Aug 26

Form over function: the debate over nativars and cultivars

The lure of the ‘tweaked’ plant. The one that we like because it is bigger, brighter and showier than the original. These ‘improvements’ showcase our home and impress our neighbours, but do they work for the others with whom we share our outdoors space? Bees, butterflies, birds and all creatures which have an ever-shrinking choice of places to call home and make a living in. And whose survival becomes ever more precarious as they try to cope with the stress of pollution, the vagaries of weather and decisions that take no account of their needs.

For some, the effort to find a host plant or enough food to feed their young has just been too hard. In Ontario, native bee species that were widespread are now a rarity. Native wildflowers that once brought colour to rural landscapes are disappearing as even the hedgerows that were their refuge are being grubbed up. The swallows that would line up on the hydro wires at this time of year in anticipation of migration are seldom seen.

Gardeners to the rescue! Be the refuge. A space, no matter how small, if planted to at least 70 per cent native plants, can become a community and contribute ecosystem benefits, and may even provide a vital link to ensure a species’ survival.

So much depends on the choices we make. Gardeners are recognizing this and native plants are newly fashionable. The trend has prompted growers to make the natives that much more alluring by selecting and breeding for the traits that will attract buyers, like variegated foliage, disease resistance or compactness. The result is a cultivar - or “nativar,” as they’ve been called. Do these plants provide the same services (hosting, nutrient content, accessibility of pollen and nectar) as the original “straight species” plant? There isn't a complete answer but in most cases, they don't.

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Aug 1

Open in September and October, by appointment

We are open in September and October, by appointment at whatever time suits you, for buying or browsing.
Advance orders accepted. Check the plant list.
Fall is a great time to plant, allowing your plants to go into dormancy and overwinter, and get off to a good start when next spring arrives.
For those already planning what to get next year, the spring 2021 plant list will be posted in November, as will the seed list.
Apr 18

Grow more veggies - and don’t forget the pollinators

The age of COVID-19 is upon us, marking a time for anyone with access to growing space to step up and grow food. Never done it? ‘Snippets,’ on this website, is a general gardening series I did for the Springwater News a few years ago that touches on some basics of growing, including vegetables. For instance, now is a good time to start seeds indoors, and May 24 is the traditional date you can safely put frost-tender plants outside, although with coverings at the ready, you can do so much earlier. And fortunately… there’s LOTS of help out there on the world wide web. A down-to-earth advisor on growing food in conditions like ours is Maritime gardener Greg Auton, to be found on YouTube and through podcasts.

I find the most productive vegetable in terms of space, deliciousness and freedom from pests is the French filet bush bean. Which despite its Frankish name is a New World native. The homegrown tomato is another list-topper for deliciousness. Also a native, as are corn and squash. A tip: If you’re growing in pots, your plants will do better if the pots are placed on earth so soil micro-organisms can access the roots.

But when growing food, don’t forget the pollinators. They will increase the productivity of your vegetables. Plant some pollen- and nectar-rich natives in your kitchen garden beds to attract the insects that will not only ensure good fruit and pod set, but will also be the predators that take care of some of your pests.
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