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Gardeners blooming with pride – and knowledge – at Spring Gala


County naturalist Terry Sprague delighted Gardeners' Gala guests with stories of natural Prince Edward County

Story and photos by Amanda Jean Stanley
Master gardeners and amateurs alike filled Picton’s Crystal Palace with the beauty of Spring  at the Prince Edward County Horticultural Society’s annual Gardeners’ Gala.

The practice of horticulture is by no means a new trend or specific to any demographic. Modern parents trying to nourish their growing families and geneticists studying generations of peas both appear equally vulnerable to the gardening bug.  Similarly, both rely on the knowledge and advice of more advanced gardeners to supplement the textbook approach with anecdotal advice and tricks of the trade. The society’s Master Gardeners were available at the Gala to answer questions and dispense advice.

It would seem an exact science. Certainly soil types and PH levels are a factor. The amount of sunlight and water a plant receives, how deeply a seed is planted in the soil and what kind of fertilizer a gardener uses influences the success of plant growth. However, according to Master Gardener Joyce Young, clematis that is reluctant to bloom could be aided by some Plant Psychology 101.
“If the clematis is left alone, with little attention, it says to itself: ‘I need to fight for my life so I’ll produce flowers and seeds!’ If it is too well cared for, the clematis becomes a bit lazy and will flower less.” Several Master gardeners roamed the Crystal Palace spreading the seeds of future home-grown masters.

County naturalist Terry Sprague was the gala’s keynote speaker, delivering a compelling presentation about Prince Edward County’s natural heritage.
Sprague has worked with Glenora Fisheries Research as a resource technician, Sandbanks Provincial Park as a park interpreter and Quinte Conservation as a naturalist and outdoor events coordinator.
He combined his comprehensive knowledge of the County’s unique habitats and local history to demonstrate the responsibility residents have to maintain natural heritage.
“We have a tendency to take things for granted,” he said. “We are in danger of losing a lot of these places.”
For example, a rare landform known as a mesa or flat-topped mountain exists in the County at McMahon Bluff on South Bay Road and it supports rare vegetation like ginseng. Sprague explained that many of the County’s islands are also exceptional and historic landforms.
Main Duck Island and the False Ducks (Swetman and Timber islands) help birds migrate by providing rest spaces. Scotch Bonnet Island, comprised completely of limestone shelf jutting out of the lake, is where Farley Mowat discovered a cormorant breeding colony. Nicholson Island is home to a reclusive pheasant hunting club where Bing Crosby once hunted.
Sprague explained the famous sandbars of the Sandbanks Provincial Park were formed 12,000 years ago, however one could not see the sand for the cedar forest and grass cover. The sand moved once settlers in the area began clearing vegetation and it drifted like snow.

Sprague noted the original West Lake Road was buried and moved three times in 50 years until the dunes stabilized in the mid 1960s. The plants in this habitat are remnants from when the area was more prairie-like. Plants like wormwood have adapted to live in a dry environment and animals like the ant-lion have adapted to catching prey in sandy conical traps.

He noted the importance of the South Shore Important Bird Area as a part of the County’s natural heritage. It is home to vast quantities of migrating birds that use the site as the first rest after an exhausting flight over Lake Ontario. For example, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl and the tiny Blackpoll warbler amazingly makes their way from Brazil going as far as Alaska and Newfoundland.

“We need to protect these areas,” Sprague stressed. “We’ll never have the chance again.”

The knowledge and tradition of agricultural and horticultural skills is passed down through generations. There is a modern urban trend that adapts traditional homesteading values and practice for small urban spaces. Vegetable gardens are popping up on roofs and balconies. Here in the County, the space for young people to experiment and learn the time-honoured craft abounds. Starting small vegetable patches or flower beds is inexpensive and relatively simple. It is the PEC Horticultural Society’s intent to nourish interest in a whole new generation of future-Masters.

For more from Terry Sprague, visit his website, and his blog  Out on a Limb – your guide to nature in Prince Edward County

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  1. Pam Barnes says:

    An excellent piece by Amanda Stanley. Keep up the great work!

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