Preserving and Enhancing the Genetic Diversity of Southern Ontario Plants with Puslinch Naturally Native Trees
“I love the winter time,” Marion Robertson says to me, over the speakerphone. She’s got the kettle on and lets me know that her husband and business partner Richard, may be popping in and out of the conversation. They are owners of Puslinch Naturally Native Trees, a nursery plant stock supplier. Now that the snow is thick on the ground, it’s the ideal time to do inventory and plan for the spring.
“I can research other classes of plants and trees and spend the next year sourcing them,” she says.
Marion shares a little about the origins of the business. They began as beekeepers (and still are). Richard chimes in, “We started growing trees, shrubs and wildflowers because of the honeybees and also endangered pollinators. You start out looking at one aspect; originally it was asking ourselves how we could help.”
With the best of intentions in mind, the couple purchased trees and shrub stock from local area nurseries. But what they discovered was that within a year, a good portion of these trees and shrubs had died.
The lesson learned? “A Latin, botanical name only ensures you are getting that specific plant. It does not indicate the origin of the seed,” Marion says. Plants from locally collected seeds have a much higher survival rate than those plants imported from outside an area’s growth zone.
“It was next to impossible to find Carolinian or native stock from seed collected in our area at our local nurseries. That’s why we started our nursery business.”
"To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold," Aristotle.
Winter is here! Underfoot, the snow crunches, the ice is slippery and we dream of the return of spring. But the world is beautiful for those who have eyes to see.
Even in these cold months, there's a lot to see of nature. It's a hardier nature, a sleepy-headed, resting nature, a more subdued nature to see, the colours are subtle in the low light of the sun. Wind blows the dry milkweeds seeds off their pods, leaves crumble hiding hibernating critters, and we need to be careful not to disturb their slumber.
I for one, admire the tenacity of the little plants and creatures, their patience, their pace, and I think it is a pace I wish I could adopt, but life hurries us on. Still, I make the time to stop, and watch and take a picture or two, because our campaign, My Hamilton Includes Nature, is year round. There is so much to see: from red fox, birds of all kinds (still hoping to see snowy owls), plants, insects, spiders, to fungi including lichen on trees.
We invite you to join us in sharing with us the nature that is all around. Please use the hashtag #HamOntBiodiversity and tag us on instagram @hamiltonpollinatorsproject
We connected with ecologist Brenda Van Ryswyk of Conservation Halton to get her thoughts on what we need to do to bring more nature to the city, and encourage more people to help build the Polliantor Corridor. Check it out:
Q: We have heard of the concept "Half for Nature." Is this realistic in a city? In Hamilton? If so, how can this be achieved?
A: I think it is realistic when looking at available/plantable space and innovative planting techniques. I think we need to aim for it. We can utilize different ways to achieve this. Removing areas that do not need to be paved and converting them back to greenspace is one way. Innovative ways also should be looked at: vertical gardens (pockets of plants going up walls of buildings/high rises), patio gardening, rooftop gardens etc (I bought some durable fabric ‘pockets’ to fill with soil and hang on my fence). These are some creative ways we can incorporate more plants into our surroundings even if we do not have the bare earth on the ground.
Q: What can be done at the municipal level?
A: We need to look at using native species on public lands and city gardens. The city can have policies that they themselves will plant natives whenever possible. Park planning should plan to have natives in the landscape and design gardens to incorporate natives into the foundation plantings. I feel cities should be planting native woodies almost exclusively. There is no need to be planting non-native Norway Maple as a street tree/ornamental when a native tree can/should be used (in some situations a non-native may be needed but in my mind that is rare….most non-native woodies currently used in city plantings will have a native species that will do the same job!).
The city (or region even) could have policies in place that encourage corporate or private landowners to plant natives as well. Any time a planting is done, the request can be made that it be native, especially for woody plants-- or have at least 50% natives for herbaceous plantings. It may not be enforceable but just having a "request" can sometimes trigger using more natives. Once it is out there it will likely be acted on. Once people (or corporations) understand the WHY they may go beyond the minimum recommendation. Having a voluntary ‘certification’ or something can also encourage participation, for example, if corporations use 50% or more native plants they get a “helping wildlife/pollinators” title they can then brag about, put on their signs, put on their website/social media etc.
Terri Bocz, winner of the Caterpillar Awards of the Monarch Awards, 2018.
Terri Bocz has always been a gardener. As a parent, when her children were young, she encouraged them to appreciate the natural world, nurturing their interest in little critters such as worms and ladybug larvae. She recalls that when she and her family lived in Mississauga, they had fennel which attracted the black swallowtail year after year: “that was my introduction. That caught me!”
