Author: Marion Robertson

Last year, in May 2016, we talked about a very special tree on site. Our American Beech tree had been recognized and protected by Trees Ontario as a Heritage Tree. It stands by the House of Dove as it has stood for the last 100 years. Trees of this age have unique genetics in that their longevity shows a resistance to disease, climate change, pollution and have grit to survive whatever Mother Nature dishes out.


We have waited 7 years for this tree to produce fruit and, finally, this is the year. After every wind or rain event I visit the tree and collect the seeds laying about on the ground and fight off the squirrels and chipmunks trying to collect seed for their winter stashes. We want to collect as many seeds as possible since, it seems, that we can only harvest every 7 years. Soon the seeds will be processed and next year a new wave of American Beech will germinate carrying the genetics of this beautiful heritage tree forward. Something worth celebrating.

This is the best year, so far, for having orioles come to the feeders. We estimate we have 30 – 40 northern orioles coming to feed on the grape jelly, daily, at the five feeders. We wanted to share some photos of the orioles gaping our trumpet vine.

You have to realize, northern orioles are regular consumers of nectar. In this area, they love trumpet vine. They do not feed like the hummingbirds but, rather, by gaping. They pierce the bottom of the flower and pry open the gap and rob the nectar from the flower. Unfortunately, the flower does not get pollinated since the orioles bypass the sexual parts.

Sometimes female butterflies find the ‘ perfect ‘ site on which to lay their precious eggs. She is quite capable of depositing 100 eggs. This can be quite overwhelming for the host plant and in order to avoid starvation of all the caterpillars, transplanting of the eggs is required.

We simply pin the leaves on which the eggs are on to a new area. Pinning causes little damage to the host plant and the eggs continue to develop, uninterrupted, on the underside of the plant away from the rain and eyes of predators.

These are spicebush swallowtail eggs and caterpillars being transferred to fresh spicebush host plants.

This is the year we are readjusting our mindset, at the nursery, in regards to what we thought were valuable additions to the landscape. Many trees and shrubs that we believed to be of little or no value are now getting a second chance. Turns out it is all in the eye of the beholder. What is no worth to someone is someone else s gold.


We had blindly listened to opinions stating trees such as poplar and hawthorn were garbage trees and not worth planting. But, you know, these opinions were based 40 years ago and our southern Ontario landscape and environment has changed greatly. Now when I take a second look at the hawthorn I see a tree ready made for disturbed soil locations, abandoned hay fields and hot, open lots. They tolerate no shade and are perfectly suited to our present day environment. As a pioneer, and restoration species, it is at the top of the list.

In North America, we have a vast variety of hawthorn. Unfortunately, since this is not a sought after species, most of the varieties are not found at nurseries. That spurred us on to conduct a survey to find local, wild hawthorns. So far, we have tentatively identified 5 varieties and will have to wait till the Fall to verify our findings. The fruit will definitively determine the varieties.






Trees invoke feelings deep inside of us.  Have you ever felt how quiet a forest feels; almost like standing in an empty, quiet church.  Or sometimes we feel sad when we plant a tree for a deceased loved one in an arboretum.

We have memorial trees, here, but they make us smile and relive fun moments with loved ones.  Once such tree is our beautiful northern Catalpa.  Every summer when she blooms we remember Grandpa Bill and smile and recount the story as we have coffee admiring the blooms.

Twenty years ago, Grandpa Bill, had an oddly shaped Catalpa in the backyard.  Every year his wife would shout at him to chain saw down that misshapen tree but Bill would say, ‘ Look how beautiful it is blooming.  Let’s wait till it has finished flowering before we saw it down.’   Of course, it got too hot then and maybe we should wait till the fall to chop it down.

This went on for many years and the tree still remains in the backyard – misshapen.  Bill passed away and before the house and property were sold we dug up some baby Catalpa and transferred them to our house.  4 are placed all around the house and when they bloom his grandchildren remember Grandpa and his Catalpa.  There are no tears just smiles as we retell the story.  The story never seems to get old.

So you see, memorial trees need not be a sad affair.  I think they can remind us of loved ones; it is up to us what feelings the tree will invoke.



