Category Archives: Native Plants

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.’

Joys of Nature and Spring Garden Tasks

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

April 22nd was Earth Day.  It is a time for reflection on what we can do to help develop a new approach to conservation and it can all start in our own yard. As we experience what we all hope will be our last full shutdown, we need to remain optimistic in the growing interest in gardening with natives and the number of younger people who are learning to grow their own vegetables.  Douglas Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope, writes that as homeowners, we need to “turn our yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats”.

Spring is a time of renewal.  To help us get through the stressful days of this lockdown, a walk outdoors will help you experience the joys of nature and all it has to offer! 

I have created two lists.  The first is ‘Joys of Nature’ that you will encounter this time of year.  The second is ‘Garden Tasks’ to tackle over the next few weeks.

JOYS OF NATURE

Hepatica image compliments of Joan Harding, Peterborough MG
  • My garden makes me smile this time of year with all the blooming Daffodils (Narcissus), Hyacinths, Hellebores and even Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis). 
  • Local ponds are alive with the sounds of the spring peepers and the chorus frogs.  If you take a walk and come across a wetland, you will be amazed at the sound.
  • Many of the migrating birds and waterfowl have returned.  My feeders are being well used by the yellow finches, grackles, house finches and mourning doves.  If you enjoy the hummingbirds, don’t forget to get your feeders out now.  They will soon be back!
  • A walk through the woods will reveal the beauty of the spring ephemerals.  Ephemerals are short-lived spring flowers that take advantage of the sunshine before the trees get their leaves.  I have seen bloodroot, hepatica, coltsfoot and the beginnings of the trilliums and the dog-toothed violets.
  • If you are out digging in your garden, don’t be surprised if a robin will follow you around in the hopes you might throw him a much sought-after worm.  Robins are already nesting so the female is likely to be at the nest site.
  • Watch for early butterflies such as the Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Comma and the Spring Azure.
  • In early May, you should begin to see the white blossoms of serviceberries and the beginnings of the lilacs and the cherry blossoms.

Get outdoors, take a deep breath and walk slowly through a local park or wooded area and enjoy many of the items mentioned above.  Do it now before the return of the blackflies and mosquitoes!!

If you are interested in a sample of simple nature events in the Kawarthas, Drew Monkman, a retired teacher and well known environmentalist and advocate for climate control, has written this monthly almanac: https://www.drewmonkman.com/sample-page/monthly-almanacs/

SPRING GARDEN TASKS

Author’s Spring Garden… Hyacinths, Bloodroot and Daffodils
  • Only rake your lawn if walking on it leaves NO footprint.  The time to overseed your lawn is generally when the lilacs are in bloom.
  • Now is the time to top dress a generous amount of compost and other organic material into your garden beds.  Let the earthworms do the work.  I do not suggest that you rototill your garden as this disturbs the beneficial life in the soil.  Bacteria, mycorrhiza and insects are damaged, sometimes beyond repair, with rototilling.
  • Prune overgrown vines and shrubs such as some hydrangea and some of the clematis; basically all the shrubs and vines that do not bloom in spring.  Do not prune lilacs as they bloom on last year’s growth.
  • Gradually remove protection on rose bushes and prune down to a swollen bud.  Remove dead, diseased and crossing branches.
  • If you haven’t already, now is the time to sow frost tolerant veggies such as peas, carrots, spinach, lettuce, beets, kale and radishes directly into the garden.
  • Divide and transplant perennials as growth resumes.
  • Now is a good time to think about planting shrubs and trees.  Maybe you would like to replace an old shrub with something native, such as Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), Eastern snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) or Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
  • Be sure to have your rain barrels set-up and ready to collect that wonderful spring rain.
  • Keep your bird baths filled and cleaned.
  • If you have been growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and annual flowers indoors, early May is the time to begin to harden off those young seedlings.
  • The soil is still quite soft, so now is a good time to edge your garden beds as well as start to pull all those weeds that seem to survive no matter what the weather.

    Get out in your gardens, enjoy the warmer temperatures and don’t forget to get your knees dirty!

