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We’re getting closer and closer to planting season, and the question that’s on everyone’s mind is: “what can I add to image of: prairie smoke (geum triflorum)my garden to put those winter months behind me?” Even though we’re a few weeks into spring, the weather can still feel a bit December-ish. Well, we’ve got an answer for you. Our April ‘Species of the Month’ is the Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum), and it’s a low-growing plant with showy flowers that does best in dry soil conditions. If you’re looking for a plant that’ll help you transition into spring, then this is the one for you.

Smoke on the Prairie

One of the most notable characteristics about Prairie Smoke is its unique, drooping flowers. These flowers bloom into a reddish-pink to light purple colour in late spring. These are truly a beautiful sight when you have a section of the ground covered in Prairie Smoke, but what’s maybe even more interesting are the fruiting heads that follow. As the flower fades and the seeds begin to form, the styles elongate to form upright, feathery gray tails which image of: prairie smoke (geum triflorum)collectively resemble a plume or feather duster. This is what gives the plant its name, ‘Prairie Smoke,’ as it can resemble a plume of smoke wafting over a field.

The Drier the Better

Talk about shaking off the winter blues. This plant not only blooms into a very springy pink colour, it actually thrives in drier conditions. Prairie Smoke is best grown in dry, well-drained soils in full sun. The plant will tolerate light shade, and during the hotter days, prefers some afternoon shade, but for the most part is averse to full watering. Prairie Smoke may be grown in medium moisture, but the plant will almost surely die out if it’s subjected to wet winter soil conditions.

Garden Uses

Like many of the plants we grow at St. Williams, Prairie Smoke is a friend to the bumblebee, and other potential image of: prairie smokepollinators that are strong enough to get into the flowers. The ripe seeds produced by the plant are quite fragrant as well and has been used to make perfume. Because it’s drought tolerant and prefers dry conditions, Prairie Smoke is an excellent choice for planting on a green-roof if you’re looking to make your building more energy efficient. Prairie Smoke is low-growing and plays well with a selective group of plants. It makes a great accompaniment to a rock garden or to other low-growing species, such as: Early Buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis), Nodding Wild Onion 9Allium cernuum), Cylindrical Blazing Star (Liatris cylindracea), Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinecea pallida), and Upland White Aster (Solidago ptarmicoides).

If you’ve started planning your low-growing gardening or landscaping project for this year, you don’t want to miss out on the beautiful, and aromatic Prairie Smoke (Geum Triflorum). Gazing at your garden every day will serve as a stark reminder that we’re through the cold months and are ready to enjoy the warm weather of spring and summer…Just like this fuzzy little plant.

For more info, and to order our species of the month, click here. There’ll be more on Prairie Smoke this month, including ‘Fast Facts,’ ‘Did You Know,‘ and a ‘Species of the Month’ video! So stay tuned to stwilliamsnursery.com, and our Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages.

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Go Wild Grow Wild with Carolinian Canada in London on April 7

St. Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre is thrilled to be returning to Go Wild Grow Wild, taking place Saturday, April 7, 2018 at the Metroland Media Agriplex, Western Fair District in London, Ontario.

This incredible event, put on by Carolinian Canada brings together the region’s businesses, experts, organizations, and groups in one massive event!  The Go Wild Grow Wild Expo will inspire you with incredible information, interactive workshops, live demonstrations, and much more!  New features this year include the Green Living Zone image of: go wild grow wild logoand Wild Green Marketplace.  Admission is $5 and Children under 12 are free.  Tickets are available at the door or they can be purchased online HERE.

The St. Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre booth will feature a variety of flowers, shrubs, and trees available for purchase.  For a list of our availability at the show, please CLICK HERE.  Please note that our availability is limited and once species are sold out we will not be able to restock them.

One of our favourite features at Go Wild Grow Wild are the incredible workshops offered all day long.  2018 features a huge line up that includes a variety of speakers that will discuss pollinators, wildlife, native plants, and many more environmental topics.  To see a full list of exhibitors, CLICK HERE.  Note that this schedule is subject to change.

We’re looking forward to seeing you this Saturday at Go Wild Grow Wild!  Don’t forget to stop by the St. Williams Nursery & Ecology Centre booth to check out our native plants and say hello to our staff.

