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May 25

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:
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Apr 29

When the leaves of the dogwood are the size of a squirrel's ear

When the leaves of the dogwood are the size of a squirrel’s ear, it is time to plant. So say instructions from the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education on a Six Nations website. Corn, of course, a delicious culinary treat for us, a vital and nutritious staple for the first peoples of the Americas, is the plant under consideration.

You should plant three days before the full moon (there’s one tonight), they say. It’s too cold still, and there are no squirrels’ ears on the dogwood, so wait until the next full moon on May 29. Which would make corn planting day May 26, a time by which there’s little danger of frost. The important point is that the soil should have warmed up. Seed that’s sitting in cold wet soil is likely to rot. How warm? The time-honoured method is the bare-bottom test. You can also use your hand. If it feels comfortable, it’s time. 

Meanwhile, it’s good to prepare a bed soon and let it sit, so the first flush of weeds can germinate and be hoed out before planting. Deep digging has gone out of style (read my post on soil) unless you are dealing with very poor compacted ground. Just lightly fork it over, remove the weeds and smooth it out, raking in a top layer of finished homemade compost (infinitely superior to anything you can buy). After that, don’t walk on your bed. Make it of a size that you can reach in to seed, plant and weed without treading on it. Add mulch through the season to promote soil organism activity.
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Apr 9

Making new connections: it's what this nursery is about:

Gardens often speak to our earliest memories and we use them to reconnect with people and places we love. Just as we adorn our homes with photographs and mementoes of relatives and friends, so we give pride of place in our plantings to a flower that was mother’s favourite, or a shrub that was a familiar sight in some far off land. Which is why, often, the plants used are foreign to our Ontario landscape. Nevertheless, these alien plants spell home, both for immigrants and in many cases for those whose families have been here for generations, because culturally their roots are elsewhere, on continents where the sight or scent of lilac or tulips or peonies tugs at the heartstrings and brings comfort.

The problem is that, unlike our indoor space, our outdoors is home to others – to plants, birds, amphibians, insects, mammals that have evolved here together for millennia. It’s their only true home, and they need each other to create a food web that starts with micro-organisms in the soil and culminates in the raptor circling overhead.

But many of us have little emotional connection to the plants that are part of this ecosystem. Many of the plants have been dismissively named ‘weeds’ – as with Butterfly Weed, Milkweed, Ironweed, Joe Pye Weed, Sneezeweed (aka Helen’s Flower, mistakenly thought to cause hay fever), all of them magnificent with lovely flowering, but somehow demeaned when compared with the flowers of the English cottage garden or exotic offerings from Asia and South America. Never mind that the wealthy and fashionable in England and Europe went crazy for imported North American plants in the 18th and 19th centuries! Fortunately, fashion has cycled back to home soil and our native plants are now favoured here, where they belong.
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