Category Archives: Bees & Pollinators

Winter Favourites

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

As I begin to hunker down for winter, the garden outside my windows still gives me pleasure.  Some plants are blackened and not particularly attractive but grasses continue to look beautiful throughout the winter months. 

Two of my favourite grasses for winter are Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).  These are both native grasses that are not only beautiful but well behaved in my garden.  Little Bluestem is a great choice for a dry, sunny spot or even a rain garden that may flood and then dry out.  It can grow up to 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. Switchgrass is a taller grass that grows to 6 feet with a 3-foot spread.  It prefers soil that is medium to wet and is also a great choice for rain gardens. 

Bluestem in author’s garden

Both these grasses are host plants for many species of butterflies.  They also provide seeds and nesting materials for birds and shelter for small mammals.

Switchgrass in author’s garden

Little Bluestem and Switchgrass are “warm season” grasses which means that unlike “cool season” grasses they don’t go dormant in the heat of summer.  Warm season grasses thrive in the heat.  They start growing later in springtime and flower later in the summer. 

This brings me to why I love them in winter.  They hold up their beautiful seed heads that look stunning when frosty, they create movement in the garden, provide colour all winter long and they help make my garden a winter refuge.

Resource:

https://www.inournature.ca/native-grasses-for-ontario-gardens

Not Your Everyday Goldenrod

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

I was recently at a market where a local garden group was selling some plants including many native plants. I noticed a striking goldenrod. I remarked to one of the vendors that it still seems odd to me to see goldenrod for sale when it is so common in rural Ontario. The vendor rightly chastised me because this goldenrod was not your very common goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), it was Gray Goldenrod (S. nemoralis) . The vendor went on to describe some of the positive attributes of this plant. I have to say that the bright yellow, fluffy flowers were beautiful!

This market interaction set me thinking more about the native varieties of goldenrod, or Solidago, species. There are over 100 species of this perennial native with over 25 being found in Ontario. This plant often gets bad press as being a plant whose pollen causes allergies but the likely culprit is ragweed (Ambrosia species). Ragweed and goldenrod bloom at the same time and are often found growing in the same areas. Goldenrod’s lovely yellow flowers (note that there are a couple of Ontario species with white flowers) are attractive to bees and butterflies. They serve as a good source of nectar in the fall and their heavy pollen grains attach easily to the bodies of pollinators. Ragweed flowers are green, do not produce nectar and produce large amounts of light pollen that easily becomes airborne … hence your sneezing and your itchy eyes.

Solidago canadensis, author’s garden

Goldenrod is an easy keeper in the garden. It can grow in a variety of soils, many prefer sun but some grow well in part shade or shade and most prefer average moisture but some can grow well in very moist soil. Goldenrod spreads via seed and through rhizomes (horizontal underground stems). Some species (Tall goldenrod (S. altissima), Canada goldenrod (S. canadensis), and Giant goldenrod (S. gigantea) can quickly take over a small garden. These may be grown in a pot , in a bordered area or in that hot dry area of the garden where not many other plants will grow. This will help to keep them in check.

Goldenrod can be quite a tall plant and is very pretty in drifts in the garden, as a background plant or even as a focal point. I started a woodland garden this year and planted a zigzag goldenrod (S. flexicaulis) which grows in full shade. Goldenrod is great for adding colour to the fall garden and when grown alongside beautiful purple asters (for example, New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), the display is stunning!

Goldenrod has many positive attributes from its beautiful, bright yellow flowers and its tall upright growth habit to the many species that will grow in a variety of conditions including that hot, dry spot in your garden.

Goldenrod may be purchased at most native plant nurseries or grown from seed. For more information on the different species of goldenrod, please check here. For more information on growing golden rod, please check here.

A Favourite Plant

by Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Agastache foeniculum, also known as Anise hyssop, is an herb belonging to the mint family. It was originally purchased by me as a garden thriller. It has since become a workhorse for my garden. The mother plant of the ones I now have was planted in my garden in Havelock – the “Blue Fortune” cultivar.

The seeds of the ones I have now arrived in my new garden in Norwood in the compost I brought from my old place. This delightful aromatic native plant is tolerant of a wide range of soils, drought tolerant once established, deer resistant and will do well in sun to part shade.