Nativars and Pollinators

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

The term “nativar”, while not a scientific term, is being used to describe native plants that have been cultivated by horticulturalists.  So, what exactly is a cultivated plant or cultivar?  A cultivar is a plant that has been bred for specific characteristics such as improved growth habit, specific leaf colour, flower colour, or disease resistance to list a few examples.  Many cultivars are sterile, meaning they do not produce seeds or if they do produce seed, the seed will likely not produce a plant identical to the parent plant. 

The way to identify a cultivar of a native plant or “nativar”, is by looking at the plant name.  If you check out the photos of plant tags, you will see one for the straight species native plant (not a cultivar) that gives both the common name, False Indigo and the scientific name, Baptisia australis.  The other tag is for a Baptisia cultivar named ‘Cherries Jubilee’.  ‘Cherries Jubilee’ is the cultivar name.  The cultivar name is usually in single quotation marks.

There are a number of very important reasons to plant straight species native plants in our gardens including the support of pollinators.  The question is, do native cultivars support pollinators in the same way? 

Annie White, a researcher at the University of Vermont has found “that changing flower size, colour or shape changed the availability and/or quality of pollen and nectar offered by the flower which negatively impacted pollinators” and “the more manipulated the cultivars became, the less attractive they became to pollinators”.  To read more about Annie’s research and results check out this link.  https://pollinatorgardens.org/2013/02/08/my-research/

If you are looking for pollinator-friendly native plants that are not cultivars check out nurseries that specialize in native plants such as Peterborough’s Ecology Park.  https://www.greenup.on.ca/ecology-park/  

When at the garden centre, you will now know how to distinguish a straight species such as Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) from an Echinacea cultivar like Echinacea purpurea ‘Razzmatazz’.

Low Growing Natives for Lawn Replacement

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

I recently listened to a talk by Lorraine Johnson who is the former president of the North American Native Plant Society and is the author of numerous books on gardening and environmental issues. I was inspired by her talk and have started plans to turn part of my front lawn into a native garden.

I have struggled for years to grow grass near the bottom of our front yard.  The soil is mostly clay with a lot of rock.  We have no sidewalks and this part of the lawn sits at the curbside where it could be affected in the winter by salt and sand.  It faces north/west and receives a very hot sun, especially in the afternoon.

I am not a regional native plant purist.  I get excited about most plants and have a variety of perennials in my gardens.  I am hoping to fill this garden bed with as many native plants as possible, but I do recognize that some of the plant varieties are not always considered native.

There are a number of lovely native plants for sun that have height, but I am cognizant of the fact that my neighbour requires a safe line of sight to the street when they come down their driveway.  For this reason I would like to use mostly low growing groundcover with a few taller plants positioned in areas that will give a pleasing look to the garden bed, but also not impede on visibility.

I have begun to research native groundcovers and other low growing plants that would survive in the conditions I’ve described and here is what I have found so far.  Some of these are new to me, but others are plants I already have in my backyard.

Have you considered replacing part of your lawn?  I would love to hear about your ideas and your successes and failures.

Bearberry (Kinnikinnick) Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

This plant grows 6 to 8” tall and has a spread of approximately 3 feet and is similar to a low growing shrub.  It has a white bloom with a tinge of pink in May.  It’s drought tolerant once it’s established. Rounded berry-like fruits ripen in August to September.  Birds love the fruit!  I have a friend who has found that this plant will disappear over time and because it prefers a sandier soil, it may not be the perfect plant for my home.  However, I may give it a try as I occasionally enjoy pushing the limits.

Creeping Juniper, Juniper horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’

This plant is known to be salt tolerant, likes sandy soil and full sun, grows to a height of 8” and spreads to approximately 7 ft.  It is a non-flowering evergreen.  It spreads by long trailing branches. Foliage is primarily scale-like (adult) with some awl/needle-like (juvenile) needles appearing usually in opposite pairs. Foliage is typically green to blue-green during the growing season, but often acquires purple tones in winter. It likes to grow over rocks; however, it is a slow grower and takes some time to get established. 

Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum

Prairie Smoke; Author’s garden

This is a tough plant, and grows to about 6 – 12 inches.  It has a lovely reddish pink to purple bloom with interesting seed heads.  It is drought tolerant.  My one concern is the hot afternoon sun, as my research shows it may prefer a bit of shade later in the day.  As the flower fades and the seeds begin to form, the styles elongate (to 2″ long) to form upright, feathery gray tails which collectively resemble a plume or feather duster.  They are very unique.  It spreads by rhizomes and can be naturalized to form an interesting groundcover.

Small Pussytoes, Antennaria howelli

It has spoon-shaped basal leaves, is known to be drought tolerant, and has flower heads that look like little shaving brushes.  There are three to 15 flower heads in a flat to rounded cluster at the top of the stem. Stems are erect, green to reddish, covered in long, white, matted hairs and sometimes glandular hairs. Horizontal, above ground stems (stolons) emerge from basal leaf clumps, spreading in all directions, rooting at the nodes and forming colonies.

Pasque Flower, Anemone patens or sometimes Pulsatilla vulgaris

Pasque Flower; Author’s garden

Pasque flower grows up to 12 inches tall and forms a rounded clump, which increases yearly. It never gets out of hand, making it a desirable plant.  It carries one flower with purple petals and yellow stamens, on top of each stem.  The bloom is quite large, up to 2 inches in relation to the overall size of the plant.  It is not fussy about soil conditions, but may go dormant during drought.  It blooms in late spring into summer.

Nodding Wild Onion, Allium cernuum

My research shows this is a very pretty plant that grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet.  It blooms in mid-summer.  Its grass-like ribbony leaves are long and graceful; its flower cluster hangs down, covered with a fine onion-skin-like sheath before opening.  The blooms in mid-summer are whitish rose coloured and bell-shaped.  The seed heads are round.  It does prefer good drainage.  Looks best when planted in groups.

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly Weed with Zinnias; Author’s garden

This is a butterfly magnet that has clusters of orange flowers borne at the top of 2-to-3-foot stems.  It is probably a little larger than I would like, but thought I might give it a try in the front.  This image is from my garden 3 years ago.  I lost the plant the next year and believe it was because of overcrowding and not enough sun.  The leaves are narrow and dark green.  The plants get bushy if they have lots of room.  The seed pods are large and very striking.  They bloom in mid-summer and prefer a full sun exposure.  Once established, they are drought tolerant.  It emerges from the soil quite late in spring, so it is important to be careful not to disturb the roots.

Check out the following nurseries for native plants

Native Plants in Claremont – https://www.nativeplants.ca/

John’s Garden in Uxbridge – https://johnsgarden.wordpress.com/about/

Grow Wild in Omemee – http://www.nativeplantnursery.ca/

Gardening with Ferns

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Ferns are fascinating plants! They evolved more than 350 million years ago. Ferns and their allies were the most common plants during prehistoric times. Today, there are over 12,000 fern species growing everywhere except at the poles.

Ferns are special in the gardening world. They are exotic and beautiful but not as flamboyant as many plants. We have developed a fern “dictionary” to describe them. For example, an entire fern leaf is actually called a frond and the stem is called a stipe. Ferns reproduce via spores which are not the same as seeds and ferns do not produce flowers. If you study ferns, you may be a pteridologist….oh my!

Fern propagation means collecting spores or bulblets. Fern propagation, using spores or bulblets, is explained here . There is only one native Ontario fern that produces bulblets. It is the bulblet fern or Cystopteris bulbifera. The easiest way to obtain a new fern is, of course, to buy one. A list of local vendors is below. Some ferns spread via rhizomes or underground runners, just split the root with a sharp shovel and separate out the fronds of the new plant. You may also split ferns with fibrous roots as you would many perennials, once they reach an adequate size, again using a sharp shovel. You may split then plant ferns in the spring or fall. Check out your friend’s gardens…you may find a fern, or two, growing that your friend may be willing to share. Please do not harvest from the wild. Some fern species no longer grow in the wild because of over harvesting.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), Author’s garden

Ferns may be used in your garden as an exclamation point or a secret quiet spot, mixed in with your other shade loving perennials or in a woodland garden. I have some ferns mixed in my gardens now but 2021 is the year that I plan to tackle the creation of a woodland garden. I have already put in an order for some ferns including the bulblet fern (Cystopteris bulbifera), ghost fern (Athyrium X Ghost) and the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). This grouping should work well together because they all prefer shade or part sun and moist soil with lots of organic matter. I plan to amend their location with compost and to mulch after planting to maintain moisture and reduce weeds. These plants are perennials so I will expect to see them again next year.

