I couldn’t believe I was crouching on a green patch, trying to see close up the activities that were happening at ground level. How had the events of the day found me on my knees?
My day had started simply enough, packing flyers in a satchel and coordinating a route in the southwest end of the city for outreach and visiting with faith communities. This was one aspect of the program I appreciated, meeting with gardeners and seeing their labours of love, finding out how they were incorporating aspects of sustainability and supporting the local ecology in their own properties. It was inspiring to see what different approaches faith communities took to outdoor greening and how their sacred spaces linked with the landscapes of their neighbourhoods and supported the communities surrounding their property.
This summer the Ottawa Chapter of Faith & the Common Good, with the financial support of the Ottawa Community Foundation is delivering native pollinator plants to local faith communities that want to support our local wild pollinators with biodiverse habitat including wildflower. This outdoor greening – Care for Creation – activity is an easy one for local gardeners to do!
So what is a native pollinator plant?
Many plants rely on “pollinators” to fertilize their flowers so that seeds can grow. Fertilization can only happen when pollen is moved from the male anther to the female stigma of the flower. So for the plants that need help (when they can’t self-pollinate or they aren’t pollinated by the wind) many insects and some birds and even bats provide that “free” service. With pollination, the plants can create seeds, which will ensure that there will be another crop of plants for the following year but we humans also eat some of these pollinated plants – including nuts, fruits, seeds and vegetables. Pollinators are essential for the production of our food.
Many wild pollinators help with the pollination of our food crops and our flowers, shrubs and trees. Some are generalists, searching for pollen and nectar from wherever they can find it but many are specialists and are in need of specialized plants to survive the full flowering season. This is where pollinator plants come in. Native perennials bloom at different times of year, providing sustenance for wild bees, beetles, flies, moths, butterflies and other pollinators in spring, summer and through to the fall. This ensures that these species that we rely on for pollination can return year after year and continue their important job of pollination.
These native pollinator plants also come in a variety of colours, sizes and shapes to provide a biodiverse habitat to support the multitude of insect species that we have. In terms of just wild bees alone, there are over 800 native species, from the size of a few milimeters to the size of a larger bumble bee that can be over 2 full centimeters. Bees also can be either short-tongued or long-tongued which allows some to have better access to nectar from certain flowers. With consideration of all these various sized insects and their needs, it helps to have a variety of flowers in many sizes. As humans we appreciate the big and colourful flowers, but adding smaller, daintier ones to the mix can make a big difference to our pollinators. (TIP: Add them in a large bunch so that they look showier and more colourful as a big group of blooms for your garden admirers to enjoy.)
Along with planting more native pollinator plants, faith community gardeners can also improve habitat by changing some of their maintenance practices and keeping a less “tidy” garden. Some easy Outdoor Greening - Caring for Creation opportunities include adding a small piles of rocks, a brush pile of twigs, grasses and other material, and/or even a small flat water dish with some rocks on which to land. Many insects also overwinter in our yards, looking for crevices to either hide in themselves or a place to leave eggs that will hatch next spring. Some need hollow stems while others will overwinter under fallen leaves or dig or find holes in the ground. So leaving up some plant material, especially grasses and aster and other hollow stems like raspberry, keeping leaves on the ground until spring and ensuring that we leave some patches of bare dirt can help these pollinators immensely. Spring cleaning of our gardens is the best time to clear away dead material – once the temperatures are consistently above 10 degrees Celsius. And if you can’t leave up all dead plant material, consider keeping up at least a third, perhaps in a less conspicuous area on your faith community property.
Native pollinator plants are a great addition to our gardens!
This past summer, the Ottawa Chapter of Faith & the Common Good collaborated with a new environmental effort: the Wild Pollinator Partners (WPP) network. This new initiative in Eastern Ontario was created to share information, resources and experience on native pollinators and it also has the goal to help liaise between local groups such as teachers, researchers, NGO’s and local residents. WPP saw a need to support and promote the important pollination benefits that native bees and other native species of insects provide to the local ecology. They realized that many people were not aware that wild bees, which are mostly solitary bees, are key to local pollination in both cities and the countryside. The belief that we are dependent solely on European Honeybees (an introduced species) to do all pollination is false. However Honeybees compete for the same nectar and pollen as our native species so it is crucial to provide native wildflower habitat to ensure the health of local populations of pollinators.
What if you could share with your community your caring actions for creation and become a leader for sustainability in your neighbourhood? What if you could take simple steps to change your outdoor property maintenance or landscape design so as to reflect your place of worship’s desires for stronger social cohesion, resilient city making, or local ecological protection? What if your congregants could create an outdoor space that would delight all ages and provide much needed habitat for butterflies, birds, and other urban wildlife species?
This winter the Ottawa Chapter of FCG is offering a free garden webinar series for local faith communities to learn about how to support the birds, bees and other wildlife on your property. Native birds and bees benefit from simple and easy changes that we can make to our gardens. Providing more “habitat” supports these important species that help strengthen the resiliency of our local ecological systems and also provide many personal benefits to us including mental health and spiritual joy.
During the FCG winter webinar series, we will:
- discuss the reasons why we should be supporting local birds and the bees on our faith community property and the benefits of a more sustainable and ecological landscape;
- share how prayer, meditation, community food and/or sacred space gardens can attract more birds and bees through easy enhancements and simple changes to maintenance techniques;
- highlight some local Ottawa programs and resources that can support both your home and faith community garden (including signage that will let your neighbours know about your efforts!);
- be there to answer your gardening questions and perhaps we can have some cross-pollination with gardeners sharing their own experience with their peers online.
This FREE four-part garden webinar series starts in January 2020. All Ottawa webinar participants (those who attend the webinar) will be entered into a draw to receive some great garden paraphernalia to help with your sustainable efforts at your faith community! We are looking forward to supporting your sustainable and ecological gardening efforts this spring.
Tues January 28 at Noon (EST) – Introduction to The Birds and the Bees of Sustainable Gardening - We will start off with the 5 W’s, providing an overview of ecological and sustainable gardening, why it is important and where to start in your own garden. (LINK)
Tues February 11 at 7 PM (EST) – Supporting Wild Pollinators in your Gardens – What Wild Bees are Visiting your Sacred Space? Our focus will be on wild bees and other beneficial insects you will meet in your landscapes and how to support them. (LINK)
Wed February 26 at Noon (EST) - Gardening for Wildlife – guest presentation by Canadian Wildlife Federation - The CWF program highlights the key “ingredients” to a successful and beautiful garden that will support local wildlife. (LINK)
Wed March 11 at 7 PM (EDT) – The Birds and the Bees of Sustainable Gardening – What Next? This final webinar will focus on new research and how to apply it to your gardens, local resources and any other final questions you may have to help get you started for spring gardening. (LINK)
This series is being offered as part of the Ottawa Interfaith Sustainable Garden Network. Please contact Katherine Forster to join the OISG Network and received the Ottawa Chapter - Sustainable Garden Network newsletter which is sent out 4-6 times a year providing updates on local garden resources and new FCG Outdoor Greening programs.
As always, FCG Ottawa staff is here to help support faith community staff and volunteers working outdoors on their landscape and gardens and those who want to add a new sustainable garden component to their property. Let us know what your needs are in terms of your sacred landscape and ecological gardens — we are here to help!