest Wildlife Garden simply by returning native plants to the landscape. These plants in turn provide food, nesting, and stopover and overwintering sites for pollinators like bees and butterflies, as well as other wildlife.
    • Join the In the Zone community to receive guidance and resources, and access to fun opportunities to take part in community science and become part of a larger solution to habitat loss.
    • The In the Zone program honours Indigenous knowledge and recognizes that all land is important by providing people with the tools and resources to transform and restore ecosystems, anywhere!
    • Register Your Habitat as a Monarch Waystation -To show your support of monarch conservation, you can have your monarch habitat certified as an official Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch. Your habitat will be included in the Monarch Waystation Registry, an online listing of Monarch Waystations worldwide, and you will be awarded a certificate bearing your name and your habitat’s unique Monarch Waystation ID number.
  • North American Butterfly Association
    • Butterfly Garden & Habitat Program – to join NABA Butterfly Garden Ceritification Program, Your garden needs to meet the following requirements:
      • At least three different native caterpillar food plants must be grown, preferably more than one plant of each selected species. NABA encourages the use of plant species native to your area, but does not require it.
      • At least three different native butterfly nectar sources must be grown, preferably more than one plant of each selected species. NABA encourages the use of plant species native to your area, but does not require it.
      • The use of pesticides is discouraged. Pesticides can kill butterflies as well as other important pollinators.
    • Bee Friendly Farming Garden – BFF’s newest and most unique category of registration is specifically designed for home and community gardeners who promote and provide habitat and pollinator health in non-commercial settings. Bee Friendly Farming GARDEN has been designed to distinguish these members from commercial farming enterprises or sponsors, as well as highlighting gardeners who follow the specified guidelines in providing for pollinators and offering a diverse and permanent habitat source at a scale at or above a small home garden.
    • Bee Friendly Farming Certified – The BFF flagship certification has been revamped and redesigned to highlight and support farms, wineries, ranches, and other commercial land-use operations that promote and support pollinator health. By becoming Bee Friendly Farming CERTIFIED the grower helps preserve and protect pollinator populations by implementing positive, incremental, substantiated changes on agricultural landscapes.
  • Xerces Society
    • Pollinator Protection Pledge – Over ten thousand people have already signed the pledge to protect pollinators. Will you join them? The pollinator protection pledge is part of the Xerces Society’s Bring Back the Pollinators campaign, which is based on four simple principles: Grow pollinator-friendly flowers, provide nest sites, avoid pesticides, and spread the word. With these core values, pollinator conservation can be adapted to any location, whether you tend an urban community garden or a suburban yard, work in a city park or on a farm.
    • Purchase a Sign


Cover Image: Bev Wagar

Garden Sign: Janet Mackey at Jessie Blake’s garden

Rusty Patched Bumblebee: Ellison Orcutt, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

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