Article content

A simple plant giveaway sparks awareness of the importance of pollinator gardens to the community 

Advertisement

Article content

How do you convince more people to grow butterfly gardens (a.k.a. pollinator garden), which are beneficial not only to butterflies, but bees and other pollinating species?

It begins with one simple step says Pollinate Collingwood’s Jessica Lehr. “Put plants into people’s hands.” Which is precisely what Lehr was doing, when I came across the Pollinate Collingwood booth on the town’s main drag a few weeks back.

She and her peers were handing out free pollinator plants to passers by, using this green gift as a way to initiate a friendly discussion around the critical role pollinator plants have on our ecosystem.

For instance, did you know that somewhere between 75 and 95 per cent of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators? Or that one out of three bites of food you eat exist thanks to pollinators? Yet despite the critical role they play, pollinators around the world are under threat from everything from habitat loss to pesticides.

Advertisement

Article content

In the face of this challenge, groups like Pollinate Collingwood have been inspired by the David Suzuki Foundation’s Butterfly Project, which as the group’s website conveys “is a volunteer-led movement that’s bringing nature home to neighbourhoods… one butterfly planting at a time.”

Remarkably, in the four years since the project was launched, over 400 cities across the country have gotten on board, creating over 1,000 butterfly gardens that are home to over 50,000 wildflowers.

After walking home from my encounter with Lehr with my first pollinator plant in hand (in my case, an Anise Hyssop which attracts not only butterflies and bees but also hummingbirds), I circled back a few days later to talk to her along with fellow Pollinate Collingwood volunteer Carolyn Thickett.

Advertisement

Article content

The two explained how in addition to inspiring individual homeowners to do their part – whether it’s to plant an entire pollinator garden – or just one native species, the other critical contribution the group has made has been to work with the town to create pollinator gardens throughout the community.

“Our original commitment was to put in 12 community gardens last year,” says Lehr “but we ended up with 15, plus another nine school gardens.”

And the buzz generated by these projects has given impetus to an additional seven installations this year, for a grand total of 34 pollinator gardens and counting.

The participation of schools is no accident, but rather an important part of educating community members about pollinator gardens, including kids… whose future is so dependent on maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Advertisement

Article content

Thickett, who has a Master of Environmental Science degree from the University of Toronto and is currently a research coordinator for the Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at York University, says homeowners needn’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of starting a pollinator garden.

“Even if you get just one native plant into the ground… it helps (contribute to a more biodiverse community),” observes Thickett adding that ideally residents that are more space constricted adopt the same mindset. “If you only have a spot for one pot on your patio or deck, put a native plant in.”

For the more curious, Thickett says you can learn a lot about native plants and which ones are best suited for your back (or front) yard, by going to  sites such as onplants.ca (geared more for Ontario species) or the Plant Pollinators Toolkit (hamiltonpollinatorparadise.org), which as the name suggests is a Hamilton, Ont. inspired initiative, but offers tips for anyone interested in setting up a pollinator garden.

Advertisement

Article content

For newbie pollinator gardeners (which applies to most of us), Thickett recommends that you take note of lighting, soil and moisture conditions vis-à-vis the plants you choose for your home, using the above-mentioned sites or your local gardening centre for guidance.

Based on the footprint of the garden you have in mind, “you should also consider what the full size of the plant will be and whether it spreads,” says Thickett. “And ideally you want the plants to bloom across all seasons.”

Examples of plants that will provide your pollinators with flowers spring, summer and fall that she cites include: the Hoary Vervain or New England Aster in direct sunlight locations; Wild Columbine, Sky Blue Aster or Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod for partial sun; and such all white flowers as Foam Flower, Canada Anemone and Heart-Leaved Aster for shady areas.

Advertisement

Article content

Beyond your own garden, if you really get the pollinator garden bug, consider starting your own local Butterfly Project. Lehr says the Pollinate Collingwood project began with baby steps. “We posted notices in the library (asking for volunteers), and we also reached out to the town (for permission to establish gardens on city-owned land), and from the outset, they’ve been incredibly supportive.”

The group also connected directly with the Suzuki Foundation to learn best practices, find inspiration and share ideas with other butterfly garden friendly communities.

Above all if you want to spread the word about the importance of pollinator gardens where you live, Thickett says “just talk to other people about how we can garden better and (in doing so) give back. Maybe we’re not going to change the world, but you can change your community and make it more sustainable.”

Mark Wessel lives in a Collingwood, Ont. and is a passionate advocate for living more sustainably at home and in the greater community. Visit him at www.markdouglaswessel.com

Advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.