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Beautiful Wildlife Garden

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.

Read more
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.
Read more
Feb 9

Part 2: The answer lies in the soil

The more we learn about the natural world, the more we find out about its elegant solutions to problems we labour clumsily to address. Thus it is that unimaginable zillions of organisms in the soil decompose organic matter, sequester carbon and nitrogen, promote porosity and aggregation, prevent erosion, purify water and create fertility.

In Part 1, I wrote about these creatures that make up our “micro-herds” of hidden helpers. In our ignorance, we gardeners and growers disrupt their processes, exhausting both ourselves and the soil. How do we do this?

-We compact. Machinery, as well as human or animal foot traffic, leads to compaction. Soils are most vulnerable when they are wet. Compaction destroys the soil’s delicate structure, decreases its ability to absorb moisture, pollutes waterways by increasing runoff, starves micro-organism populations and increases greenhouse gas emissions. For gardeners, the lesson is, work from the side of your beds, stay on the paths.

-We disturb. The soil’s flora and fauna are organized into very specialized and inter-connected communities, the majority living within a couple of inches of the surface, but a large proportion to be found in the “rhizosphere,” the area around the plants’ roots, which exude proteins, sugars and carbohydrates to attract microbes and fungi that will help the plants absorb nutrients. The micro-communities in the soil aren’t layered so much as “nested,” with multiple interconnections up and down and sideways, between decomposer and recycler, predator and prey. When we dig or till, we wrench the specialists away from their appointed tasks into environments where they can no longer serve or even survive – and it takes precious time and energy for these communities to rebuild.

-We poison. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides destroy the natural balances in the soil. Read more