Continuing with our new "Stories from the Pollinator Patch" series, here is a piece by Norm Madill of Westdale.
Most Canadians live in urban settings, yet we carry within our souls images of the breath stealing beauty of the natural landscape of this awe inspiring country. Millions of us try to capture a tiny piece of that beauty within our own gardens or on our balconies. This makes the nursery/garden centre business a billions of dollar industry within Canada.
I always thought of myself as a rather typical Canadian gardener. In the Spring I would buy a flat of geraniums, fibrous begonias, marigolds and snapdragons to add to the roses and perennials that grew in the garden. They gave a lot of colour and I often received positive comments from neighbours and passer byes about how my garden looked. After I retired, I started to volunteer in the green houses at Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton. The RBG Auxiliary grew a wide variety of plants that were sold during their annual May Plant Sale. Among these plants were a small group of Native Plants. I was generally not impressed with native plants. Their flowers were often smaller than those of the other plants. There were a limited number of natives that were available in the market place and those that we were able to get were hard to come by. For me, Natives were just another group of plants within our Auxiliary inventory.
But things were about to change!
RBG has a regular Speaker Series. Many of these lectures are free and the speakers are often world renown in their field. Doug Tallamy, Professor of Entomology, author and nature lover was one of these speakers. His topic, “A Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening” gave me a whole new appreciation of how important insects and their interaction with native plants are to the health and sustainability of our environment. My epiphany moment, however, was in September 2017 at the RBG Volunteer monthly meeting. Charlie Briggs, RBG native plants gardener was the speaker. Charlie talked about the thousands of years of evolutionary development that brought about the interaction of flora and fauna within an area and how they melded together to create a sustainable native place. Native plants were not just another group of plants in the inventory they were an evolutionary miracle that are “the foundation of a diverse, sustainable ecosystem” (Pollinators of Native Plants , page v: Heather Holm, 2014).
Charlie showed slides of native plants. Yes some had smaller flowers than plants in the garden centres, but in a group they created a beautiful panorama of colour blends that were not only attractive to people but essential to the birds and insects that were also native to our area. As an added bonus they often required less maintenance than the garden centre’s variety of plants. A further moment of enlightenment came when I was shocked to learn that some of the foreign plants and trees that our ancestors had brought to Canada from Europe or Asia were not a benefit in any way to our native plants, birds, animals or pollinating insects and in some cases they were even a disadvantage. It was then that I decided to introduce some native plants each year to my garden and to challenge my fellow gardeners to introduce at least one new native plant each spring into their gardens. For the last two years we have registered as part of Environment Hamilton’s Pollinator Project and continuing to do this is part of my garden mission statement.