Ferns are beautiful plants whose graceful, arching fronds would make a great addition to your garden!

Resources

American Fern Society

Ontario Ferns

Peterson Guide to Ferns, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Second Edition (Sept. 26 2005), ISBN-10: 0618394060

Where to Buy Ferns

Gardens Plus, Peterborough

Ground Covers Unlimited, Bethany

Native Plants in Claremont

Please support your local nurseries. Many of them, including those listed above, carry the more unusual plants that you will not likely find at the big box stores.

Planning for pollinators

by Rachel Burrows, Master Gardener

Did you know that pollinators are responsible for pollinating over 30% of the foods that we eat? Many pollinator species are at risk due to climate change, habitat loss, and pesticide exposure.

So, what are pollinators and what do they do? Bees and other insects, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and other small birds all need a constant source of food from early spring through to fall. They are looking for pollen-bearing flowers with fairly easy collection of nectar and pollen.

How can we help? There are many ways that we can help in our own gardens. We can provide habitat for pollinator birds and insects by installing nesting boxes both for birds and cavity nesting bees. Fallen trees and an area of bare ground will provide access for ground nesting bees and butterflies. Pollinators really prefer a little less manicured garden!

A pollinator hotel, although brush and logs on the ground are just as good. It’s important to keep in mind that these hotels require regular upkeep. Because they host pollinators at a higher density than a natural nesting site, disease and pathogens can quickly spread among visitors.

Water is another necessity and a shallow container with a couple of small rocks in it is the perfect drinking spot. Try to avoid chemical fertilizers and use compost instead which is better for both your plants and the pollinators.

What plants to choose – plant native when ever possible. Native plants have co-evolved with pollinator species and are well adapted to our local conditions. Pollinators can more easily access single bloom flowers such as echinacea and asters as their stamens and pollen are more exposed. Plant species in clumps to provide a target for pollinators, bees tend to gather pollen from one type of plant at a time. Provide host plants as butterflies such as the Monarch, lay their eggs on specific plants for their caterpillars to feed on. In the Monarchs case milkweeds are the only plant that they will feed on.

Try to have plants to provide four season interest, this can include grasses as they will provide shelter and food. Aim for at least three different species of plants blooming in each of the growing seasons. Study your site to determine the amount of sun and wind exposure and how much water will the plants receive?

Pollinators locate their food sources by sight and smell and the bees will go crazy around plants such as lavender and anise hyssop. Honey bees love white, yellow, blue and purple flowers.

The Peterborough Master Gardeners in conjunction with the City of Peterborough and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters have installed a pollinator garden with all native species at the McNamara Park. This is a City owned park on McNamara Rd. which runs off Guthrie Drive and along the Otonabee River across from the OFAH building. It is a very peaceful park with many trees and seating areas. It is well worth a visit and may give you further ideas for helping our pollinators in your own garden. You can make a difference!

For more information

Pollinator Hotels

Pollinator Conservation in Yards and Gardens

Ontario Nature Pollinator Page

Is it time to rethink our lawns?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Full disclosure – I have never been a fan of lawns. I’ve had a 20 year plan to convert my large property to perennial gardens and paths, and I’m getting there, slowly but surely. 

However, I am fascinated with how (and why) people are so attached to their square green spaces of grass. 

A little history first..

