Pollinators to benefit from new garden at Billy Bishop Museum

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The backyard of the Billy Bishop Museum was a buzz of activity on Saturday morning.

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A small army of volunteers gathered at the First World War flying ace’s childhood home where after a couple of hours of digging and planting they had established Pollinate Owen Sound’s first pollinator habitat.

Liz Zetlin, who has spearheaded the Pollinate Owen Sound initiative with master gardener Vicky Thompson and landscape designer Thomas Dean, said the hope is the demonstration garden will help spread the word throughout the community about the importance of including native plants to feed the bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators.

“Everybody can contribute if you have a lawn, a little patch of garden or a little boulevard strip,” Zetlin said Saturday. “Ideally you would put in 70 per cent native plants, but whatever you can do is going to benefit the pollinators, who are in decline around the world.

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“We are having an insect apocalypse and we need to provide habitat.”

Pollinate Owen Sound, which launched last year, is part of a growing national and international movement aimed at moving away from planting solely exotic plant species and focusing more on reintroducing native species in an effort to sustain a healthy ecosystem.

Pollinate Owen Sound is hoping to convince those in Grey-Bruce to think more about what they are planting in their own gardens through education and action.

Last year the Owen Sound River District held River District Blooms, where various groups, businesses and organizations planted half a dozen installations with native plants for the public to enjoy.

Zetlin said the Heritage Place mall approached them about planting the pots and flowerbeds at their entrances with native plants.

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Zetlin said they are making progress in changing peoples’ minds about what plants to put in their gardens, though she admitted it is hard to convince some to make the switch.

“Once you start to study native plants and learn about them there are some absolutely beautiful plants, like the asters and the goldenrods and then trees like the pagoda dogwood are just gorgeous,” Zetlin said. “You can still have a beautiful garden and keep some of your beauties, but include some natives.

“There are so many varieties to choose from.”

Zetlin said another great thing about native plants is that after the first year they become established, and are very low maintenance.

“They don’t need fertilizer and they don’t need watering because the roots are long,” said Zetlin. “They take care of themselves.”

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The demonstration garden planted on Saturday was the first of several planned for locations in and around the city’s downtown and harbour areas. Next year, they plan to move on to other members of the OPEN team — the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library and Tom Thomson Art Gallery, with the Community Waterfont Heritage Centre’s marine and rail museum also in their future plans.

The garden planted on Saturday will have signage attached to it identifying the various plants in English, Latin and Anishinaabemowin.

Zetlin said the garden showed that a flowerbed of native plants doesn’t have to look like an “untidy meadow,” but can be designed to flower throughout the year.

“You can make it so it has a bit of shape to it, or you can let everything grow into everything else,” Zetlin said. “It is really up to you.”

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Billy Bishop Museum Curator Morgan Woodhouse said they are more than happy to be a part of the initiative.

“It is 140 years this year that the Billy Bishop home has been here in town and one of our goals is to be sustainable and continue on for another 140 years,” Woodhouse said. “Learning these sustainable practices through the garden has been excellent.”

They even included two native rose bushes in the garden in an ode to Billy Bishop, who as a child built a plane out of orange crates and curtains and jumped off the roof of the back shed of the home and landed in the rose bushes below.

Woodhouse said education is one of goals of the Billy Bishop Museum and the garden provides them with another opportunity to do that.

“Even today we had quite a few young families and one of them was talking about how they wanted to make their own garden in their backyard,” said Woodhouse. “By being part of this we were showing them how easy it is to do.

“You just move the dirt around, stick it in and you are good to go. They were able to then take some of the seeds we had available home and start to plant their garden together.”

For more information about the local pollinate movement, including a list of pollinators and native plant species, visit pollinategc.ca

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