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Gardening for life in the foodweb

A newsletter called Landscript came through in the mail (the actual postal mail!) the other day, and as I leafed through it after enjoying the lovely cover photo of a Prairie Warbler, I found an article about the importance of gardening with native species. This is good, I thought. And then I noticed some familiar phrasing. And realized the newsletter came from the Georgian Bay Land Trust, and this is the article they had asked me to write. So I'll share it with you. 

Also, I hear an email I sent the folks at CBC Radio's Ontario Morning show was mentioned on air. Wei Chen had been talking about getting rid of the Goutweed in her garden and she and Mike Ewing - my early-morning companions - were bemoaning the lack of good plants for shade. Well, there are native plants for every situation, and certainly a wide array of choices when it comes to shade. Here's what I emailed Wei:

"Good for you for fighting off the Goutweed! It took me two years, and then another couple of years of eagle-eyed pursuit of very occasional sprouts. Good groundcovers for shade are:
-Pearly Everlasting
-Wild Ginger
-Wood Aster
-Virginia Waterleaf
Nothing actually defeats Goutweed, you will get it coming back up if you leave pieces in the ground. But best one to fight back is
Wild Ginger - it spreads slowly, but is very dense. So the Goutweed is less likely to emerge and if it does, remove the leaf as soon as. You can kill any plant by ensuring the root system gets no chlorophyll. Several Ginger plants in your cleaned area should do the trick..."

Here's the Landscript piece - bear in mind that it's written for Georgian Bay cottagers who are in Canadian Shield territory, a little north of where I am in Huronia, the fertile Land Between:

I like insects. Butterflies, moths, bees, bugs, beetles, syrphid flies, mayflies, dragonflies, damselflies, and more… Mosquitoes and ants, less so, but I view it as my responsibility to minimize the harm they can do to me, so I can minimize the harm I do to them. The same applies to wasps and hornets. I make space for us all.

Birds like insects, too, especially those in the larval stage of their lifecycle, because these are the most nutritious and easily digestible food for chicks. Birds that are normally seedeaters still turn to insects and their progeny in spring. There’s a story told by Doug Tallamy, entomology professor at the University of Delaware and author of Bringing Nature Home, a seminal book that sounded a clarion call to gardeners to step up and save the planet. Tallamy watched a pair of chickadees flying back and forth from the nest bearing, mostly, caterpillars. He counted. And calculated that they delivered 390-570 caterpillars a day, which over 16-18 days in the nest, added up to 6,240-9,120 caterpillars.

One of Doug’s graduate students followed up his findings by monitoring chickadee nests in city neighbourhoods. The areas that had a good proportion of native trees produced healthy fledglings. But in the neighbourhoods where non-native trees predominated, the nestlings did poorly or died. Pathetically, under the dead chicks, researchers found sunflower seeds that the parents, unable to find the necessary food, had brought from feeders to offer to their young, all in vain.

Butterflies and moths harvest nectar or pollen from a variety of sources, native or non-native. But when it comes to reproduction, ninety per cent of insects that eat plants can reproduce only on those, known as their host plants, with which they share an evolutionary history. Like the monarch on milkweed species. Bees consume nectar and pollen to make food for larvae that winter in cells, and many will visit natives and non-natives alike. But many others will only collect from a flower to which they are adapted, again through an evolutionary partnership. Like the sundrop sweat bee on the sundrop.

A word about the honey bee: non-native. I am conscious that these European bees are actually an invasive species that can displace our native bees (400 species in Ontario). I also see beekeepers as a powerful voice against the use of insect-killing pesticides and loss of habitat that have led to a precipitous decline in all bee populations. I figure that if we all grow lots of native pollinator plants there will be enough for everyone. “We all” includes government (think parks, highway medians, vacant land), businesses and institutions. So what plants are the best for pollinators? See my top-12 list.

Georgian Bay is magical. Absorb the aesthetic and echo it in the space where you are gardening. Don’t use plants that bring a “city” look to the Shield. Avoid bringing plants from the south, unwanted pests and diseases could hitch a ride. But don’t use plants that have been sprayed with pesticides – they will poison your pollinators and the birds and other creatures that consume them. Ask at the garden centre – have these plants been sprayed? Are they locally propagated?

Finally, be vigilant against invasive species. European Common Reed (Phragmites australis subsp. australis) is spreading through cottage country at an alarming rate. It creates tall monocultures that are no better than pavement at supporting wildlife. There is a native phrag that plays nicely with other vegetation. Get a knowledgeable person to check if you think you may have one or the other. Other invasives that are degrading our wild spaces include Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Dog-strangling Vine (Vincetoxicum rossicum). And then there are the ones people buy - Bishop’s Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria), Creeping Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), English Ivy (Hedera helix) and Periwinkle (Vinca minor). Educate yourself and don’t let these destructive forces gain a foothold in your little patch of paradise.

Top 12 Georgian Bay pollinator plants
1. Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum
2. Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis
3. Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa
4. Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata
5. New England Aster Symphyotrichum novae angliae
6. Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa
7. Spotted Joe Pye Weed Eutrochium maculatum
8. Wild Columbine Aquilegia canadensis
9. White Baneberry Actaea racemosa
10. White Turtlehead Chelone glabra
11. Wild Lupin Lupinus perennis
12. Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea


Judy Smith
- 27 May 2018 at 07:48am

I have found that wild ginger will grow over and smother periwinkle clear a spot to plant the ginger and watch the periwinkle disappear
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