November 21, 2022
Toronto Native Seed Exchange
Sunday, December 4, 2022 | 12 - 3 PM
Plant Market and Native Plant Supply | 327 Bering Ave., Etobicoke
If you would like more information on the seed exchange, please visit facebook.com/torontoplantmarket.
Seeds make you think about the future. From this handful of Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) seeds, we can imagine hundreds of seedlings growing in a nursery and then taking root in native pollinator gardens and prairie restoration projects. We can visualise these and other native perennials as part of the biodiverse, reimagined productive landscapes that are needed for climate change adaptation in this region. The Evening Primrose plants that formed these seeds spent the past summer growing alongside 1000 other individuals from 28 species of native perennials at the Toronto Seed Strategy Pilot Orchard at NVK Nurseries in Dundas, Ont.
Each week over the summer, Liam Doyle, University of Guelph Master of Landscape Architecture student, visited, watching the different species grow, bloom, receive pollinators, and slowly set seeds. With guidance from Stefan Weber (Ontario Plant Restoration Alliance, OPRA), Liam learned species-specific seed collection and processing protocols and began to observe the fleeting and precise moments that seeds are ready for gathering. Sand Dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus), for example, “shatters” many of its miniscule seeds shortly after ripening, a dramatic maturation. So, gathering those seeds requires attentive patience, being ready just as the shattering begins. As this issue of Ground Magazine goes into print, the orchard is teeming with drying blooms, inflorescences heavy with developing seeds. Each plant is a lesson in reproduction: from the tiny spray of flowers on Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), the delicate “tongue” of the Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), to the articulated composite seeds of the Smooth Oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides).
As the climate warms, native, locally adapted drought- and flood-tolerant plant species are in demand. While native perennial plantings have been a small part of the horticultural industry, today more landscape architects are specifying them, and more clients are requesting them. Ongoing advocacy from non-profit environmental organizations like Carolinian Canada, as well as guidelines like the Toronto Green Standard and the Toronto’s Biodiversity Strategy (which call for regionally appropriate native plants from source-identified seed), have led this change. But while demand surges, supply is not there. Many in the industry are concerned about a lack of appropriate and sufficient seed and plant sources; it can be difficult to find enough quantity and the right plants. If native perennial plantings are a key part of climate-adaptation strategies, will there be enough, who will grow them, how will they benefit the land, how will their growth benefit Indigenous land caretakers?
The challenges are many and complex, and any response requires the coordination of many sectors from landscape architects to landscape contractors to seed collectors to growers and ecologists. The Southern Ontario Seed Strategy, led by Carolinian Canada, has been facilitating a broadscale response to these challenges, gathering these sectors in crucial conversation. In turn, local initiatives, such as OPRA, composed of people rooted in cultural and ecological communities have launched pilot seed orchard projects in Southern Ontario. In 2020, the Toronto Seed Strategy Working Group, formed to grow native plant seed capacity specifically in the Greater Toronto Area for residential to larger scale ecological restoration work. In a series of meetings, recurring concerns emerged: the need for stronger connection between landscape architects and growers so that design specifications reflect availability; The need to build relationships so that designers can forecast species needs in time for growers to obtain seed and propagate them; The need for all parties to educate clients about the value of source-identified seed; The need for any native plant production to reflect the principles and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada; The need to support Indigenous land initiatives; and the need for co-operation and communication above all. One outcome of the meetings was a collaborative effort to establish a pilot seed orchard.
The Toronto Seed Strategy Pilot Orchard was planted in June of 2022, thanks to many individuals and organizations including Design Climate Action, the World Wildlife Foundation for seed plants, NVK Nurseries for facilities and maintenance, Carolinian Canada for consultation, and a Mitacs Business Strategy grant (in partnership with Ecoman Corporation and the University of Waterloo School of Architecture) to support orchard documentation and seed gathering. The orchard is a humble three rows of plants, but it represents collective action towards climate change adaptation, a local piece of a broader set of regional, provincial, and federal strategies. We envision the orchard as a space for sharing knowledge, for learning and practicing seed collection, and for bringing together the different sectors. We are looking forward to gathering and processing a diverse assemblage of seeds in the coming weeks, but the project’s success will be measured equally in the relationships cultivated through the process.