Things have changed sig­nif­i­cantly in the Cana­dian gar­den

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Cullen Green File Mark Cullen is lawn & gar­den ex­pert for Home Hard­ware, mem­ber of the Or­der of Canada, au­thor and broad­caster. Get his free monthly news­let­ter at markcullen. com. Look for his new best seller, ‘The New Cana­dian Gar­den’ pub­lished by D

Things have changed sig­nif­i­cantly in the Cana­dian gar­den in re­cent years and it is worth not­ing some of these changes.

Not long ago, the typ­i­cal im­age of a Cana­dian gar­den con­sisted of a broad sweep of im­pa­tiens across the front of the house, a solid mass of un­bro­ken colour that knocked your eyes out. This fram­ing a man­i­cured, weed-free lawn trimmed neat and clean.

Things have changed sig­nif­i­cantly in the Cana­dian gar­den in re­cent years and it is worth not­ing some of these changes. Here’s how:

Bring on the in­sects. Take tent cater­pil­lars for in­stance. My Dad would cut a lar­vae­laden limb out of a crab-ap­ple tree and burn the colony to get rid of it. I am sure this gave him much sat­is­fac­tion.

A few years ago, I de­cided to just leave the tent cater­pil­lars alone in my row of 25 crab ap­ples. I ob­served that many of the trees in the na­tive for­est along the high­way pro­vide habi­tat to cater­pil­lars and no one takes them out or burns them. And now I re­alise that they serve a use­ful pur­pose in the nat­u­ral scheme of things. They are food for many for­ag­ing birds in­clud­ing insectivores, many of which are in de­cline. They need all of the help we can give them, so why not ig­nore the tent cater­pil­lars and let na­ture take its’ course? I de­cided to do this and it took two years for the birds to dis­cover that I was no longer re­mov­ing them from tree limbs be­fore they did the job for me. Voila! Less work for me, bet­ter for the birds.

We do not kill in­sects to the same ex­tent that we once did. Na­tive in­sects (vs im­ported, in­va­sive ones like the Emer­ald Ash Borer) are part of the nat­u­ral web. Apart from our gen­eral dis­taste for wasps in our soft drinks and ants in our pa­tio, we are grad­u­ally learn­ing to live and let live.

Killing weeds. Just a few years ago we pulled milk­weed from our gar­dens. It is a ‘weed’ after all it is in the name, right? Now we pay good money for milk­weed seeds to pro­vide habi­tat and food for mi­gra­tory monarch but­ter­flies. When your kids come home from school and ask about your milk­weed, how are you to an­swer? Bet­ter stock up now be­fore you must an­swer to a new en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble gen­er­a­tion.

Rot and De­cay are our Friends. Re­mem­ber when we blew our fallen leaves into piles and stuffed them into brown pa­per bags, dragged them to the curb for the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to haul them away? In the spring, we drove to a de­pot to pick up ‘free’ com­post or worse, some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of­fered the com­post for sale back to the tax pay­ers who gave them the raw ma­te­rial in the first place.

Now we rake (not blow) the leaves off the lawn and on to the gar­den. Then we go inside and watch the foot­ball game. Or take the dog for a walk in the park.

Over the spring months, those leaves dis­ap­pear as for­ag­ing worms pull them into the soil to con­vert them into ni­tro­gen­rich

earth­worm cast­ings. Bet­ter for your gar­den, less work, saves the mu­nic­i­pal­ity money.

Wildlife Habi­tat. With over 800 species of na­tive Cana­dian bees we are in­deed blessed with a host of nat­u­ral pol­li­na­tors, many of which are in de­cline. Many are more ef­fec­tive at pol­li­na­tion than honey bees that are a Euro­pean im­port.

Now we pro­vide habi­tat for our dear wildlife: ma­son bee houses, in­sect ho­tels, toad homes, wa­ter fea­tures that breed frogs, toads, sala­man­ders, dragon flies and newts.

We are get­ting much bet­ter at this but have a way to go. I pre­dict that we will have as many in­sect en­hanc­ing de­vices in our back­yards in 20 years as we have bird feed­ers now. Stay tuned.


Milk­weed makes good food for some in­sects.

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