Kate's Blog

Nov 27

The passing of a horticultural master: Keith Squires

There’s a patch of gravel in heaven, and Keith Squires has arrived to make it bloom. The owner of the Country Squires Garden in Campbellville, a fourth-generation nurseryman who was in the business for 74 years, passed away on Thursday. He was 94.

I have such vivid memories of Keith Squires – his delight in the minute speck of green that signalled succcessful germination, his indignation when I had the temerity to drive over his watering hose, the ‘jingling’ of his empty pockets as he joked about the wealthy ‘greenhouse men,’ the hearty welcome for the swallows that returned to his barn to nest every year, his pleasure in a bunch of cuttings collected on a warm end-of-summer day….

Plants seemed to come to life in conversation with him. They have personality, preferences and aversions. We need to pay attention, they need to be understood. He loved them all. He was as excited about the Tree Peonies he’d just had shipped from Holland – developed, he reckoned, by some highly skilled plant specialist in China - as he was about the Viper’s Bugloss he’d grown from seed collected from a common European weed that's found along roadsides here, with a lovely blue flower, a “true blue,” he called it.
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Sep 23

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.
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Sep 18

Let's take jumping worms seriously

We gardeners are among those who are on the front lines of the interface between human activity and nature. When good things happen, we're among the first non-scientists to notice, and the same goes for adverse occurrences. So when the Master Gardeners of Ontario are warning that jumping worms are a real threat, we need to pay attention. Below, I am reproducing a compelling examination of the jumping worms issue by Claudette Sims, on the premise that step one is to know the enemy.

Claudette notes that the many species of mostly European worms that we welcome into our gardens are in fact destructive invaders. They refashion the layer of organic matter that naturally accumulates atop the soil, to the detriment of native organisms, plants and creatures, including songbirds. Of all the species of worms found in Ontario, only two are native, and they are rare. Yet, we see worms as an indicator of soil health and fertility.

Unfortunately Asian jumping worms are exponentially more of a problem than the worms we know. I corresponded with Michael McTavish of the Smith Forest Health Lab at the University of Toronto, who is quoted by Claudette, to see what gardeners can do. At this stage, not much; our role is to observe and report. Protocols are being set up for a new community science monitoring program to collect more data. I've added his comments and more info on the program to the end of this post.

There have been 20 to 25 jumping worm sightings, the first in 2014 in the Windsor area and in various locations in southern Ontario, including Toronto and Hamilton, in 2021. By themselves, they might move a metre a year. With our help, they can leapfrog across long distances - which is why gardeners everywhere need to be vigilant and exercise caution in transporting plants and soil, for instance, from the GTA to cottage country.
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