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. Read more