Spectator article on Monarch Awards

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Rob Howard, garden writer for the Hamilton Spectator, wrote a piece on the Monarch Awards in the “Opinion” section of the Saturday October 12 edition. Here’s the text and photos (the Spec requires a login).

Rob Howard: How nature can love your garden as much as you do
Saturday Oct. 12, 2019. Hamilton Spectator “Opinion” section
Gardening in a sustainable, environmentally responsible way

Nobody officially connected with the Monarch Awards will call them the anti-Trilliums, but I will.

The upstart Monarch Awards recognize a great many things that the civic beautification Trillium awards do not: biodiversity, sustainability, water management, use of native plants and more.
I got quite a reaction to a column, which appeared on these pages at the end of August, on “How to win a Trillium award.” Several readers commented to me that their gardens (like mine) would never win a Trillium award because they didn’t garden (as one reader put it) “neatly enough.”
One reader sent me a fairly long and very thoughtful email, part of which I quote here: “My gardens could perhaps be described… as a riot of colour and bees and butterflies. … Usually, I allow the milk weeds that seed themselves to grow, whether they placed themselves esthetically or not. I often choose not to deadhead, leaving seed pods for the birds to feast on. Weeds do creep in, although I try to keep them at bay and sometimes they stay, because they are beautiful or useful or both. … It seems to me that the Trillium Award takes none of these features, (which I consider essential to a healthy garden) into consideration, in their ranking of our yards. Grass is important, weedless grass to be specific. No consideration is given to use of water, use of native plants or pollinator potential, to name just a few of the important byproducts of a good garden.”
I had a hard time disagreeing.
This week, I had a long and fruitful (no pun intended) conversation with Barbara McKean, head of education with the Royal Botanical Gardens, and Jen Baker of the Hamilton Naturalists Club. Their two organizations have partnered with Environment Hamilton and the Crown Point Garden Club, which began the Monarch Awards four years ago in Wards 1 through 4. Now, with more volunteers judges, the awards program encompasses the entire urban area of Hamilton.
McKean and Baker don’t compare the Monarch Awards with the Trilliums, nor will they criticize the Trillium program. The Monarch awards are different: They’re not about civic beautification, but about gardening in a sustainable, environmentally responsible way. Their motto: “For gardens that nature loves, by gardeners who love nature.”
But what does that mean?
It means using native plants in your garden. Using a variety of plants, including pollinator plants that attract birds and butterflies, to create a wildlife-friendly, biodiverse garden. Using rainwater in your garden and minimizing runoff into city storm sewers. Composting. Using fallen leaves rather than bagging them up for the city to cart away.
“Everybody can play a role,” Baker says, “adding in some native plants to their gardens, tucking some in where they can.”
Ontario gardens (well, most of them) have been pesticide-free for 10 years thanks to 2009 legislation, and gardeners have adapted. McKean and Baker insist that there’s nothing shrill or strident about the movement toward environmentally responsible gardening.
“We don’t want people to have to give up their favourite plants,” Baker says. “It’s still your garden. Just adding a few native plants, tucking in some pollinator plants, can make a real difference.”
McKean has been teaching courses at the RBG for years on gardening for butterflies and for birds. Once people start seeing more wildlife in their gardens, they want more.
“There’s a quick feedback to it,” she says. “It’s an ‘entry-level drug’ for gardeners.”
The Monarch Awards are not a competition: Judges don’t look for “the best” but, instead, all the really good ones. Rather than a prize, it’s being promoted as a standard of excellence.
Gardeners can submit an application at monarchawardshamilton.org
A description of the garden and a few photos starts the selection process. Judges get a short list of likely candidates and visit the gardens and talk to the gardener. A new category of Caterpillar Awards is aimed at people new to gardening or with small properties.
This year, there were 33 submissions, 14 visits by judges to gardens and 12 awards — seven Caterpillar and five Monarch — that will be given out at a city council meeting before the end of the year.
Baker says gardeners interested in planting more pollinators and making a more biodiverse garden can get information, including plants lists and garden tips and advice, at hamiltonpollinatorparadise.org. That’s a project of the Hamilton Naturalists Club and Environment Hamilton and is linked to the Monarch Awards.
“If everybody does this, it makes such a difference,” McKean says.

by Rob Howard
Rob Howard is a garden writer, speaker and garden coach who lives and gardens in Hamilton. Find him on Facebook at Rob Howard: Garden Writer, or email him at gardenwriter@bell.net
Rob Howard lives and gardens in Hamilton. You can find him on Facebook by looking for Rob Howard: Garden writer or you can email him at gardenwriter@bell.net .
Email: gardenwriter@bell.net Facebook
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