Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

First Wednesday Challenge: Invite bugs into your garden

Embrace imperfection.


 What does that mean?

  • We must be okay with the damage that bugs will do to our garden plants.
  • We don't run for the pesticides or herbicides the first time we see chewed up foliage and petals.
  • We need to redefine what we think of as perfection and beauty in our gardens.
  • We invite beneficial insects into the garden when we plant the right plants and create the right conditions.
  • We celebrate that imperfection means our gardens are teeming with all kinds of wildlife, not just pretty flower faces.

That's what I've done in my own garden.  

Our gardens will not be magazine perfect, but, pollinators and other critters don't care if flower petals are chewed on. They need pollen and nectar producing flowers. They need host plants for their offspring. They need water. They need bare earth to nest in. They need trees. They need woodpiles to hide in. They need a pesticide free environment.



When we create an insect friendly garden it will be teeming with life. All kinds of critter life. Spiders will build webs; the beneficial insects will keep critters in check; pollinators will pollinate; and, birds, small reptiles and even mammals will hunt the insects. When we eliminate pesticides, ground beetles, hoverflies, lacewings, lady beetles, minute pirate bugs, parasitoid wasps, social wasps, solitary wasps,   syrphid flies and preying mantis will be able to do what they do well, keep our garden pests in check. Yes, they do also eat the "good bugs",  but, the trade off is worth it.


 It will be a beautiful imperfect garden, just as it's supposed to be.

 Clay and Limestone has been pesticide free for several decades. I decided to embrace imperfection when I realized that native bees, butterflies, wasps, spiders, and lots of other critters were (and still are) adversely affected by them. The use of neonicotinoids and other pesticides and herbicides (by the agriculture/horticulture industry and home owners) and the introduction of non-native species are known causes of both wide-scale losses in biological diversity and pollinator declines.
Assassin bug waiting on a coreopsis

Here's some information from Penn State Insect Biodiversity Center to back me up!

"Insects comprise over 80% of terrestrial species on Earth, and include bees, ants, butterflies, grasshoppers, and beetles, among many others. Insects drive the production of essential seeds, fruits, and vegetables via pollination, and are necessary decomposers of organic matter. Further, insects are keystone species that provide invaluable ecosystem services that extend beyond pollination, by providing biological control of pests, and acting as bio-indicators of healthy streams and soils. Insects form the base of complex ecological food webs in agricultural, natural, and urban areas, shaping the appearance, beauty and complexity of these diverse landscapes." Source

Insects are too important for us to be wiping them out with pesticides that we can purchase at most big box stores. "Insect pollinators (e.g. bees, flower-flies, and butterflies) pollinate over 85% of wild flowering plants and over 75% of agricultural crop species. The loss of partial or whole insect communities can have disastrous effects for food webs and reduce an area’s ability to recover after disturbances. "(Source


 the soft bodied aphids used to creep me out

Did you know, that if you want birds to live in your garden, you absolutely must have a garden that is hospitable to bugs! I love feeding the birds and keep a feeder up all year long. The birds are entertaining to watch and I feel like I am giving the smaller birds a fighting chance to survive during a cold winter. But, when nesting time arrives, seed is not enough. They need insects to feed their young! According to Doug Tallamy, entomology and wildlife ecology professor at the University of Delaware, a single pair of breeding chickadees must find as many as 6000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young.

That's a lot of bugs and that's just for one bird family in a garden.


  When you let go of pesticides and embrace imperfection you become the change our world needs.

  • You can help create a paradigm shift that redefines garden beauty to include imperfection.
  • You can refuse to be shamed or swayed by the judgement of perfection worshipers.
  • You can say no to pesticides that kill our important garden visitors.
  • You can let nursery managers know that you don't need or expect them to offer "perfect plants", plants that have been pretreated with insecticides.


We have to do it. 




Want to Take the Taking Care of Wildlife In Our Gardens Challenge?

The first part of this challenge is to do something, even lots of things, each month that support the critters living in our gardens. Gardening with native wildflowers, shrubs and trees that make sense for our ecoregion is a good place to start or continue (as the case may be). Plants and their pollinators are a classic example of mutualism: they have coevolved through evolutionary time in a reciprocal beneficial relationship. This is also true for other critters that visit and live in our gardens. 

Activities that increase our knowledge of the natural world are equally as valuable. Helping others learn about nature is included. Golly gee whiz, there are so many things you can do. 

The second part of the challenge is to post about it somewhere: Your blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even your neighborhood listserve. Wouldn't an article in the local paper be a coup for nature! Why post it? Because positive publicity is needed to educate our friends, neighbors and communities about how important even the smallest changes we make as gardeners can be for pollinators, birds, insects and mammals, including humans, that live all around us. 

Why now? My neighborhood is changing. Yours might be, too. Every day an older home along with many (if not all) of the mature oak, hickory, maple, Eastern cedar and hackberry trees are cut down. Insects, birds, even mammals lose their home site and food supplies when we lose trees. During construction soil is compacted by bulldozers, trucks and piles of debris cause runoff; surface runoff that can carry pollution to streams and rivers. It's important that our neighbors and our community have information about how important trees are to our ecosystem. Trees contribute to their environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife.

