Return of the Native - About Us
Dec 4

Books on growing: ’Our world is a garden, and plants are the gardeners’

I collected many books for review in 2021, but time passed and this has been a year for choices, so just seven have made the cut. The writers, committed and knowledgeable, feel like old friends, even the ones I hadn’t read before. The first two books are not newly published - but they were new to me and when I read them earlier this year it was as if a jigsaw puzzle had fallen into place - the bits and pieces of knowledge I’d assembled so far on my gardening journey placed in a new and exciting context.

The Life of Plants - A Metaphysics of Mixture by Emanuele Coccia (Paperback 121 pp French edition 2016 English edition 2019 Polity Press $27.95).

“We barely speak of them and their names escape us,” philosopher / biologist Emanuele Coccia writes. “Philosophy has always overlooked them, more out of contempt than neglect. They are the cosmic ornament, the inessential and multicoloured accident that reigns in the margins of the cognitive field.

“The contemporary metropolis views them as superfluous trinkets of urban decoration. Outside the city walls, they are hosts - weeds - or objects of mass production.”
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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 for Spongy Moth kills other butterflies, moths and 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 Spongy Moth (Lymantria dispar dispar or LDD) 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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