by Heather Raithby-Doyle
In 2019, when visiting Toronto’s Centre Island, Rob Chiasson noticed the gardens fluttering with monarchs and, once home, began googling “pollinator plants”. Along the way he discovered Blooming Boulevards and signed up in the fall of 2020 to be a garden steward. Rob took up gardening as a hobby in the midst of the pandemic. It gave him an excuse to be outside, and a project for his Mississauga Valley home. Little did he know his hobby would increase in size, along with his gardens.
In 2020 digging out a small patch of lawn and a strip along the walkway he planted salvia, sunflowers, lavender, veronica and black-eyed Susans. “Gateway plants in a gateway garden”, says Rob.
Then: Rob's grassy boulevard during his BB site assessment and his site with native plants ready to install, spring 2021.
In order to get ready for his Blooming Boulevards garden in May of 2021, Rob rented a sod cutter: “It made it easier to get myself into a bigger project than perhaps I should have, removing grass from my front and side lawns as well as the front boulevard” (he is on a corner lot.)
Rob duly planted the Blooming Boulevards garden, and enjoyed seeing the anise hyssop, butterfly weed, black eyed susan, pearly everlasting, white yarrow, mountain mint, hoary vervain, blue lobelia, showy tick trefoil, and blue vervain all flower in their first year. Besides being handy, it turns out he has a green thumb. The garden was also a reprieve from the stress of a busy job in the accounting and financial field.
Now: In the garden's second season, plants are filling in and blooms are attracting a host of pollinators and beneficial insects.
Over the summer of 2021, he continued planting the two other new gardens, along with a number of sunflowers. “I really enjoyed watching new plants bloom and seeing goldfinches and other birds eating seeds,” he says.
Fully onside with Blooming Boulevards by now, he volunteered to propagate seeds in 2022. While the seedlings were sold at the Blooming Boulevards plant sale, he ended up picking up “several new plants for the garden.”
Rob, who is active on the Blooming Boulevards Facebook group, posted some pictures of bumblebees on inherited but invasive periwinkle in his garden. “I got some grief for that,” he says. After some research on invasives, he went back and started removing it, a job that is still in process, plus planted some native early bloomers including Golden Alexanders to replace the periwinkle.
“I enjoyed seeing the grey-headed coneflower, wild columbine, bee balm, foxglove beardtongue, lanceleaf coreopsis, prairie cinquefoil, nodding onion, and dotted mint flower for the first time in 2022.” Excitingly, the asters “which kept the rabbits well fed last year" recently bloomed for the first time. He also noticed a swallowtail caterpillar eating lovage. “Knowing it was going to grow into a butterfly I left it to its buffet”, says Rob. Similarly he has adopted a leave and let live policy for some goldenrod, allowing it to bloom for the bees. “The uneducated me would have pulled them out as weeds.”
Photos L to R: Bumblebee on wild bergamot by Jude Pelley; bumblebee on stiff goldenrod by Rob Chiasson; Monarch butterfly on anise hyssop by Rob Chiasson.
A visit by Jude to his garden to take pictures of pollinators lead him to think about his own DSLR camera collecting dust during the pandemic. He has now started to take pictures with “a real camera” instead of his phone and is considering investing in a macro lens.
Elsewhere in this newsletter you will read about Rob’s encounter with two beautiful blue butterflies with intricately patterned wings. It caused some excitement with the similarities to Ontario’s extirpated Karner Blue butterfly, but it was “still pretty interesting” to find out he had a male and female European common blue butterflies calling his garden home.
This year has been a tough one with the lack of rain, and Rob admits “the gardens haven’t filled in quite as much as I would have liked…After seeing the flowers and vegetables flourish following the rains we did have, I’m thinking about putting rain barrels in place for next year.”
Gardens always leave room for inspiration, and Rob is looking forward to the lead plant, prairie smoke, golden alexander, bowman’s root, and zig zag goldenrod to grow and thrive. Future projects include a flower garden in the backyard, adding an Eastern redbud, and replacing non-native plants with natives. His neighbours are encouraging about the transformation, with one even thanking him for a bumper crop of cucumbers due to the increased pollinators from his yard.
You can keep up to date with Rob’s garden adventures in the Blooming Boulevards Garden Stewards group on Facebook.