All good things come to an end

Well, the time is now. Not even the best experience lasts forever and so it is that I have decided to call an end to my role as a merchant of native plants. I’ll be closing for good at the end of October.

Return of the Native is for sale or available to be taken over by a suitable person or organization – the plants and their paraphanalia like pots, lights, flats, signage, as well as the name and the website, which along with word of mouth has been the source of my clientèle.

And my clientèle has been wonderful!

If you have made the effort to find me and trekked all the way to Elmvale, you’re already a kindred spirit, already converted to the cause of making the world a better place for living things. I’ve had so many good conversations, met such interesting people, and made firm friends along the way – all in the driveway of my home which from spring to fall has been crammed with pots of plants.

Return of the Native started in 2010 and I posted my first blog in March 2012. "A most unusual Ontario spring," I wrote, noting that while a few days earlier I had been looking at snow fleas, the temperature had now risen to 24C and the leatherwood was in flower.

Since then, I’ve written on many topics, from outdated and destructive municipal bylaws that encourage people to complain about their neighbours’ gardening aesthetic, to the insanity of homeowners spraying pesticides to eradicate one insect and then harming or killing so much else.

I think the blog I most enjoyed writing was one in which I anthropomorphized a tree to have a conversation with a tidy gardener, in an effort to convey how, when we rake furiously every fall, we are robbing our trees of the nutrients they create and need, and the cover that protects their roots against frost and drought. I added a post from Cathy Kassavalis - whom I have since got to know and respect through the CCIPR - to explain how insects and birds need the leaf litter that is essential habitat, part of the circle of life.

ROTN grew out of an earlier enterprise called Trees from Seed, that I began in around 2000, when I found I was unable to find the trees I wanted at an affordable price. Starting from seed often results in more plants than are needed, so for a few years I would hold a sale in the spring and another in the fall, and take a stall at the occasional market.

In those days, I didn’t propagate or sell exclusively native plants. I began making the switch after reading Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home when it was published in 2009. That was like a lightbulb going off. “For the first time in its history, gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener,” Tallamy wrote. “Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation's wildlife.”

After that, I had a mission. It made gardening a whole lot more meaningful and fun. It’s been a good journey for which I owe thanks to many people, of whom I will mention a few. It started when I was a child, with my two gardening grandmothers, both of them knowledgeable and respectful of nature. An important lesson from one - how there are organisms around the roots of a plant that help it flourish, and any transplant should come with a plentiful helping of the surrounding soil. I now know she was referring to the underground fungal network that is essential to plant health and all too often disrupted.

The other grandmother had an edict: no spiders were to be killed in her house, they are helpful and do us no harm. In my home, spiders and daddy-longlegs get the same protection. (We do tidy up the cobwebs, as did Granny.)

Two local naturalists have been a source of inspiration. Eight years ago, I was lucky to have been part of a two-year biological inventory at Tiny Marsh, led by Bob Bowles. I learned so much from Bob, in that project and subsequently, when I took his Master Naturalist course at Lakehead. More recently, I have had the pleasure of working with David Hawke. One is always much the wiser about the natural world after a walk through the forest with either of these gentlemen.

Looking ahead, I’ll still be here, where I have gardened for 40 years as a small woodland grows up around me. I’ll still be propagating, I’ll still be writing, I’ll still be involved in conservation - but the busyness of a business is no longer for me. One way or another, I do hope someone else steps up to fill the gap – the demand from the public for plants that support pollinators, birds and the entire food web is certainly there, and it’s not being met. I’ll keep you posted on what the future holds.

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A most unusual Ontario spring
Maggie Sparrow
- 23 September 2022 at 01:17pm

Oh, so sad to hear this! It’s been great having your there on our doorstep!
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