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Archive for ‘February, 2018’

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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