KITCHENER, Ont. — The grounds around Bavarian Window Works, a window distributor and installer, are not what you would expect to find in an entry to a business in an industrial area.
There’s no lawn, not even a small section of neat, weeded gravel beside the sidewalk to invite customers into the store.
Instead, butterflies flit about, bees suck at nectar-rich purple bee balm, insects are everywhere and there is not a geranium or manicured lawn in sight.
This is a garden of native species that enrich the soil, repel invasive insects and feed the pollinators and it’s a landscaping idea that seems to be catching on with businesses and homeowners throughout the region.
“It’s becoming more accepted by the general public,” says Jeff Thompson, an ecologist and the owner of Native Plant Source in Kitchener.
Thompson was the architect of Bavarian’s prairie gardens, using a model he has repeated over and over across Ontario, most recently at Hospice Caledon’s Bethell House, a 10-bed end-of-life facility that opened in April in the village of Inglewood, Ont., northwest of Brampton.
“We have green fuzz,” says Bethell’s executive director Gabrielle Coe, waxing enthusiastic over the beginnings of the natural prairie garden outside her office window.
“I think we have to do more of this.”
Guelph-based Tambro Construction was given the contracting job for the Inglewood building, which included several “green” elements, including solar panels that also heat the water.
Bethell House wanted the outside grounds to reflect the inside, so it seemed logical they would avoid “rolling out carpets of sod.”
The property, located in a former apple orchard, is leased from the Niagara Escarpment Commission and consists of steep slopes and dry, thin soil: perfect for a hardy prairie garden.
“This is a low-maintenance landscape that will attract living things and delight our residents,” Coe says.
One of Thompson’s earlier naturalized areas was created for the Union Gas office in Brantford, a natural habitat with 171 species created in 1994 for a development designed by Kitchener’s Walter Fedy Partnership.
For that project, Thompson supplied seeds for the3.5-acres lot in an effort to restore what had been tall grass prairie 150 years ago.
So what are the advantages of native species? Plenty.
Over hundreds of years, native species have evolved to thrive in their environment and are therefore able to quickly adapt to any conditions, even drought, in which hybrids can simply shrivel up and die.
Native species also fend off chewing insects and fill in the space with enough force to deter weeds. Best of all, native species attract birds, butterflies and beneficial insects, require little if any watering and no pest control.
With all the talk recently of bee populations crashing, home owners and business owners can do their part by planting species attractive to these creatures.
Thompson recommends ox-eye sunflower, ironweed, butterfly milkweed, wild bergamot (also called bee balm), blazing star, grey-headed coneflower and grasses such as big bluestem, little bluestem and Indian grass.
All these species can be found at the Bavarian property, a design that won the City of Kitchener’s Urban Design Award in 2008.
Company spokesperson Morgan Reay credits co-owner Dean Olson for suggesting a prairie landscape when the firm was building the plant and showroom four years ago.
Reay says the company felt it could set a model for other factories in the area.
“Even small local companies like ours can do this,” he says, noting that visitors are always dropping by. “We have people coming out of nowhere, they stop and look.”
Dashing around Bavarian’s garden with the enthusiasm of a kid at Disney World, Larry Lamb can’t say enough about how beautifully the garden has grown in, even the cattails that suddenly took up residence in an adjacent ditch.
Lamb is an ardent environmentalist and a member of the Waterloo Stewardship Network.
“They (Bavarian) have done all the right things,” he says. “I’ve been squawking (about natural gardens) for 30 years and finally people are starting to listen.
“You don’t need to fertilize it; you don’t need to mow it. Prairie will grow on the poorest soil and over the years will enrich it.”
Enthusiasts says that when people see how lovely natural gardens look they might be encouraged to convert their own properties.
Thompson noted that “some gardeners are mixing native and non-native” and that planting native species has lately become of particular interest to municipal governments.