Return of the Native - About Us
Mar 13

Stand your constitutional ground

A new customer came by last summer, having recently purchased a cottage property. Her neighbour had complained to the municipality about weeds that had sprung up on the previous owner’s vegetable patch. She told me some young people employed by the township arrived, armed with rulers, measured her weeds, found they were above the permitted height and told her she had to get rid of them.

She was upset, but complied, duly banishing the weeds and came to me, to purchase what I sell, native plants, that some might consider to be weeds, beautiful though they are. (Scroll to end for definitions).* 

I was glad that she was committed to a garden that would support biodiversity. I regretted not having been able to inventory her weeds before they were cleared out. Could there have been a rare grass there, or habitat for an endangered butterfly? Probably not, but it’s always good to check what nature has on offer before obliteration.

I was also annoyed by the imposition of an antiquated aesthetic standard on my customer. Because that’s what this was about - aesthetics. The township enforcers weren’t compiling a species list to determine if the weeds were harmful or invasive, they were measuring.

It’s not as if this wasn’t settled 25 years ago when Toronto resident Sandy Bell appealed her conviction for having violated Toronto’s weeds and grass bylaw.

“I think it is apparent that one of the purposes of the by-law, indeed its primary purpose, is to impose on all property owners the conventional landscaping practices considered by most people to be desirable, and that one of its effects is to prevent naturalized gardens which reflect other, less conventional values,” wrote Justice David Fairgrieve in 1996, finding that Bell’s constitutional right to freedom of expression had been violated.

Bell had won the right to express her environmental beliefs through gardening. It was a landmark ruling.
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Feb 15

Btk spray kills native butterflies, moths, imperils nestlings

I don’t know where the myth arose that there are no native butterflies or moths out and about in our area in late May and early June, and that this is a time an aerial spraying of the pesticide Btk to knock back the European Gypsy Moth (EGM) can occur without adverse effect on other caterpillars.

Because, it’s said, they’re not around.

But they are.

Late May and early June is precisely when I and a group of naturalist friends share our photographs of the arrival of our first Monarch, the charismatic butterfly we’re all waiting to welcome as it ends its arduous migration from its Mexican wintering grounds.

We might or might not share our sightings of the other species that are flitting around, but sometimes they impose themselves on our consciousness. I remember one year when there was an explosion of Red Admirals, so many I worried about the numbers smashing against the car as I drove down the highway. Googling back, I found the news stories from May, 2012.

So, what is around us in spring? For an answer, I went to two sources. The first is the Toronto Entomologists’ Association’s online records, which can be narrowed down to Simcoe County. I didn't use the earliest date, rather the one after the earliest 10 per cent of the records have been discarded - to eliminate outliers.The second, to be more specific to North Simcoe, are the first sightings recorded by Victoria Harbour naturalist Jim Charlebois up to the end of May. TEA is the first date in parenthesis, Charlebois the second:

Red Admiral (April 27, May 11), American Lady (May 2), Northern Azure (May 5, June 5); Silvery Blue (May 29, May 22), Eastern Tailed Blue (May 24, May 22), Common Ringlet (June 7, May 24), Monarch (June 14, May 24), Viceroy (June 14, June 6), Northern Crescent (June 17, May 16), Clouded Sulphur (July 1, May 24), Pearl Crescent (June 17, May 23).
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Dec 21

Moving forward to a bright and balanced future

We are Nature’s Best Hope.

And that, says Doug Tallamy, is wonderful, encouraging and exciting.

Tallamy teaches entomology (the study of insects) at the University of Delaware. In his research, he has documented the stunning decline of insect populations across the planet as humans eliminate their habitat and food sources and attack them with weapons of mass destruction.

But in his latest book, Nature’s Best Hope - A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Back Yard, Tallamy is confident that we as a species can repair the harm we’ve done and move forward to a bright and balanced future.

If you’re a gardener and haven’t yet read this book, you will love it. If you’re a novice and are wondering what to do on any piece of ground you may have access to, you will find this easy to read and an illuminating window into what’s going on around you.

A balding bespectacled professor with a subversive sense of humour, Tallamy has achieved cult status in the gardening world. A few years ago, author and horticultural activist Lorraine Johnson introduced him as a “rock star” to an enthusiastic audience at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. He was unfazed.

And he’s unfazed by the task we face in rebuilding the broken food web connections, from the below-ground mycorrhizal networks to the life-giving balance of gases in the atmosphere.

“Don’t worry about the planet,” he says. “That will drive you crazy.”

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