Written by: Cole White
A big part of Network of Nature's mandate is asserted in its motto: 'Connecting People With Plants'. From the beginning, we envisioned using the concept of 'Plant People' to shine a light on individuals and groups doing exceptional work. I'm going to profile one such group today, and keep your eyes open for more in the future.
As I reflected in this website's World Wildlife Day post, lately I've been noticing a phenomenon that, although not new, is gaining traction and visibility: smart people are doing vital work with plants that stems from an understanding that an intrinsic, fundamental connection exists between plants and traditional human cultures—and that our future depends on taking practical action in a way that's informed by this knowledge.
The Young Seedkeepers Garden takes ideas of seed saving, cultural knowledge, and empowerment of coming generations, and intends to bring them to fruition in a way that's practical and accessible. Although located in Southern Ontario, their work and philosophy informs a globally-relevant praxis that's worth your time to consider.
The Young Seedkeepers garden is also an applicant for the Gardens for Good grant program, which awards $5,000 to 21 winning entries across the US and Canada. Voting is open until April 7, 2021. If this project speaks to you, consider voting for them. Voting is limited to one vote per email address, so tell your friends too!
Proposed location of the Young Seedkeepers Garden. Graphic by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji.
I first met Shabina Lafleur-Gangji in the late aughts. In the subsequent decade-and-a-bit, her work as an herbalist, educator, writer, and activist has soared ever-upward. It seems like she's always working on something exceptional, and I have so much admiration for her dedication and integrity as a community leader.
Shabina is part of a brand-new venture launched by a group of Black, Indigenous, or racialized (BIPOC) parents and friends, located in Guelph, Ontario, called The Young Seedkeepers Garden. The vision for this project was developed when these parents decided to address a lack of culturally appropriate, affordable children's programming they'd identified during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shabina Lafleur-Gangji, one of the founders of the Young Seedkeepers Garden.
The group plans to facilitate weekly hands-on workshops for kids, sharing traditional plant cultivation skills and teachings from elders and knowledge keepers of diverse cultures and backgrounds. This will enable children to learn about plants, share their cultures with each other, and have fresh-grown food to take home each week.
The project also has an aim of treating the stress, insecurity (both personal and financial), and isolation brought on by living through a pandemic, which is disproportionately affecting underserved communities. The workshops are being offered at a sliding scale. And, they'll be located in an outdoor space that's able to accommodate physical distancing requirements while also letting kids socialize and learn together.
As a non-parent, it makes me so glad to know that something like this is being created by and for families. Another aspect of this project that really impressed me is that it's taking place on only a half-acre of land in a city. So much can be done with even a small area, when the right skills, knowledge and attitudes are brought to it.
If you'd like to learn more, donate, or get in contact, check out the Young Seedkeepers Garden official website.
A selection of links to Shabina's other work can be found here.
To read more about The Young Seedkeepers' Garden's grant application or vote for them, check out their entry on the Gardens for Good page by clicking the button below.
Stewardship of cultural plant knowledge is work that defies measure—if cultural plant knowledge is lost, it's lost—but when communities can perpetuate their knowledge, a radically transformative legacy is created for future generations.
Written by: Cole White
This year's UN World Wildlife Day celebrates forest-based livelihoods worldwide with the theme 'Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet'.
I grew up a family who hunted, fished, and worked in the woods. Later, like many young Canadians, I laboured as a piecework tree planter in the Boreal Forest. But even people I know who have lived their lives in Canada's most urban neighbourhoods feel a connection to woodlands—for example, my Torontonian friends who feel a sense of integration when they visit High Park, the ravines of the Don River, or the Rouge Valley.
Forests are a cornerstone of Canadian life. Everywhere, plants, microbes, birds, fish and a myriad of other creatures—including us—exist as part of a rich biological schema including forests. In Canada, forests sustain our culture, economy, spirituality, and livelihoods in ways that make this land and its people what they are.
Thirty-nine percent of Canada's land is forest, and this represents 9% of the world's total forests. The future is unwritten, but these numbers tell us that state of Canadian forests is a major variable in how climate change will play out worldwide.
Of course, it's a given that the changes we're already seeing—including severe wildfires, loss of ecological diversity, and the proliferation of invasive species that threaten tree populations—are expected to become more extreme in the coming years.
Adding to this, economic changes due to the pandemic, evolving consumer demands (for example, the decline of print newspapers and magazines), and international competition show that the preexisting commercial relationship between Canadian forests and people won't be the way of the future.
Increasingly, many Canadians are recognizing what forests give them, and asking what they can do in return. To me, this year's World Wildlife Day theme (and this inspired illustration for the event by Gabe Wong) expresses a hope that our global communities are affirming their relationships with forests and finding constructive ways forward that honour our interdepedence.
What's happening right now in Canada to support this? Our country's issues are diverse and so multifaceted, but these are a few trends I've noticed recently:
Indigenous forest management systems offer expertise informed by thousands of years' experience working with this land. The most recent Canadian census reported that 70% of Indigenous people in Canada live in or near forests. (I've also seen similar statistics for other parts of the world, and globally.) Increasingly, Indigenous people are reclaiming portions of their original territories and asserting their right to participate in self-governance, including forest management.
