The pleasures of gardening with native plants
“Gardening with native plants is an easy way to combine enjoyment of the outdoors with a commitment to the environment,” Paul Heydon, founder and owner of Omemee’s Grow Wild Native Plant Nursery told the Parry Sound Nature Club at its April meeting.
“Gardening is already the second most popular physical activity in Canada,” he pointed out. “It’s easy to supplement the pleasure of your time outdoors by making a positive contribution to the natural environment.”
Native plants are plants that have been here since before European settlement, co-evolving for thousands of years with animals, insects and microscopic life to form a complex, self-sustaining ecological network. This means that when you plant a diverse range of seeds and plants native to your area, you create food and shelter for local insects and birds that they have co-evolved with. Local insects feed on local plants and in turn pollinate them, while local and migrating birds feed and thrive on local plants and insects.
Environmental benefits aside, because these species have co-evolved with the environment that is here, native planting requires little maintenance once plants are established, and eliminates the need for pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals. To determine which plants can succeed in your soil with minimal intervention, you will need to know what type of soil you have.
Parry Sound has two types of soil created by glaciation, and a relatively small amount of other soil. Glacial till, a dense combination of sand and clay, comprises most of our soil. We also have many pockets of sand and pebbles created by streams within the glaciers. In addition, we have pockets of organic soil that have accumulated over time in marshes. If need help figuring out your soil type and which native plants can grow in it, consult your local garden centre.
Next, prepare a planting bed in your existing lawn. Mow the grass very low in fall, spread a couple of centimetres of compost over it, and water it well. (Sand and decomposed organic matter make good compost.) Cover it with wet newspapers 10 sheets deep, making sure the paper overlaps at the edges. Top it all off with another 10 centimetres of mulch. Then wait. By Spring, Mother Nature will convert this into a useable planting bed.
Ethically sourced native plants are available from some nurseries, such as Grow Wild. Or you can harvest seeds for your garden from nature, for free, from fields and other sites where you have permission. A few tips for seed harvesting: Flag or label plants with a marker while they’re in bloom to identify which plants to get seeds from after they’ve flowered. Collect seeds when you are least likely to damage the plants. Harvest a maximum of 10 per cent of seeds of any one type of plant per location. You can store dry seeds for a long time in a cool, dry place. You’ll need to research best practices for seed storage and germination, because they vary from plant to plant.
For a list of native plants that are recommended to the eastern Georgian Bay Region, look at the Planting for Pollinators Guide produced by the Georgian Bay Biosphere. Make sure when choosing plants to stagger blooming time, and provide a variety of heights, flower shape, etc.
Finally, you’ll need to maintain your native garden. Mostly, that requires weeding out invasive species such as periwinkle, purple loosestrife, pale swallow-wort, garlic mustard, bishop’s goutweed, Norway maple, phragmites australis, common buckthorn and glossy buckthorn.
And then relax and enjoy less gardening work, more gardening enjoyment, and the satisfaction of your positive contribution to biodiversity.
The Parry Sound Nature Club has returned to in-person presentations and other events at Parry Sound’s Mary St. Centre. Later this month: learn about bats in Georgian Bay with Steven Kell on May 17 at 7 p.m.
Helen Kohl and Christopher Clayton are members of the Parry Sound Nature Club