Published August, 2017
Check out this beautiful piece by Monarch Awards' entrant, Calla Shea-Pelletier.
Chance is one important component in our garden. The beauty of it, entirely the collaboration of pollinators and humans. The placement and shape of a deck last year builds upon years of cultivating a theme of sanctuary. The gothic boat deck is suggestive of a human conveyance slowly moving through. It is an echo of the windows of the porch and the shape of the gardens. A subtle emphasis of the gothic theme, found in the choice of (almost) black and white plants, both native and non-native, punctuated with feature colours.
The lawn has been entirely replaced over the years, with the intention of cultivating pollinator gardens, pathways and rest stops. Each year more opportunity for imaginative interactions unfold. The beauty we aspire to, embrace whimsy, multiple histories, and locations for foraging or refuge.
There is an abundance of inhospitable urban environments out there. If beauty is also compassion, our efforts bring together communities of plants, creatures and human built environments for gentle collisions to contemplate the pollinator universe.
Poem inspired by a seven year old, who volunteered this information:
“I want to be a pollinator,
I will carry small brushes with me”
she said making the motions
of pollinating with tiny instruments.
In the moment I understand,
she is compassion itself,
“I hope you won’t have to live in a world
where such a job is necessary”, I say
fearing that she already did.
June 24th, 2017, Calla Shea-Pelletier
Published August, 2017.
Winners have just been announced. There's a profile article on the Monarch Awards web site as well as the media release. Congratulations to all the finalists, the Buzzin' Dozen, and all the entrants!
The 2017 Monarch Award winner is Amy Taylor!!
Amy, a 2016 finalist who lives on Edgemont Street North in Crown Point, is a herbalist and tea-reader who has an eclectic and broad knowledge of plants. An experienced gardener, Amy made some changes to her garden over the past year, removing some most of the aggressive non-natives (despite their herbalism usefulness) and ramping up the native plant content. Amy’s garden showcases the potential for blending unusual native plants into a traditional—and small—garden setting.
One judge remarked on the overwhelming “interestingness” of the space. There’s a huge diversity of species to guarantee blooms right from April through November, along with personal whimsical decor, several amenities for wildlife (bird baths, bug bath, bee boxes, nesting spots), a shed made entirely of recycled materials, and a pergola with natural shade provided by hop vines that are harvested for beer making.
There is always a “mess” potential in gardens designed with ecosystem benefits in mind but Amy has cleverly and discretely sited the composters, brush piles, and all three water barrels. The front yard is completely planted and, although the needs of the plants have trumped the aesthetics somewhat, the effect is respectful of the streetscape and neighbours.
This year the judges chose to award four finalist prizes.
When the bylaw officer comes calling: What makes a naturalized garden palatable?
Posted Nov, 2016
What makes a pollinator-friendly garden acceptable? That is, what will keep the bylaw officer away and the neighbours happy?
Recently, people have emailed us to say that their gardens are drawing unwanted attention--the grass is too long, there are weeds. One lady says that an order was left by a by-law officer claiming that under the By-law Section 3(1)(a)(c)(i) she had to remove all long grass and weeds from the entire property and maintain to a maximum height not to exceed 21 cm (8 1/4 inches). The bylaw officer wrote that this should include the entire property, "Front, rear and side of the property."
As far as this local Dundas resident is concerned, her garden is flowers and grasses, but there were a few weeds that might have been on the bad weed list and she removed them. Apparently, the officer even took issue with Goldenrod!
We chatted with Tamara Reid, Supervisor for Municipal Law Enforcement at the City of Hamilton.
How do we make naturalized, pollinator-friendly gardens fit into a neighbourhood? That is, according to by-law, what constitutes a native plant/natural garden and what is just a garden that has been let go, of which the neighbours are justifiably upset about?
Demonstrating intention is key. "It is helpful to have even a hand-drawn image of what you are aiming for--what your garden is intended to look like," says Tamara. "You can show that to a by-law officer and that helps."
