Pam Heron is a keen gardener who works with nature to benefit her corner of southern Ontario. Living on just under an acre in King Township northwest of Toronto, Heron describes her garden as a “work in progress.” That may be true, but it’s also a wellestablished home for native plants and wildlife
WORKING THROUGH THE CHALLENGES
Heron grows a huge variety of native plants, experimenting with what will grow in a yard dominated by black walnut trees, which are known to release juglone into the surrounding soil. This naturally occurring chemical inhibits the growth of certain plants within the reach of the black walnut’s roots, which can be as far as 18 metres. While it is hard to know for sure if the plants that struggled or died were the result of juglone or other factors, Heron says, “I can say that the native plants do better generally than the non-native shade-loving plants.”
Heron has also limited water use; her house uses rainwater collected in cisterns. Though her budget is limited, Heron is nevertheless gradually replacing her former lawn by dividing the natives that do well on her property. When natives are planted in a suitable spot, they need watering only to get established. After that they are on their own.
GIVE ’EM SHELTER… AND WATER
Besides being a food source for wildlife, Heron’s variety of plants — from trees and shrubs to perennials, grasses and ferns — serves as shelter from both the elements and predators. This mix creates habitat for all sorts of creatures, including ground-feeding American tree sparrows, tree-top northern orioles, bats, butterflies, snakes, squirrels, foxes and more.
Heron has created additional shelter by letting fallen wood decompose, making brush piles and erecting nest boxes. She has also let dead trees in her garden remain standing. This is a practice that can benefit mammals such as squirrels, raccoons and sometimes bats, as well as various bird species. Heron also keeps in mind another wildlife necessity — water — that is provided by a shallow pool featuring plants such as turtlehead and marsh marigold.
KEEPING IT GREEN
The property is environmentally friendly in other ways too. Heron never waters the lawn. She also composts her food waste for later use in the garden, leaves lawn cuttings to nourish the soil and pulls all invasive weeds by hand. “Other weeds are allowed to grow in the mowed lawn, and the rabbits eat the clover instead of the vegetables.” To help raise money for a local community organization and to raise awareness of native plants, Heron propagates and sells many of her plants each year. Through her efforts she has raised hundreds of dollars each year for the community and connects with other gardeners in an uplifting way.
Editor’s Note: Gardens featured in the column are certified under CWF’s Backyard Habitat Certification Program. For more information, visit WildAboutGardening.org.