A funny thing happened to us on the way to grocery shopping. We were walking into the store when I spied a garden clearance center. Since I am a sucker for these places, in we went. Most of the plants had been neglected and had the burnt look for lack of watering. We were wandering up and down the aisles when I saw the fennel. It was the saddest fennel I had seen in my life. They were dry, wilted and had very little leaf left. When I looked closer, I found out the reason why. 7 full grown black swallowtail caterpillars! Jackpot. Greedily I gathered up all ten pots and tenderly placed them in the back seat of the car. Not exactly what I came to the grocery store for.

At home we dug the fennel into out flower pots with our precious visitors aboard. I can still see the look of the garden clearance attendant’s face thinking that she had pulled one over on me. Not every day you get a customer thrilled to death to buy wilted, half dead stock.

Most scientific sources state that the host plants for the black swallowtail are parsley, dill, carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace and fennel. We have tried all these larval sources and there is no doubt in my mind that fennel is their favorite. Since these butterflies are listed as common, you too, can have these beautiful butterflies visiting. Their preferred habitat is generally open areas, anything from roadsides to weedy areas and gardens. Male black swallowtails will perch and patrol open areas for females, often near patches of host plants – THINK FENNEL.

We started growing this tree many years ago because its large, white, showy flowers was an obvious pollinator magnet.  Afterwards, the bright, red berries are eaten by over 50 species of birds and small animals.

Unfortunately, fate has not been kind to this small native tree of North America.  In Canada, it is only found in our part of southern Ontario and as of 2007 is listed as endangered.  It is estimated that less than 2,000 trees are left in the wild.  The main 2 reasons threatening this tree are loss of habitat and the introduction of a fungal infection, Dogwood Anthracnose.

As far as we know, there is no selection program being carried out to select resistant trees to the fungus and breed them as Anthracnose resistant stock.  We, at our nursery, have been experimenting with planting the dogwood trees in situations which in not conducive to the fungal disease, with success.

We love this pretty, little tree and will strive to keep up with scientific data and ideas to save it.  Only time will tell.


Why the fuss about ancient trees?  For me the answer lies in their genetics and their gifts to their offspring.  In long lived trees such as maple, oaks, beech and hickory, longevity is a desirable genetic trait.  Longevity of these trees shows an adaptability to a changing world.  An ability to adapt to changing weather and climate, degrading air quality (air pollution) and soil pollutants such as road side salts.

This particular silver maple was on a 300 acre farm purchased by Colonel J B McLean of the present day McLean publications.  Even by 1930, Colonel McLean could see that most of this area had been clear cut and , ‘the land was devoid of most songbirds.’  Somehow the silver maple was spared the ax and grew to its massive size beside the historic stone barn.

It was a thrill to see, this spring, the silver maple loaded with monstrous amounts of maple keys.  Today, we are germinating approximately 200 seedlings from this ancient tree.  And her genetics will live on.


At the end of April, we were very busy unloading part of the greenhouse in order to attend the annual native plant sale at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton.  There were many larval (caterpillar) plants in crates to be carried out to the back of the trailer and truck.

Floating through all this chaos were 2 painted lady butterflies.  How on earth they came out of hibernation and found our greenhouse through the cold and rainy weather of April was a mystery to me.  They immediately found their larval plant, pearly everlasting, to lay eggs all over.

In May, we saw the familiar webbing of caterpillars all over the pearly everlasting and knew we were in luck.  Today, all 50 plants are spent and we had to transplant 20 + caterpillars to new plants.  This will be their last big feeding and then they will crawl off into the garden and hang.  Later they will emerge as our beautiful painted ladies.

How wonderful we were able to share a life’s moment with them.  And so the cycle of life continues.




Yesterday, while hurricane winds were blowing, I was out collecting seeds.  No one told me of the dangers of this job.  The high force winds were literally ripping the female catkins from the trembling aspen trees.  There were severe thunderstorms watches issued, but I had to collect the catkins.  Aspens, poplars and cottonwoods are unique in that the seeds will immediately germinate if they land on the right surface – warm and wet soil.

Of course, the winds were carrying the seeds across the road and depositing them all over the road shoulders.  I really did have to remind myself that there was traffic to pay attention to and that the dog, my assistant nursery manager, was utterly unaware of any cars.

With our newly collected prizes in hand, we immediately laid the seeds on fresh, wet soil and left them to steam in the greenhouse.  If all goes well, within days there should be little trembling aspen sprouting.






I have sadly overlooked this species considering them a weed and junk tree.  In my ignorance I did not realize their contribution to the environment, especially along eroding rivers.  I think this tree will become highly prized in the future as we see more heavy rain events like we saw this spring.