Published in the Toronto Star July 30, 2016
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” ~Native American Proverb
I recently completed my annual tour of the country and I have much to report. While Canadians are gradually become aware of climate change and the impact that it is having on our daily lives, there is a sea of change in the gardening business.
My travels have taken me to many points in Ontario, Quebec and out west. My relationship with Home Hardware requires me to travel to some remote places like Fort St John in northern B.C. and points between here and there. My launch of a new book, The New Canadian Garden, has also required that I travel around the country talking with and listening to Canadians who share this passion that we call ‘gardening’.
Here is what Canadians are talking about, with regard to our most popular outdoor pastime, gardening:
- Goodbye bees, hello heightened awareness! The decline of the honey bee population has propagated so much discussion about pollinators and related topics that the ad campaign for Honey Nut Cheerios blew everyone out of the water. They launched the campaign at Canada Blooms this past March, expecting to give away about 35 million wild flower seeds across the country. The demand was so great that they gave away a total of more than 100 million seeds. While we are sensitive to the general decline of bees, it is important to note that we have more than 700 native bee species in Canada.
- Insect hotels. While many Canadians are scratching their heads over the notion of attracting beneficial insects to their yards and gardens, many others are embracing the idea. I have become acutely aware of the situation while traveling to the U.K. over the last few years, where they are a generation ahead of us on this one. Mason bee ‘huts’, ‘hotels’, ‘habitat’: call them what you want, retailers are surprised by the demand for such things. I predict that ‘insect hotels’, butterfly habitat, mason bee huts and the like, will be so popular in 20 years that they will be as common in Canadian backyards as bird feeders are now: more so in urban areas where awareness seems highest.
- Native plants. This is not a revolutionary idea but one that has been evolving for about 25 years. Canadians are planting more native species. They are generally lower maintenance than their hybrid cousins, they are reliably winter hardy when grown in their native zone and they attract pollinators quite nicely. A three-point punch for native plants! Garden retailers have caught on to this idea and are now offering a wide selection of them. Another big change to Canadian gardening.
- It is all about the food. While attending a book-signing/speaking engagement in Ottawa this season, I was introduced to the daughter of one guest: a 22 year old ‘first time gardener’. I am always interested to know what draws a young person into the gardening fold, and I am surprised when the reason is anything other than food. Indeed, Olivia was getting into raised bed veggie gardening. Like every generation before them, the 20 and 30 something’s are influencing all of us in profound ways, including how we garden. Seed suppliers tell me that they are having trouble keeping vegetable and herb seeds on the racks. Especially kale seeds. Go figure. Have the kids actually tasted this stuff? I am more about carrots and tomatoes. The point, of course, is that we are growing food plants, including fruit trees and berry plants, in greater numbers than we have seen since the Victory Gardens of the Second World War.
- Birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. It is almost wrong to lump all of these together in a sentence as each of them represents a ‘stand alone’ topic. However, you are busy and I only have so much space here, so let’s consider the impact of this category of ‘gardening’ that is growing in popularity almost as quickly as food gardening. Today we are beginning to realise the positive impact that our actions have on the entire natural cycle that occurs just outside of our ‘back door’ when we attract birds, butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden. First, feeding them bird seed, hummingbird nectar and planting nectar and pollen rich flowering plants helps to bring them to your yard. Water features provide life and habitat for a host of desirable wildlife, especially still water (with a gold fish in it to control mosquitoes).
In the end, it is all about the frogs. If you manage to attract frogs, salamanders and toads to your yard (which you will do with the right plants and water) you will have passed the toughest biodiversity test of all: these creatures breathe through their skin and therefore are among the most environmentally sensitive.
When you find a frog in your yard you are a champion of the environment.
This is what leading-edge gardening is all about today.