Native Gardens for Sun and Shade

Don’t you hate it when you go online to look up a recipe and you’re forced to scroll through an entire novella just to find the list of ingredients at the end? Instead, this week, I’m going to jump straight to end and share two of my favorite “recipes” for gardens that are sure to attract butterflies and bees. These garden designs come to you free-of-charge from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR – pronounced “Bowser” like the evil king in Super Mario Bros.) and feature plants that are native to Minnesota. The first design is for a shade garden and the second is for a low-growing sun garden that could be planted in a boulevard or front yard.

Recipe for silvery checkerspot butterflies with (non-edible) blue berries. Best enjoyed under the dappled shade of a tree.

Begin with a tree. If there are none already growing in your yard, consider planting a pagoda dogwood, round leafed dogwood, red osier dogwood, spikenard, white bugbane, red baneberry American hazelnut, or service-berry. All are small trees, native to Minnesota, that provide excellent habitat for birds. Beneath and surrounding the tree, add:

  • Yellow violets (7)
  • Solomon’s seal (3)
  • Wild geranium (4)
  • Ohio spiderwort (3)
  • Calico aster (3)
  • Common yarrow (5)
  • Alumroot (5)
  • Penn sedge (9)

This garden is designed to fill a 90 square foot space. The blue berries of the Solomon’s Seal are beautiful but poisonous. You can also substitute this plant with False Solomon’s Seal, which has non-poisonous red berries.


Reply to @thewhimsyengineer there are so many great native plants for shade. This design is for a pollinator shade garden #pollinators #nativeplants #shadeplants #gardening

♬ original sound – Angie Hong
Recipe for strawberry short-garden. Becomes tea in the fall.

Begin with a grouping of wild bergamot (7) in the center of the garden. Around this, plant:

  • Pearly everlasting (8)
  • Narrow leafed coneflower (8)
  • Alumroot (6)
  • Butterfly milkweed (12)
  • Prairie dropseed (14)
  • Silky aster (5)
  • Purple prairie clover (6)

Fill in all remaining spaces with wild strawberry (24). This recipe will provide tiny but delicious strawberries in the early summer. The fragrant leaves of the bergamot can be dried and made into tea in the fall. The plants in this design are drought-tolerant and low-growing. The bergamot grows to be 3 feet tall; all others are under 2 feet tall. The garden is designed to fill a 160 square foot space, or a 20 foot by 8 foot boulevard strip.


This pollinator garden design comes from MN Board of Water and Soil Resources #nativeplants #pollinators #gardendesign #gardening

♬ original sound – Angie Hong

Looking for places to buy native plants? Washington County Master Gardeners will hold their annual plant sale this Saturday, May 20 (10am-2pm) at the Washington County Fairground. The sale features a variety of plants for sun and shade, native plants for pollinators, and veggies for home gardens. On Saturday, June 3 (9am-1pm) you can also head to the Landscape Revival at the Oakdale Fire Station (5000 Hadley Ave N) to shop from nine local native plant nurseries.

Buy yourself some native plants this coming month!

To find resources for planting projects, including native plant retailers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, short explainer videos, recorded workshops, and planting plans for the garden designs shared in this article, head to

Last but not least, offers excellent resources for native gardens, raingardens, turf alternatives, and shoreline plantings. Check out the Blue Thumb plant selector tool for help in choosing the best native plants for your yard.