Habitat & Garden Creations
Native tall grasses and forbs – flowers – are becoming more and more popular in Ontario gardens today. There is a growing interest in restoring and recreating natural areas, from backyards and boulevards, to old fields and abandoned railway lines. Where habitat-creation projects are well executed, they can provide a significant contribution to the conservation of wildlife diversity. This section includes some gardens and larger recreations around Ontario.
This section includes a small sample of prairie gardens and recreations. If you have a prairie garden, we would be delighted to profile it on our website. Just send a short description, with the information you want available on the website, plus a photo in .jpeg format to email@example.com
Want to grow your own prairie?
We have included a photo gallery of some tallgrass prairie and savanna forbs – flowering plants which are more generally available although some are difficult to find.
For more information on establishing a prairie garden of any size, download a copy of Planting the Seed.
The North American Native Plant Society also has an excellent site with a Canadian section for northern gardeners. http://www.nanps.org/
Check out https://nativeplants.evergreen.ca/ . The Evergreen Native Plant Database is designed to help schools, community groups and home gardeners select the right plants for their particular landscapes.
TgO’s Downsview Park Tallgrass Project is the creation of a 5 acre Tallgrass Prairie at Downsview Park in the City of Toronto. This project also provides an educational program focusing on local schools and the public and is supported by The Weston Family Parks Challenge. An estimated 3% of Ontario’s Tallgrass habitat is all that remains of this vanishing ecosystem. By recreating a Tallgrass Prairie on 5 acres at Downsview Park, this project will educate local school children and a city-wide audience about the importance of biodiversity and habitat preservation. Strong partnerships will support the planting of native species, community engagement and the long term maintenance of the site. This project is in the site preparation phase – with seeding scheduled for spring 2017. This project will be completed in 2019. See http://en.downsviewpark.ca/nature/tallgrass for more info.
The Weston Family Parks Challenge is an initiative of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation in collaboration with the Ontario Trillium Foundation and administered by Toronto Park People.
Kenesserie Tallgrass Prairie
From 2009 to 2012 TgO coordinated several prairie creations in Southern Ontario. One of them was the Kenesserie Tallgrass Praire in Chatham-Kent. This is an 8 acre prairie creation seeded with a diverse seed mix. More information about this project can be found in the Summer 2016 edition of the BlueStem Banner.
Rainbow Tallgrass Restoration site
The Rainbow restoration site of twelve acres was planted in the spring of 1998 and 1999 at The Rainbow Cottages Resort site near Peterborough, Ontario. Many Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) have attained heights in excel of eight feet no doubt due to the rich Bondhead sandy loam that dominates the site. Indian Grass (Sorghasstrum nutans) and Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) have also done well and have been augmented by the planting of Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) and Prairie Buttercup (Ranuncuclus rhomboideus). For more information, click on Rainbow Cottages Resort.
Sharon Creek Tallgrass Prairie
Planted in June of 1999, the Sharon Creek Tallgrass Prairie near Delaware, Ontario, has slowly established itself. Several prescribed burns helped the prairie along and destroyed invading weed species. Even the Common Mullein, which threatened to take over, is almost a memory, as brute strength, fire, and time took their toll on this most noticeable opportunist. In dry years the prairie doesn’t die, it grows less high and lush.
When the prairie was established in 1999, a demonstration garden was planted by the students of Our Lady of Lourdes School in Delaware, and the ‘friends of Sharon creek’. Just a short walk inside the gates of the Sharon Creek Conservation Area, the demonstration garden is located at the north east corner of the main prairie site.
Arranged to be an orderly example of some of the plants to be found on the main site, it too has obeyed the laws of nature and has become a little less ‘orderly’ as plants self-seed or send out runners, while other plants have lived out their life span. Still, with appropriate signage, it fulfills its role as a guide to what various plants look like at the current time of the year.
From the Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris) which has grown to five feet, to the even higher Tall Sunflower (Heliantus giganteus) towering over visitors at nine feet, the demonstration garden illustrates the “tall” part of our prairie. And the lush growth of Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), and Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis) show what the prairie is all about.
Also included in the demonstration garden are various forbs such as Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), Canada Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), Dense Blazingstar (Liatris spicata), Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridflora), and various asters. Many new plants were added in June 2003 including fifty plugs of False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) grown from seed by Grade 3 students of Middlesex County.