Although it self seeds very readily, it is easily pulled when small. The plant will grow 2-3” tall with a branching habit. The flowers are produced on the tips of the branches starting in early July. Some are still flowering in mid September. As far as it’s attraction to pollinators is concerned; it is a bee magnet. It also doesn’t seem to attract insect pests or diseases.

Anise hyssop in my garden (photo taken September 13th 2021)

Since I had so many seedlings coming up all over my garden, I decided to let them develop and act as filler plants until I had something else coming along or decided to use them elsewhere. I have since used them as a border for some of my flower beds next to my neighbour’s property.

Others I use as specimen plant for some of my beds and some others next to my vegetables to attract pollinators. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable and versatile plants in my garden.

More information

The Late Summer/Fall Garden

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Your once showy, spectacular plants have finished blooming and their foliage may have withered.  Do not despair, the late summer/fall garden can still be something to behold as well as feeding the pollinators and other wildlife!

Annuals

Plants that grow, bloom, go to seed then die all in one season are annuals.  Annuals may be used to add some much needed colour at the end of our summer season.  Zinnia, Petunia, annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and Cosmos are easy to source and grow.  The ornamental kales and cabbages are dramatic plants that will look good in your pots or your garden.

Zinnia various — author’s garden

Shrubs

Hydrangea – I am referring to the panicle (H. paniculata) and smooth hydrangeas (H. arborescens) that bloom on new wood and may be pruned in late winter or very early spring.  This is a plant that steals the show in late summer, fall and even into winter.  They produce large, pink, white or pink/white poufy blooms.  The blooms may be dried for inside décor or left on the plant outside for winter interest. 

Witch hazel – Hamamelis virginiana is a native that blooms with interesting, spidery petaled, yellow flowers in the fall.  This plant will attract birds to your garden.

Perennials

Plants that grow, bloom and produce seed but do not die after just one season … some are short lived but some live for many years.  There are lots of perennials that bloom in late summer and fall.  Many, like the native Aster species and golden rod (Solidago species) provide food for wildlife including the pollinators.

Echinacea purpurea — author’s garden

Some others in my garden include:

Phlox – There are lots of P. paniculata cultivars that bloom in the fall.  This plant comes in a myriad of colours.  Do not confuse this plant with the mid-summer/August blooming dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) which can be quite invasive.  Phlox flowers have five petals and dame’s rocket have four.

Black eyed susan – Bright, happy native plants and cultivars (Rudbeckia species) that may be annual, biennial (germinate in spring of first growing season but do not flower and go to seed until the next growing season) or perennial.  The wild ones that we see on the Ontario road side are most often biennials. 

Bugbane – Another pretty native (Actaea species formerly Cimicifuga) that blooms in the fall.  I spent lots of time trying to get a good photo of a bumblebee on this plant’s bloom but it was too fast for me!

Anise hyssop – The bees love Agastache foeniculum.  I have mine planted along a path.  It is tall and quite dramatic when in bloom.

Antennaria — author’s garden

Plume poppy – This is the plant that everyone will ask “what is that”.  Macleaya cordata growsvery tall and has an interesting seed head and large leaves.  Beware though because it can spread through rhizomes (underground roots) and it exudes an orangey sap when pulled.  It is easy to control just by pulling the plants when small but wear gloves to avoid touching the sap…it is poisonous.

Coneflower –  Echinacea purpurea is a native plant but there are lots of colourful cultivars.   Birds eat the seeds held in the spent blooms in winter.

Hydrangea — author’s garden

Pussy toes –  The bees love this native (Atennaria species) too.  Just like it’s common name, this plant has cute little flowers that resemble the toes of a soft, white kitten.

Sedum/stonecrops – These plants are some of the toughest, hardworking plants in your garden.  They can take lots of heat and dry conditions. There are many, many to choose from … some bloom in spring and some bloom into the fall. The sometimes colorful foliage can add interest and the blooms will attract pollinators.

Sedum — author’s garden

So observe your garden, does it need some help this time of year?  Try shopping the fall sales at your local nursery.  If you can fit in some of these plants, you will have a beautiful garden full of late season blooms. 

Stripey Things in the Garden

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

A couple of weeks ago, Laura Gardner posted an article in this blog about insects in our gardens in general. I’d like to follow up on that post with one specifically addressing the variety of stripey flying insects in our gardens.

Bees, wasps and hornets are often lumped into one stinging group but is important to understand the difference between bees, wasps and hornets in order to appreciate their significance in the garden.

