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Kate's Blog

May 13

It’s raining - no better time to plant! Return of the Native opens today

The Return of the Native plant nursery opens today (10 am to 7 pm) and tomorrow (10 am to 5 pm). Same hours next week, Friday May 20 and Saturday May 21. Then, for the rest of the summer until August, I’ll be open every Friday, from 10 am to 7 pm, and you can come by any other time, just phone ahead to be sure I’m there, I usually am.

Recently, a customer wrote to me about a plant I’d sold her, I’m thinking, in 2008. It’s a nice reminder that some things are worth waiting for!

“Years ago you sold me a tiny Ironwood seedling. I have meant to tell you how it has done. It is now about 12 or 14 feet high and the bark is maturing and this spring it is covered in bloom!

“I'm so grateful to you because the nurseries all had only European Hornbeam, very expensive and much too huge to transplant well. Evidently that had suddenly come into style, a neighbour has several but they are not nearly as attractive as the native in my opinion.

“I'm also grateful to the neighbours who when shown the seedling almost too tiny for its 4-inch pot promised that they and their helpers would not shovel salt-laden driveway snow onto it.

“Anyhow, it is now the attractive small tree we wanted and starting to shade the window uncovered when the big city maple blew down a few years ago."

It’s nice to think of the Hop-hornbeam or Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), a common understory tree in our forests, doing well as a specimen tree. It has pleasing fall colours and I have it in stock. The small tree seedling is only 30 cm tall but, if you control the weeds, trees planted young grow faster. And as the customer indicates, watching it grow from tiny sprig into maturity is a reward in itself.
Apr 22

Spring ephemerals, here and in Chelsea

It’s April 22 and I’m bent low over the shade bed tracking the native wildflowers that make the forests of the North East such a joy at this time of year. The delicate white and mauve flowers of the Sharp-lobed Hepatica were the first to appear, on April 15, pretty faces framed by a delicate circle of stamens lifted to the suddenly warm sun.

Today, it’s cold and wet and the Hepaticas have turned away towards the ground. But the Bloodroot’s white buds are on the verge of opening, leaves still curled around the stem. Later, after the dazzling white flowers are spent, the deeply cleft leaves will spread like little umbrellas above the ground.

A Trillium, rescued from the garden of a lady who died, is in full leaf, the buds tightly closed and giving no hint of the gorgeous deep red that makes me think affectionately of the gardener I never met, who unknowingly bequeathed some of her treasures to me. Another one is a Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper of which there is as yet no sign.
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Mar 20

What a pollinator needs

Pollinators have modest needs.
-Flowers, of the kind that grow willingly everywhere and produce nectar and pollen profusely. We mostly call them weeds and try to get rid of them. Nectar is food for butterflies, moths, bees, wasps and many other insects. Butterflies and moths don't eat pollen, although they play a role in pollination by moving it around. For bees, however, the high-protein pollen is an important food for their larvae. 
-Foliage, for the larvae (caterpillars) of moths and butterflies, of a kind that the caterpillars of this moth or that butterfly have feasted on for generations. Because plant and insect evolved together, the insect’s larvae are able to overcome the toxic chemicals that its specific plant produces to protect itself. Think monarch butterfly and milkweed (but note that a monarch consumes nectar from any accessible flower). Gardeners generally have no idea what plants play host to and make good nurseries for what specific insects – but a native plant is a safe bet. 
-Nesting spots – a sunny patch of bare soil warmed by the sun, the hollow stems of overwintering perennials, an old piece of wood that can be tunnelled into. We pave pathways and mulch beds, thus barring ground-nesting bees from access to the ground and we tidy up old stems and deadwood, leaving nowhere for insects like carpenter and leafcutter bees.
-Chemical-free food. We dust and spray our countryside with toxins that make their way into the pollen, nectar and foliage beneficial insects consume, even wildflowers'. These toxins can also migrate into soil and water. And many of the garden plants we hope will help our pollinators have been sprayed in the nursery and can be harmful.
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