Published September 18, 2017.
Hamilton Monarch Awards 2017 winner, Amy Taylor has been gardening for more than half of her life. The 48 year old didn’t initially start of gardening for nature, however. What’s more, in the beginning, she gardened in pots because she didn’t have an actual garden space. As a tea leaf reader, tea enthusiast and community herbalist, Amy’s interest was initially in growing medicinal herbs, rather than for habitat or even growing food. That’s when she noticed that growing medicinal herbs correlated with growing for nature. Many Ontario native plants are also medicinal plants, like Echinacea, Bloodroot, Coltsfoot, Wild Ginger, to name just a few.
When Amy and her husband Mick moved to Hamilton from Toronto ten years ago, they counted over 140 plants that they brought over with them. “When we bought our home, we knew it was up to us to be as environmentally sustainable as we could with it and the garden," Amy says. "With Hamilton having the unfortunate reputation of being dirty and polluted, we knew better as we saw the amazing green-spaces and natural habitats for wildlife." It was partly because of the escarpment and the Greenbelt around the city that made them buy in Hamilton, Amy shares, "but it was also that we recognized that we are ultimately responsible for this planet." With that realization, they sought to make their small, 100 x 20 foot lot of it be as environmentally viable as possible: "We joined Bullfrog Power, we installed a composter, we recycle nearly everything and we planted those first 140 plants with a vision of a better planet."
Garden of Delights
Amy talks with captivating passion about the flowers in her garden, including the likes of bloodroot, coltsfoot, buddleia (butterfly bush, which she diligently deadheads), the red flowering crabapple tree, the milkweed, goldenrod, echinacea, obedient plant which starts of stark white, then goes purple, and yellow jewelweed that grows 8 ft tall, and hides her neighbour's garage.
What’s her favourite plant? “Probably my most favourite in the garden is the Cercis canadensis, Eastern Redbud tree,” Amy responds. “My Mum and I bought this tree together. I loved it because it has heart shaped leaves, beautiful purple pink pea shaped flowers in spring and pea shaped seed pods and lovely yellow leaves in fall. We bought it because she and I are like two peas in a pod.”
Garden of Delights
There’s a lot more to a garden than the plants in it. Delight abounds in Amy’s piece of paradise: “Every year it surprises me with something new. I never know what to expect.”
For Amy, who has a background in graphic arts, “colours working together is important to me.” She describes a very old lavender plant that has a very woody base that is a bee magnet and a beautiful grey-blue colour against all the layers of green in the garden. Not to mention the scent! Or the bark of the Redbud tree that shreds as it ages and the colour of the new bark underneath is like a blood red when it is wet from the rain.”
“What I like about my garden is the movement. I’m very interested in adding motion,” Amy says, talking about the curly willow tree (that she also uses parts of to make hand brooms). “It’s amazing how to see the plants move through the garden.” She’s referring to the valerian she’s discovered six feet away from the old one that is still growing. “I watch the wild ginger creep along every year.” Some plants come early, like bloodroot. Some grow very low like the creeping veronica, and some like the mayflower, trilliums, jack in the pulpit, disappear under the foliage of other plants, like mugwort, as they grow.
All around the garden are bird and bug baths, nesting houses, bug houses, ceramic toad stools and art. Amy is careful to conserve water and uses 3 rain barrels: this August was the first time she used city water since last year. Also her husband rebuilt the garden shed using about 60% recycled materials from the old shed and some old windows and a door.
Amy says she mostly gives the garden free reign. “When I try to control it too much, it doesn’t do what I want it to do, when I leave it, it does.”
In 2016, the first year of the Monarch Awards, Amy was a finalist in the competition. She hadn’t planned on entering this year due to having some work done on the home, but on winning, she says, “ I was over the moon. It’s lovely what people are trying to do with this award, showing that gardening for nature can also be beautiful even if it is a bit unruly looking compared to highly cultivated, manicured gardens and properties. It’s really nice to be recognized for all the love, sweat and passion that gets put into a green space like this.”
Hear it for the Pollinator Paradise Project
We were excited to learn from Amy that a new neighbour of her says one of the reasons she bought the house was because of the “We are feeding pollinators sign” in the front yard. This is given to anyone who applies to the Monarch Awards, as they automatically get included in the uninterrupted corridor of habitat that is being built across the city of Hamilton, as a part of the Pollinator Paradise Project. Amy reports that her new neighbour was impressed with the sense of community in the neighbourhood and that the residents there were conscious of what is going on environmentally (example, the Pipeline trail gardens).