Bees are mostly hairy, have fat legs and short fat bodies. They eat pollen and nectar, and in the process of gathering these, they pollinate flowers. Bees die after they sting. There are over 400 discovered varieties of bees in Ontario.

Honey bees at work, Pixabay.

Wasps and hornets have hairless bodies and tend to be long and sleek with a narrow between the abdomen and thorax. They are predators and for the most part they eat other insects. A hornet is a larger type of wasp with black and white rings instead of black and yellow. The most common type of wasp in Ontario is the yellow jacket, but there are three others in this region: Bald faced hornets, paper wasps and mud dauber wasps. Wasps and hornets do not die after they sting, and can sting multiple times.

Wasp, Pixabay.

For the most part, wasps are not important pollinators but they are hunters and their prey is other insects. They play an important role in protecting your plants. Wasps spend their summers seeking out aphids, flies, caterpillars and other bugs – many of them pests – to feed to their larvae. Hundreds or even thousands of larvae can be produced each year in a paper wasp hive, so they look after a lot of bugs!

How can we coexist with these scary, menacing fliers? Wasps sting when you threaten them. If you get stung it is probably your fault – it may not be intentional – but you are still to blame. If you swing at them or make sudden movements, they will feel threatened and there is a good chance you will be stung. The best way to avoid the pain is to treat bees and wasps with respect. Move calmly and deliberately, give them space to go about their business, and they will ignore you. If you do get stung, wash the area with soap and water and apply an ice-pack. You might want to take an anti-histamine tablet or use an anti-histamine lotion. If you have an extreme reaction, get to the ER fast. Otherwise, try a fresh-cut raw onion (it has enzymes that counteract the venom), anti-perspirants that contain aluminum zirconium, After-Bite, or a simple paste made from baking soda and water to ease your suffering.

Most people don’t want to have wasps living alongside them, but if you can possibly leave the nest alone, it is advisable to do so. After all, wasps are so common that even if you can’t see a nest, it’s probable there’s one nearby. The wasp colony will die when the cold weather hits. If the nest is left in place it is unlikely that wasps will build there again the following year, so you can dispose of any visible wasp nests in winter or early spring. The only wasps to over-winter are the fertilized queens which start new colonies in the spring.

Wasp nest, Pixabay.

The best way to deal with wasps is to minimize their numbers by deterring them from the area. Do not keep any food (including your pet’s) lying around. Keep drinks covered when outdoors and always ensure that garbage cans are tightly sealed. Also, keep any fallen fruits from nearby trees, shrubs and gardens picked up as their sweet juices attract the wasps.

Fake wasp nests are available to the homeowner to hang in trees near the house. Since the wasps are territorial, they will probably set up housekeeping somewhere else.

Last year, we had wasps nesting in two places under our vinyl siding. Since they were near our back door, we tried some of the sprays available but found that they weren’t effective. One day, I bravely (and quickly) put duct-tape over the nest entrances, and the problem was solved instantly. If only I’d tried that before heading to the hardware store!

If you can find a way to coexist with the majority of these insects, your gardens will thank you.

Resources:

Why Wasps are Good for Gardeners
Understanding Wasps–They are not Evil!
Bees, Wasps and Hornets: What You Need to Know
Bee Species in Canada

Ditch Lilies – a Cautionary Tale

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Once upon a time there was a gardener who wanted something that grew quickly to screen a neighbour’s unsightly yard and house addition. She noticed that the ‘ditch lilies’ that surrounded her front yard tree (already there when she moved in) seemed to be pretty vigorous, so she planted a row of them between the yards, along with some small bridal wreath spirea (Spirae aprunifolia).

What she didn’t realize was that she had unleashed a horrible monster into her garden, one that quickly engulfed any other plants, sucked all the moisture out of the soil, and eventually killed most of those spirea.

Yes that gardener was me, many years ago, before I knew better and before I became a master gardener. So this year I knew I had to finally tackle the monster, remove all these plants, and reclaim this garden area. I knew how much work it would be (it took me three weekends this spring), but I got it done. Here’s my story…

Even though you see it growing in ditches around the province, Hemerocallis fulva (aka ditch lily, tawny daylily, orange daylily, tiger lily) is native to China, Japan and Korea and was introduced to North America in the early 19th century. They spread via seed and a network of tuberous roots, and can reproduce and proliferate from a small fragment left behind during removal. In 2020 the Ontario Invasive Plant Council added this plant to their invasives list, and their Grow Me Instead Guides offer some native alternatives to consider.

