Coming to the Prairie Naturals Group perpetual garden tour this coming Saturday?
Here is a map of what has been added to the new front habitat (not to scale, not even close!).
Every little action we take to be more sustainable matters. That's why when I received my fall plant catalogue from Botanus today I reached out and asked to be removed from their mailing list.
I'll still buy spring-flowering bulbs from somewhere this fall by shopping online, but I don't need to be mailed catalogues.
I'm glad to see Botanus uses FSC responsibly-sourced paper, nonetheless the most responsible thing I feel I can do is not receive their glossy 60--page catalogue at all.
Do you enjoy getting your seed and bulb catalogues each year? Could you survive with online shopping alone? Let me know what you think.
If you have not seen this film, I highly recommend you make it a top priority.
Every person on this planet should be aware how serious our predicament is - that we only have only 60 years of topsoil left unless we change our farming practices.
The good news? We know what to do, we just have to do it.
Regenerative agriculture is fascinating and will undoubtedly influence gardening practices. In fact, I have signed on to the waitlist for a class from the film's producers on bringing regenerative practices to the home garden. Should be interesting when it is available.
My local Master Gardener chapter is going to show the film to our members and host a discussion afterwards. If you are interested in doing something similar, check out the film's website for more information.
Authors: Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy
Publisher: Timber Press, 2014
In my humble opinion Douglas Tallamy is a bona-fide rock star of the gardening world. And, this amazing fellow is not even a horticulturalist by trade!
In 2007 Tallamy published “Bringing Nature Home” his seminal work on gardening with nature in mind that, according to the National Wildlife Federation, “…changed the conversation about gardening in (North) America.” Tallamy awakened readers to the connection between their personal plant choices and massive declines in North American wildlife populations. Rather than dish out blame, Tallamy presents his readers with an opportunity and a solution: plant more native plants.
In 2020 he published the accessible and powerful New York Times bestseller “Nature’s Best Hope”. In this compelling follow up he expands his thinking beyond the individual garden bed. Tallamy invites readers to become a part of a networked community and a movement to save the world.
As highly as I recommend both of these books (but if you have to choose one, choose his most recent: “Nature’s Best Hope”), there is a level of detail missing for avid gardeners. In 2014’s The Living Landscape Tallamy teams up with accomplished landscape designer and photographer Ricke Darke for a detailed exploration of how to successfully implement a gardening strategy respectful and supportive of nature, while maintaining a functional and beautiful landscape.
I applaud their practical approach.
While some advocates for rewilding our urban environments like the UK’s Mary Reynolds call for handing the land back over to nature, Darke & Tallamy provide a much more workable solution: space that accommodates both humans and nature. This is an approach to saving the world embraced by the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation. These organizations and many more recognize that you and I are a ‘part of’ and not ‘apart from’ nature. They know a personal connection can be the spark igniting a lifelong passion for protecting nature and how one’s own yard can contain nature enough to provide that spark.
Luckily for all of us, the feedback loop for gardeners is fast; there is still a chance for millions of North Americans to personally reconnect with nature at home. Incorporate the thinking outlined by Tallamy & Darke and nature will respond. And quickly.
Tallamy & Darke use the framework of layers, going beyond the physical layers Master Gardeners will be familiar with (canopy, understory, etc.) to include ‘temporal’ layers which ensure people’s needs are accounted for as well.
The first third of the book focuses on gardening-ecology. The pair then shifts gears to provide practical examples from Darke’s time spent designing Living Landscapes. With ample photos they show us examples from Longwood Gardens (near Philadelphia) where Darke worked for nearly 20 years and from his own personal gardens. Practising what they preach, the pair uses their framework of layers to explore what Darke has been able to achieve in creating functional, beautiful landscapes that celebrate and nurture wildlife.
The final section of the book takes a deep dive into plants for the “mid-Atlantic” region. While some plants can also be found in our ecozone, there are better resources to delve into if you are interested in the ecological role of plants native to our ecoregion.
I have read this book twice (the second time skipping past the deep dive into Mid-Atlantic plants), and “two-thumbs up” recommend it for anyone looking to help heal the world through their gardening. You have more power to help than you may know!
Unlike Tallamy’s other books this is a bona-fide coffee table book, but unlike many coffee table books, this one is not only beautiful, it will also make you smarter.
In my search to find like-minded people out to save the planet, and to learn more about native plant gardening, I have joined with a 5 year membership.
I am very much aligned with their mission:
"Our key purpose is to provide information and inspire an appreciation of native plants with an aim to restoring healthy ecosystems across the continent. It is our belief that nature belongs in urban, suburban, and rural areas as much as in remote areas."
I look forward to continued learning along with my new friends from across North America.
I have gone ahead and added ratios to each garden bed on my property. Rather than review each list of plant materials exhaustively which seemed a momentous task, I gave myself 5 minutes to come up with my gut perception of each bed.
