Written by Maria MacRae
Photographs by Maria MacRae and Arlene Neilson
Starting a new garden project from scratch can be a daunting task. The seemingly limitless selection of plants can be overwhelming. How does one begin to choose? While a good gardening book can be a valuable asset, you can't always get the true sense of a plant from a static two-dimensional photograph. Also, photos of individual plants don't give a clear indication of how plants will be when grouped together. Will their texture and colour complement each other? Will one plant overwhelm its neighbours?
Visiting an established garden allows one to see plants with all their beauty and flaws. You can see how they look in combination with other plants and get a sense of their true size and shape. Are those magnificent blooms highlighted in the latest issue of your gardening magazine completely overshadowed in reality by a gangling mass of greenery? Does the leaf texture of an unassuming plant have a beauty of its own when the light catches it? By examining plants in situ, you are able to get a more accurate idea of plants you find appealing and those you would rather avoid. Learning through the success and mistakes of others allows you to create a beautiful garden with less trial and error. With this in mind, the Canadian Wildlife Federation has created a number of model gardens.
Our original garden was established in 1999 as a tribute to International Year of Older Persons and our Golden Gardens Program. It has an honoured position at the Governor General's residence. Long-time CWF volunteers Gaston Tessier and Paul McLellan designed the garden to reflect the English garden tradition of the grounds. Using the results of a 1991 Rideau Hall Landscape Conservation Study, Gaston and Paul were able to access a list of plants historically found in the garden. They chose plants from the list that provide nectar and pollen for pollinators and used them to create a living, colourful masterpiece. For those who are in, or will be visiting, the Ottawa area you can visit the model garden beside the Visitor Centre at Rideau Hall. (The plan for this garden, along with 15 other projects you can create to benefit wildlife, is in the Golden Gardens booklet. Contact us for your copy.)
A move mid-2000 gave us the opportunity to create a model garden around our new headquarters. Our goal is to meet the needs of wildlife while demonstrating the use of native plants in both natural and formal settings. We started planning and in the spring of 2001 we grabbed our shovels and dug in. Beds were designed around wildlife themes, such as the hummingbird garden, or to demonstrate the use of native plants under various conditions, such as the shade beds. In other areas we simply enhanced the existing natural features, such as the addition of native fruit-bearing shrubs along the forest edge. Federation staff worked hard throughout the gardening season to create a habitat haven.
This spring our work was renewed with the addition of new beds. A butterfly larval food plant bed was added as an extension of the pollinator garden. Plants such as violets, asters, milkweed, and pearly everlasting should provide butterflies a place to lay their eggs.
A dry-bed garden was created in an area of the property prone to drought. Hopefully, where others languished, plants such as native honeysuckle, ornamental grasses, asters, goldenrod, and vervain, will thrive. We also took advantage of a boggy area with the addition of bog rosemary, turtlehead, swamp aster, monkey flower, and other plants that like it moist.
Hundreds of trees, shrubs, and perennials were chosen for their beauty, hardiness, and ability to provide wildlife with food and shelter. The abundant fruits and nuts of shrubs such as dogwoods, serviceberry, and hazelnut, and the vibrant blooms of pollinator and bird plants will entice winged visitors. We hope they will also inspire human visitors to create their own wildlife-friendly garden.