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Earlier this month, a collection of staff members from St Williams Nursery & Ecology Centre hit the highway to attend the Shifting the Paradigm Forum 2018 presented by Carolinian Canada and World Wildlife Fund – Canada (WWF). The forum was targeted around the growth of the native plant industry in the Carolinian Zone….which was music to our ears here at St Williams. The organizers’ intentions were to bring key stakeholders to the forum in order to promote collaborations, share ideas, and foster relationships which can and will help to achieve this common goal.

The day was filled with inspirational presentations and commentary from a wide array of perspectives and personalities within the native plant industry. The day was kicked-off with an eye-opening presentation by Dr. Dan Longboat from Trent University into the Indigenous Perspective of reconciliation with the land. It was very interesting how the traditions shared by generations of indigenous people have been both prophesizing and cautionary. We must remain conscious of what the land is telling us, and how we must reciprocate within the relationship.

Dr. Longboat was followed by our own Allan Arthur, President of St Williams Nursery & Ecology Centre. Allan gave a image of: Allan Arthurgreat synopsis on the current state of the native plant industry in Ontario, and the challenges that we face every day in enhancing biodiversity though the propagation and restoration of source-identified native species.. We know that Allan could have talked for days on the matter, but he was able to condense his synopsis nicely into a 30 minute presentation that fit the day’s agenda.

Following Allan’s presentation, we were treated to a number of panels with representatives from all different walks of life in the native plant industry. We heard from a panel that discussed the integration of native plants into the overall green space industry, with representatives from the private sector (Tony DiGiovanni, Landscape Ontario and others), the public sector (Patricia Landry, City of Toronto and others) the not-for-profit sector (Kathleen Law, Pollinator Partnership and others) and as well as  the social finance sector. It was a coming together of these four sectors to discuss how a collaboration could work to introduce more native plant diversity into the local landscape. The next panel discussed stories from the frontline, as native plant author and guru Lorraine Johnson moderated a great discussion amongst growers in the native plant industry, focused on the trends that they have seen emerge over the past decade. The third panel introduced another set of perspectives to discuss just how this need for native plants restoration may lead to greater business opportunities in the market.

The end of the night included a great networking session, which was highlighted by a presentation from St Williams’ image of: Stefan Weberown Stefan Weber (PhD Candidate) on the need for a native plant sourcing and distribution network in Ontario. We felt that Stefan’s presentation did a great job of closing the loop on the day’s discussions. It really showed how many of the individual goals that we discussed throughout the day, could in fact be achieved through collaborative regional seed conservation strategies Stefan’s presentation was followed by a panel that discussed investment in the conservation sector. The panel highlighted that funding is available to the sector, whether it be through private equity investment, or social financing opportunities. The metrics are dependent on the fund/investor, but it was noted that the interest is there, to support what we at St Williams believe is the right thing to help protect our local ecosystems, and the services they provide us.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth and comprehensive into the day, be sure to check out the article written by Ecoman at http://ecoman.ca/carolinian-canadas-paradigm-shift-unites-industry-to-take-native-plants-mainstream/


Written by: Chad Asselstine, Business Development

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At the time of writing this, it’s officially spring. While it might not quite feel like it outside yet, warmer weather is on the horizon, and the days are already brighter for longer periods of time. The ground may still be a little hard, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t think about what’s going to be gracing your garden this year. In fact, we think that now is the perfect time to think about some of our favourite early bloomers that we grow here at St. Williams. Plants like Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) not only bloom early but have practical applications in your garden, like acting as a great border or edge plant, so it pays to think about adding them to your next project. If you’re like us and can’t wait to get back outside and get to gardening, then consider one (or a few) of the following species when planning your spring planting.

Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii)

You may have seen Sullivant’s Milkweed featured in this month’s Species Profile as our Species of the Month. One image of: sullivant's milkweed fast factsof the reasons this plant was singled out, is that it’s relatively early-blooming, and easily grown. Once it begins to blossom, Sullivant’s Milkweed produces beautiful pink flowers that just scream springtime. It’s the perfect addition to your spring project, and pairs up well with grasses like Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis), or Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

Practical Applications

Speaking of practical applications, we aren’t the only ones that love this plant. It’s a favourite of pollinators as well, which – as we’ve previously pointed out – is incredibly important. Planting some Sullivant’s Milkweed in your garden this spring will not only add a dash of season appropriate pink but will aid you in doing your part to protect our precious pollinator population.

Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)

Another of our favourite early bloomers is the Wild Strawberry. This flowering herbaceous perennial will start to image of: wild strawberrybloom in the late spring and will continue to spread by creeping stolons (horizontal stems) all summer. Typically, Wild Strawberry is found in patches in open fields, waste places, and dry openings. This pretty little plant blooms into a gorgeous white flower with a healthy dose of yellow in its pistil.

Practical Applications

Wild Strawberry is an excellent groundcover species and provides a beautiful carpet of foliage. Once the plant is established, it can be successful in crowding out weeds and other invasive species. Additionally, Wild Strawberry can be used for naturalizing and woodland gardens, and as we mentioned before, is perfect for border edging. As if these weren’t enough practical applications, you may have guessed that a plant named ‘Wild Strawberry’ produces something edible, and you’d be right. Fragaria virginiana does produce a small, tasty strawberry which can be ingested by humans and animals alike. It’s not uncommon to see various birds, squirrels, and chipmunks enjoying the fruit. Plus, the Wild Strawberry is another pollinator preferred plant.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)image of: wild geranium

Wild Geranium is a plant that you’ll certainly want to keep in mind when planning your spring garden project. This plant practically begs for sunny days with its colours that range from pale to deep-pink, and in some cases, lilac to deep-purple. Wild Geranium is a tough plant that will adapt to many growing conditions, but it’s recommended that it’s planted with plenty of organic matter to emulate its natural woodland or forest conditions to help it properly flourish.

Practical Applications

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) is an excellent groundcover plant and it performs best in partly shaded areas of border gardens. We think you’ll agree that its beautiful and light spring colours allow it to pair perfectly with other early bloomers in your garden, including…

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

The beautiful Wild Columbine will add not only a unique colour to your garden, but a unique shape as well. This image of: wild columbineearly blooming and easily grown flower blooms in a range of colours from light pink to red with a splash of yellow (a variety of spring colours), and blooms into drooping, bell-like flower. The plant almost resembles a crown and will surely be the king (or queen) of your spring project or garden. Not to mention, Wild Columbine has a wide-range of soil tolerance, and freely self-seeds. In optimum growing conditions, it will form large colonies.

Practical Applications

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is capable of withstanding dry soil and drought. If the elements are uncooperative and out of your control, then this tough little plant can keep on living. It also tolerates deer and rabbits, so there’s not much that can keep this species down. But how about adding a little something extra to your garden? Wild Columbine is known to attract hummingbirds, who are not only adorable to watch feed, but because of their long beaks and small bodies, can pollinate long-tubed flowers that other birds can’t. Plus, hummingbirds feed on insects as well as nectar, which can help keep your garden pest-free.

There’s nothing quite like spring weather when it comes to getting your garden going. Actual planting time may be a few weeks away, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t start your planning right now, and when you’re putting your plans together, be sure to keep some of these species in mind. In addition to bringing your garden those beautiful spring colours, they’ve each got practical applications to make your garden more than just a pretty sight. From making distinct borders in your garden, to helping pollinators survive, each of these early bloomers have something unique to offer your garden.

For more on the benefits of growing native, stay tuned to stwilliamsnursery.com, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube so you don’t miss a thing!

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Our species of the month for March 2018 is just the thing to put the “spring” in your step as we slip into the warmer image of: sullivant's milkweedmonths of the year. The beautiful Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) blooms into an adorable pink that almost begs the sun to shine on it. Not only is Sullivant’s Milkweed pleasant to look at, but it’s a favourite of pollinators as well. Butterflies absolutely love to flutter around and land on this plant, meaning they’ll start to make your garden home. Sullivant’s Milkweed is easily grown as long as the right conditions are met and is sure to add a dash of Spring flare to your garden as we welcome the changing of the seasons.

About Sullivant’s Milkweed

Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils with full sunlight. When the plant is fully grown, you can expect a spread of 0.3-0.5 m (1-1.5’) and a height of 0.6-0.9 m (2-3’). The plant may image of: sullivant's mapleself-seed if the pods are not removed prior to splitting open. Once Sullivant’s Milkweed is established, the best practice is to leave the plants undisturbed. Because the plant develops deep taproots, transplanting becomes quite difficult.