So these ratios will change not only as I update my beds but they may also change as I make the time to review their make up more closely.
Nonetheless it feels great being one step closer to having my starting point defined on this journey to sustainable gardening.
I have a goal of 70% productive plants in my yard.
To have the impact I'd like this to have, my definition of 'plants' needs to include my non-native lawn.
On the advice of ecology's rock star Doug Tallamy, I am focusing my energy on reducing my lawn above all else. Only after I establish the new beds in my front yard will I return my attention to the rest of my gardens and begin 'weeding out' the non-native plants and replacing them with natives*.
To understand where I am starting from, and how far I have to go, I am taking some simple steps many gardeners might enjoy, some of which I've been meaning to do for years.
Step 1: Complete: map all of my gardens. Thanks Google Street View.
Step 2: assign square footage to each bed - this one I've been avoiding even though I am quite curious. It's not like I dislike math, but this task has lingered... and lingered.
Step 3: put a percentage against the amount of native plants in each bed.
Step 4: calculate the total square footage and %-per-bed to get an overall % for my property.
Steps 3 & 4 I will repeat on an annual basis, giving myself a 'report card' of sorts on progress towards my goal.
To help measure the success of my plans I will also continue using iNaturalist to document the fauna in my yard since ultimately my goal is about defending biodiversity. I've already seen an increase in life as I have moved towards natives and want to have concrete documentation to back up my anecdotal experience.
*I sometimes use "productive" and sometimes "native". What gives? While I will generally look to use native plants, if there is documented proof a plant can play an ecological role in my garden, such as Globe Thistle which is beloved by pollinators, I am open to including it.
With lots of feedback from an engaged Facebook group on native Manitoba plants I have made some revisions to my garden map. Before I share the updated version though I'd like to share this overview of my front yard.
It conveys more information about how the light falls and which views might be important, such as out our front windows and for guests arriving up the driveway and sidewalk.
Feedback from gardeners with experience with these native plants has led me to reconsider 3 areas so far: my grass choices, the degree to which I can support plants needing moist conditions and to not forget to check. Every. Single. Plant. for how deer and rabbit feel about it.
In 'phase 2' I may create the physical environment for plants needing wet conditions, for now though Ridell's Goldenrod has been replaced by Showy and Stiff Goldenrod and Turtlehead's departure will allow me to expand my patch of Culver's Root.
I have a draft of what my new 550 sq ft front habitat garden bed will look like.
While the shape is settled, consider it effectively a blank slate. I encourage you to share your own thoughts about the design with me in the comments.
Save the planet. Do my part to combat our biodiversity crisis.
Increase the amount of habitat on my property using native plants.
Reducing the least productive and least sustainable portion of my greenspace, the lawn.
Maintain the look of a curated perennial garden.
To broadly shift consumer behaviour it will become increasingly important for people to be inspired by beautiful home gardens with primarily native plants. To that end:
In October I took the first big step by putting in the new (lasagna) garden bed. Racing against the changing seasons, I finished just as the snow fell. There is no better incentive to plan a garden than to have the empty bed prepped and ready for next season.
All feedback is welcomed, in particular:
This article I wrote for my local Master Gardener Association's newsletter received enough feedback I know I am not alone in my awakening to the importance of native plants and the vital role gardeners can play in getting nature back on track.
This past winter as the climate crisis and scale of the biodiversity crisis became more apparent to me, I had an epiphany regarding the importance of gardening with native plants. It’s no exaggeration to now say I see the gardening world with new eyes. My evaluation of a garden is no longer just about its beauty; I now also evaluate it based on how interconnected it is with its surrounding environment. And I’ve realized just how under-represented native plants (and the ecosystems they support) are in our gardens. Including my own.
Ever since I had my yard certified as a ‘Naturescape’ by Fort Whyte Alive and registered as a Monarch Waystation over 5 years ago , I think of my yard as habitat as much as pretty gardens. Thanks to the influence of the other Master Gardeners in the River Heights study group and the passionate gardeners in the Prairie Naturals Gardening Group I understand much better how my current gardens do not provide nearly as much habitat as I once thought. With vast swaths of lily-of-the-valley, bishop’s goutweed and daylilies, I don’t have the volume of native plants to support the ecosystem I thought I was supporting.
It was a struggle to admit it.
I even went through a number of the stages of grief as I came to terms with this recognition.
• Denial – I already have a certified wildlife garden, surely it must be good enough?
• Anger – why do so many retailers seduce me with the beauty of non-natives while making it so difficult to purchase native plants?
• Bargaining – what per cent of my gardens need to shift? Which non-native plants can I keep?
• Depression – I am going to need to undo much of the work of the last few years; how am I going to explain to others, including my husband, our wasted energy and money?