Tamara suggests having some visual demarcations like logs or rocks, different heights of grasses or plants just helps guide the eye and looks more like a planned garden. "The idea is to have boarders, again so the garden looks planned."
We contacted the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Agricultural Information Contact Centre. We were told that in fact, the Weed Control Act is in place to protect agricultural and horticultural operations from weeds. It does not apply to noxious weeds or weed seeds that are far enough away from any land used for agricultural or horticultural purposes so it wouldn’t apply in an urban area like the City of Hamilton. "It would be bylaws that need to change if bylaw officers are asking residents to remove goldenrod," the correspondent said.
We were also told that in 2015, nine weed species were removed from the noxious weed schedule of the Weed Control Act. Some of these species are considered a food source for pollinators, such as bees (e.g., wild carrot, goat's-beard, scotch thistle, nodding thistle, yellow rocket, and tuberous vetchling). These and other species that are being removed are no longer considered significant threats to agricultural or horticultural production and can be managed through modern management practices.
Goldenrod is not on the noxious weed list but can be a weed if it gets into cultivated fields and that is why we see it in the Ontario weeds gallery.
Now it's time to think about what action we can do as a community to change the bylaw and make it easier for people to plant native gardens!
Signs like our "We're Feeding Pollinators" do wonders. Many residents have told us that putting up our sign as part of our certification program has really helped in deterring complaints from neighbours who don't get it.
Paul O'Hara on planting your pollinator garden and acting on behalf of bio-diversity
Published March, 2015
“There is so much we can do to bolster the bio-diversity of our cities and towns,” Paul O’Hara of Blue Oak Native Landscapes told a well-filled room of community members last Saturday, at the Church of the Nazarene (Ottawa Street).
Building a connected network of pollinator friendly habitat is one such way. O'Hara's workshop offered participants ideas and tips on planting and maintaining a pollinator garden at home: from elements of design, structure to what to grow where, O'Hara covered the basics in under two hours.
O’Hara impressed the room by his expertise, artful garden designs and reach of his work -- including an extensive corporate naturalization/meadow project in Mississauga.
Published on April, 2017.
So 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.
After an introduction about what we're looking for in a Monarch award-winning garden, Charlie Briggs, gardener at 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.
Published October 5, 2017
Building Hamilton's Pollinator Corridor requires all hands on shovels. We need the participation of people from across the diverse sectors of the community. That's why we are thrilled to put two local corporate partners on the map: Terrapure Environmental and the Hamilton Port Authority have joined us in planting critically needed habitat on their properties.
The last few days, we've been digging in the dirt together and planting native plant species in anticipation of drawing pollinators to these sites.
The largest pollinator "patch" within our corridor, Terrapure is transforming a closed landfill into a paradise by planting three acres of habitat at the Heritage Green Passive Park in upper Stoney Creek.
“We saw this initiative as a wonderful opportunity to provide much-need pollinator habitat and educate the public about the importance of pollinators to our ecosystem," said Michael Jovanovic, VP of Environmental Affairs at Terrapure. "We hope our actions will encourage residents and businesses to consider starting their own pollinator paradise at home or work.
Published November, 2016
The key message we took away from our latest forum on helping native bees and other pollinators? Diversity is what matters: we need habitat diversity as well as maintaining bee diversity.
A trio of experts in their individual field of work informed the audience on exactly what the issues are and how we, as every day folk, can make a difference. We kicked off the evening with Dr. Peter Kevan, Professor Emeritus at Guelph University. Kevan went into detail about why we need to be taking care of our native bee populations in the first place. According to Kevan, in Canada, we don’t have a decline in honeybee population--or at least, not like what the US is experiencing! Instead, honeybees are essential because wild bees are being eliminated. Native bees are getting cut out of the picture for obvious reasons, including habitat lose. But we need pollinators in agriculture, so we buy honeybees.
