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Jan 17

For this 150th birthday, Grow More Canada!

Anniversaries offer a chance to look back, look forward and - most importantly - look around. I think we can all use this sesquicentennial opportunity to reflect on what it means to be on this beautiful land and, for those of us who have our roots in other corners of the world, become part of a harmonious future.

This is hard as our culture and aesthetic sense are rooted elsewhere, our education emphasizes technology over nature, and the pace of modern life give us little time to listen to the land and its creatures. But chances to connect with nature are all around – with a feeder for the birds, some seed set to germinate on the window sill, or a time of quiet reflection on a park bench. The connection deepens with a walk in the forest or a canoe trip through a wetland.

As gardeners, let’s listen, learn and Grow More Canada! by restoring native plants wherever we can. They support the web of life which sustains us all.

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Nov 27

'And so they forged their duality into oneness, making a forest'

Here’s an ancient idea: trees are sentient, social beings that communicate, recognize family members, learn and remember, adjust their behaviour and support each other through hard times. It’s an idea that speaks to the mystical within us, an idea we once learned, through myth, fable or aboriginal spirituality, and then unlearned, through religion or science. And now we can learn it all over again, in a way that turns the world around us into a place that’s new and exciting, but also comforting and familiar.

German forester Peter Wohlleben has pulled together two decades of scientific research and a lifetime of observing and tending the forest to explain in simple terms that yes, it’s true, trees have intelligence and feelings, they can demonstrate intra-species friendship, and experience pain and fear. Wohlleben, already a well-known author in his native land, has vaulted onto international best-seller lists with The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World, the first of his books to be translated into English. In Canada, the book is published by Greystone Books in partnership with the David Suzuki Institute.

There’s an important Canadian connection: One of the scientists who has blazed a trail of understanding through the forest is Suzanne Simard, an ecologist at the University of British Columbia. In a contribution to Wohlleben’s book, Simard describes how, in the early 1990s, while searching for clues to the remarkable fertility of the inland temperate forests of the Pacific north-west, she unearthed a constellation of fungi linking many tree species. The discovery was the result of noticing that Douglas fir seedlings in clear-cut plantations declined when paper birch volunteers were weeded out. “This pattern of premature death had been concerning me for some time,” she writes. “The loss of synergy between broad-leaved trees and conifers, it turns out, was a concern of Peter’s, too. Across the forests of Europe, planting and weeding to create clean rows has been practiced for centuries.”
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Oct 16

Trees need their leaf litter - and they're not the only ones

Like many living organisms, a tree spends the summer preparing for winter, and indeed for the year ahead. Nutrients gathered from sun and rain and soil have been packaged and are now falling to the ground around the tree, contributing to a layer of leaf litter that performs a variety of essential functions.

As the litter builds up, it is occupied by an army of organisms that will assist in decomposition. Bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa and nematodes are among the abundant and invisible life-forms that break it down. This process releases essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur in forms that are available for use by the tree and other plants. Other minerals leach down with precipitation to return to the soil.

But the litter is much more than a nutritional storehouse precisely tailored in content and in timing of release to the needs of the tree that produced it. It is a protective blanket, insulating the roots from the extremes of weather - frost in winter and drought in summer. The blanket absorbs rainfall, allowing the moisture to filter through slowly and guarding against soil erosion by wind or water. It suppresses the growth of grass and other plants that would compete with the tree for nutrients and moisture. And it increases the rate of soil respiration, an important measure of soil health.
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