Is It Us, or Were There More Pollinators This Year?

Every year, groups of LEAF volunteers tend to six Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens throughout Toronto. These gardens provide an example of the beauty and importance of establishing native plant species in urban areas. One of the benefits of planting these species is that they foster local pollinators, including native bees and butterflies. And, this summer, we were blown away by the number of pollinators we saw at our gardens!
Coming into my role as Stewardship Coordinator, I knew how important our work was in supporting and protecting Toronto’s pollinators. Without these incredible insects, the urban forest that we love so much would not exist. Toronto is filled with pollinators; over 350 species of native bees and 110 species of butterflies call Toronto their home! These urban forest fixtures continue to face threats, including habitat loss, invasive species, diseases, pesticides, chemicals and climate change. This is why LEAF and partners have undertaken educational campaigns, like #BackyardBiodiversity, to promote the protection of local biodiversity.  With all this in mind, you can imagine the urgency I felt to get our gardens ready for the year– pollinators need every little bit of help!
I was shocked when I went to visit our LEAF Learning Garden on a lunch break and noticed it was literally buzzing with pollinator activity. A feast was happening amongst the flowers of our St. John’s wort, purple cone flowers and Joe Pye weed. As I received photos and stories from our volunteer Garden Stewards, I realized we were all noticing a boom in pollinator activity. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by the abundance of insect life in front of me!
We here at LEAF are not the only ones who have noticed a change in the number of pollinators this year. An article in BlogTO highlighted the reactions from Torontonians over the high number of monarch butterflies seen throughout the city this summer.
Now more than ever, the City of Toronto and its residents are making more of an effort to protect pollinators.  There is so much that our volunteers do in our gardens – and that you can do at home - to make life better for our favourite pollinator friends. Avoiding gardening with harmful chemicals or pesticides, leaving dead stems in the fall for overwintering insects and leaving patches of dirt in sunny areas for native bee habitat are just a few of the ways that we can all help local pollinators. Also, planting a variety of native species that will bloom throughout the year will provide food for local pollinators throughout their active season.
Our Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens provide an amazing opportunity for volunteers and the public to watch these pollinators do what they do best - pollinate! Come visit any of our gardens and see how many butterflies and bees you can identify!
Seeing the diversity of butterflies and bees that visited our gardens over this past summer brings me hope that the actions we’ve taken are having a positive impact on our urban forest. It is thanks to the time and effort of our volunteer Garden Stewards and all the other gardeners in Toronto that are making this city a pollinator paradise!
I guess it’s just like what they say, “If you plant it, they will come.”
How you can help:
  1. Check out the Backyard Tree Planting Program to attract local pollinators to your backyard. LEAF offers native tree species, shrubs and garden kits that will turn any space into a pollination destination!
  2. Follow us on social media to get seasonal tips and useful information on why Bees Love Trees and how you can help protect our Backyard Biodiversity. Implement these tips and share your story with us using #myBackyardBiodiversity.
  3. Volunteer with LEAF if you’re interested in getting involved in our Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens or other programs that support the urban forest.
The City of Toronto offers more information about our local pollinators through their Bees of Toronto Guide.


Brian Millward is the Stewardship Coordinator at LEAF.


LEAF’s Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens are supported by Ontario Power Generation and the Toronto Transit Commission.

The #BackyardBiodiversity campaign is a partnership initiative with the Toronto Wildlife Centre and is supported by Ontario Power Generation.