3 Steps to a Garden Better for the Bees, Butterflies and Birds

Monarch butterfly

We are in the midst of a revolution. Can you honestly say there is no room for improvement in your gardens? Are you saving resources through sustainable gardening practices, such as converting your beds to a waterwise design? Are you chasing a pest with insecticides?

In the Bee Better Demonstration garden at Helen’s Haven in Raleigh, we promote a better environment for the birds, bees, and butterflies. What can you do? Stop. Look. Listen. Take the time to evaluate your gardening practices.


Neither chemical nor organic pesticides are used in my garden beds. We use mechanical means such as hand picking or let the natural predators do that for us. Nature provides all that we need. Continually adding products promotes a dependency. Once dependent, it’s hard to kick the habit.

Are you watering excessively and inefficiently, or are your beds designed in zones, requiring less need the farther from a water source? Where does your rainwater flow? Every property’s topography is different. Know where you water goes. Can you divert or capture it? Take vegetable gardens, for example. These mostly annual plants need a regular supply of water. Are you supplying all you can naturally?

In Helen’s Haven, we have extended a drain sprout from the house to flow parallel to the vegetable bed. This required digging an eight-foot trench to the area we wanted the water. Perforated four-inch corrugated black pipe now provides additional water to the veggie garden. Instead of getting just a one-quarter inch of rain, we get a concentrated amount from a quarter of the roof rainwater. The water is allowed to slowly seep into the ground, through the perforations, to the roots of the plants.


I can’t think of a better way to start or end a day with a walk through the garden. You are rewarded with more than the pleasure of your pace; you can also keep a close eye on your plant needs. Regular surveys will help spot problems early, before they become a real headache.

Learn your garden’s specific needs, microclimates, water issues, or lack of, with regular visits. You may not choose to dead head, and instead saving the seeds for the birds. Pulling a weed or two during a regular walk through will save you the burden and hassle of having to get out there and weed. Pull them before they go to seed, and you will free up more time to admire the garden instead of stressing over it.


A garden shouldn’t be all plants and no play. Selecting plants to provide food to the birds, bees, and butterflies, is just as important as providing dinner for your table. Indeed, without our pollinators, too few of our crops will receive pollination to produce. Did you know it takes 11 visits from a pollinator to produce cucumbers with a full figured classic shape?

By providing for the birds, bees, and butterflies, the sounds and sights of your garden will be equal in pleasure to the food on your table.

Bring in the pollinators – plant these in your garden

Bird Gardens
American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum)
Cranberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatu)
Staghorn sumac (Rush typhina)
American elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis)
Firethorn (Pyracantha spp.)
Rose (Rosa spp.)
Crabapple (Malus spp.)
Holly (Ilex x attenuata ‘Fosteri’)

Butterfly Gardens
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Sedum (Hylotelephium spectabile)
Pentas (Pentas lanceolata)
Butterfly bush (Buddleja Davidii)
Lantana (Lantana camera)
Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)
Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)

Hummingbirds, Bees, and Other Pollinator Gardens
Bee balm (Monarda spp.)
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Spider flowers (Cleome hassleriana)
Salvia (Salvia spp.)
Catmint (Nepeta spp.)
Beardtongue (Penstemon spp.)
Anise hyssop (Agastache foenicullium)
Thyme (Thymus spp.)

Helen Yoest is the Executive Director of Bee Better, an area non-profit 501(C)(3) designing and educating area homeowners about building better backyards for birds, bees, and butterflies. 

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