Sullivant’s Milkweed is a perennial that shares some visible similarities to the Common Milkweed, however there are some qualities that set it apart. For one, Sulllivant’s is less aggressive than Common Milkweed. It also has completely smooth leaves as opposed to the Common Milkweed’s fuzzy ones. It’s rounded clusters of pinkish-white to pinkish-purple, star-like flowers emit a sweet fragrance, so Spring will really be in the air.

Pollinators Love It!

As we mentioned earlier, Sullivant’s Milkweed is also a great way to attract pollinators to your garden, specifically image of: Asclepias sullivantiibutterflies. If you want to give your garden that extra little bit of magic, then start by planting some Sullivant’s Milkweed. The flowers on the plant are a nectar source for butterflies who will choose to lay their eggs nearby. In turn, the Milkweed is an excellent home for our fluttering friends’ larvae who will eventually turn into – you guessed it – more butterflies who’ll choose to stay near a known food source. In fact, planting Sullivant’s Milkweed is a great way to do your part in conserving the Monarch population in Ontario. Additionally, and of equal importance, Sullivant’s Milkweed has also been known to attract honeybees who are looking for a place to rest and eat peacefully.

Pair it Up

Since Sullivant’s Milkweed is a lower growing plant that can be commonly found in prairie areas, it’s also often referred to as the Prairie Milkweed. It pairs rather nicely with grasses, such as: Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis), or Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans). If you’ve already got one (or a few) image of: Asclepias sullivantiiof these grasses in your garden, then Sullivant’s Milkweed will look great alongside it. If not, consider picking some up to compliment the milkweed.

When we’re this close, it’s hard not to get excited about Spring, and what better way to get excited than to plan your garden out with beautiful, light coloured plants like this one? We’ve got more to come on Sullivant’s Milkweed this month, so look out for our ‘Fast Facts’, ‘Did You Know?’, and Species Profile video in the coming weeks!

Don’t miss out on a thing! Stay tuned to stwilliamsnursery.com for more posts like this one. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest St. Williams updates!

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Winter in Ontario generally means one thing: cold. This winter has had its ups and downs, but it’s no exception to that rule. As Canadians, once mid-February hits, the thing at the front of everyone’s mind is spring, and at St. Williams, we know that you can’t wait to get back out there and tend to your garden. Did you know that there’s someone else who’s eagerly anticipating you and your green thumb getting back outside too? Our fuzzy flying friends, the bees will be looking forward to you planting some species that they can rest on and grab a snack from. It’s so important to our ecosystem to provide pollinators with a food source, as the number of bees keeps falling dramatically. The responsibility falls to us, the gardeners and concerned environmentalists, to pick up the slack and see to it that the bee population doesn’t dwindle entirely.

Why is Pollination Important?

For one, pollination leads to the production of fruits we can eat, and seeds that will create more plants. As you may know, flowers have male parts that produce very small grains called pollen. The transfer of pollen grains from one flower to another – via insects like: bees, moths, butterflies etc landing on a plant to feed – results in production of fruits and seeds. Therefore, when we talk about the population of bees diminishing, the prevalence of fruit production will naturally take a dip as well. This doesn’t mean only raw fruits – Production of ingredients used to make things like coffee and chocolate will disappear too. It may not be immediately apparent when you first think about it, but pollinators are the unsung heroes of the food production industry.

There are other reasons that pollination is vital to our ecosystem as well. Cross pollination ensures genetic diversity and resilience. The variety of Ontario species is reliant on the process of butterflies, bees and other pollinators carrying pollen grains with them. It also spreads native species colonies, as pollinators will often fly great distances, they can bring with them species that otherwise wouldn’t make it to those areas. Butterflies also rely on these plants as a place to lay their eggs, Pollinated plants act as a great host for caterpillars that will eventually grow into butterflies that will call your garden home. Witnessing butterflies fluttering around your garden will give it a magical element .

What Can We Do to Help Pollinators?

One important step in helping the population of pollinators is to avoid causing them any harm. If pollinators are visiting your garden for a place to snack, let them do their business and be on their way. After all, they’re doing hard work for the environment!

Knowing the difference between a friendly honey bee and more aggressive insects like wasps and yellowjackets is helpful too. A honeybee will almost never attack unless it’s feeling threatened, where something like a yellowjacket can be far more aggressive.

image of: a honey bee pollinator

A honey bee will not attack unless threatened, and has a much rounder shape, with fuzzy features.

image of a yellow jacket pollinator

A yellow jacket has more defined, almost angular features. More aggressive than a honey bee.