But it has been mostly in the last few years that Terri has intentionally been gardening for nature. Even then, “I was not a purist, most people don’t want to be purists. I used hybrids but we were advised to use natives.”
Gardening for nature took a definitive direction after she heard native species gardener guru, Doug Tallamy speak about how critical caterpillars are for the development of baby birds.
“It was a big factor to my awareness, learning that young birds need to be fed caterpillars so as to make bird feathers,” Terri says.
She learned that in turn, most non-native plants are not digestible to caterpillars, so if an area is all non-native plants it is just like a desert with no food for the birds. Even more reason to plant native species!
“Now I think about what will support the larvae. Why don’t we tell people that native plants are to support the caterpillars that birds can eat? Especially to get kids on board, since everyone wants to involve kids in gardening these days. They’ll get to their parents too. ”
Terri gets her plants from Ontario Native Plants, an online plant retailer, dedicated to supplying top quality native trees, shrub, grasses and perennials to customers all across Ontario.
"I want my garden to be attractive too. I saw a black swallowtail on my parsley. I don’t cut anything back in the fall, but i do in the spring. But I want to get the timing right."
Checking in with Brenda Van Ryswyk, Natural Heritage Ecologist at Conservation Halton, spring is better than fall for cutting back.
"Wait until there has been a week or two of above 10 degrees Celsius weather before cutting back and that should allow the overwintering critters to emerge," Brenda suggests. "Ideally don’t cut all the way to the ground at all, as last years plant stems will be this years nesting material, then they will overwinter in the stems and emerge the following year."
Brenda advices that gardeners leave 8 to 10 inches of “stubble” all the time, which is "ideal." She explains that butterflies will often pupate in the leaves at the base of plants, "so just raking them to one side and leaving them there is fine, or leave in place," (don’t toss out or mulch if you know you had caterpillars nearby).
What Terri loves about her garden
Terri says that things grow so well in her garden, she loves to work on/in it: "I have lovely sandy soil. It’s rewarding, planting, transplanting, finding the right site for something where it thrives, that’s the thrill. I love the colours. Pollinators are thriving here. I will get even more excited when we get the beautiful caterpillars. We will bring them in and develop them inside. That’s going to be a big thrill.”
About the Caterpillar Awards and the Monarch Awards
To Terri, the Trillium Awards are “a competition about neatness. There was one here, from the person we got the house. I never was able to maintain that pristine standard.” Terri says she thinks that it is a good thing that the Caterpillar and Monarch Awards have strong criteria. “I like the Awards to encourage people. The inspection of the gardens was really helpful too.”
The weather is turning, fall is definitely here, but we are still basking in the afterglow of the Monarch Awards excitment. The Monarch Awards since 2016 is a way to celebrate gardeners who garden for nature. This year, the Monarch Awards extended a new category to include an award for small gardens and new gardeners: The Caterpillar Award.
I chatted with winner of the Caterpillar Award, Fran Frazier.
Fran has always been a gardener, but it is only in the last four years, that she has been gardening for nature.
It was through joining the Crown Point Garden Club and helping to plant pollinator gardens on the Pipeline Trail that Fran began to appreciate native plant gardens and what they do to support local biodiversity. Fran admits she was skeptical at first about such gardens, thinking that "weeds were for ditches."
"I thought, milkweed in a garden? Are you crazy? Why do a garden full of weeds? I had no idea that a pollinator garden could be beautiful." But she knew that the monarchs needed milkweed and she went with it."And then I saw how gorgeous everything looked!. There was a huge difference in the number of bees and butterflies in the pipeline gardens, then ordinary gardens. It was absolutely teaming."
Fran started learning more about the plight of pollinators. With her sister, who started the pollinator journey with her, supporting each other, Fran began attending tree walks, pollinator gardening workshops and forums. Now her sister, also a convert, is actually working on a complete butterfly garden. "My sister's neighbour came up to let her know he sees Monarchs all the time, and what's the big deal about declining numbers?" Fran laughs. "It's because of her garden attracting them!"
Fran displays the "We are feeding Pollinators" sign Monarch Awards entrants receive in the window. Neighbours have, observed that she has more bees in her yard.
What Fran loves about her garden
"From everywhere you sit you can see bees and butterflies and birds," Fran says. She has yellow finches hopping about on the coneflowers, water features such as a water fountain and bird baths. Now all she needs is a toad: "I would like to have a toad. Maybe if enough people plant they will come closer to the escarpment," she says hopefully.
Plans for her fall/winter garden?
"I'm planting a few more native plants such as zigzag goldenrod because I didn’t have enough native plants. This fall, she plans to leave her garden "mostly alone."
