Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
Pollinator garden.

Today’s post comes from Alexander Renaud, Discovery Program Leader at Emily Provincial Park.

In the summer of 2018, our Discovery staff at Emily Provincial Park wanted to do something BIG to help the park.

In previous years, turtle nest protection boxes have been installed, species data collected through a BioBlitz, and the design and creation of a new trail system.

We decided to create a pollinator garden!

Why create a pollinator garden?

For almost a decade, our maintenance and Discovery staff at Emily have been working hard to make a positive green impact on the environment.

It all started when staff noticed plants like dog-strangling vine, European buckthorn, and loosestrife (once removed from the shores) wreaking havoc on the park once again. Removing these invasive species is crucial to ensuring that native plant species can thrive!

Emily's visitors helped in an invasive species program where they learned how to identify and remove harmful plants.Even the campers helped during the clearance blitz in the park!

These projects can take years to complete because the plants in question are quite hardy and hardy. Sea buckthorn, in particular, has existed in the park for decades and is incredibly difficult to remove. Simply cutting the plant is not enough. Grow back with a vengeance!

How did these plants get to the park? Well, it’s hard to believe driving through Emily today, but the camp used to be farm fields. The only trees that existed were the cedars that make up what is now Cedar Campground.

While some things were planted in the park, many things have returned naturally, including the invaders we talked about earlier! The seeds came from neighboring properties and from passing animals.

A historic image from an aerial photograph of Emily Provincial Park and the lot across the river that is now Cowan's Bay.Emily’s Airspace shortly after it opened in the late 1950s.

We worked diligently to restore balance within the park’s ecosystem, so we wanted to add back some plants rather than remove them. By reintroducing these species into the ecosystem, we provide food and habitat for all kinds of creatures that depend on them.

What are pollinators?

So why are we doing so much for these pollinators? What is special about them?

Did you know that approximately 80-95% of plant species require the help of others to produce seeds?

Image of a yellow butterfly.A beautiful tiger swallow, just one of the many pollinators in Emily

Pollinators, including critters like birds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, and other animals, move pollen grains from the anther (male part) of a flower to the stigma (female part). When this happens, pollination occurs!

Monarch butterfly visiting a flower

It is simply the first but crucial step for plants to multiply!

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Location, location, location

Before we get too far ahead, we need to find the perfect location.

The image shows staff measuring the floor bed using wooden planks on the grass surface.The staff tries to imagine what the final product will be like.

Our Discovery staff is very busy during the year! It had to be in an accessible location, where visitors could see it, and large enough to accommodate several plants, but not so large that the project would not be completed on time. Most importantly, we wanted to give a space a purpose.

We all agreed that this grassy area within the path to the office was perfect! A very underused space that could be given a new purpose. As we measured things out, we saw the possibility of featuring nine unique plants in a two-level garden bed. After that we grabbed the shovels and got to work.

The image shows an empty area with the garden box frame in place.

Once we dug out all the sandy soil underneath and laid down black landscaping fabric to reduce the chance of the grass coming back, we filled it in with new soil. Once this was done, we headed to the greenhouse to choose our local plants and present them.

Choosing our species

Now you might be wondering: how did we narrow down our selection to just nine plants? More than 750 native plant species are found in the Kawarthas region, but not all are found in Emily. What we did was consult local experts and analyze the research and studies carried out in the park over the years.

View of the pollinator garden just after planting everything.Ta-da! All our new plants have a home in the garden

We chose plants that:

  • It tolerates the sun, the place we chose does not have much shade.
  • They were on the list of species collected in the past, but have not been seen in the park recently.
  • They were found within a larger geographic location.

We wanted visitors to feel inspired, so we also chose plants that bloomed during our operating season (May to October) so there was always something to see when you visited.

The last nine

These are the plants that now call Emily home:

Prairie smoke: Full sun. This low-growing, fern-like plant is one of the earliest bloomers in spring and continues throughout the summer. The long, feather-like pods, which look like smoke, are where the plant gets its name.

prairie smoke

Golden Ragwort: Some shade. These bright yellow flowers certainly stand out! Although they are part of the aster family, they bloom from May to July, one of the first for the species. It is about two feet tall and has heart-shaped leaves.

Foxglove beardtongue.

Foxglove beardtongue: Full sun… This beautiful, tall plant produces deep white flowers in May and June. Due to the shape of the flowers, those with long tongues will only be able to reach the pollen inside. Bees and hummingbirds are frequent visitors to this plant.

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Butterfly Milkweed: Full sun. It is a bushy perennial with bright orange flowers. The flower cluster at the top is usually 2 to 5 inches wide and attracts all the butterflies!

Black-eyed Susans: Full sun. The most popular native wildflower grown in Ontario. It is a member of the sunflower family and gets its name from the dark brown and purple center of the flower head. Be sure to prune or it will spread!

Black-eyed Susan.

New Jersey Tea: Full sun. A low shrub that grows only 3 feet. Perfect for anchoring the corners of our garden, and produces a beautiful cluster of white flowers. Drought resistant which is a plus!

Wild geranium.

Wild geranium: Full shade. This is a beautiful five-petaled perennial. It blooms from late spring to early summer and is a wonderful addition to any garden. The plant’s flower will eventually give way to a seed pod that looks like a bird’s beak, dry out, and separate from the plant.

Nine crust: Some shade. We chose this larger shrub to be the centerpiece of the garden. It blooms in late spring with clusters of white and pink flowers. In autumn it produces red fruits that act as food for our feathered friends. It will grow to a large size (5 to 10 feet) and provide some shade to all the plants around it.

Dense burning star: Full sun. This plant is listed as a “threatened” species in Ontario. Urban development and competition with invasive European species of reed and loosestrife are harming existing populations.

Bright and dense star.

What can you do to help?

1. Plant your own little garden! You’ll be surprised what some plants can do to help the ecosystem around you. Many of these little creatures have a long road ahead of them and would appreciate the refreshment their flowers would provide.

2. Let the grass grow a little longer and leave the “weeds” alone. Many native plants were considered a pest to those who settled in North America and had a bad reputation. Dandelions, for example, are one of the first plants to bloom in spring and are a crucial source of nutrients for insects that wake up early after the snowmelt.

3. Spread the word. Not all of us have large open spaces that we can turn into pollinator gardens. And that’s okay! By just helping to spread the word about the good that can be done, you are already doing your part.

Next time you visit Emily Provincial Park, be sure to stop by the Park Office to find inspiration for your own pollinator garden or to see who’s visiting the flowers today.