gardenIt’s interesting to think of a garden as the place where nature and culture meet, maybe where they overlap. What we plant, what we think is attractive, how we think about land ownership – these all come from our culture.

It is becoming more and more apparent however that our culture is having a devastating impact on nature. We are witnessing an alarming rate of species decline – both plant and animal - in part because we are losing so much of the habitat that “nature” requires for survival. When we add to this the stress on plants and animals brought on by climate change, we are seeing that nature is in trouble.

This may require us to look at our gardens differently. Rather than looking at our garden or yard as a bit of the earth that we own, and can do with as we like, what if we were to acknowledge that our gardens are a part of nature – not separate from it at all? What difference would that make?

Ecologists describe the parts of an ecosystem as having different functions. Often these functions are related to the needs of human beings. Our ecosystem filters our water, cleans our air etc. Different parts of an ecosystem – say, the plants – also have different functions related to other parts of the same system.

If we see our gardens as a part of the larger ecosystem around us would we plant different plants? In addition to how pretty a plant looks in our garden, could we also consider what the function of this plant might be? If the plant had to have a function- such as providing pollen for a bee’s breakfast, or a nesting place for a bird, or some leaves that a caterpillar would eat on its way to becoming a beautiful pollinating butterfly – what difference would that make?

Many ecologists are now saying that it would make a big difference. Some say that it would make a crucial difference. There are thousands of acres of privately owned land in Canada that could provide natural habitat to many stressed or endangered species. An American ecologist, Doug Tallamy, is promoting the establishment of “HomeGrown National Park”. A Canadian initiative – IntheZone Gardening from Carolinian Canada and the World Wildlife Fund describes the linkage of natural areas through connections and corridors created by home gardens.

One way to begin to think of one’s garden this way is to think of Keystone species. These are species of plants that are especially important to the ecology of a certain area. They are like the keystone of an ancient arch – the stone that keeps the whole thing from falling down, though in nature it may not be quite that simple.

Establishing the Keystone species for a particular eco-zone is a complicated process and not without its controversies. These are the species known to be important in the ecology of Grey Bruce: (no doubt this list is not complete)

Trees : Oak, Willow, Native Cherry, Birch, Aspen, Poplar, Maple and Cedar.
Shrubs : Blueberry, Holly, Witchhazel, Prunus species and Dogwood
Flowers : Goldenrod, Asters, Wild Strawberry, Wild Sunflower, Joe Pye Weed, Violets, Fireweed and Wild Geranium

What if we all chose just one of those plants and put them in our gardens? What difference could that make?

Grey County Master Gardeners is hosting a Free Zoom Seminar on principals of ecological gardening – presented by Julie Lamberts of By the Bluff Nursery on the Bruce Peninsula. To register go to

source: Grey County Master Gardeners


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