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Nature popping! Outdoor Greening Sacred Spaces: Fact Sheets 6 & 7

Resources. Guides. Nature. Biodiversity. Gardens. Habitat. Pollinators. Vegetables. Community. Biodiversity Day: Building a shared future for all life. Living in harmony with nature.

Developed in 2017 by our Green Sacred Spaces Ottawa chapter, these ten downloadable Outdoor Greening Factsheets cover the following topics:

  1. Sustainable Lawns, Groundcovers and Alternatives 
  2. Landscaping for energy-savings 
  3. Stormwater Management 
  4. Water Conservation and Drought-tolerant Landscaping 
  5. Hedgerows 
  6. Choosing and planting Native Trees & Shrubs 
  7. Wildlife-friendly Garden 
  8. Bird-friendly Garden 
  9. Urban Meadows 
  10. Special Purpose Gardens: Healing, Meditation, Medicine Wheel, Labyrinth Gardens


Fact sheet 6: Choosing and planting Native Trees & Shrubs 

Trees have strong symbolism and meaning in various sacred scriptures and faith communities. They are an enduring symbol of strength and protection reminding us in our busy lives of all that is good, steadfast and enduring. The “Tree of Life” that is rooted strongly into the nourishing soil and stretches its limbs into the vast sky provides a connection between the heavens and earth. Care for Creation can be demonstrated with the planting of new trees, and provides that symbolic connection with nature to the congregation.

Some different landscaping options include:

Small Ornamental Tree/Shrub: this is a great option when there is limited space. Many native shrubs and smaller trees can provide cover and food for wildlife, and are well adapted to local conditions thus requiring less maintenance than exotic, ornamental shrubs and trees. Coniferous greenery will not require leaf collection either.

Tall Tree: a tall, narrow tree can be an option for smaller landscapes. There are some interesting narrow varieties such as columnar oaks, poplars and aspens. Or, if shade is not an issue, one large tree doesn’t require much ground level space and can reach above the garden and spread out higher up.

Group of Trees/Shrubs (3 – 5 trees): Even a small grouping of trees and shrubs can provide a resting spot for migrating birds especially in urban areas. These trees can provide suitable shelter and fuel for the next leg in their journey, such as protein from insects or native berries. If it’s a mixed group of plants, this provides more opportunities and enjoyment with different blooms, berries and visiting pollinators such as beneficial insects and birds.

Line of Shrubs (Hedgerow): A line of shrubs creates a living fence when planted close together. It can offer privacy, define an outdoor “room”, add colour, texture and variety to a simple yard, and at the same time provide much needed wildlife corridors. Please refer the Hedgerow Fact Sheet for more information.

Line of Trees: If your faith community has a larger property there may be a distribution of mature trees. If they are mature trees of the same generation, it would be beneficial to intersperse with a younger generation. If it’s a row of matching trees, add some diversity with the younger plants. Even though a row of Elm or Maple can look elegant, a mixture of two or three trees (repeated in the same pattern) can provide some of that beauty of order while also offering a diversity to wildlife and protection against disease and pests through the resiliency of a mixture of plants.

Fact sheet 7: Wildlife-friendly Garden 

The soaring flight of butterflies, the friendly hop of a toad, the lovely songs of colourful birds and the amazing aerial feats of bats, all this and more can be enjoyed in a wildlife-friendly garden. Biodiverse gardens and landscaped areas offer much needed habitat and resources to wildlife both big and small and provide the positive enjoyment from observations and encounters for visitors and congregants alike. Wildlife animates the outdoors, like nothing else can. Care for Creation that expands into the care for all god’s creatures benefits both wildlife and humans – from healthier soil, resilient local ecosystems, diverse flora and fauna populations and cleaner water and bountiful local food systems.

​​Insects Colourful winged pollinators and bright, busy bees and ladybugs may be among the more popular insects to attract to gardens but there are a multitude of insects of varying sizes, shapes and even mobility that all provide diversity and make up a healthy ecosystem and food chain. Beyond creating a messy area and/or letting up on fall maintenance, other practices that support insects, which also then support insectavores (birds and small mammals, including bats), include: 

  • Choosing a large assortment of native plants with different size blooms to attract diverse insects including both larvae and adult insects.
  • Supporting the growth and health of lichens, mosses and other small plants that are crucial to the smaller minuscule ecosystem and thus smaller insects. 
  • If you do have to remove plant mass in the fall, consider leaving at least a third and rotating that section yearly to provide some winter habitat for insects. 

Herptiles Along with messy spaces, brush piles and logs, there are other things that can be done to provide habitat for amphibians and reptiles. Consider providing habitat for herptiles if your property is within two kilometers of potential breeding sites (ponds, wetlands and wet forests with vernal pools) especially if there are safe corridors for spring movement. There are diverse needs among herptiles – some like dryer areas, some seek out damp spots so consider this as you make changes. A rock garden of varying sizes of rocks can provide some of those dry, warm areas for various creatures and insects and the stone acts as a heat sink, soaking up heat during the day and releasing it at night, which creates a special micro-climate for plants and animals. Compost is another type of “habitat” that can attract herptiles including snakes, who may lay eggs in compost. To ensure the safety of any eggs, turn your compost carefully and/or avoid turning in late spring (May-June). 

For other creatures, such as toads that seek shelter in cooler, damp spaces, a location that is shady or only receives morning sun is ideal. Large, leafy foliage close to the ground that provides cover and offers more than one escape route is the best. Check under Strawberries, Rhubarb or Mullein to see if there are any favourite patches. Birds Cities harbour one fifth of the world’s bird species, so when considering wildlife, birds should be included (Aronson et al, 2014). Please refer to the other fact sheet on Bird-Friendly Gardening for detailed advice on how to provide birds with natural urban habitat. 

Small mammals – including bats Small mammals need no introduction: chipmunks, squirrels, etc. and they can be quite a frustration if they are digging up intentional plantings (bulbs, etc). Consider offering them other food resources from a native shrub or tree. Choose trees and shrubs that offer acorns (oaks), nuts (butternut, hickory), cones (pine), seeds and berries. If these are newly planted, they will need extra care and some protection for the first couple of years. Please refer to the Native Trees and Shrubs fact sheet. If there is interest in providing bat habitat and there is room for a tree placed away from high-traffic areas, consider a Shagbark Hickory as these trees provide a natural roost site for a variety of Ontario bats. These flying mammals can be a benefit to your landscape as they eat a large amount of flying insects nightly. 

Download fact sheets here.

Living in Harmony with Nature

Let your sacred space be an example of your stewardship and commitment for caring for creation.  Our many garden resources offer guidance and inspiration to help you learn to live in harmony with nature and restore the sacred balance of the Earth. Learn about sustainable practices for water and energy including xeriscaping, rain gardens, and water-wise strategies in the Outdoor Greening Fact Sheets. Read about the possibilities of turning a section of your faith community property into an ecological haven for wildlife including pollinators such as insects and birds. Get to know more about the benefits of planting native species of grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees for your new meditation or prayer garden or in your memorial grounds.  Click here for more of our gardening resources.

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