Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Green Day

Yesterday was so warm and beautiful, it reminded me of a passion I've forgotten: native plant gardening. I am not a good gardener. It's way too much like hard work. But what I am good at is reading books, choosing plants, and dreaming. Luckily, I have a friend around the corner from me who is a brilliant gardener, even though he uses exotics (bleagh), and he very kindly helps out with some of the hard work in my garden (and there's lots).

So, I've decided to start a new series on my blog: Green Day (I haven't decided which day yet). Each post will feature a plant that's native to my area (southern Ontario), preferably even living in my garden. Likely, this series will bore the pants off you, but it's my wee attempt at activism. If just one of you decides to try just one native plant as a result of my blog, please tell me, and all the boredom will be worth it.

I've touched on it here before, but allow me to repeat myself. There are MANY reasons to choose native plants for your garden, among them:

  1. they're easier than exotics; you don't have to do a thing, really, except thin them out from time to time, and give a little water to seedlings if the weather is particularly dry.
  2. they use fewer resources than exotics, i.e., less water, no pesticides, no fertilizers
  3. they contribute to biodiversity and provide food and homes for fauna whose homes and food are increasingly threatened, especially butterflies and birds
  4. they don't threaten our natural, native plant ecosystems; while there are some exotics that are well behave and don't escape into the wild, many of our favourites like lily of the valley and myrtle are invasive and outcompete our native species. Lily of the valley and myrtle are by far not the worst culprits for invasion (no the worst ones are in my backyard: goutweed and Manitoba maples) but they're popular. And a lot of nurseries don't warn you or sell only the well behaved ones (I think tulips, daffodils and lilacs would count as well behaved).
  5. They're beautiful in a slightly less showy less bloomy but more appealing with nicer foliage way (to me anyways).
  6. They attract butterflies, bees and birds (just in case that point got buried above).
If you decide to give a native plant a try, try to make sure you buy the proper species. Lots of nurseries SAY it's native, but it's really a selected breed, with likely some of the traits that birds and butterflies like bred out of them. It's good to learn the Latin names too, because sometimes two different species native to two opposite ends of the continent have the same common name. There are many nurseries that specialize in native plants, which are the best and most knowledgeable sources of native plants. If you want to find one in your area, I'd be more than happy to help. Also, make sure that wherever you buy them from, they state clearly that they don't collect from the while unless it's from land slotted for development, in which case the rescue saves the plant community from destruction. Don't collect from the wild yourself either.

Ok, so now that I've gotten the preamble taken care of, I give you today's feature plant: sanguinaria canadensis or Bloodroot.

It's a woodland plant, preferring shady conditions, especially deciduous shade (the kind that means full, bright spring sunshine with shade from the harsher summer sun), but it does fine in my northeastern facing front garden, which only gets morning sun in the later summer. This afternoon, only a day or two after the snow finally melted from this shaded area, I saw its orangeish reddish greenish white pointy tips piercing the soil already. It gets lovely white blooms, bigger than you'd expect but also more delicate and prone to getting blown away. The broad, irregularly shaped leaves, though, are my favourite part of this plant. They last way longer than the blooms, and they just seem so damn whimsical to me, especially the way they wrap around the stem as it grows up, then unfurls itself like an open hand waiting for a handout.

The plant is named for its red sap, and I think it has been used for medicinal properties, but I can't remember what they are, and I'm pretty sure it carries significant and dangerous side effects.

I think it's native to most of northeastern North America. Feel free to check out some of the web and print resources I listed in this post.

And yay! Kgirl, who I love love love got awarded for a thinking blogger award. Her combination of responsible organizer yet hipster earth mother always makes me think. Yippee! AND she passed on the honour to me. Mad also proclaimed me a thinking a blogger, a while back, so I'll point you to the post I did then because I'm feeling lazy.

I will take advantage to kindly remind kgirl that I tagged her a LONG time ago for whenever she started blogging again... and look, she's blogging again... if she's up for it.


metro mama said...

Awesome, I'll look forward to green day.

I can't wait to get back in the garden.

Heather said...

I think bloodroot used to be used as a novocaine type substitute for tooth pain but it's also quite likely I have it confused with something else.

I have tons of black eyed susans, and other native plants in our current garden, and plan for many more at our new house.

cinnamon gurl said...

Yay! TWO people who like plants AND blogs...

Mouse said...

My mother-in-law is an avid gardener and big on using native plants. We're trying to get together some indoor plantings since we're in an apartment right now and pining for the time when we have a garden again. As it starts to warm up, I begin to miss the garden we left behind at our house, a combination of old plantings from the previous owners (huge bearded irises, snapdragons, a climbing rose, and the biggest rosemary you've ever seen) and our own addition of herbs and vegetables. Sigh.

NotSoSage said...

Awesome idea.

I have a friend who has put together all native plant gardens at two houses he's lived in. My dad also put a number of native plants in his garden a few years ago, but he's on the west coast and they have, like, twice as much warm weather as we do.

We'll be lucky if we get anything at all growing in the front or the back at all this year!

Mad Hatter said...

Shucks, Sin, you've got me thinking of spring now. Don't you know that our seasons are a few weeks behind yours. Drat. What were you THINKING?

Oh yes!! I am not the only one to consider you sublime in all things thinky.

Beck said...

That's interesting! I have a big sandy yard and pretty much nothing but sparse grass grows in it. Ick.
I should email you for some region-specific ideas!

kgirl said...

thank you for this! I'm like you - when we re-landscaped last summer I really got into gardening, and only wanted hearty natives that would come back year after year. I bought some great books on Canadian plants, but I just don't quite have the right touch. My garden looked anaemic at best, but we were proud.
I will definitely utilize your tips, and probably ask mm to come help me this year - she is an awesome gardener. so is my m-i-l, but she way overestimates my capabilities.

And NOW I remember the tag! I'm on it.

Kyla said...

Can you come to my house and fix my gardens? They are in bad shape and there are no green thumbs in my home.