• Acceptance – I am already seeing the evidence – more butterflies and other pollinators – as a result of a recent increase in native plants in my gardens; I can hardly wait to see what more will join me as I provide a space for it.
Not all non-natives are equal.
According to Doug Tallamy, researcher and author of the seminal book on creating habitat in our urban spaces “Bringing Nature Home”, there is room for both native and non-native plants: “It’s not as simple as plant natives and save the world. I’d use some non-natives, so long as they’re not invasive…the goal I’d focus on more than anything in home gardens is reducing the lawn.”
And so this is the path I will take. I will continue to prioritize my long-term strategy of annually reducing the size of my lawn, primarily replacing it with native plants. At the same time, I am now paying attention to the non-natives already in my yard in a way I did not prior to this year, by trying to determine which are being used by local fauna and which simply do not appear to be giving enough back.
Daylilies (originally from Asia), German Iris, Chinese Astilbe & Jacob’s Ladder (originally from Europe) all appear relatively bereft of pollinators and have been added to my list of likely candidates for removal. Blessedly on the other hand my beloved Stachys Hummelo and Echinops, while non-natives, are absolute bee magnets and will not only remain but be given more room to support their pollinators.
From now on I will no longer move these plants from my garden to a friend’s, or pack them up for sale at a charitable fundraising plant sale. That would only be shifting the problem. Instead, I will take the dramatic step of having a farewell toast and then composting these past garden treasures.
I am aiming to have 75% native species, a number put forth by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service and as good as any goal I could find. It will take me time to get there and I look forward to learning more along the way. There are so many people and organizations so much further ahead than me – what a great opportunity to focus my learning!
If you are also interested in learning more about striking the right balance between crucial native plants and the potential of beloved pollinator-friendly non-natives, here are some suggestions based on my early research:
• Canadian Wildlife Federation Gardening for Wildlife
• Doug Tallamy BringingNatureHome.net
• Info on the Pollinator Victory Garden
• Mary Reynolds WeAreTheArk.org
• RHS Native and non-native plants for pollinators
If you are ready to take some action, here are some ideas on how you can join in and help ensure we are supporting biodiversity in our gardens.
• Engage in a citizen science project:
o Bumble Bee Watch
o Go Wild Manitoba
o Nativars Research Project
o The Great Sunflower Project
o Government of Canada’s Citizen Science Portal
• Certify your yard
o Canadian Wildlife Federation “Wildlife-friendly Habitat”
o David Suzuki Foundation Butterflyway Project
o Fort Whyte Alive “Naturescape”
o Monarch Watch Waystation Program
o The North America Butterfly Association Butterfly Garden and Habitat Program
If you have resource recommendations for me, or stories of how you are changing your own gardening habits to play a bigger role in our planet’s recovery, I’d love to hear from you.
Much has changed since I last regularly blogged in 2015. While I converted about 500 sq ft of lawn into garden and added a swimming pool, in the grand scheme of things, my gardens have not changed much. So what has?
My own awareness has changed.
In May of 2019 the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) declared the world's biodiversity crisis was unprecedented in human history with around 1 million animal and plant species threatened with extinction. Many within decades, not some distant future.
Then in November of 2019 over 11,000 scientists from around the planet unequivocally stated the world was in a global climate emergency. Further, they made it crystal clear we must change how we live if we are to secure a sustainable future.
Luckily for our planet I am not alone. Though scientists have been warning about declining biodiversity for years, the message had not caught on with the public. People adapt to gradual change and we literally didn't see what we were losing.
With increasing climate disasters around the world, people are more open now to understanding the whole picture, including the impact of species loss and declining biodiversity.
What have I done with this new knowledge?
I increased my donations to environmental organizations, changed how my family eats and shops, I regularly sign petitions and write government - and I began to think critically about the impact my favourite hobby is having on our planet. Despite already having a certified 'wildlife-friendly' yard, I have begun to change how I garden.
Here is some of what I have learned so far:
"biodiversity jenga" by Kalense Kid is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
"Invest in our childrens future, leave coal in the past - Climate crisis rally Melbourne - IMG 7672 (49569082897).jpg" by John Englart from Fawkner, Australia is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0
|View from the driveway of the Sun Garden|
|Yellow Heliopsis form a border around the whole are, not just this garden.|
|Blanket Flower, Poppy, Heliopsis, Sea Holly, Iris, Crocosmia, Liatris|
|Left, back to the driveway|
|Right, into the rock garden|
|Ostrich Plume Astilbe, year 2|
|Irish moss, year 1 and doing well between paving stones|
|Stonecrop ground cover (bottom right) all native, simply grouped together for effect|
|Entrance to the Rock Garden from the Monet Garden|
|The curved back border reflects where this garden was lawn 4 years ago.|
|A hot mess with Forget-me-nots taking over.|
|An endless supply of daylilies means they are always used in my planters.|