Make the most of your garden this year: Choose plants with purpose
The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and gardening season has arrived across Canada. From melons to marigolds, gardens are a great way to put homegrown produce on your table and provide a colourful backdrop. And while most store shelves will be cleared of tulips and lilies, it’s the untraditional plants that you may want to consider to set your yard apart from the rest.
First, leave the weeds — those ‘pesky’ yellow ones anyway. Overlooked by many, dandelions are now the dark horse in the realm of salad ingredients. Packed with calcium, iron and antioxidants, this leafy green is a multipurpose super-food growing in popularity among restaurateurs and health nuts. Hot tea, soups, fruit smoothies, even wine can be improved nutritionally, simply by adding dandelion.
And while you’re enriching your diet, why not do the same for some winged friends? Milkweed flowers, sought out by butterflies for nourishment, will help your garden achieve a rustic feel and notably add to its fragrance. Milkweed is a main food source for the monarch butterfly; a species conservationists say is worth planting for. In Canada, monarchs exist primarily wherever milkweed and wildflowers such as goldenrod and asters exist.
“Monarchs are labeled as a species of special concern in Canada, and a key factor in its plight is the widespread loss of milkweed,” says Julie Sveinson Pelc, manager of stewardship programs for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in Manitoba.
NCC, Canada’s leading land conservation organization, has developed monarch-friendly seed-planting programs in the prairies to help remedy their habitat loss and improve their concerning population decline. "Habitat restoration can take many decades to happen," says Pelc. "But this small effort from local gardeners can make a big difference for the species."
Hoping to apply its conservation expertise to a broader, do-it-yourself initiative, NCC's Manitoba Region partnered with the Monarch Teacher Network of Canada. The "Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies" are ideal for garden enthusiasts, as it provides the steps needed to create a habitat for these iconic species for their communities and backyards.
Planting a garden is a way to relax. It’s a way to experience gift-giving with nature. And it’s a way to explore the seemingly endless boundaries of Canadian ecology. So this year when you’re choosing what new items to bring to your backyard, ask not what you can do for your garden, but what your garden can do for you — and perhaps what your garden can do for a few friendly visitors!