For many, the May long weekend is the official start of the gardening season and for several hundred local gardeners, the season kicks off at the GreenUP Ecology Park Annual Plant Sale Fundraiser on Sunday, May 20th.
What makes Ecology Park’s plant sale so unique and why do so many Peterborough area gardeners wait for this sale, when they could get started earlier with plants from dozens of other garden centres? I sat down with GreenUP Ecology Park Landscape Manager, Vern Bastable to find out why customers return year after year, for their traditional start to the growing season.
“Some big box stores have had their garden centres open for over a month before Ecology Park’s sale and opening day on May 20th, but there are plenty of reasons to wait,” explains Bastable.
Just like you and me, many stores are thinking about spring planting from the very first moment the thermometer goes 10°C.
The problem with planting so early is that there is still a threat of frost. The average final frost date for this region is May 18th. So, while a warm day may get you excited to get your hands in the soil, a night of frost can send you back to the store to replace all the plants you lost from one cold frosty night.
Many large-scale garden centres source their plants from huge greenhouse operations that provide plants with a great deal of heat to grow so early in the season, and with ample care to ensure they are display worthy. The whole growing process starts months prior while most of us are still in winter hibernation mode.
So while many greenhouse plant varieties are being coddled in a very precisely controlled environment, being carefully tended to with the precise requirements for growth, most of GreenUP Ecology Park’s plants are roughing it out through a Peterborough winter and in the conditions you will actually plant them in.
When greenhouse plants experience conditions that differ from those they were grown in, they can experience shock and may show signs like drooping, discolouration, or leaf damage, and they may not recover.
Plants grown at Ecology Park are hearty because they are exposed to the conditions, soil, pests, and climate that we actually have in our backyards. You may be wondering: without a greenhouse, how do we ensure our plants survive through a cold winter?
Each fall, volunteers and staff descend on Ecology Park’s plant nursery to tuck each plant in for the winter with a thick blanket of leaves. Each spring, we wait until it’s warm and safe outside to uncover them, and then we let them grow under real conditions.
“Ask a seasoned gardener and they’ll tell you that even May 20th is on the early side to plant in this region,” Bastable says.
So, even as we approach June, it’s best to keep an eye on the overnight temperature to ensure that your plants are covered in the event of a late frost.
Ecology Park carries a wide variety of plants including over 150 species of edible and native plants, shrubs, and trees that thrive in our region of Ontario.
“Ecology Park chooses to sell plants that help the community as a whole,” Bastable explains.
“A majority of the Ecology Park nursery plants are native, which means that they are adapted to local conditions and provide habitat and food for wildlife. These plants help native bugs, bees, birds, butterflies, bullfrogs, and other animals to strive and thrive, right here in the city of Peterborough.”
Bastable suggests to be careful when purchasing “native” plants from some of the big box stores.
“In some cases, varieties of native plants have been bred and adapted to enhance their features to make them more desirable. For example, it is common to see Bee Balm that has been bred to have showier flowers than their native counterpart.”
Altered varieties of plants sometimes end up with less ecological value. This is because the plant has been bred for flower size, but in the meantime has had to give up something important such as quantity of pollen produced, and may no longer be the right fit for a locally adapted pollinating insect.
“The truth is, Ecology Park is and has been dedicated to providing great plants to local folks for 25 years at our current location,” Bastable says passionately. “Our staff and nursery is small and that’s just the way we like it. All of our profits go back in to community education and environmental programs; we want to get to know our customers and sell them plants that will do well in their yard.”
The GreenUP Ecology Park Annual Spring Plant Sale is from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 20th at 1899 Ashburnham Drive in Peterborough. As always, along with our native plant stock, we will also have over 30 types of vegetables for sale, grown by TASS Horticulture students and in partnership with Nourish.
Come for the plants and stay for a picnic! C’est Chaud Pizza will be on site serving delicious wood-fired pizzas made with local ingredients. Attendees will also have an opportunity to purchase raffle tickets to win a rain barrel, a signed copy of the Big Book of Nature Activities, maple syrup, and locally produced GreenUP Community Beekeeping Program honey. For more information, visit greenup.on.ca.