I Want to Do More in my Garden

Of course, there are some other steps you can take to help the bee population (and give other pollinators somewhere to rest up too). St. Williams offers a wide selection of plants that pollinators just love to stop at when they’re flying around. We’ve selected a few that you can plant to not only make your garden look great, but to do your part to help the pollinator population as well.

 Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)image of: virginia bluebells

This beautiful little plant is not only a favourite of bees, but will also add a gorgeous splash of blue to any garden. Look for this plant to start blooming in early to mid April.



Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)image of: dense blazing star

The Dense Blazing Star grows a beautiful purple, and while it’s been used by aboriginal people medicinally to treat things like colic, muscle pain and digestive issues, pollinators also love this plant, and will continue to make it a destination to feed.



Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum)image of: nodding wild onion

This species bears a slight resemblance to Virginia Bluebells in shape, but blooms somewhere in the colour spectrum of pale pink to deep purple. The Nodding Wild Onion is not only enjoyed by pollinators, but humans have been known to taste this plant as well!



Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadenis)image of: wild columbine

Wild Columbine is a beautiful, red, unique looking plant, whose flowers almost resemble crowns. This plant is sure to attract hummingbirds, another important pollinator.



Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)image of: foxglove beardtongue

The Foxglove Beardtongue flowers into a nearly pure-white plant that will attract a variety of pollinators, namely honeybees, hummingbirds and butterflies. If you enjoy having multiple specimens of wildlife around, this species will make a great addition to your garden.

Doing Your Part

When something like the decline of the bee population arises, it falls to each and every one of us to pitch in and do what we can to avoid the extinction of a species. Pollinators are so important to Ontario’s ecosystem, that it would be catastrophic were the bees to disappear entirely. When it comes down to it, all of us enjoy something that is produced from pollination. Whether that’s chocolate, coffee, or apples, pollinators work every day making the things we enjoy possible. Shouldn’t we work to help keep their species alive in return?


For more, like our species profiles, Fast Facts and Did You Know segments, stay tuned to St. Williams. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter so you don’t miss a thing.

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Species of the Month: Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)

This uniquely red plant stands out amongst many of the other species that we grow at St. Williams Nursery & Ecology Centre. For one, this plant produces a vibrant red berry (a image of: winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata)favourite of over 40 species of birds) that is sure to liven up your garden. Plus, the Winterberry Holly’s (Ilex verticillata) berries are particularly showy and remain present throughout winter. A great reminder of summer gardening during the snowy Ontario winter. Winterberry Holly stands tall with a height and spread of 3-12” (1-3.7 metres). Not only are the berries persistent throughout the winter, but their shade of red is a beautiful compliment to a white snowy landscape. The plant thrives in full sun to partly shady areas. It’s slow-growing in medium to wet conditions and tolerates wet soil, clay soil and air pollution.

Not Just a Favourite of Humans

One of the coolest thing about Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) is how much wildlife like to dine on the berries that the plant produces. Like we mentioned above, the berries are devoured by over 40 species of birds, including songbirds, winter waterfowl, and game birds. The plant is a favourite of small mammals who enjoy the berries and seeds produced by the plant as well. If you’re looking for a real Disney scene in your back yard, then we can’t image of: Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)recommend Winterberry Holly strongly enough. Not only will the plant add a beautiful wintery red to your garden, but you can feel good about planting it, knowing that you’re providing a meal to small critters, and our feathered friends.

We know you’ll love Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata), as it’s relatively easily grown, and has a good tolerance for poorly drained soils. Keep in mind, however, that only fertilized flowers on female plants will produce the attractive red berries that are the signature of the species. Generally, one male Winterberry will be sufficient in pollinating 6-10 female plants, and once they’ve bloomed, the berries will produce a lovely red against the plant’s already greenish white leaves – the perfect colour for February, the month of love.

Want to get the most out of your Winterberry Holly? Here are some tips:

  • Power in numbers! Winterberry Holly makes a stunning mass shrub planting.
  • A great shrub to use around retention ponds or runoff ditches.
  • When choosing suitable companions, think evergreen in the winter. A collection of Winterberry Holly backed by a line of White Cedar, Pine, or Spruce can make a stunning contrast. In the summer, consider some herbaceous wildflowers to complement Ilex verticillata. Echinecea pallida and Symphiotrichum oolentangeinse make wonderful companion species.