From early spring to late fall, visitors to Sharon Creek Tallgrass Prairie should make the “Demo Garden” their first stop.
UTRCA Admin Garden
This prairie garden, created in 1999, is located in front of the administration building of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority in London, Ontario. It was created as part of a larger naturalization project that saw dozens of horticultural plants removed from the grounds and replaced with locally native plants.
The juniper bushes that once grew in this ‘circle garden’ were pulled out in the fall of 1998 with a back-hoe and a loose sandy loam soil was added. A plan was developed on paper for the garden that included a woodchip path through the middle, large boulders for aesthetics, a small stone pond for wildlife, and over 24 species of Tallgrass Prairie plants grown in clumps. The plants were arranged such that the smaller plants (e.g. little bluestem, prairie smoke) would be visible from the path or edge and the taller plants (e.g. tall sunflower) were positioned in the middle. Colour and flowering time were also considered in the arrangement.
In June of 1999 plugs obtained from a local native plant nursery (Pterophylla) were planted in the garden according to the plan. Five plugs were planted together to form a clump of one species. Plant labels were added so visitors and staff could identify the various flowers and grasses.
Some watering was carried out that first summer to help the plugs get established but the garden no longer requires watering. The garden is hoed only once a year in the late spring after the native plants can be identified from the weeds. The light soil makes this task fairly easy. Once the plants reach their full height in summer, there is very little exposed soil for weeds to take root so very little weeding is needed. The dead stalks are cut off near the base of the plants and removed in the early spring to assist with hoeing and to keep the garden from filling in.
This garden has more than met our expectations. Robust clumps of colourful flowers (Black-Eyed Susan, Grey-Headed Coneflower, Prairie Smoke, Tall Coreopsis, Ironweed, and Dense Blazing Star) are interspersed with elegant grasses (Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Prairie Cordgrass and others). The colours peak in mid-August.
The garden is located within the Fanshawe Conservation Area in northeast London and is open to the public. For directions, call (519) 451-2800.
Remnant Restoration Projects
Ojibway Tallgrass Prairie
TgO recently completed a project to improve prairie ecosystems for Colicroot and Slender Bush Clover at Ojibway in Windsor Ontario. This work included alien vegetation removal and prescribed burn. Other species expected to benefit include Butler’s Gatersnake, Eastern Foxsnake, Purple Twayblade, Willowleaf Aster and Dense Blazing Star. This project was completed in early 2017 and was supported by a grant from the Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Fund.
Blue Lake Savanna
TgO is working on a project to improve habitat for American Columbo at the Blue Lake Savanna in Brant County. This maintenance requires removing alien invasive shrub species, thinning native shrubs and promoting seed germination of American Columbo. This work is enhanced further by completion of a prescribed burn, and monitoring of the target population. This project has a scheduled completion date of early 2018 and is funded by a grant from the Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Fund.
TgO’s Monarch Habitat Project
A three year project that targets 10 sites along Lake Erie, focusing on Norfolk County and one demonstration site for educational purposes. In the first year, 737 volunteer hours from TgO members have been logged in preparation for this project. Work includes conducting prescribed burns on established prairie followed by over-seeding of hand collected milkweed seed.
The goal is habitat improvement of existing Tallgrass Prairie sites in Norfolk County, with a focus on increasing Milkweed species landscape cover. The outcome is improvement of Monarch butterfly habitat in areas along their migratory route.
This work is scheduled for completion in spring 2018 and is funded by Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk.
A biological treasure tucked away in the upper reaches of the Grand River valley. It is one of southern Ontario’s most significant wetlands. Upland areas harbour tallgrass praire remnants. TgO has been working on a project to support the Henslow’s Sparrow, an endangered grassland bird.
Maintenance work includes prescribed burn, seeding of native species and monitoring. Other threatened and endangered species that are expected to benefit from this work include Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark and Butler’s Gatersnake.
This project is scheduled for completion in 2017 and is funded by Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk.
Corridors for Pollinators
A TgO program which works with municipalities, townships and other public and private landowners to develop practices that support and create good quality wildlife habitat, in particular for pollinators like the Monarch butterfly.
This project is being carried out with the assistance of Ontario NativeScape and is supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.