Screen capture from the Grow Me Instead Guide on Hemerocallis fulva

Garden bed, spring 2021

So this was my garden bed in May this year – just waiting to burst out and take over, again. Every single one of these plants had to be dug and lifted, making critically sure to get every last bulb. These photos show how many bulblets can be on just one stem – it was quite overwhelming to think of the job ahead.

All the plants that were dug out were put in black plastic garbage bags and left out in the hot sun beside our barn for a month. At last count I used 45 garbage bags, and they were a slog to carry as they were heavy!! Eventually they went to our rural dump, where the hot composting they do should ensure their demise.

Bit by bit, over three weekends, I got them all out. It was beneficial to have a dry spring, as it made digging them out a little easier. But still a workout!

Once everything was cleared out, I weeded the soil for anything else. All that remained were my tulips and a few hardy perennials that had been gasping for air for more than a decade.

Getting there.
Ready for a fresh load of soil.

With a fresh load of soil on top and a final check for bulblets done (and knowing that I would have missed a few), I put in some new plants, aiming for 50 percent native plants (those marked with a *). The area has both sun and shade spots so I needed to be careful with my choices.

For sun, Echinacea*, Gray-headed coneflower* (Ratibida pinnata), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), American Witch Hazel* (Hamamelis virginiana), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Sedums, Switch grass* (Panicum virgatum), Lesser catmint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta), Black-eyed Susans* (Rudbeckia hirta), lupins, Giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha), Cyclindrical Blazing Star* (Liatris cylindracea)[once I can convince the bunnies to stop eating it – see green covers], and Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

For part shade/shade, Mourning Widow Geranium (Geranium phaeum), Purple Flowering Raspberry* (Rubus odoratus), hostas, Sensitive Fern* (Onoclea sensibilis), Virginia Waterleaf* (Hydrophyllum virginianum), Columbine (Aquilegia), Starry False Solomon’s Seal* (Maianthemum stellatum), Buttonbush* (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Zig-zag goldenrod* (Solidago flexicaulis) and Berry Bladder fern* (Cystopteris bulbifera). Also the infamous Outhouse Plant (Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’), to be replaced with something else next year. Any suggestions for fast growing native shrubs that can handle part share welcome!

The garden bed needs time to fill in, so we’ll see what it looks like next year. In August I went back into the bed and sure enough, there were new ditch lilies growing in a few places. Remember it only takes one bulblet for them to grow. But half an hour later they were all gone as well.

I suspect I will on alert for the odd ditch lily plant showing up for the next few years, but I’m really proud to have removed this nasty invasive plant from my garden and rejuvenated it with native plants. And my two lovely sugar maple trees are glad for some more breathing room.

NOTE: The orange, single flower Hemerocallis fulva is the only daylily currently listed as invasive. It is a diploid daylily. Most cultivated daylilies are triploid and do not spread invasively like the ditch lily.

Hosting butterflies

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

Life has been busy in my garden lately, and I don’t necessarily mean me! My husband Ray and I have been enjoying the array of pollinators that are busy in the garden. What has us particularly excited is seeing species of butterflies that we have not noticed in the garden before. For example, Ray identified a Large Wood Nymph butterfly (Cercyonis pegala) that I noticed feeding on heliotrope. Although it spent a lot of time feeding on the heliotrope this is not a host plant for this particular butterfly. According to The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies host plants for the Large Wood Nymph are native grasses such as Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).

Large Wood Nymph butterfly

So, what exactly is a host plant and why is it important? Host plants are plants that an organism, (larva) lives on and lives off of. A well-known example is the Monarch butterfly. It will feed on a number of nectar plants including milkweed but Monarch larvae only feed on milkweed (Asclepias) species. Milkweeds are the Monarch’s only host plant. Important pollinators like butterflies and moths need host plants on which to lay their eggs and enable the subsequent larvae to have a food source. The photo below shows Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) in the foreground is a host plant while the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) behind it is a nectar plant.

Little Bluestem grass and Mexican Sunflower provide host and nectar sources (respectively).

