Thursday, March 24, 2011

UN report on Pollinators and a Toronto perspective

On this blog I try to point out the fun and positive things we can each do to preserve pollinators in our garden and our environment. The flip side of this is that there are problems, sometimes severe problems, pollinators are facing.

A new United Nations report outlines the magnitude of the problem. The summary of the report points to a variety of causes, and focuses on honeybees. However as we heard at Canada Blooms, the problem is acute for most bee species, not just honeybees. Professor Laurence Packer told us last Saturday that is his view the biggest problems are pesticides, disease,and the worst of all words combination of these: many pesticides that don't kill bees outright weaken their immune systems. So while the immediate cause of death of a colony may be a disease, the original cause was sublethal doses of pesticides the colony was exposed to. A group of French scientists have demonstrated this for one disease-pesticide combination. There have been persistent rumors of US government scientists whose research on this issue was suppressed by higher-ups. For a farmer-oriented summary of this, look at Farmer Fred's Rant.

This is a fairly down, unhappy report, so I'm going to leave it at that for now. I'll be back soon with some interesting pollinator plants for the spring pond and wetland garden.

Gosh, no pretty pictures? Must be that I find this side of the equation too sad to sweeten it with photo icing.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The weekend at Canada Blooms

Well, this is one post that's definitely a bit late, since it's already the weekend as I type it! However, if you are a night-owl web-addict, you should know that there is going to be a great talk on Saturday morning, March 19 at Canada Blooms. Laurence Packer will be talking on "How to Conserve Canada's Pollinators"

I can personally testify that not only is Laurence a real expert on this subject, he's a great speaker who leavens his serious message with humour and interesting anecdotes. If you're around Canada Blooms on Saturday, try to catch his talk.

Our website at is still new and a bit awkward, but all babies start that way, don't they? I apologize, we did pass out some literature that said "", omitting the "www." - and due to the wonderful technical complexities of the Web, you must use the www. prefix.

Last post I promised to put up more images of our garden building - but I don't have pictures of two of the most important people who helped build it, Bill Cheng and Jocelyn Weatherbe. I think they took a few photos and until I get them I'll divert you with a few more images of what the Blooms site looked like before opening to the public.

Charlie Dobbins' Forest with giant bin in foreground.

Early construction on neighboring water garden

This pre-construction site looks almost like a conceptual art exhibition

Trees in bags

Charlie's forest with rhododendrons

The Forest Fringe

Worker next to vast sand pile

The large and echoing spaces behind the scenes in the early part of the construction of the Canada Blooms show were a fascinating place to be. Show plantmeister Charlie Dobbin coordinated the arrival and care of vast amounts of plant material, making a forest in a warehouse. A few sparrows which appear to live in the Direct Energy Centre enjoyed the unaccustomed greenery - their chirps were often drowned by earsplitting sounds of stone saws, back-hoes, and other motorized equipment going about the heavy work of moving tons and tons and tons of rock, sand, soil, and trees onto the show floor.

One more day to the show - next post will have pictures of our garden in it's final state.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Our garden at Canada Blooms!

The last 6 days have been a whirl, and I'm a bit dazed due to lack of sleep. But I'm happy to report that our pollinator garden at Canada Blooms has been a great success. Many thanks to the donors and volunteers who have made this possible!

I've been too busy fetching, hauling, sawing, fastening, shoveling, planting, watering, and tidying to take good pictures of the final result, but I will share a few interim shots now and more tomorrow after I've had some sleep...

Jonathan Wong in the garden at the start of construction

my brother Gene came all the way from Timmins to help!

filling the pond in the wetland area

planting at last! Heather Matthews, Kelly Mullan, Rachel Weston, and Mary-Louise Craven

Katie Kurtin arranges pussy willow and red osier dogwood stems

one view of the almost finished garden

A final quick note - a very early, very rough draft of our website is now taking form at This blog is part of it, and there will be a lot more added over the next few weeks.

Saturday, March 5, 2011 is the new home of this blog - more plant pics

I'm slowly catching up with my to-do list, which included getting a real website for the Pollinator Gardens Project. Not quite there yet, but the domain now exists, and should take you right to this blog. In the coming weeks we'll add real web pages.