To learn more about Winterberry Holly, check out stwilliams.com, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see features like ‘Fast Facts’ and new blog posts like this one here!

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Green Roofs

One of the cooler trends we’ve seen lately are green roofs in big cities. Alright, green roofs – that is a roof that is image of: a green roofmostly or completely covered in vegetation – have been around forever, especially in European countries. Recently though, larger, metropolitan areas closer to home have been looking at green roofs as a way to deal with certain issues, like hunger and climate change. While the practice of green roofs has been (pleasantly) on the rise lately, there is one project in particular that is worth keeping an eye on. Rye’s Home Grown is a project that has been in the works at Ryerson University since 2010, focusing on a series of experimental gardens intended to raise awareness about food security issues.

The original intention of Rye’s Home Grown in 2010 was to place moveable planters in the middle of Gould Street, which runs through the heart of Ryerson’s campus. Due to construction concerns, this idea was eventually scrapped in favour of some unused spots around the campus. Eventually the project grew, and a larger space was required. By 2013, the project expanded to utilize the green roof that Ryerson’s engineering building had been using to save energy costs since 2004.

Why is This Important

Since adding this project, dedicated to creating a closed-loop food supply system (a farming practice that recycles all nutrients and organic matter material back to the soil that it grew in) to Ryerson’s active green roof, the students and faculty working on the project have converted ~10,000sqft. Of the rooftop into fruit and vegetable gardens. This produce is then sold at Ryerson’s weekly farmer’s market, as well as to campus food services. The profits from the produce sales are then put back into the project in order to keep up and expand the ever-growing garden. With a total current enrollment of 36,374 hungry mouths to feed, there would be a necessity for a lot of otherwise-sourced vegetables without the help of this burgeoning botanical buffet.

The benefits of a green roof are pretty clear. Even before Rye’s Home Grown was added to the University’s green roof, the campus was already using it to reduce the building’s energy costs. Since using the green roof space to grow vegetation for their meal programs, they’ve also been cutting down on costs necessary to bring in outside food. Now extrapolate that to the rest of Toronto – and other metropolitan cities for that matter. There is so much underutilized space on the tops of office buildings, and apartments that could be harnessed for the production of native Ontario vegetation.

image of: green roofsVegetation production isn’t the only benefit of a green roof. We mentioned that the Ryerson engineering building has been using their green roof as a way to cut down on energy costs for fourteen years now. That’s huge! Green roofs work to reduce the heat flux through the roof, and as a result, buildings require less energy to be cooled. A 2006 University of Michigan study gleaned from https://www.epa.gov/heat-islands/using-green-roofs-reduce-heat-islands claims that while a green roof installed on a 21,000 square foot surface would cost roughly $129,000 more than a conventional roof, but would save around $200,000 over its lifetime. Close to two-thirds of these savings are attributed to reduced energy requirements! Additionally, green roofs are a great way to improve storm-water management. This is another major benefit, since massive water runoff in areas with impervious roofs can lead to flooding and water damage. Not only are green roofs a great leap forward in solving problems like the energy crisis, and hunger, but a green roof with the right plants can also be a destination for hungry bees and other pollinators – a monumental benefit in an age where the population of bees is dangerously low.

For more on environmentally friendly projects, as well as profiles and interesting information about the beautiful plants that we grow, visit stwilliamsnursery.com, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for features like the monthly ‘Did You Know’ and ‘Fast Facts’.

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It’s a new month, and a new year. That means that it’s time to look to another beautiful plant for our Species of the Month! This January we’ll be focusing on the beautifully blue Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Physical Traits

This pretty little plant can get to be up to 0.6 metres (2 feet) tall and can spread out to about 0.45 metres (1.5 feet) wide. Mertensia virginica may not take up a terrifically large amount of space in your garden, but it’s just the thing to add a splash of light blue colour to your garden. Because of its low stature, it can often be found covering the woodland floor with a stunning blue flower shortly into the first weeks of spring. Like most spring ephemerals, the plant will show for about a month before it begins to die back to the ground. Because of its showy nature, and early bloom time, many native plant enthusiasts turn to Virginia Bluebells as an entry level wildflower to get people excited about native plants.

The Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) is fairly easy-going (or ‘easy-growing’ as the case may be) as it thrives in partial or full shade, which is perfect for the less sunny months of the year. This species requires a medium amount of water and, when fully developed, will bloom into a beautiful shade of baby blue, just like its name implies. Mertensia virginca tolerates rabbits and black walnut.


As mentioned above, Virginia Bluebells are easily grown in light to full shade in moist areas with rich, loamy soils. It develops quite quickly during spring after the danger of hard frost has passed. Its foliage will die down by mid-summer

Garden Uses

Best assembled and left undisturbed in moist, shady woodland, wildflower or native plant gardens.

image of: virginia bluebells (mertensia virginica)It is important not to disturb the plant, as once it’s established, you run the risk of losing a season of flowering, or even killing the plant. Once the flower is in bloom though, it’s unique, light blue colour is sure to brighten up your garden. This plant combines well with False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum), Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), or Large-Leaved Aster (Eurybia macrophylla).

It may be cold outside right now, but the Virginia Bluebells are just the plant to remind us that brighter days are ahead. Since this beautiful plant starts to bloom in early spring (early to mid April), it’s a natural indicator that the weather is about to warm up, and before long gardening season will be in full swing.

Mertensia virginica are a favourite of bees, as well as several other types of pollinators, such as: butterflies, and hummingbirds. So, you can feel good about giving some wildlife a place to eat after a long, chilly winter.

For more on the Virginia Bluebells and other species that we grow here at St. Williams, be sure to visit stwilliamsnursery.com. We’ve got more on Mertensia virginica coming out this month too, so make sure you follow us on Facebook and Twitter so you don’t miss out on a thing!

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As we enter 2018, I am reflecting on our goal to help restore Ontario’s native biodiversity by re-establishing appropriate native plant communities with wild-type genetics back to degraded landscapes in the province.  It is a good time to evaluate our progress and look ahead to challenges and opportunities that lay ahead with respect to achieving this purpose.

In 2017, St Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre (SWNEC) continued its role as a quiet and dedicated leader in biodiversity conservation in Ontario by ensuring the continued availability of high quality source-identified plants and seed, including almost 400 species of plants native to the province.  These plants end up on restoration projects on public and private lands, in conservation areas, provincial and national parks, in the countryside and in towns and cities across the province.  We also continued to provide ecological restoration support on major projects including at Westminster Ponds ESA in London, naturalization projects in Mississauga, Toronto, Ottawa and Sudbury, Durham Region, and in Bruce Peninsula National Park, and for mine tailings rehabilitation in Kapuskasing.

In 2017, we made significant advances in developing our Native Seed Network Database that will allow us to more efficiently track locations of native plant material sources, collected by our team of dedicated scientists and technicians, and to increase our ability to work with committed conservation partners.  Source tracking and verification is a critical component to ensuring effective, legitimate conservation and restoration of our native biodiversity but is an increased cost not appreciated by most.

Unfortunately, we may be losing the fight to protect and conserve biodiversity given the extent of habitat loss especially in southern Ontario and the ongoing impact of invasive species.  While it may seem significant, 400 species is a small fraction of the 3400 native species indigenous to Ontario, many of which need to be protected and restored to degraded landscapes.  Major challenges to successful conservation efforts include lack of awareness and lack of effective funding for meaningful on-the-ground efforts like coordinated seed collection from wild plant populations, which is essential to this effort.  In many cases our conservation programs and organizations in the province remain uncoordinated and fail to ensure effective biodiversity conservation.  The broader nursery and landscape industry in the province continues as a whole to be a negative influence rather than a conservation force for biodiversity in the province.  It is time for a serious change in our behaviours and efforts to restore native biodiversity if we are going to be successful.   It is time for government and conservation organizations alike, to demonstrate leadership to effect meaningful conservation at the scale necessary to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss.

I am encouraged by organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and Carolinian Canada who now are recognizing the importance of restoring habitat using native plant communities with appropriate wild type genetics as critical component in our fight to conserve Ontario’s natural biodiversity.  Clearly this effort will require substantially more resources and commitment than has been given to date.  I can give you my assurance that SWNEC remains committed to this important cause, but it will require the collective efforts of existing and new champions, and more effective conservation partnerships if we are to have a real chance of conserving and restoring Ontario’s native biodiversity.


Yours in conservation,

Allan Arthur, M.Sc.

President, Sr Ecologist

St Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre

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