According to the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC) butterflies need plants that are good sources of nectar, sun, shelter from the wind, and host plants on which to lay their eggs.  Yes, larvae eat the leaves on the host plant but typically do not cause serious damage.  Along with providing a list of plants for nectar sources this site gives a list of host plants for larvae for specific butterflies.  Many of the host plants are trees including birches, willows, dogwoods, oaks, hops, cherries and hackberries to name just a few.  Other host plants include native wildflowers and grasses.

The OFNC site provides more details on providing the most desirable conditions for butterflies and makes the point that to restore butterfly populations we need to recreate suitable habitats for them. This is another list of valuable host plants.

If you are interested in attracting more butterflies consider adding some of these valuable host plants to your garden. Many of these plants can be sourced at Peterborough’s Ecology Park where you can also get expert advice on suitable plants for your garden conditions.

Casting pods to Podcasts

By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training

One of my favourite things to do when I am gardening, especially at other peoples’ properties, is to listen to podcasts while I am working. Normally I would prefer to listen to the sound of nature, but that’s not always possible when you are weeding in congested neighbourhoods or planting next to the street, or heaven forbid, have to drown out the irritating noise of someone else’s noisy lawnmower (yuck). So in urban settings, I like to set up a playlist on my phone of a few different episodes from different presenters and allow their voices to guide me through whatever gardening task is at hand that day.

Collecting seeds in the author’s garden

I don’t know about you, but I take every waking moment I can to learn something new. I am constantly on the search for more local-based podcasts that are focused on gardening but I have yet to come across many (if any) Ontario-based independent podcasts associated with gardening (wink-wink nudge-nudge to those reading who have a knack for radio: get on this please!) Sure there is CBC and the ever-familiar voice of Ed Lawrence during his half-hour call-in Q&A segments, or Mark Cullen’s informative, albeit short, bits of advice (last updated in 2017), but that’s not the same as listening to an hour long interview solely dedicated to one topic.

Just for fun, I am going to list and associate some of my favourite podcasts with some of my favourite symbolic plants that produce interesting seed pods, especially those in which you can collect and cast around your garden, scattering and planting seeds like tidbits of knowledge one has learned from the voices heard through the headphones. Being a seed saver and sower is just as important as educating oneself about the future we have at stake, so grab your phone and earbuds and check out one (or all) of the following podcasts next time you are puttering about in the garden.  

Sea Holly, Eryngium spp.

Eryngium spp. (Sea holly): In Defense of Plants

Matt Candeias is hands down one of my favourite podcast hosts. The guy is a natural-born interviewer and just knows how to ask the right questions to his guests, whether they are scientists, activists, or the average plant obsessed person like you and I. Similar to the loyal and well-structured Sea Holly plant that symbolizes admiration, each episode of Candeias’ show can be something to admire because he makes sure to cover a new topic every week, discussing everything from carnivorous plants to paleobotany to ecological restoration.

https://www.indefenseofplants.com/podcast

Alcea rosea (Hollyhock): Cultivating Place

Jennifer Jewell’s weekly show focuses on the “conversations on natural history and the human impulse to gardening”. She takes the listener around the globe as she interviews various academics and gardeners about the impacts plants have had on humanity, and how they shape our collective global identity. Just like the hollyhock plant, every Cultivating Place episode is ambitious and to the point, acting as little capsules into different topics and periods of time.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

Papaver spp. (Poppy): Gardens, Weeds and Words

Let’s face it: the Brits not only know how to garden, but they know how to make the best gardening-related podcasts. Maybe it’s his calming accent, or maybe it’s his fantastic interviewing skills, but host Andrew Timothy O’Brien really does have a knack for creating a fantastic episode to listen to, even if they only come out once a month. Like the well-structured seedpods of the whimsical poppy plants, every episode brings me a feeling of peace, remembrance and pleasure, while also introducing me to a new guest that I can relate to in some way.

http://www.gardensweedsandwords.com/podcast

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed): The Native Plant Podcast

An informative American-based podcast that has that traditional talk radio sound and feel to it with a Virginian twang. Like the dignified milkweed plant, the majority of the episodes interview people about native plants found in North America, as well as insects (friend and foe), green infrastructure, dendrology, and wild edibles. As much as I have enjoyed the information I have learned from various episodes, I have to admit that the format is kind of dry. 