What's more, wild bees increase production yield. “Botanically, this relationship is not fully understood,” Kevan said, about the benefits of bee diversity to crop yield. But it's a very important one. Delicious fruits like blueberries are better serviced by wild bees—they can take on 70 species of pollinating bees. The orchard bee is cold tolerant, forages widely and doesn’t sting. Bumblebees pollinate greenhouse tomatoes. (Kevan pointed out that Canadians can be proud that we were one of the countries putting forward this bee technology).
What can we do to protect bees from the point of view of agriculture?
Kevan suggests we consider fields with windbreaks. In the field, practice low tillage and rotation, "everything that we can do to diversify the habitat." Make use of berms and hedges, conservation strips in fields and floral resources across the seasons. Remember that weeds are important resources.
In our city gardens, Kevan suggests that we can do our part for solitary bees by making sure to leave habitat such as twigs and bare ground for hole and ground nesters.
Biodiversity in Cities: Ecosystem functioning, and Green Infrastructure.
Next up was the captivating Dr. Scott MacIvor, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Toronto (Department of Biological Science and the Faculty of Landscape Architecture).
MacIvor shared with the audience that so much has been learned in the past 6 years; at least 6 papers are published daily on bees.
It was fascinating to hear that wild bees are generally happy, they can count to 4, and they are much more diverse that we thought. “Every female is her own queen,” MacIvor said.
And with over 364 kinds of wild bees in our region, “Bees are important, bees are diverse and we know more about wild bees than anywhere else in the world.” That’s something to be proud of!
Benefits of pollinators, native plants: green space, green city.
MacIvor works with designers who are tasked with creating habitat for bees. “There’s something about bees that make them so suited to our urban landscape,” MacIvor said. But while some adapt, others don’t—that is, some are winners and some lose out. And make no mistake, we are losing species. The extirpated “rusty patched bumblebee” is one such example.
When it comes to the impact honeybees have on wild bees, "it is negative," according to MacIvor. There’s competition for food and other resources as well as competition for research dollars. As well, honey bees spread disease.
There is so much to learn about the habits of bees. "75% of bees are ground nesting, but we don’t know where they are nesting," said MacIvor. In Toronto, where MacIvor lives and researches, public parks have sandy soils that are very accommodating to bee species.
"Honeybees are willing to die to safe their queen. Rarely, if ever are we stung by the wild bees that permeate our city," MacIvor said.
When we have more different bee species visiting a particular flower, we have more yields. "That is, it’s not the frequency of visits, it’s the diversity of visits, the buzz, the time of day," MacIvor explained.
Changing Public Opinion: Tickle bees (Miner bees).
MacIvor shared a story about an elementary school in Portland that changed public perception of bees as being dangerous when the kids noticed a large population of bees in the adjacent ball field. Rather than calling in exterminators, they called the Xerces Society, a non-profit organization that works to preserve invertebrates and their habitats. Now the bees are not only the subject of science classes at the school, but they've been named the school's official mascots, the Tickle Bees, since they don’t sting, but simply tickle. There is now a fence around bee aggregation with a sign to let people know not to disturb the bees.
When ecologist Stefan Weber describes his work collecting native plant seeds, it brings to mind a rescue mission of sorts.
“We see these tiny wonderful remnant populations that you know are destined to be killed because you’re in the site of a future highway,” Weber says. “Chainsaws are buzzing in the background as you hurry to gather seeds to save before it’s too late.”
Weber works for St. Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre, the biggest for-profit nursery in Ontario, so in spite of the ‘do-good’ thrust, Weber reminds me it’s a business that sells bulk seeds: “We make money doing this.”
With his team, Weber goes into the wild, collects a small amount of seed to be scaled up for agricultural practices on the farm and greenhouses, and then propagates the plants.
Source identifying all of their seeds, the nursery grows over 500 different species ranging from native wildflowers, trees and shrubs to grasses, and even aquatics.
As a seed specialist, Weber is in charge of “everything seed.”
This includes timing when a crop is ready to be harvested, collection of that crop, the drying, the processing, the cleaning.