Back to the increasingly fraught saga of forcing plants for our garden at the Canada Blooms show in less than two weeks time. Last post I showed you pictures of bloodroot or "Canada Puccoon", a name I still love. Today I'll show you a few more of the plants that are doing well, and talk about some of the ones that aren't and why they aren't.

York University greenhouses
But first, let me introduce you to our sponsors...or some of them. The folks at the York University Dept. of Biology (where I work) have been very kind in allowing us to put a few plants in their greenhouses to wake them up.

The greenhouses are warm, and have high-intensity lights to help deal with the weak sun at this season. This has been ideal for the Scarlet Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.

Asclepias curassavica buds
Although the Scarlet Milkweed is not native to Ontario, it is gorgeous, easy to grow, and monarchs do encounter it at the south of their migration range. And, since there was no guarantee that I was going to be able to get the mid-summer blooming native milkweeds into flower, I thought it would be prudent to go Scarlet. I grew some plants last spring from seed that were kept in pots far too small for them, and then allowed to languish miserably in a cool window in my house from November through January. They looked terrible when I took them into the greenhouse, but began to perk up in just a few days.

Asclepias curassavica in bloom
A few weeks later, here they are in full, wonderful bloom. They tend to get scraggly, but in a warm greenhouse (thank you, York!) they can be cut back and will grow new blooming shoots in less than a month. Currently I am playing a dangerous game of cutting back lots of the plants, hoping they will recover in time for the show.

Viola canadensis bud
Meanwhile, a number of potted plants have been languishing in durance vile in our very cold, dark, unheated garage. They have been frozen solid since December. Many of our natives won't grow though unless they get a cold dormancy. So, a month ago I started taking them out and trying to get them to grow. This Canada Violet looks ready to rock so is back in my cold greenhouse, saving itself for the show.

Solomon's Seal in bud
As a rule once I get plants to show flower buds in the warm greenhouse I bring them back home and keep them cool. They will have a few days in the show garden before the public arrives to warm up and get going. This Solomon's Seal is about there, but may need a few days more of warmth before the show starts. I'm feeling a bit like a soccer or hockey mom, shuttling my "kids" back and forth between greenhouses.

At the suggestion of some kindly folk in the North American Native Plant Society (NANPS) I cut stalks of pussy willow (Salix discolor) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) from a wild area in February and put them in a bucket - out of doors! We've had several warm spells, so the "pussies" are beginning to show already. They won't need any help from me before the show, but the red dogwoods will get some days in a warmer spot to liven them up.
Pussy Willow bud close up

 So, those are some of the successes. What about the others? Some native plants judge when spring has come simply by the warmth - those are my success stories. Others, to avoid being tricked into growth only to be caught in late frosts, wait until the days reach a certain length before starting. These "photoperiod-sensitive" plants are my failures, because I didn't have a warm greenhouse where I could keep the lights on for 14 hours a day. So, my jack-in-the-pulpit, columbines, and other wonderful treasures are sitting cynically below the earth in their pots, muttering "you can't fool me! I know there are going to be 5 more snowstorms still!". Sigh...I've put a few of them in a light box where the fluorescent lights do give them the magic 14 hour days, but I did it too late and will probably have to do without these plants.

Monarda didyma, Beebalm, being forced
One interesting intermediate case was the wild bergamot or bee-balm (Monarda). I had many pots of this from my own garden, and high hopes for it even though it's a summer bloomer. It started growing promptly in the greenhouse, so it doesn't require long days to get started. However, it then stalled at a few inches height, apparently waiting for long days to get  going. Alas!

It's important to talk about your failures as well as your successes, so others can learn from them. My advice to anyone planning to force native plants is to go to a greenhouse that keeps potted stock indoors at this time of year. The warmth-lovers will be up and showing green but the long-day plants will still be hidden. You can make a list and plan next winter's activities accordingly. I started this project too late last year to benefit from this, but am making notes for next time.

See you at Canada Blooms!