Friday, May 26, 2017

A bright spot on a busy street: A garden that's aiming for the Monarch Award 2017

“People seem more interested in people,” says Margaret Juraj, west Hamilton resident, and gardener. But she, herself appreciates the non-human creatures; “they loom large in my imagination and consciousness.”

Gardening is a way she immerses herself in this world: “Anytime you spend time in your garden, you realize it’s not only about people,” Margaret says. “We humans are temporary and maybe we will last longer if we embrace that; if we really cared about people we would take care of the non-humans.”

This spring, Margaret is entering her pollinator-friendly garden to the Monarch Awards 2017. This is an award that celebrates gardens that nature loves. Monarch Awards recognize gardens and gardeners in Hamilton, Ontario for their contribution to biodiversity, pollinator health and environmental stewardship.

Started in 2016 by volunteer at Crown Point Gardening Club and staff at the Pollinator Paradise Project and the Royal Botanical Gardens, the awards invite submissions from wards 1-10 and 13. Margaret applied last year and was a runner up for the award.

‘It’s nice that people have organized an award that creates awareness of alternative forms of gardening, which I prefer,” Margaret says. “It’s less sterile, has value, and things can live in your garden.”

Margaret’s garden is a spot of brilliance on very busy Main Street. She has been working on it since 2001. When she moved in, it was sparse with very little to look at, but over time, as she became interested in native species, she has increased the habitat in her spot of earth, replacing things that only serve as eye-candy to pollinators, but not actual food; “People give you things that are easy to grow, but do not serve the interest of pollinators,” Margaret says.

Margaret recognizes that there is still a lot of work to do and challenges to tackle. For example, next year, she has plans to remove the periwinkle, which is an invasive groundcover. There is also the struggle with soil that contains lead, a shady backyard (that is now receiving more sun since the neighbours removed a tree) and water concerns, since the summers are hot and she has had to water more than she would like to retain moisture. “I am always thinking of new ways to harvest the rain,” Margaret says.

Margaret is having a positive influence on her neighbours, thanks to the copycat effect that is very good if we are hoping to increase habitat across the city: “There was nothing there and now some neighbours have decided to plant wildflowers too!”

For more information on how you can enter your garden to the Monarch Awards, please visit Deadline is June 18th.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Got a Nature-loving Garden? Then show off and tweet at us with #MonarchAwards2017

Photo Credit: Bruce Bolin

Photo Credit: Bruce Bolin
So the Monarch Awards 2017 are fast approaching and to get nature-loving gardeners in the mood to apply, we are inviting those of you who are on social media to tweet out/instagram or facebook photos of your garden and use the hastag #MonarchAwards2017.

On twitter, please tag:


On Instagram, please tag environmenthamilton and  hamiltonnature

Lets get the word out and have some fun out there!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Are you ready for the Monarch Awards 2017?

This Earth Day, think ahead to submitting your spot of paradise to the Hamilton Monarch Awards 2017, for gardens that nature loves, by gardeners who love nature!
Photo Credit: Bev Wagar

Do you garden for nature? Does your patch of earth include habitat for bees and butterflies and other pollinators? Then you are invited to apply to the Hamilton Monarch Awards!

The Monarch Awards recognize Hamilton gardens and gardeners for their contribution to a bio-diverse, sustainable environment.

Originating with a group of gardeners, the idea for an “alternative” garden awards program quickly gained momentum.

The organizing committee includes volunteers from the Crown Point Garden Club (with Bev Wagar, the initiator and visionary behind the Awards) and the Royal Botanical Gardens as well as staff from the Hamilton Naturalists Club and Environment Hamilton.

Last year, due to lack of resources, the Awards were only offered to wards 1 to 4. This year, properties in wards 1-10 and 13 (Dundas) are eligible. Gardens must be residential, not on business or commercial properties. Entrants do not need to own the property but do need to be primary person responsible for how the gardens look and function.

A winner and finalists will be chosen based on judges’ scores over six criteria categories that include soil health, water conservation, native plant species and aesthetics.

Please visit for competition details and rules.

Entry deadline is midnight Sunday June 18, 2017. Good luck!!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Creating your Monarch Award-winning Garden: Updates from the April 1 Workshop.

You missed the workshop on creating your Monarch award-winning garden (for gardens nature loves, by gardeners who love nature?). No problem, we've got you covered. Here's what happened.

Charlie Briggs
After an introduction about what we're looking for in a Monarch award-winning garden, Charlie Briggs of RBG went on to advice about the importance of a healthy soil and what that looks like.
"It's the start of a whole system," Charlie explained, "and it should provides the necessities for plants and animals to live. As well, it should allow water penetration for proper water table recycling."
For these, you'll be checking out the following: Texture, pH (potential of Hydrogen), nutrient content, and water retention and drainage.

With soil texture, you have to decide what type you have, that is, sand, silt or clay. Note that the soil texture could differ by depth of soil and also by location in the garden. For the pH, you can use a soil test kit. For more information, Charlies suggests doing a of “OMAFRA Soil Testing Laboratories.”