https://www.nativeplantpodcast.com/

Antirrhinum spp. (Snapdragon): The Organic Gardening Podcast

Another great UK-based podcast, hosts Chris Collins and Sarah Brown educate listeners every week about the most organic and sustainable gardening practices there are, from weed management, to mulches, to seed collecting, to rewilding. Just like the skull-looking seedpods of the beloved annual snapdragons, this podcast really hits the head on topics

Some other gardening-related podcasts that I recommend include:

-Talking Heads https://www.talkingheadspodcast.co.uk/ (UK)
-Down The Garden Path https://downthegardenpath.libsyn.com/ (Can)
-The Maritime Gardening Podcast https://maritimegardening.com/ (Can)
-The Daily Gardener https://thedailygardener.org/ (USA)
-The Grow Guide https://thegrowguide.libsyn.com/ (Can)
-Roots and All https://rootsandall.co.uk/thepodcast/ (UK)
-Urban Forestry Radio https://orchardpeople.com/podcasts/ (Can)

Which podcasts are your favourite? Or which seedpods are your favourite to collect (great list of images)? Are there any others you can suggest to fellow readers? Please leave a comment if you have something to share.

Casting Pods to Podcasts, Anica James.

Gardening is a Privilege

By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training

It’s May 24, and according to the Farmer’s Almanac, now is the calendar time people in the Peterborough area are normally getting ready to sow seeds, plant vegetable seedlings, and put new plants in the ground because all danger of frost has past. But that’s only if you are privileged enough to own space to do so and have enough disposable income to spend on plants and gardening supplies.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word privilege means “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”. Historically, having a large beautiful garden was saved for the wealthy and elite, because they were the ones who could afford the land, exotic plants, and an entire staff of gardeners. Unfortunately not much has changed, but thankfully more resources are becoming available to those who might not have the materials but wish to garden.

Although increased property ownership in the past century has allowed for most homeowners to have some slice of yard space for themselves’ to work on, it still costs a lot. Realtors even suggest that homeowners need to spend approximately 10% of the property value on landscaping. Gardening is still a very private and solo act and everyone has their own vision and version of what the “perfect garden” looks like. Maybe you’re privileged enough to be able to hire a gardener or landscaping company to maintain your property and get that bowling green lawn which costs money to water, fertilize, and mow it. Having a garden bed and maintaining said garden bed is also a privilege because it costs money to fill it with plants (whether they are annuals, perennials or shrubs), in which most are non-native and many can be detrimental to the natural environment.

Buying plants, soil, mulch, seeds and seed starting kits also costs money. The average 1 gallon potted perennial costs $15, and if you follow the rules of design you just learned about on Pinterest which says you need “at least three of every plant to form nice clumps and groupings”, the cost of gardening really starts to add up. Next time you go to a garden centre to buy a non-native Hydrangea in a 2 Gallon pot for $59.99, think to yourself what it must be like for someone who cannot afford that. Recently I was at a local grocery store looking at plants–in which I had already loaded my cart with over $100 worth of colourful annuals adorning cheap plastic pots–and I overheard a woman my age say to whoever she was speaking with on the phone “I really want this lavender plant because my therapist said it would help calm and ground me, but I really need milk and eggs to make breakfast for my kid.” Although I do not have children, I have been in a similar position where I really wanted a $5 plant and knew that I couldn’t afford it at the time. This is the reality for many people I know, the working poor, but they still want to be able to have access to nature that will bring them joy. Plants are supposed to help relax us, not stress us out.

There are still ways for people who do not have enough money or space to do a bit of gardening, thanks to seed sharing, plant swapping, and learning through books or the internet, but even so, it is a struggle for many in our community. Consider the balancing act and constant budget decisions that less privileged people in our city must make every day. Shouldn’t everyone have the right to access home grown produce and beautiful flowers?

So how can those of us who are fortunate enough to have time, money and space to garden change and/or make a positive impact this growing season?

As you get your vegetable plots ready for the season, if you have the space and can afford to, consider growing extra vegetables and herbs that you can donate to a local food bank or a less privileged neighbour on your street. Or consider renting out your front lawn to other people who want to install a garden, like what they have done in Charlottetown, PEI https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-garden-share-program-1.6005297

The flowers of a potato plant, a practical and pretty addition to any garden bed that doesn’t cost a lot of money and rewards you with delicious food. Photo by Anica James.

