Photo: Jennifer Hosen
Can we grow a green future in the face of climate change? Nature has a secret – it is really good at adapting to climate change. We just need to let it work its magic.
150+ years ago, native plants thrived, making the Carolinian Zone one of the most productive and attractive regions for people to call home. Now, our current levels of habitat are critically low… so low that many wild species will struggle to survive another 150 years. London and Middlesex need to double the levels of habitat to meet recommended minimal targets for healthy landscapes (30%). As climate shifts, extreme weather will make it even harder for wildlife to survive. Many excellent habitat projects are taking place throughout London and Middlesex and many volunteers are quietly working for wildlife; however, it is not enough to meet the current need. With over 95% private land and 85% cleared, our zone needs more allies in growing habitat everywhere - integrated into neighbourhoods, urban spaces, balconies, roofs, parks, waterways, trails, yards, hedgerows, rural landscapes and more. Luckily there are many green volunteers, businesses and communities who want to help and 1,500 native plants to choose from.
In 2017, Carolinian Canada and WWF-Canada piloted a new program called In the Zone www.inthezonegardens.ca to enable gardeners to lead the way in growing a green future for Canada by helping native species thrive. One of our pilot hubs of activity was London-Middlesex, thanks to strong local support from TD Friends of the Environment, London Community Foundation and others (see below). Together, we can might just grow Canada’s biggest wildlife garden.
Community greenspace has a vital role to showcase climate-smart gardens and recruit more allies for growing healthy, resilient landscapes. Green community hubs can model, engage, train and inspire diverse neighbours. Carolinian Canada worked with local partners to showcase woodland, wildflower and water gardens that are also climate-smart. Interpretive signage is being developed. You can visit these demonstration gardens at the Coves in London, Victoria Public School and Dreamland at Dorchester Mill Pond. The Garden Club of London EcoTrail and the new Fanshawe Pioneer Village gateway garden also showcase climate-smart gardens. These are excellent places to find out what your favourite wild plant is. These sites will influence thousands and have sparked a flurry of action in surrounding neighbourhoods.
We found that many gardeners in London and Middlesex are interested in growing native plants! Volunteers, homeowners, master gardeners, students and many others joined in the effort. Over a year, 309 local gardeners signed on and participated in workshops, on-site demonstrations, plantings in the ‘green community centers’, neighbourhood events, plant shares, plant sales and more. They also shared their garden stories with over 100,000 others!
A Canada 150+ project in London-Middlesex
The results showed. Every native plant helps grow healthy, resilient neighbourhoods. Volunteers registered 154 gardens, making a significant commitment to a green future. They used the Tracker, a new citizen science tool to measure the relative health of their sites to establish baseline data. At an average of 132 Healthy Garden points they are leading the way in growing healthy, climate-smart and resilient neighbourhoods, and they will be able to watch their healthy garden points grow over time. How healthy is your garden? Find out at www.inthezonegardens.ca
A growing body of research shows that nature might be the magic bullet we are looking for to cost-effectively address climate change. Overlooked perhaps because the answer is seemingly simple and low-tech, it is highly effective, accessible and relatively inexpensive. Native plant gardens offer a win-win solution for wildlife and climate change, plus water protection and weather-proofing. You might know that nature is important to take carbon out of the atmosphere. Did you also know that it is likely the most effective way to adapt to a changing climate? Nature is designed to buffer climate effects, save energy and protect water. Nature weather-proofs our landscapes against droughts, floods, heat waves and other extreme weather. Research also links nature to healthier communities – making the air cleaner and the soil more productive. Nature is our gene bank for future discoveries and resources. As the climate changes, we will need healthy, resilient and strong communities with many resources to to deal with an uncertain future. Saving seeds and genes is important to our future and we can grow them right in our own backyards. That’s why growing a nature bank with native plants (e.g. wildflower, woodland or water garden), is simply one of the most effective ways to prepare for climate change.
Native plant gardens can give us all that and more. Many local plants are ready to fill those tough spots in your yard, because they are already adapted to it. there is a native plant (and plant communities) for every local condition. Wet, dry, hot, cool, sunny, shady, windy… the native plant will thrive and beautify.
You don’t need a lot of space to make a difference. Native plants are the building blocks of habitat. One milkweed plant can help the declining Monarch butterfly and one oak tree can support 500 different species of butterfly. All native plants have evolved over thousands of years with local pollinators, making them by far the best choice for pollinator gardens.
Did you know that many butterflies and bees rely on trees, shrubs and grasses, not just wildflowers? Many alien wildflowers are like fast food to butterflies, offering sugar water for adults but not supporting their caterpillar babies, thus taking up valuable habitat space and breaking the circle of life of local butterflies. Choose native plants to grow a natural oasis that sustains pollinators and is also climate-smart.
If you have ever tried to grow native plants, you know that finding them, choosing the right one and giving it a good start can be challenging. That’s why Carolinian Canada and WWF-Canada are working with the industry, garden centers and experts to make it easy to find the right plant for you. www.inthezonegardens.ca offers user-friendly garden guides, plant profiles, easy-grow plant lists and climate-smart guidelines, plus a hotline to experts. The Tracker provides tips on how to plan a healthy garden.
Featured plants are
We also work with local partners to grow and maintain demonstration gardens where you can meet local native plants and find your favourite(s). Visit demonstration gardens on Carolinian Canada EcoTrails
Watch for new features, sites and garden parties as the program unfolds.
We look forward to counting you in! See your healthy garden points grow while relaxing in your beautiful climate-smart garden. www.inthezonegardens.ca
photo donated by: Tara Carpenter
This project was made possible by
Carolinian Canada Coalition
London Community Foundation (Beryl Ivey Endowment for the Environment)
TD Friends of the Environment Foundation
Master Gardeners of London-Middlesex
City of London
Friends of the Coves
Dorchester Mill Pond Committee
Victoria Public School