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Paul Zammit spoke at our 2022 AGM and asked members to think about their gardens in new way.

Niagara on-the-Lake is known as 'The Loveliest Town in Canada'. And, those of us who live and garden here agree. But when Paul Zammit, Professor at Niagara College and former Director of Horticulture at Toronto Botanical Garden for over a decade, spoke at the NOTL Horticulture Society's AGM on November 22, 2022 he challenged members to think differently about their gardens.

"It's not all about the show," said the energetic Zammit, who teaches at Niagara College. "We need to rethink our ideas of beauty, choice of plants and understand how individual gardens can make a big difference sustaining our ecosystems."

Zammit is throwing down the gauntlet because the role of suburban gardens is changing. "We are facing global issues," said Zammit, who spent 10 years as Director of the Toronto Botanical Garden. "Land is being lost to development which means we're losing species habitat. We've got National and Provinical Parks, but that's not enough land to foster a large genetic pool. We need a lot of diversity as each species plays a unique role in our ecosystem."

Enter the suburban garden. "Our gardens offer huge opportunties to provide nesting and feeding sites for many species. In the past, we would find something eating the leaves of our Redbud trees and think we've got to annihilate that insect. Now, we're beginning to realize that insects feed and nest on native plants and that's a good thing."

And, growing native plants doesn't just help insects and other species. It sustains human life, too. "We depend on all kinds of insects to pollinate our crops," say Zammit. "Fruit doesn't set if it hasn't been pollinated and just over 90% of plants depend on pollinators to set seeds."

So exactly how can our gardens help? "Add native plants to your gardens. They have evolved with native species to form an ecoweb, providing food, shelter and nesting sites." say Zammit. "And avoid planting invasive aliens that out compete with native plants."

Zammit also offers gardeners a few words of caution before heading out to the nursery. "Be careful about the native species you add to your garden," says Zammit. "Some plants support more insects than others. Hybrids don't support as much wildlife and double-petalled flowers make it hard for the insects to get the pollen."

But that doesn't mean you need to compromise."Asters are gorgeous in the garden, they extend the gardening season so insects have food into September and October and we have flowers in the garden longer," say Zammit. "And, best of all native plants are easy to grow."

Some herbs make another great addition to the garden. "Dill and parsely are for host plants for butterflies. And, if you have room plant an oak tree. Oaks are a keystone plant that supports over 500 species of insects," say Zammitt. "Think function versus beauty. The choices we make in our gardens matter."

Paul offered members more ideas to add life to the garden. "Don't rake your leaves in the fall.Caterpillars live in leaf litter. Add some logs to your garden because they're great sponges and provide water for many creatures. And, don't deadhead your flowers. The seeds feed the birds in the winter months."

As Society members know Niagara on-the Lake is the loveliest town in Canada, but by taking up Zammit's challenge and adding native plants to our gardens we can be more than lovely. We can help support our fragile ecosystem. So when you casting a glance over the plants in the nurserynext spring, take a minute to think about who you want to invite into your garden?


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