Lawns became popular with the aristocracy in northern Europe from the Middle Ages onward, evolving as a sign of wealth.  Originally they were mostly used as pasture – lawns like we have today first appeared in France and England in the 1700s when André Le Nôtre designed the gardens of Versailles that included a small area of grass called the tapis vert, or “green carpet”.

versailles-4074418_1920

Immigrants to North America brought these traditions with them as they settled the land. Particularly after the Second World War, the creation of the middle class and suburbia and the advent of chemical fertilizers led to a North American culture of ‘the lawn is king’, with the requirement that it was every homeowner’s responsibility to keep it watered, mowed, repaired, and cultivated, just like their neighbours. One article I read even went so far as to blame the rise of lawns on the Scots, who brought their love of lawn bowling and golf to this continent (and therefore the need for flat green areas).

lawn-mower-2127637_1920

Lawn is a cognate of llan which is derived from the Common Brittonic word landa (Old French: launde) that originally means heath, barren land, or clearing.

Lawns are expensive to create and maintain, so why do we still have them? Simply put, the belief is that lawns are indicative of success – if you have a well maintained lawn you have the time and money to create and maintain it, and you care about belonging to your neighbourhood.

Fast forward to current times, where we now see articles in the Globe and Mail asking whether “it’s time to decolonize your lawn” and efforts are underway in many areas to convert lawn areas into more ecologically responsible landscapes to support our pollinators, birds, and wildlife. Whether you simply overseed with some white clover, and reduce or eliminate fertilizers, or convert your entire lawn into a wildflower meadow, there is a full range of options to consider.

Such changes have not been without their challenges. A recent newspaper article shows the conflict between those who want a new attitude towards our properties. Nina-Marie Lister, a Ryerson University urban planner and ecologist removed all her lawn, replacing it with “a lush and layered landscape” filled with “milkweed, boneset and black-eyed Susans, among other plants largely native to the region.” Her neighbours complained and she was visited by a Toronto city bylaw officer – under Toronto’s municipal code, residents need to “cut the grass and weeds on their land” whenever they grow past 20 centimetres.

The comments community lit up, and well known gardener Lorraine Johnson even penned an editorial in the Toronto Star about it.

houseonriver 044 (2)

Naturalized gardens are becoming a widespread phenomenon, and municipal bylaws will continue to be challenged by those that advocate for increasing biodiversity by creating landscapes that support an abundance of species of flora and fauna. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see someone complain to bylaw about a green lawn destroying biodiversity, filling the landscape with chemicals, wasting water by watering, and creating air and noise pollution through mowing? You see, it’s all a matter of perspective.

The debate is far from over, but gardeners should enter the discussion and think about whether there is a way for their green spaces to be just a bit more ecologically friendly.

Whatever your opinion, I encourage you to read these articles and think about the issues surrounding our garden spaces. I know I will never convert the staunch, lawnmower riding king to create a wildflower meadow, but if I just get a few people to think about how they can make a small difference in their own backyards I will be happy. I don’t have all the answers – I just want to stimulate the discussion.

FUN FACT – clover was an accepted part of lawns until the early 1950s, only becoming a ‘weed’ because the earliest 2,4-D herbicides killed it off along with the dandelions.

For those interested the Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care is hosting an online discussion and learning series on the role of land care, horticulture and landscaping in cultivating social and land equity. One of the topics is “Cultural values and how they frame horticultural norms” where the colonization and control of our natural landscapes will be the topic.

For more information:

The American Obsession with Lawns

The History of Lawns

Decolonizing Horticulture by Sundaura Alford-Purvis

Bewitching Witch Hazel

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener in Training

Although the title to this blog may sound overstated, I find my Common Witch Hazel, known botanically as Hamamelis virginiana, to be anything but common. This native, deciduous shrub has a rounded crown with a graceful, vase shaped growth habit and yellow, fragrant flowers that emerge September to October along with yellow fall leaf colour. The flowers are ‘stem hugging’ clusters with four ‘crinkly, strappy, ribbon shaped petals’ that usually emerge while the leaves are still on the tree.

