Welcome to the latest instalment of the Nearby Nature Project! Over 25 years ago I learned that fostering my relationship with Mother Nature is essential to my well-being. So I garden, walk, hike, cycle and/or kayak just about every day.
I’m not alone in discovering that being outside is good for mind and body. Mainstream media articles regularly extoll the benefits of spending time in nature. And hashtags like #playoutside, #optoutside, and #greentimenotscreentime have communities of followers. I reflect on my Nature connectedness and share resources and news stories in these Nearby Nature Project posts.
Bee, Butterfly and Bird-Friendly Gardening
When I started planning my 2022 gardening season, I wanted to find at least two ways to make our suburban yard even more bee, butterfly and bird-friendly. Why?
- My heart sings when I see bees and butterflies in the yard
- Photographing bees and butterflies improves my photography skills and let’s me contribute to citizen science
- Mr GeoK and I have really enjoyed bird photography this year. So it’s a big win to be able to practice in our own back yard
- Studying the bees, butterflies and birds is a shortcut to mindfulness and brings all kinds of physiological and psychological payoffs
- It’s a way of reciprocating. If Nature nurtures my well-being, I feel good if I find ways to nurture Nature. That’s what Nearby Nature Project is all about!
A May 2022 Chatelaine article states that private yards make up more greenspace in urban areas than parks/public land. So that means people with yards can have a huge impact on pollinators. We can contribute to the ecological health of our community by growing native plants.
Some go so far as to get rid of all their lawn, with fully naturalized yards. It’s a divisive topic in some communities. One couple from Smith Falls took their preference for a naturalized front yard all the way to the Supreme Court of Ontario. The City of Calgary website has resources to support anyone interested in naturalizing at least part of their yard.
Many individuals have opted to join the no mow May movement, which originated in the U.K. Some municipalities are on board, too. The City of Calgary aims to restore/naturalize 20% of open spaces by 2025.
Monarch Butterflies and Other Wildlife
And just this week I joined Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Gardening for Wildlife project on iNaturalist. When I upload bee, butterfly, bird and other wildlife photos from our yard, I will add to a database scientists can use to study gardening and wildlife. So far I’ve tagged backyard photos of house sparrows, gray partridges, a black-capped chickadee and a mule deer. The project description includes a link to a helpful tutorial.
Hidden Logging Emissions
Recent research by Nature Canada and three other conservation organizations shows Canada is significantly underreporting GHG emissions from industrial logging. In fact, greenhouse gas emissions from logging Canada’s forests are are as high as GHG emissions from all of Canada’s oil sands operations! The report links to a petition asking the feds to include stronger protection for Canada’s primary/old growth forests in the new Climate Plan.
30% by 2030
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has just released Roadmap to 3030. Read the report if you want to better understand the federal, provincial and local actions needed to reach Canada’s land and ocean protection target. BTW, the ultimate goal is 30% by 2030, with an milestone target of 25% by 2025.
Cultivating My Nature Connection
I finished reading Old Man’s Garden by Annora Brown. A new introduction penned by Mary-Beth Laviolette, a Canmore-based writer and art curator, fronts the 2020 edition.
The title tells you just what to expect. The pages are filled with folklore, historical bits and lovely drawings of wildflowers found in the prairie-foothill-mountain landscape created by Napi, aka “Old Man” – the origin spirit responsible for the land and all the living things upon it.
Brown’s respect for First Nations’ traditional knowledge is evident throughout. I was struck by a passage from the original 1954 introduction, which foreshadowed the present day land acknowledgement. “[T]he original naturalists and poets of the country, the First Nations people…have added so greatly to the world’s collection of beautiful thoughts.“
Later she declares, “Old Man’s Garden, from the Moon-of-heavy snows until the Moon-when-leaves-turn yellow, provides a continual round of interest and entertainment.”
Groupings of spring wildflowers, edible flowers, medicinal flowers, flowers used for natural dyes, summer wildflowers, ceremonial plants, berries and trees, contain long lists of plants, describes them, their uses and other anecdotes.
I look forward to regularly referring to this book.
Nearby Nature Project this Month
It’s prime gardening time! Not only is 2022 the Year of the Garden, it’s also the year I invested some time planning to further naturalize our flower beds. And improving our vegetable garden harvest.
Even More Naturalized
Our west Calgary yard is about 40% lawn, 20% edible garden and 40% flower beds. All the flowers are perennials or self-seeding annuals and I’ve tried to select them to support all kinds of pollinators. My biggest success stories to date include spiked speedwell and purple coneflowers. Biggest disappointment = blanket flowers, which came back for a few years but eventually failed to self-seed.
Two more kinds of flowers are in the early stages of becoming established as naturalized populations: columbine and Icelandic poppies.
In 2022, I’m trying to add milkweed, lupines and brown-eyed Susans to the mix. The milkweed has not done well to this point. And I just read that they do better when seeded in the fall, so I’ll be reseeding then. Apparently rabbits like milkweed, too. So I made up some chicken wire cages to protect the seedlings.
It looks like a few brown-eyed Susans are coming up. I started the lupines in a large planter pot, shaded by one of our spruce trees. They will move to our sunny backyard in the fall. I also spread a packet of City of Calgary wildflower seed in one of the front beds: blue flax, goldenrod, prairie clover and coneflower, if I remember correctly. The seeds are sprouting now, so I’m waiting to see how they do. I expect to do thinning and transplanting in late summer.
Mother Nature provides all kinds of volunteers. Some are weeds. Or even noxious weeds (creeping bellflower, for example). I usually wait to make the pull/nurture decision until enough leaves have sprouted that I can make a solid identification.
The biggest surprise so far = striped coral root orchid. This one popped up in 2021, right in the middle of our small front lawn. It came back this year, a slightly bigger patch. I put a tomato cage around it so it’s not “accidentally” mowed when the lawn is cut.
This year’s volunteers include:
- baby mountain ash trees (pulled);
- blue clematis (will monitor to be sure it’s not the noxious yellow clematis – not pictured);
- fireweed (tentative ID, will monitor); and
- lily-of-the-valley (identified thanks to neighbour Mike, who pointed out he planted them in his adjacent flower bed a few years back)
Four fruit trees grow in our yard. One’s an ornamental crab apple tree. It’s beautiful in full bloom, attracting all kinds of pollinators. And deer and birds enjoy the small fruit.
We share fruit from our Evans cherry and September Ruby and Norland apple trees with neighbours, deer, birds and wasps. Pollinators enjoy the blossoms on these trees, too.
It’s now mid-June and I’m already harvesting regularly. Three pickings of rhubarb have been transformed into rhubarb Italian soda syrup. I like to add 20-30 ml to a large glass of sparkling water. I am picking enough kale, chard and beet greens that I won’t have to buy salad greens again until October. Same for green onions and radishes.
I also harvested about 6 dozen chive blossoms to infuse a jar of rice vinegar to make chive blossom vinegar.
Gardening is NEAT
Spending time gardening is good for mind and body. I racked up about 3 hours of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) when we had to find and repair a problem with the underground sprinkler system. Even wore out a pair of gardening gloves doing that job. 🙂
I’ve started reading Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us, by Emma Loewe. Watch for my thoughts on this 2022 title in the next edition of Nearby Nature Project.
For all of us in the Bow Valley, it’s prime biking season. Many hiking trails are still buried under snow, but we’ll head out for wildflower season ASAP. Lake kayaking is possible, while keeping an eye out for debris and rapid water level changes. How are you spending time with Nature these days?