In the spring of 2019, Church of the Resurrection, Toronto was awarded a city PollinateTO grant. The church’s garden team was excited to have the opportunity to transform half of our garden plots, plus the unnecessary lawn space at the front of the church, into a pollinator-friendly garden full of native plants.
Bees, butterflies, moths and beetles depend on specific plants to meet their needs for nectar, pollen, larval and adult food, and nesting materials. Plants are equally dependent on insects for cross-pollination, which creates genetic diversity and ensures the plant’s survival. The city’s pollinator strategy recognizes that habitat can be restored and native plants can be re-introduced. The PollinateTO grants are a way of encouraging volunteer groups with land in the city – such as churches – to lead the way in habitat restoration by creating pollinator gardens.
Resurrection was well-positioned to take advantage of the city’s generous grant. In past years, existing gardeners had already planted or seeded some native plants, including goldenrod, milkweed, fleabane and New England aster. Oregano was growing wild everywhere, and the bees went crazy over it. The church already had 1,000 square feet of raised garden beds that had been built as a community garden. About half of this area successfully grew vegetables, but the other half was shaded under a magnificent old red oak and wasn’t very productive.
The grant stipulated that the garden design be 75 per cent native plants, have continuous blooms for insects and contain at least two plants that are larval host species. The plan for the garden must also respect the sun/shade and soil conditions the plants would need. A key part of the design process was to measure the sun/shade conditions of the various raised beds.
It turned out a couple of beds got enough sun to be planted as a meadow. These beds now contain native tall grasses like big blue stem, Indian grass, switch grass, little blue stem and bottlebrush grass, as well as field flowers like purple bergamot, black-eyed Susan, butterflyweed and native blue lupine. One of our most popular species with pollinators is hairy beardtongue.
The bed under the red oak was planted with forest floor species such as trilliums, columbine, Virginia waterleaf, ferns and witch hazel, which blossoms and turns brilliant gold in the fall.
Our team felt the garden shouldn’t be just pollinator friendly, but a beautiful and meditative place where neighbours could meet with friends and encounter God. We planted serviceberry trees to provide flowers in the spring, berries for the birds in the summer and beautiful fall colours. Native shrubs, such as nannyberry, red elderberry and wild cherry, were planted to give the garden texture and help it feel like an enclosed space. A sandbox in one of the beds encourages neighbours to enjoy the space. Two picnic tables in the garden invite passersby to sit and enjoy the garden.
The grant also stipulated that the garden needs an education component, to spread the knowledge of the need for pollinator habitat. Part of the funding will cover signage, which we’ll erect later this year.
Planting took place in the spring and fall of 2020, in the heart of the pandemic. To help with the work, the church had a wonderful team of volunteers, some of whom had experience with native plants and some who didn’t. With masking and social distancing, we were able to invite families from the church and the Toronto Field Naturalists’ juniors program to participate. Now, regular Facebook posts encourage community members to go on treasure hunts and find the beautiful plants that are budding or blooming.
This fall, we hope to host a plant giveaway and garden tour day. Visit us on Sept. 25 to get plants to start your own pollinator garden. Anne Purvis, one of our garden team members, completed training provided by Pollinator Partnerships to become a certified pollinator steward and will be available for consultation. If you’d like tips on how to begin a pollinator garden, visit our church Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/TheRezToronto, where we have outlined topics to think about before and during your project.