Indigenous involvement in sustainable natural resource management is helping to bring socio-economic benefits to communities and maintain cultural, recreational, and spiritual connections to the land. As reported beautifully in the National Observer, residents of B.C.'s Tŝilhqot'in Nation are using clean energy to develop a new land, water, and wildlife management area, supporting self-determination within their communities.
Coastal Guardian Watchmen also provide a model for what responsible land stewardship can look like in Haida Gwaii.
It's exciting to see collaborative efforts undertaken to synergize traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and settlers' science-based understanding of nature as complementary information systems.
In a recent lecture, Indigenous scholar and assistant professor Myrle Ballard at the University of Manitoba described how Indigenous expertise can inform scientific work.
The viewpoint has also been expressed poetically in the best-selling Braiding Sweetgrass, by botanist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, who espouses radical gratitude to nature by asking that humans consider the question, 'What can I give in return for the gifts of the earth?'
Landscape architects and horticulturalists are inventing and adapting design models that enhance vitality for people and forests.
Planting individual trees is great, but what if you could fast-track the growth of a mini forest community in your neighbourhood? Network of Nature is piloting a new project on using the Miyawaki Forest technique to do just that in Canada.
Emerging technologies have their place in this work:
Remote sensing and artifical intelligence can give us new eyes in the sky to monitor our expansive Boreal Forest for extreme wildfires.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis and interpretitive web cartography are being used to understand and educate Canadians about the value of our northern peatlands.
Ex-situ conservation methods carried out in sterile labs are providing hope for at-risk species, with researchers developing tissue culture and seed banking methodologies to preserve genetically unique local flora.
I think that Gen Z will grow up more attuned to ecological issues than any previous generation. One educational resource I noticed recently is this kid-friendly website, which includes a colouring book, advocating for the conservation of Wisqoq (Black Ash) populations in our eastern forests.
Black Ash is native to Eastern Canada and is used in traditional basket weaving. Populations are currently under threat due to the proliferation of Emerald Ash Borer.
This blog post is a snapshot of my personal reflections, and I'm sure I don't have all the pieces of the puzzle. Maybe you have something to add about how Canadians and forests can work together, or where this is all going. Do you know of something I should have mentioned here? Let us know!
For more information about World Wildlife Day events, which include a film festival, check out the offical website.
Written by: Mary Anne Young
Summer is upon us in most of Canada (notwithstanding the snowfalls in my area of Ontario over the first week of May, and the recent hailstorm in Calgary) and many people's minds have turned to gardening. As such we're going to start peppering our blog entries with gardening and landscape design tips. One of Network of Nature's staff received a question recently about boulevard gardens:
"Hey wondering if you might have recommendations on what to plant in a Boulevard. We had a crazy weed to take over that area, so it has now been dug out, and new soil is going in there. So, we are starting from fresh soil. As you know it would need to be very sun/heat tolerant, and obviously has dogs stepping on it and sometimes kids, as people walk by. One landscape friend suggested creeping thyme with lavender (for height and interest). Any other ideas?"
Boulevard gardens may seem easy at first – it is an open strip of land, free for the planting! However, in practice they can be a bit tricky due to difficult growing conditions and municipal restrictions.
First of all, it may seem obvious but I'm going to answer the question “what is a boulevard”? Technically the word boulevard refers to a wide, tree-lined street. But in the context of this article the boulevard is the no-man's-land between the curb and the sidewalk on many urban and suburban streets. This area is within what is known as the road right-of-way, which is usually municipally owned land on either side of the road that is used for utilities (aboveground or underground). Boulevards are heavy-use areas which may be used for everything from piling snow, foot traffic, car drop-off areas, and dogs' rest stops.
Vegetation in boulevards usually consists of grass and generally one tree per property. There is a growing trend across Canada of residents planting boulevard gardens, thereby beautifying the street, providing additional nectar sources for pollinators, and contributing to heat island mitigation. Cities with growing boulevard garden traditions include Victoria, Vancouver, Kitchener, Toronto, and Halifax.
Boulevards tend to be difficult places to grow plants – the soil conditions are often poor, there is little shade, and there can be high salt levels from winter maintenance or pets. Therefore, plants should be chosen accordingly. The municipality may need at some point to dig up the bed, so woody plants like trees and shrubs should be avoided; this leaves hardy annual and perennial plants as the ideal boulevard species. You can also consider hard landscaping like rocks if they are small enough to be moved in the aforementioned occasional dig.
Here are some sample native plant palettes that will work in boulevards in different places across Canada. These are all full sun gardens, have yellow or blue/purple colour palettes, and have maximum bloom later in the season:
Silver Prairie Sage
Before planting, you should have a utility locate completed to make sure you won't be digging into underground utilities (this is a free service in many areas) and call or check your municipality's website to see if there are any boulevard planting restrictions or free resources.
Have questions about using native plants in your gardening or landscape design project that you'd like to see highlighted in a future blog post? Send us a note using the form on the Contact Us page. We love hearing from our users.
• ASK PAT: Bees and Boulevards
• Recommendations for boulevard plantings in the City of Kitchener (PDF)
• Halifax council to discuss guidelines for boulevard gardens
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