Gardening on a grand scale – the Big Pull at Tiny Marsh

Gardening is all about weeding.  If you get to it early and stay on top of it, it’s easier. Allowing weeds to go to seed is deadly. In my early days as a gardener I thought it might be possible to create a garden that wouldn’t need weeding. The desirable plants I’d selected would fill in, spread, reseed, and present a united front against unwanted outsiders.


In an undisturbed natural habitat, that’s what happens. Each plant has its place and role in a prairie or forest or bog, and balance is maintained in a community of plants. Alas, human activity (cultivation, logging, roads) provides pathways for weeds to invade and in recent history we have spread a massive selection of weed seeds to disrupt the once-stable communities. The disruptors can be inadvertent introductions – Plantain, Dandelion, or deliberately planted – Goutweed, Lilac. 

So in my garden, I have come to recognize that I or my successor in this space will always have to weed to prevent it from reverting to a degraded jumble that is neither pleasing to the human eye nor useful to a hungry warbler. The stable community that would have held its own against all comers is but a distant memory for this land. 

The same is true of Tiny Marsh. This beautiful wildlife area is deservedly popular with anglers, hunters, birders, naturalists and people who just need a nature fix. But the paths, walkways and dykes and those who use them (wildlife as well as humans) facilitate the spread of weeds and the marsh’s community of plants is under attack by aggressive competitors. 

Which is why a group of us is out weeding the Marsh these days. Our target: Garlic Mustard, which appeared in a dry woodland corner of the Marsh four years ago. My friend Pat spotted it and started pulling. I joined her three years ago. The key with a invasive alien like Garlic Mustard is to get it early. It’s been a learning experience. We have found out that not only do we need to pull, we need to reclaim the space by replacing it with plants that can fight back or we merely expose the thousands of GM seeds that are now in the soil, preparing the way for more GM germination next year. 

Last year, we planted ferns and milkweed and shrubs. Some survived. The milkweed is spreading and the ostrich fern are holding their own. At an Ontario Woodlot Assocation conference last year, I was told by a woodlot owner that he had found Mayflower outcompetes Garlic Mustard. So I potted up three Mayflower plants this spring and planted them at the Marsh on the weekend. I have started root cuttings that I hope will produce more to plant this fall.

A recent visit to Grant’s Woods near Orillia with the Midland Penetanguishene Field Naturalists Club revealed what woodland in this area is supposed to look like. There are wonderful communities of native plants there. Sadly, invasives like Lily of the Valley, Periwinkle, Bugleweed and Yellow Flag Iris are spreading at the entrances. But in the heart of the Woods are large patches of Wild Ginger, Trillium, Mayapple and Sensitive Fern. There’s Cohosh, Jack in the Pulpit, Maidenhair Fern and much more. 

In terms of vigour, I figure Milkweed, Mayapple, Wild Ginger and Sensitive Fern are our best bets for the replanting program at Tiny Marsh. We hope our efforts will stabilize the Marsh, but it’s not going to be easy. We need more pullers. Five people turned out last Saturday, the first day of this year’s Big Pull, seven came on Sunday. We need thirty or forty. So if you are able to help, come out on one of the mornings of the second of our two Big Pull weekends, next Saturday or Sunday (June 16 and 17) from 9:30 am to noon. It’s fun – see the one trampling the GM down in the trailer as if she’s treading grapes in France, or the other in her nice white pants and T muddied from head to toe. 

It’s not just weeding, it’s gardening - on a grand scale. 

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