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Archive for ‘January, 2018’

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) Blue-Bellswide. 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.

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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