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Witch-Hazel blossoms in the author’s garden

The Common Witch Hazel grows in eastern North America including eastern and southern Ontario and can be found in woodlands, and along forest margins and stream banks.  In the garden it can be used as a shrub, hedge, or as in my case, pruned into a small, multi-stemmed specimen ‘tree’, which suits my small suburban garden.  Growing 15-20 feet high and wide, in full sun to part shade it grows well in average, medium moisture well drained soil.  It is a low maintenance shrub with no serious insect or disease problems and requires only minimal pruning done in spring.  (As with any woody plant pruning out dead, damaged or diseased wood should be done when discovered.) Among its many charms this native shrub has a beautiful winter silhouette, attractive grey bark, attracts birds and is considered tolerant of road salt, deer, erosion and clay soil.  According to the Morton Arboretum, Common Witch Hazels also serve as a host plant for the larvae of the spring azure butterfly.  What’s not to love!

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Witch-Hazel in the author’s garden

Hamamelis virginiana has an interesting reproductive process.  The flowers are wind or insect pollinated but after pollination fertilization of the ovules is delayed until the following spring with the fruit developing during that growing season.  The fruits are greenish seed capsules that become woody by fall.  These woody seed capsules then split open ‘exploding’ its one to two black seeds up to 30 feet away.  According to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden fruit set is very low.

If you are eager to add this or some other native plant to your garden/property, drop in to Peterborough’s GreenUP Ecology Park for plants and expert advice.

References

Missouri Botanical Garden: Hamamelis virginiana
The Morton Arboretum: Common Witch-Hazel
Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Native Witch-Hazel

Lupins

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have just finished cutting back my lupins for a possible second bloom, scattering their seeds and transplanting baby lupins that have popped up in all the wrong places.

Lupinus, or more commonly known as Lupins, are one of my favourite plants especially in the late spring when they are first in bloom. I tend to lean towards plants that need little to no care, that will attract insects, will self seed but are not invasive, and that give me joy when they are in bloom. Lupins fit that category for me perfectly.

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Lupins in the author’s garden

Lupin is a genus of flowering plants in the legume family Fabaceae, along with peas and beans. They have been grown since the days of the ancient Egyptians and were eaten by the Romans. Lupins like well drained soil, preferring sandy soil, but in my garden they grow well in clay. They grow in either sun or partial shade conditions. I will often let some of the flowers on my plants go to seed, self-seeding throughout the garden. But depending on where they decide to grow, I tend to transplant them and move them around. When digging up a lupin, take care to dig up the large tap root. I prefer to dig them up when they are very small, so I don’t damage the root any more than necessary. I also find it easier on both me and the plant to transplant them into a pot, rather than directly in the ground. This enables me to keep the plant in the shade for a few days, water more often and just baby them along more.

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Photo showing the large taproot on lupin seedlings

For me, lupins in my garden tend to be short-lived perennials, lasting anywhere from 3-5 years. They do not grow true from seed so to ensure that you have a true seedling you should take basal cuttings. A basal cutting is best done before the plant has flowered; you cut a shoot close to the root, take off all the leaves, nip out the top of the cutting and then transplant into a pot filled with compost and soil. When you see roots coming from the bottom of the pot, you can then transplant the lupin into your garden.

Because lupins are members of the legume family they are nitrogen fixer plants. Using a specific bacteria, ‘rhizobia bacteria’, that allows them to draw nitrogen from the air, convert and then store the nitrogen in nodules that grow on their roots. The nitrogen can become available to other plants in a number of ways. If a nodule breaks off and decomposes, the nitrogen becomes available in the soil and when the plant dies or if the plant is tilled back into the ground, the nitrogen also becomes available. In addition, lupins have a large tap root that is great for breaking up compact soils.

Most of the lupins you buy in garden centres are not native to Canada, as there is a native lupin–the wild lupin or Lupinus perennis which is considered native in Ontario. It is normally blue or purple and prefers a dry, sandy soil, but will grow in any well-drained soil. Wild lupins are often used in restoration projects because the large tap root helps to control erosion. It is also essential to the endangered Karner Blue butterfly which feeds exclusively on it and is a host to other butterflies. If you want to add this plant to your garden, you are best to buy the seed from wildflower farms and ensure you follow the instructions carefully as the seeds need specific conditions to germinate.

An example of a wildflower nursery selling the seed is given below:

https://www.wildflowerfarm.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=18&product_id=112