Nadia Coakley has been gardening for nature since she and her partner moved into their home at the edge of West Hamilton, in 2008. She began by turning their lawn to clover. 'I've always liked clover. Mark kept cutting the lawn and I saw this as a low maintenance opportunity. I thought it was beautiful."
Nadia says she imagined something different from the flowers that grew in her parents home, "something other than geraniums and impatients. I thought I'd plant something different. With three kids, it was going to be the things that do best." Things that "do best" turned out to be native species, "so it wasn't intentional," although she admits that she still has hostas.
Nadia and Mark got an oak tree when they got married. The second tree they planted was a birch tree. Both these trees support an incredible number of species. But Nadia recalls the difficulty of finding native tree species: "I didn't know where to get one. It was confusing."
Thanks to concerns about declining pollinator populations, Nadia's interest in native plants evolved. She planted milkweed for the butterflies, "and it took off from there," she says, reminding me however, that she still has a lot to learn.
I ask Nadia what's rewarding about being a Monarch Awards finalist. "Knowing that my garden is an oasis for pollinators to stop and lie some eggs," she says immediately. She says she is glad that there are these awards: "for a long time, people thought I had a crazy garden. Now gardens like mine are respected. People are having a better awareness of the issues. My mother and mother-in-law are both putting in milkweed."
Any tips for newbies? "Keep planting native flowers, soon everyone else will. That will be the norm, that will be the standard."
Nadia has three boys ages 10-17. She writes guidelines for Cancer care in Ontario.
What a rewarding experience it is to see some many good people of Hamilton come out on a Saturday afternoon (Sept 8th), to learn about how to be better at gardening for nature and support local biodiversity and connect with others in the community involved in habitat restoration. .
We partnered with the In the Zone team at Carolinian Canada , World Wild Life to host Gardening for Nature! Birds, Bees, Butterflies. This afternoon-long event featured an afternoon of "garden chats" with experts on topics that ranged from designing your garden with easy to grow native plant choices that benefit pollinators and other creatures, tips to manage invasive species, to how to nurture healthy soil and stories from the garden. Our experts included Ecologist, Charlie Briggs with RBG, Master gardener, Claudette Sims and team with Halton Master Gardeners and Brenda Van Ryswyk, Natural Heritage Ecologist at Conservation Halton. A delightful addition to the team of experts was Calla Shea-Pelletier and her son Harry's virtual pollinator-themed gallery, art installation of Hamilton biodiversity.
Joanne Tunnicliffe, Master gardener at the First Unitarian Church lead two garden tours of the grounds.
Thanks to Jeff Stock for this piece about his Pollinator Patch! In his day job, Jeff is a Watershed Stewardship Technician with www.hamiltonhaltonstewardship.cathe Hamilton Watershed Stewardship Program, Conservation Hamilton.
In my line of work I sometimes provide advice to landowners who are interested in establishing a pollinator garden or enhancing a conventional one, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to tend to a garden of my very own until this year. It has become an ever changing learning space that both fascinates and educates me on a daily basis.
My horticultural endeavours started early in 2018 with a garden that already had been well taken care of up until it came into my hands, but I knew there were many opportunities to enhance its biological diversity so I took the initiative to monitor the existing plants and whether or not they were providing some sort of benefit to the garden inhabitants. A great reason to keep a journal and brush up on my cursive!
On August 1st, the Hamilton Pollinator Paradise Project is launching a campaign to celebrate Hamilton's unique biodiversity. We are inviting you to look around you and take a photo of what you’ve spotted lately and share with us on social media! But first, what is Biodiversity?
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the rich variety of plant and animal species on Earth and the habitats they live in, including pristine lands, cities and towns.
We depend on Biodiversity
Every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat to the water we drink and the air we breathe depends on the resilience of this biological diversity-- a result of billions of years of evolution, of which every single organism serves a purpose in the maintenance of the Earth’s ecology.
Biodiversity Makes Everything Better!
Biodiversity enhances local economies, strengthens ecological systems, and protects social well-being. Biodiversity conservation, planning and management results in positive impacts to water quality, air quality, and food production to name a few.
Our Hamilton Nature
Our City is a part of a biodiversity hotspot of many different types of habitats including:
fens, swamps, bogs, Carolinian forests, tallgrass prairies, meadows, thickets, creek valleys, and the rocky profile of the Niagara Escarpment.
-These habitats support diverse species, including over 1,000 different kinds of plants, 100 butterfly species, 87 fish species, and 43 species of mammals.
Throughout the month of August, please take a photo and share with us on the following channels: