A Plea for Stewardship in Hamilton
From the Nest, Issue 7
by Candy Venning
Nature is not somewhere we go – it’s where we all live.
It’s so easy to get disconnected – we walk along pavements and become attuned to the architecture, people, cars, music, shops and other human-centric aspects of our surroundings.
Our homes are climate controlled and we keep tabs on any insect inside, which is all absolutely normal, but for anyone who has seen a huge hawk high in a canopy tree downtown, watched a colourful mushroom grow out of an old stump in the yard, or marvelled at the carpenter bees doing a territorial dance mid air, it’s clear that we are, in fact, inside nature.
Hamilton has such an amazing diversity of wildlife. Sure, there are squirrels and raccoons, sparrows and seagulls, even skunks and coyotes, all creatures who have learned to live among us despite all our efforts to discourage them. But Hamilton also has 386 species of birds that exist within a 25 mile (40.2 kilometre) radius of Dundurn Castle. Who among us can name more than 6 of those species?
We have stunning waterfalls and wetlands, escarpments and woodlands. There are native plants and trees, all around us through the escarpment and in our yards, but also, increasing amounts of non-native, invasive species.
Hamilton could insist that garden centres no longer sell the (money-making due to their hardiness and ease of propagation) invasive plant materials that escape from yards to take over the last wisps of our protected habitats.
With no natural predators, non-native species like lily of the valley, goutweed, periwinkle, English ivy, burning bush and many others are not part of our ecosystem, and do not support native insects and the birds that need to feed on those insects or berries.
These “common garden variety” plants spread easily, have no natural predators, and are a bit like plastic – easy to produce, not part of our ecosystem and therefore a big problem. We know better now, these plants used by contractors and gardeners alike shouldn’t be taking over our ravines, the Royal Botanical Gardens, marshlands, woodland trails and parks as they displace our essential native plant species completely unimpeded.
Hamilton could insist that contractors, landscapers, and residents must collectively, and for the greater good of us all, plant native trees and actually ask folks to try to keep them alive; that rainwater fees for the vast acreages of parking lots that dump heated, pollutant filled water into the bay we drink and play in (see Environment Hamilton’s Fair Fees For Stormwater campaign).
Hamilton could become a champion for this incredible biome and garden we live within, a real “stickler” for insisting that developers’ fees go towards the green spaces and living infrastructure we all (regardless of financial, physical, mental, or social ability) so desperately need to breathe, drink and escape to for keeping up morale during any crisis (even simply escaping the heat of the sun under a big shady street tree).
As the city increases housing density (a good thing because we don’t need more sprawl) we must also support and champion our greenspaces within the city – even parks that currently seem underutilized should remain flexible for community use in future.
Some enjoy the meadow-like feel of it, others, not so much. Built in 2012 with walkways, poetry and a collection of mostly native plants, this community garden thrives despite having no water, and little maintenance.
The deep rooted 50 or so species of plants currently in the parkette provide habitat, nectar, and, to me, beauty. To be perfectly fair though, whether you embrace native plants and all they offer or not, surely you embrace greenspace within our core?
Arguably there’s Bayfront Park just across the way, quite different, it takes considerable effort to get down the ramps to reach a destination – the Sunset Cultural Garden acts more as a gateway to the park and a place for respite that due to its manageable size and easy access has already seen a number of community uses (birthday celebrations, yoga, neighbourhood Easter egg hunts, as well as relaxing and reflecting).
The open land and clear sightlines are important for traffic safety as well as sunsets. This is especially important as the waterfront sees increased recreational use and throughout ongoing development.
My fervent hope is that the City of Hamilton will finally get on board with promoting, protecting and stewarding our most valuable resources, our stunning bay, surrounding water, and waterfalls, our magical escarpments filled with incredible trees and plants, our local and migratory birds, and our street trees (and adding in tree protection by-laws with teeth) – a place where humanity has existed for thousands of years.
We are nature. It’s not outside us, we are part of a complete ecosystem, whether you want to embrace that or not. Personally, I want to embrace it with all of my being.
We can and should be stewards for all the things that are interlinked with this place and the creatures whose space we share.
Candy Venning has focused her 20 years in the landscape industry on sustainable garden design and project management; her passion for nature is reflected in her work, from creating early green roof systems to teaching about, planning and overseeing the installation of elegant residential gardens incorporating native plants; Candy worked with residents and the City of Hamilton to design and build the Sunset Cultural Garden; Candy and her husband own Venni Gardens, a landscape, maintenance and garden design business