Village Green would benefit from a wide variety of plants

 In Letters, Opinion

An announcement in the April 16 number of the Echo summarized the goals of the Village Green’s re-creation. It “will be a signature attraction, a landmark, drawing visitors from far and wide to experience Creemore’s beauty and hospitality.” One element in its re-creation is that “forty new trees and shrubs are to be planted.” These are admirable goals, and all of us who value Creemore’s beauty and hospitality will hope for inspiration in the search for them.
This summary was followed by Laura Walton’s piece suggesting that “If you are going to plant trees, it makes sense to plant trees that have the most beneficial impact upon the world around them, and that means planting native trees.” Few of us would disagree with Laura’s confident use of ‘sense’ in the first part of the sentence; the sense of the second part is less obvious.
There is an argument to be made for ‘native trees’ in their role as pollinators.  The word ‘native’ is itself slippery; the only trees and shrubs truly native to the Village Green either grow there (unless they have been removed or have chosen not to linger) or within a very short distance from it. Many of those trees are handsome and have impressive pollinating credentials, but why add to them when we can do so much more to create “a signature attraction, a landmark drawing visitors from far and wide”? Who will come to the Village Green to see sugar maples or the American Mountain Ash or the alternate-leaved dogwood,  growing in their hundreds and thousands just down the road, when they could be delighted by alternatives, durable, hardy, spectacular that could be included in the new forty?
Let me concede the pollinating argument. But it should not be allowed to veto other possibilities. ‘Beneficial’ is too single-minded, too exclusive. It needs to include aesthetic aspects (are the trees beautiful, unusual?), cultural breadth (where do the trees come from? In what conditions do they grow?), and, perhaps above all else, gardening pleasure (can we grow these in our own gardens?) Without non-native plants there will be no paperbark maple, with its intriguing exfoliating bark, from China; no Zelkova from Japan, rivalling the majesty of the sugar maples and the red oaks; no Kentucky coffee tree or yellowwood from the United States; no Sorbus commixta, with its extraordinary spring foliage, from Russia and Korea; no Northern Catalpa growing across a wide swathe of central and Northern America; no Amur cork tree, with its ruggedly spongy bark, from a Chinese province; no Tulip tree though it grows happily in Creemore, and not a single magnolia! Among shrubs, there will be no daphnes, no lilacs, nor the lovely Abeliophyllum distichum, with its fragrant white flowers, from the Korean peninsula. All of these are growing contentedly within a few miles of Village Green, but if you follow Laura’s advice, you and your children will not see them there.
I have restricted my comments to trees and shrubs but if you choose only native plants, you must abandon most of your favourite spring flowers (snowdrops, winter aconites, cyclamen, leucojums, corydalis, hellebores, scilla and Glory-of-the Snow, chionodoxa, none of them ‘native’ to Creemore). You can forget about many perennials because when they are sold as ‘native’, it is overlooked that the plants are ‘native’ to Nova Scotia or British Columbia, or to acid soil when you garden on the alkaline  Niagara Escarpment, or to wetlands when you spend much of the summer doing a rain dance. If we are to avoid the (horti)cultural isolationism into which nature and the native plants’ enthusiasts would plunge us, we must interpret ‘beneficial’ widely and fill the Village Green with trees and other plants from the world over for the pleasure of residents and visitors alike.
Brian Bixley.

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