‘Desperate times call for desperate measures’ seems to be the refrain dancing around most of our heads, at least some of the time. Combine that phrase with ‘stay at home’, add a bucket of springtime enthusiasm and you’ve got yourself a recipe for garden mania with a heaping side of veggies. No need to get desperate; we’re fortunate that community gardens are allowed to open again, you can support your local CSA* or finally get around to doing some gardening of your own now that the weather has improved.

It’s not something I could ever have predicted, as a garden designer, finding myself busier than ever during a pandemic. (all done online / no home visits) Who knew? I spend a portion of every waking hour thinking about gardens and the necessary plants, birds, insects, humans, and layouts required to optimize them; sort of like 3D garden Lego that grows and requires maintenance. But this year there’s a difference; a game-changer, if you will; there’s a shift towards native plants and growing food. The part that I don’t see happening yet is the utopia we can create by growing both.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for ripping out the lawn – go for it! BUT if you’d like to grow human food, let’s say tomatoes consider the pollinators that are freely doing essential work for you. Bumblebees, for instance, use buzz pollination to shake out pollen they gather, it sticks on their bodies and spreads as they fly from flower to flower, fertilizing those flowers which grow into tomatoes. But bumblebees won’t get enough in return for their efforts on your tomatoes alone – they need some native plants, for food and habitat, plants they know because they’ve co-evolved with those plants over millennia. My favourite, beautiful, easy grow varieties are Liatris spicata, Oenothera biennis / Evening Primrose, Echinacea pallida, Black eyed Susan, Aquilegia canadensis / Native Columbine, and the lovely Monarch friendly Asclepias tuberose ‘Butterfly Weed’ (not to be confused with hard to handle, common milkweed).

You might be thinking, ‘She wants me to grow veg AND grow flowers?’ Yes. Yes, I do. Here’s why; we need nature in our backyards and our gardens. The war on insects has led to an imbalance of insects, those insects (especially caterpillars) feed birds, habitat and insect loss
has led to a huge drop in bird numbers, birds control insects, also insects eat other insects… we need the whole dang safari because it’s Jenga! We can’t keep removing species and still have a healthy ecosystem. What took millennia to develop has been thrown off balance by humans, but we can help rebalance by letting nature do its thing at home, in our yards… perhaps it’s time we adapted… by giving back to nature, by providing stewardship, not domination, in this new world.

* CSA stands for “community supported agriculture” try here; planborganicfarms.ca & manorun.com

Excellent gardening advice for enthusiastic vegetable growers can be found here savvygardening.com & here www.markcullen.com

Great tips & info about native plants starts here onplants.ca & here wildflowerfarm.com