Text by Sarah Coulber with thanks to Jade Brown
Photos by Lilian Robinson
Jade Brown lives in London, Ontario. She’s your typical Canadian living a typical life. She’s also proving that anyone can make a difference. Her garden is just off a busy four-lane street, yet it is also a lush wildlife oasis. As more and more of Canada’s wild areas are turned into subdivisions and shopping malls, wildlife, such as migrating songbirds, are relying more heavily on the average garden to meet their basic needs.
Among the plants in Jade’s garden are shrubs, such as elderberry, grey dogwood, winterberry, chokecherry and serviceberry. Some perennials include asters, coneflowers and Joe-Pye weed. She also has both evergreen and deciduous trees, such as hemlock, cedar, birch and spruce, and vines such as Virginia creeper. These plants are native to her region and therefore provide maximum benefit to the beneficial bugs and birds that share this outdoor space with her. They also happen to have attractive blooms and berries that add character to the garden throughout the seasons.
These plants are varied enough to create space in her garden, and layers for the different wild creatures to feed, nest and sleep in. They also create shelter from the weather and predators. To supplement the plants, Jade has made brush and rock piles, left logs in certain spots, put up nesting boxes, leaves seed heads for the winter and has a thick hedgerow. These all create habitat for the hundreds of invaluable creatures that support the overall balance of her garden.
When putting her garden together, Jade wanted it to look like a “very real natural oasis”. She accomplished this by having a wilder look the more you move away from the house towards the back of the garden, which ends with her woodland.
Jade also enjoys her natural habitat – especially the rocks. “I grew up loving stones and rocks, their offerings of warmth in the summer and being an enemy watch perch also made them great for the chipmunks and birds as well as a comfort to people. I put up a notice at a country restaurant and found a farmer who wanted a huge pile of field stones removed, and so it began. Not only did the stones become the base for the 350 tonnes of hand-picked boulders, over the eight years since the garden's inception, I have built a dry wall and two seating areas with the leftover stones.”
Jade then fell in love with The Rock. Although she was told it was too heavy to move (by the trucking company that had arranged her other rocks), Jade wasn’t deterred. It soon followed that her two-lane street was turned into a four-lane street and the construction crews needed a spot to park their large supply trailer. Jade was happy to accommodate, and, to show their appreciation, the crew moved her “roguishly handsome, but massively large boulder to the perfect spot, clearing a side fence by an inch.”
Water needs are met in a beautiful 60-foot man-made stream that flows down to a large pond. With a variety of native water and shoreline plants such as sedges and ferns, animals have additional security when bathing or drinking. The pretty blooms of bright yellow marsh marigold and brilliant red cardinal flower accentuate this feature all the more.
Jade’s number one tip for keeping the pond relatively free of algae is using barley straw. “Find a farmer who grows it and take him or her a turkey every Christmas. Divide a large bale into six smaller pieces and wrap them in plastic twine (jute rots in water), then in a plastic netting to ensure it holds together for the growing season. Hold it down with a log in your top pond filtration box. There is always a slight algae bloom in early summer with the heat, but if you have a big problem that won't go away, DON'T replace your water; it needs to reach a natural balance, and changing the water means that ultimately you'll start again. Instead, bite the bullet, spend the 100 bucks and buy the natural bacteria from a trustworthy pond company.”