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Nature’s BEST – Oct/Nov 2015

Nature’s BEST - Oct/Nov 2015

Gardens are a link to nature and crucial to a healthy eco-system

The purpose of a garden is to link us to the natural world around us. In the microcosm of our personal space we each see our yard, balcony, and garden as something different. Your definition of that space may be ‘a place to entertain,’ or ‘relax,’ or ‘escape,’ and you would be right. But stand back from your own personal needs and wants and realize what makes the outdoor space around your home different from your indoor space is that it is not yours at all.

Consider the birds, insects and wind that pass through your yard every day. Each holds a free pass to use your place to feed, live, reproduce, and in the case of the wind itself, to just pass by.

What is so exciting about gardening today is the growing realization that we do not do it alone: everything that we do in our yards and gardens impacts the natural world around us.


There is a lot more going on in our yard than our powers of observation allow us to connect with. For instance, the ‘food chain’ was once thought to be a linear illustration of how we function within the rules of Mother Nature, but this is an over-simplification of how things really work. Ecologists now talk about food webs, not chains.

Not only in your own backyard but on a global scale, we now know that gardeners provide an impact that is changing the world. To stand at your kitchen window and observe birds, flowers, a deck, and barbecue, and to see nothing more is to rob yourself of the benefits of reality. In the garden we often see things two-dimensionally.

Did you know that in a single handful of quality-garden soil there exist over 4 billion interdependent living organisms? Bacteria, fungi, protozoa, insects, and a cocktail of other stuff, work together to create a support system for the plants that grow in your garden. As a result of this complex system, we impact the natural world every time we dig a hole, pull a weed, or place a bird feeder on our property.


If you agree that gardeners (and there are over 20 million of us in Canada) have a vital role to play where ecological preservation and enhancement is concerned, then this is how each of us can do more to enhance that ecosystem.

1 ATTRACT POLLINATORS Plants produce flowers in an effort to attract pollinators. Exchanging pollen and nectar for sustenance ensures that both the plant and the pollinator have a future.

Plant lots of flowering plants.

Use plants that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, song birds and yes, even moths, certain types of wasps, and mason bees. Place a mason bee house about two metres off the ground and out of the wind.

Put out bird feeders including hummingbird feeders. Squish an overripe banana with a fork onto a dish and place it outside to attract butterflies. Mix up your bird food to include peanuts, black oil sunflowers, nyjer seed, and quality millet.

Water. Provide a drink and a bath for visiting wildlife. You will never know the degree to which a bird bath gets used, especially while you sleep.

2 GROW A VARIETY OF TREES AND SHRUBS AND VINES These permanent additions to your garden support the wildlife that frequents herbaceous perennials and annuals through the production of foliage, flowers, and berries.

3 LEAVE A PILE OF BRUSH OR FIRE WOOD TO ROT IN A CORNER OF YOUR YARD You will likely want this out of sight, which is fine. The insects that the decaying materials attract also attract birds and other predators that feed on them. Think food ‘web’ not ‘chain.’

4 COMPOST Your soil will improve as you harvest the finished stuff from your composting unit or pile and it will host small creatures that are all beneficial to your garden. If you get the odd visit from a raccoon, better that they frequent your composter than your attic. They just may turn the raw material over and save you the trouble.

Go ahead and leave your garden a little bit messy. By that I mean, leave your grass clippings on the lawn, let the leaves that fall in autumn remain on your garden, and allow some of your flowering plants to go to seed after flowering. They will provide a quality source of food for songbirds later in the season.

I am relieved that we, as Canadian gardeners, have matured to the point where we no longer fight what happens naturally in the world around us. Instead we have a new generation of gardeners (and an old one that is learning!) who are embracing the idea that our gardens are a natural link to the wild world that is outside of our property lines and inside them as well.


Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at