Local gardens helping save the bees and the butterflies

Toronto has recruited 44 community groups across the city to build habitats for Toronto’s declining bee and butterfly populations.

Habitat loss, climate change and other stressors are contributing to the decline, says a city press release. It adds, “once lost, native species cannot be replaced.”

It’s hard to believe but Toronto has more than 360 species of bees and greater than 100 species of butterflies, according to the release.

The city is providing grants of up to $5,000 per group for two years to build pollinator gardens.

Nancy Vander Plaats, co-chair of Friends of Corktown Common, is well aware of the trouble humans could find themselves in without pollinators to make crops grow.

“We’ll have a serious problem with food security if we continue to lose many insect species due to habitat loss, pollution and climate change,” Vander Plaats said.

FOCC planted a garden last year and this year it’s helping residents at two neighbourhood condo buildings plant and maintain their own gardens.

Supporting biodiversity

Vander Plaats noted that a park near her is the only one in the city to have native plants, trees and shrubs.

By planting similar greenery, such as milkweed and goldenrod, on nearby boulevards and in landscape beds “we can extend that habitat farther and support more biodiversity,” she said.

FOCC wants to host walks through the park and nearby gardens to educate the public about the importance of pollinators.

Vander Plaats said condo dwellers can do their part to save pollinators by creating small pollinator gardens on their balconies.

“Probably most condo dwellers don’t know anything about growing pollinator friendly plants on their balconies,” she said. “I didn’t until about two years ago, and now I grow a few pots of native plants.”

Vander Plaats urges house owners not to be so quick to rake up leaves and stems in their yards this spring. Delay the cleanup until about late May or early June, she said.

“Many types of native bees and other beneficial insects nest in those materials. If all the leaves and stems are bagged and towed away, many insect eggs, larvae and hibernating adults are killed.”

Beaches Presbyterian Church
GARDEN SITE: Girl Guides and a Master Gardener are creating a pollinator garden at Beaches Presbyterian Church.

Jennifer Morley and Jennifer Downe, co-leaders of the 188th Girl Guides at the Beaches Presbyterian Church, will have about 20 of the group’s 9 to 11-year-olds planting a garden. Church member and Master Gardener Heather Crisp helped with the planning.

Morley said that in keeping with the city-issued criteria, 75 per cent of the plants must be native to Ontario. Their relationship with insects is symbiotic.

“They’ve basically evolved with the pollinators,” she said. “They’re going to do much better. They won’t need as much water, they won’t need as much fertilizer.”

Once the Guides have the garden up and running they want to take what they’ve learned to other Guide groups and inspire them to make their own gardens. Maybe they’ll make a video to spread their message, Morley said.

“We really want to inspire other young people because they’re going to take the message and run with it.”

Morley feels that building a garden also helps to build confidence and hope for better things.

“I think a lot of young people have anxiety about the future when it comes to the natural world. There’s a lot of anxiety about climate change,” she said.

“This gives them something they can do, something hands-on, so they feel like they’re making a difference.”

Spruce Court Co-op
CO-OPERATING WITH NATURE: The Spruce Court Co-op property, shown in an earlier photograph, is the site for a pollinator garden and other environment-friendly projects.

The Spruce Court Co-op in Cabbagetown is also planning a garden. Board chairs Cassie Scott and Mari Leblanc and landscaping committee co-chair Jennifer Roy are rolling up their sleeves to get started.

“The co-op is super excited for this opportunity,” Scott said. “It’s a way for us at the co-op to rally together and interface with the surrounding community with a very positive message.”

Children at the co-op will serve as Pollinator Ambassadors to spread the word about pollinators and they’re putting together a play with the working title “Pollinator Superheroes.” They hope to give a preview of it at this year’s Cabbagetown Festival.

“We have a history of doing environmentally-based plays. Our plays feature child actors and it’s never boring,” said Scott.

“We’re really hoping to up the profile of the importance of habitats for pollinators all across Cabbagetown.”