Golden Ragwort: Plant This, Not That – Southern Ontario edition

Two American bloggers, Pat Sutton and Debbie Roberts, at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens, have started a Plant This, Not That series, to promote using native plants rather than invasive aliens. As this is exactly what I was doing a couple of weeks ago here, promoting maple-leaved viburnum, I have decided to take up the challenge posed by Sutton and Roberts, and write a Southern Ontario edition of Plant This, Not That.

Golden ragwort (Senecio aureus, syn. Packera aurea), my overlooked and under-used native plant for this post, is a wonderful little flower I would like to see used in many more gardens. I propose it as an alternative to the European garden flower, leopard’s bane. In this case, it is not because the non-native replacee is nasty. Leopard’s bane is not invasive in my area; in fact, I’ve never seen it as a garden escapee. It is just that the native golden ragwort has a role to play as a host plant for insects, is just as pretty, and has no downside as a garden flower. Why not plant the native? Continue reading Golden Ragwort: Plant This, Not That – Southern Ontario edition


Magnificent fall colour from a native shrub

The Sunday before last I was cutting buckthorn in a park with other community volunteers. Sent into a hillside of what once was open oak woodland and set to removing one species of nasty invasive alien with long-handled loppers, I couldn’t restrict myself to just the day’s target species. A couple of common barberries, a volunteer forsythia, and about half a dozen winged euonymus or burning-bush (Euonymus alata) also bit the dust with dozens of buckthorn. I am good at plant ID (in truth, better at it than the park employee who was in charge of the volunteers); I knew what I was doing.

Winged euonymus is not as bad an invasive as the noxious buckthorn, but I have seen it become more and more common in the ravines and in remnant woods in heavily urbanized areas. Is it on its way to become a really bad invasive in southern Ontario? By the time that question is settled, it is almost too late to act.

It always astounds me that winged euonymus, which is a very boring shrub, continues to be such a popular shrub in landscaping. It has one contribution to make – it has bright fall colour. Huhn? We live in a part of the world where the native flora is world-famous for its fall colour, and we use this tedious, invasive European species to provide fall display in our gardens. Are we nuts? Do we not know any native shrubs which have bright fall colour?

Allow me to introduce maple-leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolia).

How vivid do you want your native shrubs to be?

Pretty maple-shaped  leaves in bright tones of pink and red ought to endear it to every Canadian, eh? It grows in woodlands so it puts up with closed-canopy shade. The fall colour is more vivid red in sun, more delicately pink in shade but it is always lovely. It is not a big shrub. Shrubs of Ontario says “less than 2 m” but I often see it in deciduous woods as an under-storey layer reaching no more than about 4 ft (1.2 m). It has modest white flowers in the spring. In the fall, as a dark counterpoint to the splashy leaves, it carries clusters of blue-black fruits that are popular with birds. Why isn’t it in every garden? Who would want a boring old burning-bush euonymus if garden centres had this one front and centre?  Continue reading Magnificent fall colour from a native shrub

Planting more fruit for birds

In my trove of old photos were several dozen prints taken on September 17, 2001 at FWR Dickson Conservation Area near Paris, Ontario. FWR Dickson has a nice assortment of plant communities in a relatively small area: sandy hills with open oak woods. mesic woodlands with maple beech forest, swamps, open kettle lakes, and old fields. Hiking through there one fall day, I was struck by the diversity and sheer amount of wild fruit, all crying out to migrating birds ” Eat me, eat me.” I started snapping photos. This was before I had a digital camera, so a few dozen exposures was extravagant. Today I would probably take several hundred pictures, and a few might actually be good photos. I have pics of wild grapes, and nanny berries, and the bright red clusters of highbush cranberry viburnum. I tried to capture the porcelain blue of silky dogwood fruit, not successfully.

Alternate-leaved dogwood laden with fruit, Sept 17, 2001, FWR Dickson CA.

The alternate-leaved dogwoods growing in full sun at the edge of the kettle lake were heavy with dark blue-black fruits. Alternate-leaved dogwood also grows in the valleys and ravines of Toronto. It reproduces well in city conditions so there is still quite a lot of it around. In the city, the dogwood’s fruit are stripped as soon as they start to ripen in mid-August. The ravines in Toronto are major migratory flyways. There is simply not nearly enough food for the birds. There is not enough food because the native understorey has been so largely replaced with invasives, such as European buckthorn, whose bitter, cathartic fruits the birds cannot use, and because of the stingy, Eurasian plant based landscaping of the homes along the ravines. The fruitful abundance of southern Ontario autumn, which evolved with the native birds and upon which they depend, is just not there in urban and suburban spaces. Continue reading Planting more fruit for birds

Planting a garden densely and diversely

As part of my goal to dejunk, I have been scanning old prints and slides and, once scanned, tossing the hard copy. I am of course keeping the impossible-to-replace pictures of friends now gone and babies now grown, but I have literally thousands of fifth rate photos of plants, landscapes, bits of gardens, and such, that if I am ever going to need again, I am going to need in easily-findable electronic versions.  I’ve used photo-organizing software to sort these scans by subject and location and date.

Hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus) growing at the edge of the driveway.

One of the things that emerged from all this was a record of my late mother’s garden, the way it changed over the years as I added more native plants, and tore up more lawn, and the plants grew and matured and sometimes disappeared as they were shaded out. FaceBook and blogging didn’t exist at the time. I would have enjoyed blogging about the garden, I think. Over the years, the number of native plants that grew in that tiny garden in a big city swelled into an impressive total. In my mother’s garden I put into practice the concept of making every square inch count.

It was a garden, not a restoration, so my concept of “native” was a bit loose, as I still think is quite appropriate for gardens. For example, tall ironweed, which is not native to Toronto, is native to southern Ontario, so in it went as a native plant and very successful it proved, feeding many butterflies and seeding gently into the edge of the lawn. I learned to distinguish it, and many other natives, as very small seedlings, rescuing them from the lawn, or the spaces between the paving stones, and moving them to other gardens. Continue reading Planting a garden densely and diversely