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Beautiful Wildlife Garden

Jul 7

Growing families

The young Grackle lands on the post that supports four different bird feeders and considers. The feeders aren't exactly convenient for larger birds but he gives it a shot, hopping down and grasping tightly at a ledge. He manages to balance and digs in to the sunflower seed. I'm calling him a 'he' just because, there's no clue to whether he's a male. In fact, he doesn't much look like a grackle, he's a dull brown and has yet to achieve the adult's glossy black plumage and iridescent head.

I'm just a few feet away, working quietly, but like many juveniles, he not yet hyper-sensitive to the human presence. He looks around as he munches and after a few minutes, it's down to the lawn where he marches around, picking tidbits out of the grass. I find myself trying to see the world from the perspective of a fledgling, newly liberated from the confines of the nest. What a sensation it must have been to use those wings for the first time! All of a sudden, there is lift, the air streams past and a new skill is acquired, a new dimension revealed.
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Jun 2

The history behind that pretty face

There's a pretty flower that's popping up over the countryside in shades of white and pink and mauve. I dug some of it up many years ago and was happy when it flourished on my property. Now that I garden with native plants, I'm not so pleased with its enthusiastic self-seeding ways.

Locals call it wild phlox, but its proper name is Dame's Rocket and it comes from Eurasia. A similar plant will be in flower soon, pale pink, harder to pull up if it arrives uninvited because of roots that send out runners – it's called Bouncing Bet and is native to Europe and western Siberia.

The wildflowers that we enjoy as an expression of nature and wilderness are more likely to be a manifestation of colonization – the wilderness of other continents, disrupting native ecosystems here. This was bought home to me when I made a list last June of herbaceous plants in bloom at Tiny Marsh, part of work for a two-year biological inventory led by environmental consultant Bob Bowles. Only one quarter (7 out of 29) of the plants we tallied were native; the rest were introduced, mainly from Europe.

Here's the list: Read more
May 10

Native plants support the food web - OSPCA talk

Last week, I was the speaker at a fundraiser for the Midland branch of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (a good cause, and a fun event). My theme was 'Saving the World with Native Plants... and enjoying every minute!"

Saving the world might sound overstated. But if you familiarize yourself with the work of Doug Tallamy, chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the Unversity of Delaware, you will realize that we are moving into a biodiversity crisis. If we carry on, we will squeeze all the species that need wilderness to survive right off the planet. But he believes we, the world's gardeners, can turn things around. We can stitch together a patchwork of rural back yards, urban gardens and private spaces and turn them into wildlife refuges and corridors.

We can begin to rebuild wilderness right where we live.

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Apr 5

Eating native plants with Lorraine Johnson

I drove down to North York recently to hear author Lorraine Johnson speak on the topic of edible native plants and was not disappointed. She touched on plants both familiar and unexpected and has prompted me to plan a whole new dimension for my garden this year.

Johnson, whose 1999 book 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants is a classic, began by cautioning against foraging (gathering food from the wild), which is what first comes to mind when we think of eating native plants. There are too many of us and too few areas left with healthy native plant populations for us to count on foraging for a serious portion of our diet.

(Let me digress and make an exception for weeds, which are introduced, either wildflowers, like dandelions, or invasive species, like garlic mustard. The leaves of both, picked fresh in spring, are good to eat in salads or cooked and there are countless more weeds that are similarly palatable when young. I’ve also been told the early shoots of Japanese knotweed, another invasive, can be steamed like asparagus so I plan to give that a try as soon as they pop up in their annoying way.) Read more
Apr 4

Part 3: From broadfork to bokashi

Are you going to write about EM? he asked. 

Me: EM, what’s that?

He, shocked: You don’t know about EM? And you the expert? It’s the latest thing. Used by gardeners around the world. Prince Charles is a fan.

Me (sigh): Send me the link.
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