Friday, March 11, 2016

Flights of Fancy in an Ancaster Pollinators' Paradise

Blooming Redbud
This is a guest post by Angelique Mori, Master Gardener and Ancaster, Ontario resident.
Angelique writes:

We unenthusiastically moved to Hamilton several years ago, accepting as true the rumours of pollution and urban decay. Then unaware of Hamilton’s alternate sobriquet, ‘City of Waterfalls’, nor its proximity to the Niagara Escarpment and Bruce trail; we couldn’t have been more wrong! We had inadvertently discovered an ideal spot for nature enthusiasts.

In our first year of residency, while pulling endless bags of garlic mustard and celandine (relentless non-native invasive plants), I was astonished to discover various native species struggling beneath, and realized we occupied a fragment of Carolinian Canada! Although only 1% of the country’s total land area, this most vulnerable region contains a third of Canada’s rare flora and fauna; more endangered species live here than any other Canadian ecosystem.

As the current age has been designated the Anthropocene, and scientists propose that humankind may be liable for the ‘sixth extinction,’ it seems prudent to give Mother Nature a hand. As an avid gardener, I embarked on an ecological restoration in the attempt to enhance bio-diversity and provide refuge for threatened wildlife. I try to inspire by example, taking any opportunity to entice neighbours over to the wild side... passers-by have been ‘gifted’ with splits and seedlings, fundraisers receive donations of native plants…

Wild Columbine
Over thirty native plants grew naturally on our property, herbaceous and woody, including trees such as: Black Walnut, White Pine, Redbud and Cottonwood. With restoration efforts there are now over 150 native species- largely Carolinian- on site. This variety of native flora results in a proliferation of varied insects; each passing year, more and diverse species discover the garden. As a consequence there is also a growing variety of other fauna, including amphibians.

In March a cacophony of frog song permeates the air, beginning with ardent, penetrating calls of Spring Peepers to the ringing buzz of the Grey Tree frogs. Busy bees appear quite early in the season, their zealous buzzing pervading the fresh spring air. Bumbles Bees feast on Spicebush blossoms, dazzling Bloodroot flowers, diminutive Virginia Spring Beauties and hundreds of crocus blooms, lungwort and hyacinth… to name a few. It is so important to provide food, host and nectar sources, from early spring to fall.
Although not exclusively native plants, they all provide essential energy in early spring and are great favourites of pollinators, including hummingbirds, especially the lungwort’s lovely blue-violet flowers.
Ironweed, Culver's root
Receiving the 2014 North American Native Plant Society Garden Award and being a Certified Butterfly and Wildlife Habitat doesn’t mean the property is unkempt. ‘Artfully’ arranged fallen wood and leaves are left for food and shelter and edging frames beds to placate fastidious neighbours. Though hardly manicured, the garden has won several Trillium Awards, which leads to the promising conclusion that horticultural societies are beginning to recognise the importance and beauty of natural gardening- perhaps encouraging gardeners to plant more ‘weeds’ (ex. native milkweeds, ironweeds).

Reception of the wildlife garden has only been positive. Occasionally some uninformed individual may question the presence of Goldenrod in the garden which leads to a lively discourse on its ecological value… and its blamelessness in regards to allergies! It’s such an important late season nectar source.
American Painted Lady
It is a continuing battle to stay abreast of the alien species, such as: Garlic Mustard, European Buckthorn and Japanese Knotweed.

The chore of keeping these aggressive weeds at bay is constant, but chemical controls are seldom or reluctantly used. Unfortunately the only option in extreme circumstances is the judicious, direct (brushed) application of Round-up on specific invasives, and early in the season before amphibians emerge. Pest controls are avoided until culprits are determined to be destructive aliens. One year I was aghast that my beautiful Pearly Everlasting was being consumed to oblivion. What a delight when it was determined that the offender was the American Painted Lady butterfly caterpillar! I feared they would exhaust their food source before metamorphosis, so in subsequent years I ensured an abundance of their host plant.

Standing snag left as faunal shelter
Despite punishing consumption of foliage it speedily recovers its profusion of foliage;  native plants are designed as part of the food chain. Highly destructive insects and alien pests are removed by hand or, in extreme cases, occasionally Safer’s products are used after conditions- like weather- are taken into account.

It is imperative to be forgiving of chewed leaves and woody detritus in gardens if new generations of butterflies and other fauna are to survive. It is essential for the landscaping paradigm to shift to one healthier and cost effective for wildlife and people. It will be for the benefit of all living things and home gardeners can help create viable habitat corridors in their own yards!

Without a doubt, to witness the emergence and flight of Monarchs or the enchantment of flickering fireflies- is soul stirring and heart lifting… and it can be in your own backyard.