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Sep 24

To rear or not to rear: the Monarch debate

Jason Kay, who gardens in Evanston, Illionois, near Chicago, kindly gave me permission to reprint his  blog about the pro's and cons of raising Monarch caterpillars.

By Jason Kay Garden in a CIty

I am a strong believer in listening to people who know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, sometimes people who usually know what they are talking about shoot themselves in the foot, often by insisting that they know more than they really do.

An example is the current controversy over captive rearing of Monarch butterflies. This is an increasingly popular hobby for many gardeners and others who wish to help restore the population of this beautiful species. The rationale is that 90%+ of Monarch caterpillars do not survive to adulthood (due mainly to predators), but a large majority of those raised indoors do survive so that they can be released as mature butterflies.

Judy and I raised a few Monarchs indoors this year for the first time (fewer than 10), and I can attest that it’s exciting and fun.

But then along came the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, certainly a worthy organization. However, they published a blog post that was highly critical of captive rearing of Monarchs. This has caused a lot of people to become pretty upset.
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Aug 27

To Europe and back: An absence of birds, an abundance of cucumber vine...

Fall is almost upon us and with it comes the joy of a new planting season.  Get your plants in the ground in September or October and they will send some roots out before it freezes (with luck, one can have success in planting right up to freeze-up). In spring, you’ll be ahead of the game with the work done in the coming weeks. The Return of the Native plant nursery will re-open 10 am on Saturday September 1 and will be open 10 am-4 pm Fridays and Saturdays after that until the end of October. Check out the plant list, there are some new items.

How does your garden grow? I have been away for two weeks and have come back to rampant growth – a stark contrast to conditions in Europe, where trees are wilting, lawns are blasted and vegetable gardens have shut down in protest. It’s just been too hot and dry. My feeling is that the baking from the sun has killed off the micro-organisms in the upper layers of the soil so even regular watering, as carried out by my brother in France, has failed to save many of the crops he normally grows. The cucumbers in particular were a sad sight.

Another brother, in England, enlisted my help in restructuring some of his garden beds. He wanted the pink phlox banished and also objected strongly to the orange roses. So the phlox went to the compost heap, a couple of rose bushes were dispatched to a new home, and we were off to a nearby garden centre to do some shopping. 

I anticipated little activity and slim pickings in mid-August. How wrong I was – the place was packed! Unlike Canadians who after a few days activity in the spring consider the gardening job done, the English garden all year round. Another surprise was the number of North American native plants on offer – granted, a lot were cultivars in which breeding has tweaked heights and colours, but still, many were ones with which I am very familiar - Black Cohosh, Anise Hyssop, Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod among them. Read more
Jul 5

The Medicine Wheel Garden at Maple Grove Public School

It all began with a telephone call on the day of the huge snowstorm in mid-April. With the thermometer hitting 37 Celsius on my patio today, it seems so long ago. I remember several hundred grackles, redwing blackbirds and assorted songbirds had fallen from the sky to congregate on my front lawn, devouring the extra seed I’d put out for them. And Nancy Astin, a teacher at Maple Grove Public School in Barrie, came on the line. She had a project. An amazing project - a Medicine Wheel garden!

Later, I was to learn how the idea grew from a number of factors, including the school’s pioneering partnership with Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority which had students growing native plants from seed for the school’s No-Mow Zone (as well as for streams that run by the school); the Land Acknowledgement that began to play over the school’s announcements and the realization that students had little idea of what it meant; and the need for a calming place to sit over the course of the day.

In one sense, this was right up my alley. I specialize in native plants, and these are the ones that the first peoples of this area would have used as medicines – whether for food, healing or spiritual well-being. But I don’t have that knowledge. My interest in offering the plants that make up the natural communities that would have been found here before the settlers arrived has been to heal our space on the planet, to link with other gardeners in creating networks so the creatures that support our foodweb can flourish.

So in another sense, I was intimidated. I am an immigrant. I don’t have the experience borne from the teaching of parents, grandparents and elders of the traditional uses of native plants, and I have little understanding of the meanings of the four directions teachings upon which the medicine wheel is based. I knew one thing, we could not proceed without getting advice and leadership from local indigenous people. Maple Grove was ahead of me there – they have had a long-standing partnership with the Barrie Native Friendship Centre and a meeting was arranged.
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