Saturday, 2 June from 9:30 until 12:30 at the Interpretation Centre parking lot
Every first Saturday in June, a grey gravel parking lot in Ottawa suddenly turns green.
Rain or shine, the Native Plant Sale goes on as the main fundraiser for the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Tables with all sorts of native plant species make this event unique – likely the largest native plant sale in the city.
Many people have never heard of the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, a wildlife habitat project in central Ottawa. For over 20 years, volunteers have laboriously worked with dedication to transition parts of the old Arboretum and Central Experimental Farm into a hot spot for native animals and insects, as well as plants. Beloved by dog walkers and nature groups, the FWG is directly south of the traditional ornamental landscape of the Arboretum on Prince of Wales Drive.
Importantly, the FWG is its own creation. While we are friends with those who manage the lands around us, the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club is responsible for this 7 ha parcel of land and volunteers of the Fletcher Wildlife Garden for most of its maintenance. These individuals plant, weed, tend and catalogue the various denizens, finding new species of insect each year.
The Native Plant Sale is the primary source of operating funds – for buying the lawn mower that trims the trails to tools for fighting an ever increasing onslaught of invasive species. Many visitors simply assume they are using a public park and don’t realise that we rely upon donations and grants to accomplish our work.
The Plant Sale is a year-long undertaking. We collect seeds, cold stratify them then put them under grow-lights when spring is still a fond hope early in the year. Little baby plants are tended to and coddled (but not too much – we want them to hold their own in the big, wide world!) These plants are re-potted into larger containers, a laborious task which is even more work given it coincides with cleaning out the Backyard Garden in spring.
A new nursery holds our little treasures, and we live in fear that they will be stolen by unscrupulous individuals. Plant-napping is a real threat to many ‘public’ and private gardens, and our own is sadly not immune.
The work doesn’t stop at the new plants grown from seed each year. Over-wintered plants need to be re-potted when their roots require more space, while transplants from the established garden are potted up in large containers for more impressive displays. We must keep sun plants in part sun (too much and they parch to death) and shade plants in shade, everybody watered when their soil dries out and weeded as much as possible.
Day of the sale, volunteers arrive early to set up tables and ferry plants around, then cross fingers that we get good traffic given the many other events held the same day. Weather is also an unpredictable force! We answer questions and invite people to see mature plants in the Backyard Garden, since so many plants we sell look underwhelming when baby small and with unforgiving names like Hairy Beardtongue or Sneezeweed.
To say the plant sale is a lot of work would be a classic understatement.
However, while we appreciate the influx of funds we are also accomplishing a greater task – that of increasing the number of native plants in an urban landscape where non-native horticultural varieties rule. We know we are creating new food sources and larval hosts for butterflies, as well as preserving plants that might otherwise be overlooked in their natural habitat as less showy. It is satisfying to watch a family leave with new plants, excited about the wildlife garden they are going to build at home, or those people who are artfully mixing native plants into their existing plantings. The love and interest in native plants by the public at large happily seems to be undergoing a horticultural renaissance.
We’re wild about native plants, and want you to be as well!
Our website is full of information, and we’re happy to answer questions at the sale. Do tell your friends and come on out to support a great cause, enjoy a walk around the entire park site or simply visit the Backyard Garden to see how beautiful our native plants are in the landscape!