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Oct 23

Leave the leaves

NOTE: Return of the Native is closed for the season. 

I have this message every fall - if you clear the overwintering habitat for the creatures in your yard, you destroy its biodiversity. Below, a timely message from the Nature Conservancy of Canada. If this message is a little late and you have already "cleaned up," you can do what I do at this time of year - leaf rustling...  I bring bags home and place my leaves and those "liberated" from the curb in a large bin, to break down into leaf mould. 

By the way, there's a reference to 'raking' that may be a litte quaint, but if you are intent on tidying, you should not use a leaf-blower, to safeguard your own well-being. Leaf blowers throw material up into the air to the level where we can easily breathe it in, and it's an invisible cocktail that includes moulds, pesticides, animal waste, and dust particles small enough to get past our natural defences. Children are particularly vulnerable to this toxic cloud.

Backyard wildlife need winter homes

One of the most beautiful aspects of fall, the changing colour of leaves, comes with an onerous task: raking them all up.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), however, has some green advice for people wishing to avoid back-breaking yard work: leave the rake in the shed and the leaves on the ground.

The not-for-profit land conservation group says leaving fallen leaves in your yard is a small act of nature conservation that can support backyard biodiversity in many ways.
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Sep 27

Chasing the 'wow!' factor

As the growing season draws to a close, it’s worth contemplating the moments of sheer joy the garden has offered over the year, times when it was impossible to do anything but step back and revel in the glory and give thanks for the privilege of being in this world.

First, the plants for sun.

Right now, I’m still enjoying the various species of Ironweed (Vernonia) I've planted around the place, this tall beauty being my latest passion, even though the deep purple florets are beginning to go brown and turn to seed. One Ironweed clump grows in front of the house by the Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). I wouldn’t have thought to combine the bright orange and red flowers of the Honeysuckle with the Ironweed purple, but the vibrant colours play off each other and require contemplation whenever the eye chances that way.

A plant that started being arresting in August is Spotted, or Dotted Beebalm or Horsemint (Monarda punctata). The dots are purple, on creamy whorls of small orchid-like flowers that surround the reddish-purple stem. Showtime comes with the development of lavender-pink bracts under the flowers - bracts are modified leaves, which on the pointsettia for instance are red. These Beebalm bracts, now fading to a pale green, seem to catch the light and make the plant an absolute stand-out.
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Aug 28

‘Everything must change so everything can stay the same’

This time last year, I was in New York. Naturally, I made a beeline for Central Park, of which I’d read much but had never visited. What a jewel!

Besides expanses of lawn on which children played, dogs raced and sunlovers basked, there were beautiful wild areas buzzing with pollinators. The plantings include lots of goldenrods, lots of asters, spikes of Bottlebrush Grass, graceful curves of Canada Wild Rye, fluffy white clusters of Boneset, tall stems of Joe Pye Weed, drifts of Anise Hyssop, ladders of White Turtlehead and, very effectively, the pale pink sepals of Spotted Beebalm. Also an aromatic bed of Sweetfern, a native shrub used for many medicinal purposes that flourishes in dry rocky or sandy conditions. Old friends, as the vegetation of New York State is much the same as ours.

A striking aspect of Central Park is the huge outcroppings of bedrock that shaped the 1850s design by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. Thank goodness for the vision of those who designated the original 778 acres on Manhattan! Let's remember their names, as well as those who sacrificed, but whose names were never recorded. I find it instructive to recall how Central Park was born as, in our own time, efforts to set aside and preserve urban green space continue to be met with obstinate political opposition. The prime movers were American landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing, Croton Aqueduct Board president Nicholas Dean (a reservoir in Central Park was to be an essential element of the city’s drinking water supply system) and poet and New York Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant (the delightful Bryant Park, next to the main branch of the New York City Library, is named after him). Read more