Having to amend soil can be a big hassle, but if needed, Charlie recommends that you can do so with organic matter. You can start your own compost, or purchase or receive compost/organic matter from trusted sources (e.g. City of Hamilton). Equally important is to mulch your garden with leaf and other plant litter. This will break down into a fine organic layer as well as provide other benefits to your garden.Charlie advises that you add organic matter by tilling into a large area or garden, not by amending single holes for trees or shrubs! Be sure to select plants for your soil type, and choose the right plant for the right place! Carolinian Canada has a selection of plants for almost every soil type.

We'll be looking for those gardens that provides for our native plants and animals, and allows as much rainwater to fulfill its cycle on site. The garden can have different types of soil showcasing proper plant selection.


Jeff and Kestrel
For the water component of a garden that supports nature, we were fortunate to have both Kestrel Wraggett, Stewardship Technician with Cootes to Escarpment and Jeff Stock, Stewardship Technician, Hamilton Conservation Authority to explain  Low Impact Development (LID) towards more natural water infiltration levels. Do you have a rain barrel? And is it being maintained properly (that is, is the downspout disconnected)?  Some ways that you can preserve water and keep it out of the sewer is to disconnect your downspout and lead direct the water to create a soakaway or a rain garden! Is your lawn naturalized? Driveway permeable?

Abiotic Components
Master gardener, Joanne Tunnicliffe explained that the biotics can't be as successful in your garden if you don't have the abiotic (the non living parts of an ecosystem). They need the warmth, shelter, food and spaces to reproduce.Without the right amount of sunlight or moisture, for example, some plants are unable to survive. Success happens when the biotic moves in the abiotic. Joanne showcased examples of recycled toys that can be used for shelter and nesting grounds.

Native Plants

Claudette Sims and Janet Hughes-Mackey with Halton Master Gardeners talked about the rewards that flowers receive (the pollinators come), making sure you plant the flowers en masse, make sure you use native species, and that you plant for shelter in mind and host plants. For example, plant so that you extend the nectar sources for different times of years, from May to November.

Check out Claudette's awesome blog post on what to plant in your garden.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Act now to keep our bees buzzing! Opportunity to tell Health Canada you want them to ban neonics.

Brown-belted-bumble-bee. PC Ontario Nature.
We support Ontario Nature's urgent call to action to ask Health Canada to ban imidacloprid, and save our precious bees. Here is there message:

We have an urgent opportunity to ban a harmful pesticide that is known to be detrimental to pollinators and the environment.

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is currently re-evaluating the use of imidacloprid. Imidacloprid is a commercial neonicotinoid insecticide (“neonic”) that is available on store shelves to kill insects on agricultural crops, trees, lawns, and even pet ticks and fleas.

The PMRA is taking a step in the right direction by proposing to phase-out most uses of imidacloprid over the next three to five years.

Please join Ontario Nature in supporting the phase-out, but asking the PMRA to go further faster. We need a full ban of this neonic and the phase-out should take effect immediately. The government knows this insecticide is harmful and must act now. Ontario Nature has made an easy to use form for your convenience here.

For more details from Health Canada's PMRA, visit there page here.

The proposal is open for public comment until March 23, 2017.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Paul O'Hara's Native Plants List for the Hamilton Area.

We are really lucky, here in the Hamilton area to have the talented and highly knowledgeable, Paul O'Hara to advice us on the best native plants to grow in our gardens, in order to create high-quality habitat for pollinators. Paul is a field botanist, landscape designer and native plant gardening expert. His business is Blue Oak Native Landscapes .

Paul O'Hara by the Wild Crab Apple (Malus coronaria). Photo credit, Paul O'Hara.
Paul has given us permission to share his "Notes on Native Plant Gardening in the Golden Horseshoe" on this blog. Hamilton is located on the extreme northern edge of the Deciduous Forest region of Carolinian Canada (which has 25% of Canada's  rare and endangered species, according to O'Hara).

In planting habitat for this region, O'Hara's list provides plant selections (including trees, for which is business is known for) that flower at different times, providing nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season. He also provides plant selection for winter interest.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa): Photo credit, Paul O'Hara.

Check out his amazing plant list.  As well, Paul has started a little backyard nursery of native plants. Contact Paul to order your native plants today!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Soil Health, Invasive Species and Your Pollinator Garden.

March is around the corner! It’s time to step up plans for that pollinator garden you’ve been dreaming about all winter. One of the most important things to think about is preparing your site for planting. “Soil is the most important aspect that we routinely overlook,” says Kellie Sherman, Coordinator at the Ontario Invasive Plant Council. “A first step is ensuring that the soil is healthy."
Kellie recommends looking for health indicators such as nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. Is the soil sandy or clay-based? What is the water drainage like? She suggests researching the soil type for your area. As this can be daunting, Kellie suggests getting your soil tested. You can pick up a kit from places like Home Depot and then find further research online about results.

Recognizing Invasive Plants.
Periwinkle (Invasive groundcover).
Another critical point of concern are invasive plants such as multiflora rosa, periwinkle ground-cover, Himalayan balsam and jewelweed. Purple loosestrife and honeysuckles are a problem too. But why are invasive species so harmful?

