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Beautiful Wildlife Garden
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The just in time season – for ginseng, leaf mould and everything else

Every day with the soil still workable is a gift. I thought I was done for when I stepped out Sunday to a hard frost and the ground frozen stiff. The sun was strong, though, and the frost only an inch or so down. Within a couple of hours, everything had softened up nicely, including the pot of soil mix where I had stashed the American ginseng seed that arrived from Richters two weeks earlier. Panax quinquefolius has a seed with a very specific germination schedule. It won't keep for long, although it can be stored for a short time so it does not dry out. It can be planted any time before freeze-up.

Ginseng is a plant native to Ontario’s deciduous forests. It’s prized for its medicinal properties and has been poached practically to extinction. The exploitation started soon after the first European colonists arrived. A specimen was taken back to France from Quebec in 1704, and within a decade, Jesuit missionaries had made the connection between a root they knew was highly prized in China and the related North American plant. An informative article on the Agriculture Canada website describes how the Jesuits started shipping dried roots, collected by the Iroquois, to China in 1716 with such success that American ginseng became second only to fur as a trading commodity in New France.

Go easy at clean-up time

It seems there’s nothing gardeners want to do more at this time of year than get outside and rake and clip and tidy their yards. Yet a lot of what is being removed in fall and spring clean-up is actually really needed out there, by plants or wildlife.

This includes:

-Seedheads.  Leave the seed for the birds – chickadees like to break into the Milkweed pods, migrant sparrows will be all over the fluffy heads of Joe Pye Weed, goldfinches go at the Sunflowers and Coneflowers….  Nearly everything is a resource for something. But the seeds of weeds you want to stop from spreading are best put in the fire or otherwise disposed of (although weed seeds are a resource for birds if you don’t get round to it).

No chemicals used on these plants – next sale Saturday September 13

The colour is great at this time of year – the strong reds and mauves of phlox contrasting with the varying yellows of Tall Coreopsis, Black-eyed Susan, Helen’s Flower and Lance-leaved Goldenrod.  And the New England Asters haven’t even come out yet.

But it’s not just the colour that delights an ecological gardener – it’s the life!

I sit and watch, and there’s so much activity – the goldfinches swooping down to the birdbath, hummingbirds hovering at the Giant Blue Lobelia (no, wait, that’s a hummingbird moth!), a Monarch butterfly dancing through the chokecherries, winged creatures buzzing between the blue spires of Anise Hyssop and the fluffly pink heads of Joe Pye Weed, catching the sunlight as they dart from bloom to bloom.

Gardening with heart: creating space for the Monarch

I don’t often stop when I’m driving to take pictures of people’s gardens – but something caught my eye in a small front yard on a busy Toronto street that had me braking in to the next driveway and dashing back with a camera.

It was a narrow strip of a bed, defined by a paved path up to the front door on one side, a driveway on the other, and completely filled with Common Milkweed (Ascelpias syriaca), its dusky pink flowers just now coming into bloom.

This, I thought, is gardening with heart. Milkweed once grew across North America, hosting the astonishing annual migration of the Monarch butterfly from Mexico to Canada. It takes six generations to get from south to north in a summer, and while the Monarch (like all butterflies), can get nectar from a wide variety of plants, the Monarch (like all butterflies) lays its eggs on one specific plant, or family of plants, which its larvae (caterpillars) have evolved to be able to consume.

Native plants with fragrant allure

CORRECTION - Library Garden Tour is 9 am-4 pm. Incorrect time posted earlier. 
Which speaks to you more – colour or fragrance? A hummingbird is inexorably drawn to colour and will investigate anything red, even inanimate objects that have no odour at all. Although bees discern colour (but not, apparently, red), scent is the guiding force and they will travel a long way for a grove of basswood trees or a field of blooming milkweed.

But many of the plants we love because they smell so wonderful are invasive aliens from Europe or Asia, aggressively displacing native species in the wild. This Don’t-Plant-This list includes Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), species Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and a nost of non-native vine and shrub Honeysuckles.

No worries: there are much better choices for Huronia gardens - so many native plants that provide intoxicating fragrance and why should the moths, the butterflies and the bees be the only ones to know?

Here’s a run-down:

Return of the Native ©
1186 Flos Rd. 10 E. Simcoe County Ontario 705-322-2545
Serving the Gardening Communities of Elmvale, Wasaga Beach, Collingwood, Stayner, Midland, Barrie & Area
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