This is my fist foray into the world of blogging. I expect that as I learn what I’m doing, my blog will evolve. I hope you will come along on this journey with me, and that you will find something of value in what I post here.
The main purpose of this blog is to share my knowledge, experiences and passion around growing native plants in my garden. I plan to offer suggestions on which plants to grow where, things to watch for in the garden, and write the occasional book review on some of my favourite native plant books. I will likely, on occasion, wax philosophically on the Zen of growing native plants. I’m located in southwestern Ontario, Canada, but many of the plants I will likely discuss are native throughout the southern Great Lakes region of Ontario and the Northeastern US. Some will grow well beyond this region.
But first, a bit about me. When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot. We lived in many places – from an apartment in town to a hobby farm in rural Ontario, and we travelled a lot. I’ve lived in the US (Delaware) and in New Zealand. But most of my life has been in southern Ontario, though I’ve been fortunate enough to travel (and work) in Europe and Africa.
And most of my life I’ve been gardening. Even as a child, I loved to help my parents in the vegetable garden, or to plant flowers and trees around the house. By the time I was a teenager, I had my own garden space. Even when we moved to New Zealand (I was 19 years old), I took over a part of the back yard and planted a veggie garden.
Not long after returning to Canada, I got married and we bought a farm (a long story) and we planted a large garden – about a ¼ acre of veggies. In fact, until I was 30 years old, I figured if it wasn’t edible, it wasn’t worth growing. Soon, however, I added herbs to my garden, and that led to growing flowers. At the time, I was fascinated by exotic flowers – the more unusual the better.
Then, in 1993, at the ripe old age of 40, my family status changed and I was able to pursue a lifelong desire to go to university. There I studied Natural Resources Management, with a minor in Landscape Ecology, and went on to do a Masters’ degree in Environmental Biology, followed by a post graduate certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS – aka computer mapping). Then, at 50 years of age, I was starting life over and got a job teaching GIS and other things at a small satellite campus of the University of Guelph in the then new Environmental Management diploma program. I bought a little war-time bungalow in town, with a large half-acre yard containing a lawn and a couple of large maple trees.
It didn’t take me long to start making flower beds in which I planted the things I knew – hostas, rose bushes, petunias, day lilies, periwinkle, goutweed, etc. Little did I realize at the time what the implications were with my plant choices.
Then one day I saw a packet of seeds called “Wildflower Mix”. As I was just creating a new flower bed, I thought this would be an interesting thing to add, so I planted my wildflowers. It was when I saw California poppies and bachelor’s buttons blooming that I thought – wait a minute. Those aren’t from around here. And so I started to research “wildflowers” vs “native plants”. Boy, was I in for a surprise. Of the dozen or more species in that seed packet, not a single one was native to southern Ontario.
In fact, I discovered that so many of the roadside wildflowers I loved as a child were actually garden escapes whose ancestors came from Europe, Asia, Africa and even South America when early European settlers brought a piece of their gardens from home to the new world. Mullein, burdock, Canada thistle, chicory, dandelions, bladder campion – the list goes on and on.
That was in 2005, and so began my transition from “gardener” to “native plant gardener”. And over the next several years, I slowly transformed my yard to 99% plants native to southern Ontario, with the remaining 1% being what could be called near-native.
In 2014, I moved to Manitoba and spent the next two and a half years as the academic chair for the Agriculture, Environment and Horticulture programs at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon. While there, I volunteered with the Spruce Woods Provincial Park to create native plant gardens around the visitor’s centre.
In 2018, after a stint as academic chair of the School of Natural Resources in Lindsay, ON, I moved back to my house in Ridgetown, and semi-retired, teaching one course each winter and gardening from May to December. As of 2020, I am now fully retired, spending my time gardening from March to December, and writing books and playing and writing music in the winter. You can find me regularly contributing my 2 cents on the Ontario Native Plant Gardening Facebook group, ReLeaf Chatham-Kent, and others like them.
Happy gardening – with native plants!