Lyn Hanna-Folkes (Monarch Awards’ Judge): Concerning Gardening for Biodiversity

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Originally posted on Pollinators Paradise blog.

Lyn Hanna-Folkes was one of the three judges for the newly launched Monarch Award, an award to celebrate pollinator friendly, sustainable gardening in Hamilton. I caught up with her in this short Q and A to chat about the value of such an award for bringing awareness about biodiversity to local residents.

Lyn Hanna-Folkes

Lyn Hanna-Folkes

Beatrice (B): How long have you been involved in gardening for nature yourself? And what are some challenges people face with this type of gardening?

Lyn (L): All my life, I have been making natural style gardens, working on conservation issues, etc. We all know the general public lead very busy lives these days, so it is difficult for the average person to do the necessary research to educate themselves about a completely new gardening perspective. Therefore, it is a real benefit to have some incentive to change the way people think about the way they garden by way of the Monarch Awards.

After judging, I thought it was very encouraging to see many people keenly interested in this award and what it stands for. I do hope this contest will encourage many more residents to garden with nature in mind. The ultimate goal is to think about how we take care of our property because humans have a responsibility to care for the place that sustains them. Humans are but one part of nature’s web and education concerning this has been my life’s work.

B: Do you think more people are making connections about the big issues of our times?

L: In general yes, there are so many issues connecting humans to the health of the natural world; climate change; food sources & pollinator health, drinking water quality, energy uses, etc. But people often still see the “economy” as more important than the “environment.” One goes in hand with the other though — they are strongly connected. In Hamilton, the Greenbelt is gradually being chipped away in the name of ‘development progress’ or ‘growth.’ But when are we going to seriously think about whether our current ideas of progress & growth are making real positive changes for us in the future? We need the biodiversity of the Greenbelt to sustain ourselves. Making connections to health ties humans to everything in nature. I’ve worked with many elderly residents who use pesticides as their ‘go to’ measure for any type of weed. How do you make them understand that they’d have less contaminated drinking water if they didn’t use pesticides so much?

With the Monarch Awards, the hearts and minds of these gardeners are in the right place. They are being rewarded because, whether they are highly educated or not, they are really ‘thinking’ about what they do and how it effects all life. They are making the big connections and helping to encourage others to do so in the process. It’s smart gardening and should set a new standard practice for all.

B: How do you make people think?

L: Education and political will. There are so many things we need to do, and fast, because Canada is not dealing with the devastation of global warming effectively enough. We should be divesting from oil and finding cleaner sustainable energy sources for example. We must educate people more seriously and get politicians to take a stronger stand when it comes to climate change.

Our school system could help to educate children more about the natural world around them too. I haven’t met an elementary student that can name 10 local plants. Students need more real connections to nature. Imagine if every Canadian school had a ‘natural laboratory’ on their property?

Beatrice's niece and nephew

Beatrice’s niece and nephew

“Nature Labs” were encouraged at Hamilton area schools by the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club throughout the 1990’s. This volunteer work helped to enhance dozens of schoolyards across the region. Projects ranged from planting a single tree or a prairie meadow, to replacing a playground/parking lot with a real playground in one location. If a volunteer organization can do this, then our Board of Education should be able to accomplish much more.

There was another school near the escarpment in Stoney Creek that asked what they could do in terms of a “nature lab” as they had few resources. On visiting the school, we found a beautiful escarpment meadow right in their backyard, so we donated some binoculars and suggested bird guides for their library. We introduced the teachers to the learning potential of that habitat and how they could fit it into their curriculum. Many students were simply scared of the bees. I understand those with serious bee allergies being afraid, but the majority of them just had little experience with how calm bees act in their natural environment. I have often been surrounded by hundreds of bees and have never been stung. It’s not complicated, we just need to offer a better education about the natural world by encouraging people to think and make improvements to include nature in our education wherever and whenever possible.
So, we can do a better job of educating the population by setting concrete visible examples (like the Monarch garden Awards!) and by pressuring our politicians to set real goals towards sustainability.

B: So, educators can be a problem?
L: The Board of Education could make many improvements in how they educate children about the natural world! It’s 2016 and some schools have made incredible advances but teachers are sometimes limited by a demanding set curriculum, increasingly difficult procedures for taking classes on field trips, principals who may have little regard for the natural world, etc. I think school gardens, “nature labs,” should be mandatory. It’s about getting everyone at the school to ‘own’ the garden, take responsibility for it, and use it to educate their students however they can, linking nature to the curriculum more.

Tree of Heaven--not so heavenly

Tree of Heaven–not so heavenly

Garden centres could also help to educate the public. These centres are still selling trees like Norway Maple and Tree-of-Heaven but it should be illegal to sell these invasive species which are damaging natural habitats in the Hamilton area. The most common question I received as a ‘natural landscaper’ was, “I have a maple tree in my yard and the grass won’t grow under it, what can I do?” Inevitably the tree was a Norway Maple because nothing grows well underneath them.

Invasive plants can cause erosion problems on the escarpment as well as extensive habitat destruction that is very difficult, if not impossible to repair. Yet some nurseries sell these ‘tree weeds’ for a good price because they are easy to propagate and grow quickly. If people are too busy to educate themselves about what kind of tree they should plant, then plant nurseries should be made responsible for this education in order to help protect future biodiversity.

B: Talk about the Monarch Awards.

L: The Monarch Awards—it’s fantastic for public education! I proposed such an award to the city twenty years ago, but it was simply ignored then. Even today, Bev Wagar an Environment Hamilton member and Crown Point Garden Club founder approached the City of Hamilton about this alternative to their “Trillium Award” program but there was no action taken. I commend EH for getting this long-overdue project rolling. What do the “Trillium Awards” actually teach the public? What kind of thought do they promote? They place an overemphasis on ‘what a garden looks like’ rather than how a garden can truly benefit our community.

We need the Monarch Awards to help educate the public about important and relevant environmental issues. If we have enough natural gardens in Hamilton, we could provide and improve important bird migration corridors, conserve more water, cool the air, reduce the use of pesticides, help to maintain our biodiversity and alleviate some effects of climate change, for example. If the City of Hamilton was really interested in fighting climate change, they would replace the “Trillium Awards” which are sorely out-of-date when it comes to the state of the world, and operate the “Monarch Awards” program with an emphasis on educating the public about climate change issues.

B: Finally, any parting words about your experience judging the gardens?

L: I really enjoyed it and was honoured to take part as a judge. All the gardens were impressive, and each had its own story to tell. Each contestant had different goals; one focused on mental health, another on butterfly reproduction, one was growing plants for medicinal healing. Glenn Barrett, the top winner focused on providing different habitats for local and migrating wildlife. I was very impressed and I’d like to see this educational opportunity grow each year.

About Lyn

Lyn Hanna-Folkes is from Hamilton. Her family runs a small construction company. Since raising her children, she continues to naturalize and maintain urban gardens on a part-time basis and encourages others to do so. Lyn has a Master’s of Environmental Studies with an Honours Co-op Geography degree from the University of Waterloo. Lyn has designed and installed dozens of naturalization projects from wetlands to prairies, and has helped to maintain naturalized gardens. While on contract with the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority, she established the “Christie Prairie” at Christie Conservation Area working with volunteers and the fire department. As an executive member of the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club, Lyn worked to establish naturalization projects on schoolyards throughout Hamilton. She enjoys being in nature, hiking, bird-watching, gardening, traveling and camping with her family.