Thankfully here in Peterborough we are fortunate enough to have over 40 community gardens, but there could still be more. If you have time to give, volunteering at a community garden has many benefits to help you grow in multiple ways. Or do you know of a place in your neighbourhood where you would like to see a garden installed? Local organization Nourish has great resources to help you get started. https://nourishproject.ca/factsheets

Reconsider the manicured look of popular garden plants and switch them out for something that is going to be more beneficial for you, wildlife, your community and the environment in the long run.  Incorporate more native plants and collect seeds to share with others in the community. GreenUP Ecology Park is a great place to buy native plants and learn about local greening initiatives.

Remember: Gardens should be both practical and pretty while always serving a purpose. If the pandemic has taught us anything, we need to start being more empathetic and finding ways to grow through this together as a community.

St. Luke’s Community Garden located in East City has 18 individual allotment plots and a few plots for volunteers to grow produce, which is then donated to the Food Cupboard at the church. Photo by Anica James.

Native Plants: Guilt

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

Like a lot of other gardeners during this time of COVID, I have taken advantage of the many, many gardening presentations, seminars, talks, and webinars that have all been available online–not to mention catching up on my reading. The two books that I am currently reading are both by Douglas Tallamy and have been recommended numerous times. They are ‘Bringing Nature Home’ and ‘Nature’s Best Hope’. Both are packed full of facts and figures; the first one providing a list of recommended native plants as well as basic information regarding the insects that are eaten by bird and wildlife. The second book, which is one of the main reasons why I like it so much actually has a plan (or approach as the book calls it) for turning our home gardens into wildlife habitats and extending that approach to create corridors preserving our native wildlife.

What I have noticed among the many presentations, seminars, etc. is the focus on native plants, native wildlife preservation, sustainable and organic gardening and environmental gardening.  I am definitely all in favour of this shift; in fact I believe that this has been too long coming. We, as a whole, are definitely a little late to the table. Now this is just my personal opinion but I feel that as a nation, as a people, we do seem to be forever running behind a problem trying to come up with solutions only when the situation becomes critical!

I have to admit that I am as much at fault as the next person. My garden is only approximately 40% native plants, the rest being ornamental. Although if you count bulbs and annuals, that figure could drop down to about 30%.

But do not panic just yet, Douglas Tallamy does not recommend that we ‘adopt a slash and burn policy towards the aliens that are now in your garden’, thank goodness for that. What he does suggest is two-fold, if an alien plant dies replace it with a native plant that has the same characteristics, and two, create new beds with native plants if you have space and if not, dig up some of your lawn.

So here is my dilemma, and guilt. I have no more space to expand and only a very narrow patch of lawn in the back garden for my husband, dogs and future grandchildren. So I either have to wait for something to die, which is not happening fast enough to outweigh my guilt, or dig up a plant replacing it with a native. This is not quite as easy as you think. I have walked around my garden a number of times looking for plants to give away to plant sales or neighbours. The problem is the less plants you have the more each plant tends to have its own story, your mother or good friend gave it to you, you’ve inherited it from someone you care about, the plant reminds you of a certain time, the list and stories go on.

Photo of backyard in author’s garden showing on the left the narrow strip of lawn

One of my favourite native plants is culver’s root. It always and consistently has the most insect activity of any plant in the garden. I already have two. But would I want to dig up the rose bush that my mother bought me because coincidentally it has the same name as my grandmother and replace it with a third culver’s root?

What about ironweed? I love this tall, stately plant covered in late summer with purple flowers. Again I already have two, but would I want to dig up the delphinium that a neighbour gave me 15 years ago, that had apparently been growing in her yard for 30 years prior to that and replace with an ironweed?

Picture of Ironweed in author’s backyard

What about all the daylilies I have spent years collecting, each one unique and individual, or the peonies I bought from my last garden, one in each colour? Now, I understand that maybe not all of my ornamentals have the same level of memories, and that, yes, they would be going to good homes. But it is a difficult decision, I want to increase the natives in my garden, I want to do what is right and sustainable, and I want to increase the wildlife in my garden. I have even given talks myself encouraging gardeners to add at least one native plant to their garden each year. But do I really have time to wait; my guilt levels and motivation levels want me to act now, to take a stand, to encourage by action.

As Douglas Tallamy concludes: ‘Our success is up to each one of us individually. We can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered – and the ecological stakes have never been so high.’