Toronto Star column – published December 27, 2014
Toast to a Green Future
“The future is always beginning now.” ~Mark Strand, Reasons for Moving
Take my hand. We are going for a walk.
Regular readers know that my column in the Saturday Star is not just about gardening. Or the environment. Or urban trees (though, some weeks you might wonder) and it is not even about how our society is wrapped up in all of them. My column is a reflection of my personal interest in all of the above.
Most of all, this column is about the changing face of ‘green’. Ever since I sold my retail business, Weall and Cullen Nurseries, to Sheridan Nurseries 11 years ago, I have enjoyed the luxury of having the time to ask questions and to probe for answers on such burning issues as, “Why do Canadians garden?”, “Why don’t we garden more?”, “How is the activity of gardening changing?”, and “How is our interest in plants and green space woven into societal norms and how, precisely, are they changing?”
As a result of asking these and other questions, I have learned a lot from people who are immersed in specific segments of the green industry. It is a big, broad, fast-changing world of green out there. A review of this past year of my columns reveals some interesting nuggets, some of which you may have missed or simply forgotten. Let’s walk through the highlights.
It is not often that I am called upon by senior editors here at the Toronto Star to write an in-depth series of articles but it happened about a year ago now. After the land-mark ice storm of late December last year it was evident that the Toronto tree canopy was at serious risk. Estimates in early January ran as high as a 30% loss. Later statistics would reveal that our trees were not as damaged as many thought, but the loss was significant just the same. As with any calamity, the damage focused attention on the importance of our urban trees and their value.
On February 1st I wrote a story about a radical idea, hatched by award winning Tyler Brandt, a student who earned top honours for this idea in the Sustainable Design Awards. Tyler was a winner among 18 universities. In essence the idea is to take the vast hydro corridors of Toronto and turn them into reforested areas and tree nurseries.
Tyler stated with enthusiasm, “I think the greatest benefit of this idea is its radical scale and blunt challenge to existing norms. It raises issues often not thought about, like the idea of access to trees being important for residents of a city. It also puts forward the idea of returning the forest and wilderness to our cities in some capacity.” Details at www.sustainabledesignawards.ca. Our youth are leading our ‘green’ thinking in a direction that is exciting and invigorating. I have not heard that the idea has traction, as yet.
On July 12th I posed some important election questions. I asked that you approach municipal candidates with queries about the future of the Toronto tree canopy. There is, after all, a thoroughly researched plan at the City of Toronto to double the tree canopy already on the books: signed and voted in favour by council before the previous administration (i.e. pre year 2010). All we really needed was to find a mayor and a majority of councillors to dust it off and support it. Actively. Thanks to voters in the 416 we seem to have just that. Wish granted.
On October 18th I wrote a column titled “In Lieu of Flowers”. I made the suggestion that, in the event that I someday kick the bucket, I wish for people to vote and give blood. Both are free to do and have profound meaning, in the scheme of things. The thought was to tie the article of July 12th together with this one, a few days before our municipal election (am I the only on who feels a sense of relief with our new mayor and council? On this score I will take ‘boring’ any day).
I like to think that my column was timely and helpful as I received some encouraging messages from supportive readers and a record number of eligible voters showed up at the polling stations for that one.
Good Things We Love to Hate
On October 25th I wrote about good things that we love to hate, predominately snakes, toads, bacteria, bats, and wasps. I defended them well, I think, as not one person challenged me on it. Or maybe no one read it.
This column was an extension of another that I wrote on August 23rd about building my very own insect hotel. I advanced the idea that you should consider doing the same, as the vast majority of insects in our yards and gardens are of the beneficial kind. They need a place to sleep and breed, just as we do. Not only that, but all insects play a role in the biodiversity that makes up a healthy ecosystem. Even mosquitoes play a role.
Perhaps what this column lacked in a serious tone it gained in humour. All four of my siblings laughed themselves silly when I showed them a picture of my new yard-art-with-a-meaning. I live in hope that someday they will see the light and build their own insect hotels.
And speaking of wildlife in the backyard, on September 6th I introduced readers to a Backyard Certification Program that is sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation. Think of this as a ‘Community Watch’ program for bugs, birds, butterflies and other wildlife. If you grow plants that are native, feed the birds, and provide protection for wildlife in your yard, you can apply for (and likely achieve) your own Backyard Habitat Certificate. I encourage you to look into it at http://www.cwf-fcf.org/en/. What a great New Year’s resolution.
Garden For Food
Late in the spring I wrote a 3-part series on the growing interest in food here in Toronto. Put another way, there are a lot of people who have not necessarily grown much of anything before who are now engaged in growing food-producing plants. We can thank the youth in our culture for attracting renewed attention to the benefits of growing veggies, fruits, and herbs in our own gardens. For that matter, we can thank many immigrant families who have taken up a trowel and planted many fruits and vegetables that are new to this part of the world. As you read this many community garden groups are planning their holiday New Year’s dinner around preserved food that they harvested from their own collective efforts in a local community garden right here in the city.
I think that this is marvellous. The changes afoot in the green community are astonishing. I believe that, years from now, when we measure the progress that we have made in the 2010’s with regards to connecting gardening with healthy food, a balanced lifestyle and the integration of green issues into mainstream thinking, we will realise that we did indeed make enormous progress.
This coming year look to this column for themes that wrap the gardening message in new and exciting green messages associated with the quality city that we wish to build for the future. I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk and continue to walk with me through 2015.