Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rethinking the Garden: Pollinators, Habitat and Your Mighty, Mighty Garden.

This piece is published in Hamilton Magazine: Spring 2016 page, 44.

Gardening is an expression of personal taste, and the garden, often considered a sanctuary—a space created to delight the self.

But with the decline of pollinators in our midst (bees, butterflies, small birds, beneficial insects), people are rethinking the garden and what it can do for the natural world.

With close to 75% of all flowering plants depending on these little critters to move pollen grains from plant to plant (not to mention, that one out of every 3 bites of food is pollinator-dependent), “beyond the personal landscape, a garden can make a bigger contribution,” says Barb McKean, Head of Education at the Royal Botanical Gardens. “We’re realizing what can happen when individual action--planting plants that support wildlife--becomes a collective action."

What happens when we flood out and the water has nowhere to go because we’ve paved everything? That collective contribution takes into account climate change and community resiliency in the face of extreme weather conditions.

Barb's garden
Barb explains that from a conservation point of view, it is not ideal to have islands of green—that’s restrictive in terms of the gene flow, causing problems for ecological integrity since there is no free exchange of movement of plants and animals. In a broader landscape, it becomes a real challenge to create these necessary corridors. When you get into city ravine systems that can function as corridors, like streams, that water still drains but it’s all buried beneath roads, so the bio-diversity doesn’t have green space to flow through.

With her own gorgeous, sustainable, rain garden, Barb practices what she preaches when she suggests piecing people’s properties together, to create stepping stones across the city to help species thrive.

“The more people doing it the more we can connect, the better for all of us,” Barb says. “So if you’ve got a piece of garden, no matter how small, you can tweak it or extend it to incorporate pollinator friendly plants.”

Hamilton Pollinators’ Paradise Project

Enter the Hamilton’s Pollinator Paradise Project (PPP). A project of local nonprofit groups, Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club, the goal is to build a "pollinator highway" of native plants that will provide food and shelter for pollinators across the city of Hamilton.

“It’s a serious conservation issue that we can all tackle and get immediate impact,” says Jen Baker, the Project Coordinator.

PPP is currently working to get Hamilton to be a pollinator city (Toronto is already set to become Canada’s first official ‘Bee City’) and is promoting Politicians for Pollinators, encouraging city councilors to pledge to support pollinator conservation and habitat enhancement in their wards.

Since it’s launch two years ago, the PPP has being educating the public about the importance of protecting and planting native plant habitat, building bee boxes through workshops and planting native species sites. The PPP works with  volunteers at schools and community groups and the City of Hamilton’s Adopt-a-Park program.

The Pipeline Trail in Crown Point is an exemplary model of how it works. Residents in this area have created the Crown Point Garden Club and have been planting gardens along the trail. Bev Wagar is one such resident; with the help of PPP, this Organic Master Gardener is part of a group developing an alternative garden award--the Monarch Awards--for pollinator friendly, sustainable gardens. The Monarch Award is scheduled to be launched in late April. Residents from Hamilton's wards 1 to 4 are invited to apply.

Bev's Garden
Bev has also certified her own property though the PPP’s free certification program that celebrates those residential native plant gardens.

Her garden ripples with beautiful eye-pleasing wildflowers—and some non-native (non invasive) plants too.

The point is, “You don’t have to sacrifice your favourite plants in order to do good,” Bev says. “I love my Joe Pye Weed and Asters and Ironweed, but I wouldn't be without my Lupins and Lilies.”