This large-scale restoration work involves growing every single seed into a plant.
It takes one or two generations to get a room full of plants –like a substantial field of plants. In years, that’s like two years to scale up from ‘wild’ to ‘field restoration status.’
It’s a rewarding occupation. Weber, who’s been with the nursery for two years, describes how they get to go everywhere: “We find things that conservation authorities don’t know are there. We see territory that they don’t get a chance to see.”
Keep it Messy. Keep it Alive
Still feeling tempted to tidy up your garden for the winter time? Think again. Xerces Society says that one of the best things a gardener can do in the fall and winter for pollinators is LEAVE THE LEAVES ALONE: let it be messy.
The reason why moths, butterflies, native bumblebees and solitary bees, beetles, snails, spiders etc are begging you to control your OCD this fall and leave "dead" matter alone (there is nothing dead about pesticide-free garden), is because leaves and such, provide shelter from the cold and food for these little critters. Leave "litter" provides protection from predators. So why would you rack them away?
At the very least, leave some leave and twig piles.
In fact, as Xerces Society points out, the vast majority of butterflies and moths overwinter in the landscape as an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult: "Red-banded hairstreaks lay their eggs on fallen oak leaves, which become the first food of the caterpillars when they emerge.
Luna moths and swallowtail butterflies disguise their cocoons and chrysalis as dried leaves, blending in with the “real” leaves. There are many such examples."
Remember too, that these critters are food for birds, chipmunks and other wildlife.
Solitary bees will take winter refuge under a pile of bark or dried leaves, or nest in cavities in hollowed out stems and decomposing logs.
When you permit yourself to be a laidback gardener, you help to support a rich population of native pollinators in the following spring and summer.
Interested in other reasons for why a little messiness is good for your garden?
Read the entire article here.
The wildlife value of a messy garden.
So this fall and winter, please don't make a fuss over a bit of mess, and be proud that your gardening is adding value to wildlife habitat, and a diversity of insects!
So this is some sobering, sobering news. A report came out last week in the journal Plos One, talking about a study tracking the devastating decline in flying insect populations over the last 27 years on nature reserves in Germany. More than a 75% decline in total flying insect biomass (the total mass of organisms in a given area or volume) in protected areas. An excerpt from the abstract reads,
Loss of insect diversity and abundance is expected to provoke cascading effects on food webs and to jeopardize ecosystem services. Our understanding of the extent and underlying causes of this decline is based on the abundance of single species or taxonomic groups only, rather than changes in insect biomass which is more relevant for ecological functioning. Here, we used a standardized protocol to measure total insect biomass using Malaise traps, deployed over 27 years in 63 nature protection areas in Germany (96 unique location-year combinations) to infer on the status and trend of local entomofauna. Our analysis estimates a seasonal decline of 76%, and mid-summer decline of 82% in flying insect biomass over the 27 years of study. We show that this decline is apparent regardless of habitat type, while changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics cannot explain this overall decline. This yet unrecognized loss of insect biomass must be taken into account in evaluating declines in abundance of species depending on insects as a food source, and ecosystem functioning in the European landscape.
The paper ends with the following:
The widespread insect biomass decline is alarming, ever more so as all traps were placed in protected areas that are meant to preserve ecosystem functions and biodiversity. While the gradual decline of rare insect species has been known for quite some time (e.g. specialized butterflies [9, 66]), our results illustrate an ongoing and rapid decline in total amount of airborne insects active in space and time. Agricultural intensification, including the disappearance of field margins and new crop protection methods has been associated with an overall decline of biodiversity in plants, insects, birds and other species in the current landscape [20, 27, 67]. The major and hitherto unrecognized loss of insect biomass that we report here for protected areas, adds a new dimension to this discussion, because it must have cascading effects across trophic levels and numerous other ecosystem effects. There is an urgent need to uncover the causes of this decline, its geographical extent, and to understand the ramifications of the decline for ecosystems and ecosystem services.
These are the blog posts from our old website. I'm bringing them over.