According to Kellie, invasive species are the second most cause of extinction after habitat loss. Invasive species impact the environment and the economy and have an effect on society. “Invasives are aggressive.They compete with species that help our economy and they carry potential diseases that spoil our crops,”she says. Environmentally, invasive plants can have a large impact on natural areas and threaten the important services to both wildlife and humans that they provide. Invasives can overtake forest understorey and prevent forests from regenerating so that we won’t see new trees come up. Kellie points to the Norway maple as being a prolific seed producer invasive in the Toronto Ravine for example. “Research is showing that it significantly reducing pollinators in the area, oaks and maples are not growing.” Invasive plants can change the composition of soil.

As well, there is no good evidence that invasives provide food for pollinators. “Invasive plants can affect forage quantity, reducing biodiversity,” says Kellie. By contrast, “native plants have evolved over eons to work with biodiversity, so they are a better food source for pollinators.”
Society-wise, invasive plants like the giant hogweed can cause irritation to skin.

“Even in a green bin, invasives such as periwinkle can spread,” Kellie warns. She suggests that with something like buckthorn, you could cut it it back before it produces berries, then let the branches decompose. You can check out common invasive plants on the Grow Me Instead Guide, an invaluable guide that helps you identify invasive garden plants and provides suitable native or non-native, non-invasive alternatives.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hamilton Seedy Saturday 2017

Fun times at We had a great time at Hamilton Seedy Saturday 2017 with our Pollinator Paradise project.

We met lots of knew people and reconnected with so many of our partners and friends! Thanks to Barb for volunteering with us! See you next year!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fun times: Build bee nest boxes.


Doesn't take much. Some wood, some nails, a hammer, and rolled up newsprint tubes (no ink) that you can stuff into the empty space. Oh, and we used dried phragmites grass, because this invasive species is hollow inside and can be put to good use!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Winter-Sowing for Native Plants: Workshop

Master Gardener, Bev Wagar. This is how to sow.
Our friends and partners in crime at the Crown Point Garden Club are offering a fun workshop on winter-sowing for native plants. What is winter-sowing you ask? Winter sowing is a method of starting seeds outdoors in winter. This is generally done with seeds that require a period of cold stratification. The method takes advantage of natural temperatures, rather than artificially refrigerating seeds. You can read two blog posts on past winter-sowing workshops here and here.

Milkweed seeds
Here's the scoop:

Try an easy, inexpensive and fun way to grow lots of milkweed and other native perennials from seed. Planted in mini-greenhouses made from recycled household plastic containers placed outdoors, seeds germinate in the spring and plants are garden-ready by summer.

Join local enthusiasts from the Crown Point Garden Club who will help you get started. Participants need to bring planting containers (translucent milk jugs, litre-sized clear plastic bottles, or deep mushroom tubs), sharp scissors, potting mix, a bucket or large bowl, and seeds. Potting mix will be available to buy for $5 a bag.

The event happens Wed. Feb. 8, 7-9pm at Evergreen's Collaboration Station at 294 James St. North.
We'll be there! 

Space is limited and pre-registration is required through EventBrite 

In the mean time, get inspired and read up about winter-sowing here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Do it Yourself: Homes for Solitary Bees

Image from
Many species of bees will make use of nesting structures such as Bee Nest Boxes.
A Bee Nest Box is similar to a bird house, except it is designed for native species of bees, which are some of our key pollinators.

Almost 1/3 of native bees nest in hollow stemmed plants. The female will build a "room" for an egg, complete with pollen and nectar. She seals off the "room" and then starts another one, continuing until the end of the stem. When the eggs hatch they will eat the pollen supply and then overwinter in their "room," emerging from the stem the next spring.
Many of Ontario's native bees are ground nesters and need un-mulched or bare patches of the garden. Leaving a pile of sticks in the back of the garden, not 'cleaning' the garden in the fall is beneficial for nesting and overwintering pollinators which depend on standing, dead stalks (ex. raspberry) to survive the winter.

Remember, the bee nests provide habitat, but it is also important to have food nearby. Planting native plants that flower from spring to fall will provide food for the bees and other pollinators, and will also make an attractive and low maintenance garden.

Pollinators such as bees can thrive in urban environments, particularly when we incorporate their habitat needs into our gardens. This can be as simple as adding native wildflowers to the garden, or can involve creating pollinator habitats in city parks. Not using chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides is also important.

Pollinators need a variety of flowering plants throughout the spring, summer and fall, nesting sites and a water source. Visit the Pollinator Plant page to learn more about native pollinator-friendly plants.

Bees and other pollinators cannot use a conventional bird bath. Instead, line a shallow pan with rocks or marbles and regularly add fresh water.

By creating nesting habitat, and planting native wildflowers, Hamilton will be creating a paradise for pollinators!


Pollination Guelph has a great design (which we use, see below). Check out their Making homes for Pollinators resource page.
Also has some great designs for all types of bee nests.

What you will need:
5 pieces of wood about 1” thick