Garden on, Hamilton!

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COVID-19 could bring you a Monarch Award

May 18, 2021. With the extension of Ontario’s stay-at-home order, Hamiltonians have gained another few weeks of uninterrupted time in their gardens. What a great opportunity to go for a Monarch Award! If you garden for nature, not just for looks, why not get recognized for your good work?

Even if you’re new to ecological gardening, the Monarch Awards recognize the dedication and knowledge you bring to your home-based habitat. It doesn’t have to be “finished” (is a garden ever really finished?) and it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, the Monarch Awards celebrate imperfection– the mess of winter and spring, the exploding exuberance of summer, and the beautiful, colourful jumble of autumn.

Originating in 2016 with a group of gardeners and environmental activists, the idea for an “alternative” garden awards program has seen the addition of a novice/small garden category (the Caterpillar Award) in 2018 and the shift from a contest to a recognition program in 2019. The Monarch Awards continues to celebrate the work of hands-on gardeners who are making the best of the pandemic as well as their yard-sized ecosystems.

The organizing committee is made up of volunteers from the community and the Royal Botanical Gardens, as well as staff from the Hamilton Naturalists Club and Environment Hamilton.

Liatris spicata, Ratibida pinnata, Pycnanthemum virginicum, Desmodium canadense, Allium cernuum

Monarch Awards 2021
To-Do List

  • read the criteria and the scoring rubric (opens new tab)
  • do an inventory of my garden plants, learn their proper names and whether they are native to Ontario
  • go through my photos from last year and pick some good ones to send with my application
  • read the resources on and look for ways to improve my garden right now

All residents of Hamilton are eligible to apply for an award. Gardens must be residential, not on business, school, or commercial properties. You do not need to own the property but you do need to be primary person responsible for how the gardens look and function. The process is uncomplicated– simply write a few paragraphs describing how your garden meets the six criteria categories (soil health, water conservation, native plant species, hardscape/material, and aesthetics) and email your text along with some photos. The review committee selects the gardens to be visited for a closer look, a conversation with the gardeners, and a socially distanced guided tour. When all the site visits are completed, usually by the end of August, the team sits down and chooses the award recipients based on a scoring rubric to be as fair as possible. Two or two dozen– the number of awards given out depends on the number of gardens that meet the standard.

Past applicants and Caterpillar Award recipients are encouraged to try again as their knowledge grows and gardens evolve. The 2021 deadline is summer solstice: Sunday June 20 at midnight.

Applications will be received starting on the May long weekend. Please visit for more details and rules.