This article was written for thespec.com feb.2016 by B. Ekoko
I am not a gardener. I wish I were. I delight in the notion of a lush and beautiful garden; vegetables at hand for the picking and fresh flowers to gather for the dinner table. Alas! The actual getting outside and messing around in the dirt, I have yet to negotiate. Luckily, my fellow has planted some trees on our property and we mark Black-eyed Susans, goldenrod and milkweed — nature, undeterred, does her thing. For me, however, there always seems to be something more pressing to attend to and year after year the idea of gardening remains verdant only in my mind, flourishing no further.
Until now. This year, I mean business. This is the year where my flight of fancy becomes reality and I put seed to soil — native plant seeds to be more precise.
Because here's the thing: I have something bigger than my own pleasure to motivate me. Me, planting a native garden is for a grander cause — a question of badly needed habitat for pollinators.
Blogging for the Hamilton Pollinators Paradise Project has really driven it home: Pollinators need our help. We know the problems: Not only honey bees but also our solitary native bees (over 400 kinds in Ontario) and other pollinators such as Monarch butterflies and other beneficial insects and small birds are on the decline in a big way. It's neonicotinoids (pesticide), it's habitat loss, it's climate change.
All the while, about 75 per cent of all flowering plants depend on pollinators to move pollen grains from plant to plant.
With one out of every three bites of food dependent on pollinators, we absolutely need these little critters for healthy plants, full harvests (and chocolate)!
"What I find exciting about helping pollinators is this is a conservation issue we can actually help with — something that makes an obvious difference." That's Jen Baker, Hamilton Naturalists Club and project manager for the Pollinators Paradise Project (in partnership with Environment Hamilton). "You can't say that very often about other world problems."
We can do something about habitat right here, literally in our back yards or even with a plain, old flower pot. Planting increases the number of species and diversity — encouraging our neck of the woods to become as biodiverse as possible.
That's what the goal of the project is: to create a "pollinator corridor" of native plants that will provide food and shelter for pollinators across the City of Hamilton.
What a vision! It's also bringing nature back through our urban spaces, which is thrilling, because we all need that connection with the marvels of nature.
Since its launch two years ago, the project has being educating the public about the importance of protecting habitat, building bee boxes through workshops and planting native species sites. The group works with community volunteers at the Hamilton Victory Gardens, North Hamilton Community Health Centre, City of Hamilton, Adopt-a-Park groups (the Pipeline Trail in Crown Point is one such example) and a number of schools such as Hess Street Elementary School and Winston Churchill Secondary School. There's a free certification program to celebrate those home pollinator patches planted by local residents. The group continues to reach out to the community to further the goal of a pollinator city.
Politicians for Pollinators
Jen's vision is ambitious. This year, she will be furthering the conversation around roadside habitat since pollinators and birds benefit from wide swaths of habitat in which to shelter, feed and breed (not forgetting that roadside planting saves money by decreasing the need to plow and mow, etc.). An excellent Ontario example is the 69-hectare tall grass prairie habitat that has been established along Highway 40.
As well, as the planting season draws nearer, Jen also plans to encourage city councillors to pledge to support pollinator conservation and habitat enhancement in their wards.
The Pollinator Paradise project will be at Seedy Saturday this weekend, giving away resources and handmade seed balls (little clay balls impregnated with wildflower seeds — excellent for guerrilla gardening in wild places) and so will I. I'll be filling my little basket with native plant seeds, getting a head start on growing these into plants, and when the spring comes around — I'll be ready.
Learn more about the Pollinator Paradise Project here: www.hamiltonpollinatorparadise.org/
The author is a Hamilton freelance writer. Follow Beatrice on twitter @BeatriceEkoko.