In place of the "bee lawns" composed of Claytonia, Salvia lyrata, Ruellia humilis, fleabane, Western Daisy, Violets, self-heal, clovers, native grasses (in my neighborhood it's poverty oat grass) and sedges, they're being sodded with non-native grasses. These monoculture turf lawns contribute nothing environmentally. Here's what we lose when our diverse lawns are replaced with pristine turf grass:

  • Gone are the lightening bugs.
  • Gone are the ground dwelling/nesting native bees.
  • Gone is the habitat for insects, spiders and other critters. 
  • Gone is plant diversity. 
  • Gone are trees that provided for hundreds of moths, butterflies and other insects.
  • Gone are the nesting sites for woodpeckers, hummingbirds, Chickadees and other birds. 
  • Gone is a healthy foodweb.

 It breaks my heart. 

We can't stop the progmess, but, maybe we can make a lot of educational noise and help our new neighbors see the value in providing for critters and ultimately helping the environment.

A gardener can hope! 


Here's an incomplete list of things you might consider doing or changing in your garden, and things you can do for and/or in your community. But don't limit yourself to my list, make your own list or check out the internet for ideas.


Looking for ways to get involved go here for a list of environmental advocacy groups.

Buy the best wildflower, butterfly and bird id books for your state.

Read nature books to your children and grandchildren. Buy them nature books.

Get in the garden with your children and grandchildren.

Give nature books as baby shower gifts (Nature books for infants and toddlers)

Shrink your lawn and make your planting beds larger.

Plant your favorite native perennials and shrubs. Leave them standing after they've gone to seed to continue to provide for wildlife. What you plant in your yard makes a difference to wildlife. I garden for wildlife so every tree, shrub and plant is chosen with wildlife in mind.


Plant more natives and then consider planting even more. "A typical suburban landscape contains only 20-30% native plant species. Try reversing that trend in your own landscape by using 70-80% native species." (source

Plant for bloom from late spring to early winter. Bees are most active from February to November (longer in mild climates) late winter blooming Hamamelis vernalis and the earliest spring ephemerals (like the toothworts, hepaticas, spring beauties, and False rue-anemeone) are perfect plants for a variety of pollinators.

Commit to never, ever, ever, ever using pesticides in the garden.

Stay away from native plant hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”

If you want to garden for wildlife and pollinators, don't let lack of space stop you! Plant your favorite wildflowers in large containers. You just might have the prairie or woodland garden you've always wanted...in a pot!
Create a water feature. Provide water year round that is accessible to birds, bees and other critters.

Make a rain garden in low spots to collect and mitigate runoff.

Show some soil! Our native ground nesting bees nest in bare soil, so don't mulch every square inch of your garden. 

Get rid of the plastic weed barriers in your garden, it's not good for anything.

Invite bugs into your garden. Plant annuals that attract beneficial bugs.


Learn to tolerate damaged plants. Imperfection is the new perfect.

Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves. Leave a layer of leaves as a soft landing material under trees for moths and butterflies to over winter. Many caterpillars drop to the ground from the trees in the fall and need a soft landing site and a place to live over the winter.

Allow a fallen tree to remain in the garden. Limbs on the ground are a perfect shelter for small animals such as rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels and a habitat for beetles, termites and other insects.

Make a brush pile. Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs". Bugs are also good bird, toad and small critter food. 

Rethink what you consider a pest. Lots of good bugs eat aphids. Spiders are important predators and they're great bird food!

Add nesting boxes for birds. 

Turn off your yard up-lighting, eave lights and porch lights after 11pm. This is important for nocturnal critters including mammals, snakes, insects, bats, birds (especially during migration). (Birdcast suggestions)

Plant shrubs and small trees that provide berries and nuts.

Keep a nature journal: You can observe visitors to your water feature, make note of when they visit. Notice which flowers attract the most pollinators and which ones are just pretty faces. 

Join your state native plant society (Tennessee Native Plant Society)

Join WildOnes even if there's no local group you can join the national organization.  (Middle Tennessee WildOnes)

Support your local native plant sellers. (GroWild in middle Tennessee, Overhill Gardens in east Tennessee,  Resource Guide TN Native Plant Society)

Encourage your local garden clubs to offer native plant talks.

If your garden club has a plant sale encourage them to sell more native plants.

Get trained as a naturalist (Tennessee Naturalist Program. Almost every state has their own Master Naturalist training program

Take an online course on tree, fungi and wildflower id. 

Take an online course on designing with native plants.

Take a walk in your neighborhood and observe nature. To quote Joanna Brichetto in Sidewalk Nature "Look Around. Nature is here, is us, our driveways, our baseboards, parks, and parking lots."

Read! There are hundreds of books on gardening for wildlife, the environment, and rewilding our world. There are delightful blogs with wonderful and informative articles.

If you are already gardening with wildlife in mind then add a few signs that help educate your neighbors. (Xerces Society, Pollinator Partnership)

Join the Xerces Society.

Set up an information station where neighbors can pick up brochures about your garden and other info. 

Get certified (National Wildlife Federation, check to see what your state offers)

Support trees by joining the effort to make sure developers don't remove more trees than are necessary for their project. Work to make sure there are tree removal permits and that they are actually enforced in your community.





Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

1 comment:

  1. I try to be kind to all of the bugs in my garden, but I draw the line at Japanese beetles. I’m sorry Gail, but they get invited into the daily Bubble Pit of Doom. No poisons for me!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson