In a time when our news and media are full of stories about environmental degradation, we can feel powerless compared to such a large problem. However, you need not worry, there are always things we as individuals can do to have a massive impact on the environment and ecosystems here at home. And I mean at home, I mean; in your yard.
If this winter you have been dreaming about what you will plant this year and decided you want a shrub here, a climber there – the fun part starts; choosing plants, and planting. Choosing the best plants can be daunting as there is so much variety and colour in the garden centre, it is easy to get off track. Luckily my friends at the Couchiching Conservancy have pointed me in the direction of the most amazing tool. It is the Grow Me Instead guide from the Ontario Invasive Plant Council. It is an incredibly handy guide that steers us toward the healthiest plants for our environment, and helps us stay away from potentially harmful species. In the Orillia area, we are lucky enough to need both the Southern Ontario and Northern Ontario guides. The guide focuses on native species, and species that have been found to be non-invasive in our climate.
The other great benefit to gardeners is that when you choose a plant that has evolved in Ontario over millennia, you will ultimately have less work to do. There will be less soil prep, as it will be adapted to our conditions. It will be able to withstand a harsh winter easily, and take less preparation in the fall. These plants are also more rugged when it comes to garden pests. If you enjoy having birds, bees and other wildlife in your garden, the shrubs and flowers in this guide have in many cases evolved along with local animals to provide them with a healthy harvest of pollen in the summer, and berries through the winter. This will save on bird seed, if you feed them as much as I do!
“An incredibly handy guide
that steers us toward the
healthiest plants for our
environment, and helps us
stay away from potentially
With all of these fantastic reasons to use the guide, I decided to test it out and look for some of the things I have been dreaming of all winter. There are four things I am after; a wisteria, a colourful climber, a large shrub for privacy and a flowering ground cover for the ‘kids garden’ I am creating. I thought this guide might be more of a list of ‘dont’s ‘ then ‘do’s’ but the guide has beautiful options for each of the perennials I wanted to add this year. If you want wisteria, go for American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), it is the variety that belongs on this continent. The flowering groundcover I have chosen is Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) which will reward us with berries after it flowers. For privacy and for local bird life, Downy and Smooth Serviceberry (Amelanchier aborea and A. laevis) are a great choice. Finally Jackman Clematis (Clematis x jackmanii) is the perfect option for an easy to maintain colourful climber.
I have found far more plants I am excited to look into, and I cannot wait to start planting. This booklet gave me several options for each item I wanted, and when I plant them I know that I will get great performance from a non-invasive plant, with minimal work. I can also rest assured that it will not be out competing through reseeding, or creeping roots and destroying our natural environments. Instead, these plants will be providing a healthy garden habitat for local wildlife.
So, I encourage you to have a look and to do something great for our environment in your own backyard. Check for these plants in our local garden centres, then sit back, relax and enjoy knowing you have made a difference.
Courtney Baker is a volunteer with The Couchiching Conservancy.