Pollinators at the garden centre: Like stealing candy from baby fish in a barrel

We have a big garden centre in town where I often go with my wife who is always keen to look for new plants and supplies.

Its flowering stock is mostly on display outdoors, under sun tarps, and like most of our town, this centre lies right below the lush, Carolinian wilds of the Niagara Escarpment.

I have started taking my camera with me because the place is literally crawling with natural pollinators. The staff there know me and I have explained what I’m doing and they have absolutely no problem with me snapping away.

I just use my phone and my little tg5, and I never block aisles or do anything to damage stock or threaten customer flow.

But I can’t help but feel pretty guilty. No ticks or mosquitoes. No hot direct sun, all table height shooting. Clean. There’s a coffee shop across the street.

Aren’t we naturalists supposed to suffer for our ‘art’, or something?

Have you ever found yourself feeling guilty about ‘unnaturally easy’ observational opportunities?

Care to share?


Great story! Reminds me of counting bats at sunset that flew out of a crack in the wall opposite a bar - with a cold beer in hand. :-) No, I didn’t feel guilty, in fact I really enjoyed it because it was the only time that my late husband cared to join me in my nature activities.
I just see myself as opportunistic predator…


Haha, actually chuckling at “opportunistic predator” :laughing:


I try to maintain a daily streak of observations, which sometimes can lead to boring observations of whatever weed or insect I find on my balcony, that feels a bit lazy (and also sometimes involves a cold beer…)


Oh, did you mean a “sample of evidence – fermentation byproduct” for Saccharomyces cerevisiae?


Oh, this will totally be my next lazy observation – casual in more ways than the one iNat uses!


Why would you have to feel guilty? If you have the opportunity to enjoy, see and study biological diversity in a comfortable way, then go for it. And even so, that garden does not restrict you from planning and doing a more natural (and tougher!) route.

I think it is also important to have some data from these “humanized natural” spaces and see what are the consequences and impacts of having this kind of zones.


I guess it’s because I read so many stories here about people going to great and strenuous lengths to get that prized addition to their list and I’m thinking, “Wow! Such adventure. Well, off to the Garden Mart…”

Or, “What kind of adventures have you had, Uncle Bob, while exploring the wilderness?”

Well, I once got a regular coffee when I asked for decaf. Let me tell you…


I lead small-group wildlife tours in Madagascar/Africa, and wouldn’t give up the feeling of being in the rainforest and other remote wildernesses for the world, but I have to admit that many of my most amazing wildlife encounters have been in city parks, outside cafés, on roadside verges, or in my own garden at home. It’s incredible what can be found in semi-urban environments sometimes, and often much more tame/habituated (=photographable) than in the proper wild.


Well, you can’t get all species at one spot, so you will have something mpre challenging too, people do the work and get something rare, someone else can get lucky, but chances are slim.

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Welcome to the forum!

No need to feel guilty! It’s a habitat, albeit artificially created. I’ll look for moths attracted to light on store windows - same concept. Retention ponds attract birds and plants. Consider it a sort of flower trap for local pollinators. iNat has many uses, depending on how each person chooses to use it. Documenting local life is one use. I do that too. The general thrust of iNat it to get people interested in the non human world around them. You showing an interest in these organisms is simply one form of that. Some people never leave their yards, but they can find all sorts of things. It’s all good! Grab a couple of Creemore lagers and sit in the back yard with a camera.


Given the current outlook on humanity, that’s not too tricky (IMHO).

You know, there’s such a lot of talk this week because of the Webb space telescope about life on other worlds. How often have I heard something like, “This could help answer the question, “Are we alone?””

Anyone who as spent time in the garden, with a pet, working with animals, working anywhere other than a steel/concrete office cubicle (and even there, some exceptions) knows the answer to that one.

We’re not alone. It’s called life, in all its diverse species manifestation. And each passing year more studies are revealing that we have as much, if not much, much, more to learn from the living worlds-within-our-world than we do from studying the twinkles of the stars. At least, a lot more to learn for a lot less effort and resources.

But, we all know that here anyhow, right?

If I feel guilt it may be the guilt of entitlement. I just need to keep converting that to humility to balance off.

Humility I’m not so good at, but few can touch me at guilt-tripping! (A Canadian trait, as I’m sure you will agree.)


The older I get, the more attractive it seems to just sit with my telephoto camera near a feeder and get my bird shots. Chasing them down in a natural area can be exhausting. Some of the best pics I’ve gotten were at feeders where a diversity of foods were available and a variety of birds hung out. Should I feel guilty about that? Should the birds feel guilty about their free lunch?


I mean, if you want adventure and difficult pursuits, that’s probably available somewhere relatively nearby. Going to look for things is an option!

I have a bunch of observations from a plant in the flowerbed next to my sidewalk. Don’t have to go anywhere for that- barely have to go outside.

The point of INat is to encourage people to enjoy wildlife, not to be the best at doing hard things outdoors. There’s rock climber forums for that, I’m sure.


I never feel guilty. I will admit that I can be motivated by ‘finding a new species for iNat’ as much as ‘be one with nature’. But… looking for that new species makes me get inventive and I look at things in a way I wouldn’t before or in places I might not before. So, I’m still expanding my relationship with nature.

There is a formal city flower garden near me. It’s not large but it is often the site for weddings. It is definitely not wild. But they seem to do a fantastic job of planting things that attract insects (as opposed to those exotic plantings that no native insect would seek out). And it is teeming with bees, wasps, flies, grasshoppers, spiders etc. I can’t take any plant photos without declaring them ‘cultivated’ but I find tons of insects.* I love this spot in the summer. Extra bonus, they plant flowers that attract hummingbirds and fall migrators flock to this small garden by the dozens. They are literally zooming right past your head.

*just did a sort for these gardens and I’ve seen 99 species of insects and arachnids. That actually would include the wilder areas adjacent to the gardens, as well, though. Redefining the boundaries to just the formal gardens knocks that species count down to 47.


Some of the most under-studied organisms around are the urban pollinator populations, so I’d say you’re actually doing a great service!

Also, it will make it very easy to see which of the commonly-available garden plants are most attractive to what pollinator species.


For me, honing one’s skills as an observer of nature involves being alert to organisms that might be easily overlooked in whatever location you might be in. Maybe it’s deep in the forest on a long hike or on your backyard patio while relaxing with a beer. Interesting finds can pop up anywhere. How often on a hike do you see fellow hikers who seem oblivious to the nature around them and instead focused on whatever discussion about personal affairs they’re having? You can spot the naturalist in such situations — they’re quiet, focused on what’s around them, and probably not moving very fast. I’d like to adopt that behavior for all places I might be. It’s probably good for one’s mental health.


you’re not the first one to look for pollinators at nurseries!
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A colleague and friend of mine who researched mollusks and crustaceans would visit nurseries looking for invasive snails and slugs. Those places are on the front line for many nonnative organisms that can become established in new places.