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Migrating Monarch butterflies on patch of New England Aster
Photo © Geof Burbidge

Naturescaping in the Outaouais

Information and resources for people who wish to garden with native plants.

Prepared by members of ACRE and Gatineau Valley Gardeners, Chelsea, Quebec

Mary McWhinney
Christel Paulun
Diane Renaud

Edited by
Geof Burbidge

Design & layout by
Maria Lyons

Photo: © Migrating Monarch butterflies on patch of New England Aster
by Geof Burbidge


Naturescaping is a relatively new term for the practice of natural landscaping, or gardening with native plants. Many gardeners now appreciate the importance of preserving or restoring our original native habitats and are wondering how they might go about doing it on their property, or are just fascinated by the idea of using some of our beautiful native wildflowers in their present garden plantings. This pamphlet was prepared in response to the many enquiries ACRE has received about gardening with native plants in the wake of Chelsea, Quebec's bylaw restricting the use of pesticides for cosmetic reasons. It is a brief guide to the terminology, philosophy, and methods of naturescaping, with a list of suggested species and sources of native plants.

Native plants

Native plants are those that grew wild in our region prior to the arrival of Europeans, often overlooked by gardeners in their search for the exotic. They have not been hybridized or genetically modified and can reproduce true from seed, and do not need any pesticides or artificial fertilizers. Native plants are as beautiful as they are diverse and have the capacity to make it on their own without human assistance. They are the products of their varied habitats. They can survive in the dense shade of forests (Shinleaf and Red trillium for example) or grow in waterlogged soils that would kill most conventional garden plants (Blue flag and Turtlehead). Much of the Gatineau soil is acidic due to the number of coniferous trees and many wildflowers are tolerant of, and may even require, high levels of acid in the soil (Wild columbine and Solomon's seal).

Native (also called "indigenous" ) plants are different from "naturalized" plants. Naturalized plants (also called "introduced" or "alien") have been brought to our area either accidentally or intentionally and now grow in the wild without human cultivation (Queen Anne's lace, Ox-eye daisy and Purple loosestrife, for example). "Invasive plants" are naturalized plants that spread very easily, and because they are not part of our native ecosystem may have few natural controls and can displace the original native plant and wildlife communities (Purple loosestrife, Buckthorn, Garlic mustard, Eurasian Watermilfoil, European frogbit, and Norway maple are some particularly nasty examples).

Benefits of naturescaping

Native plants are perfectly adapted to our climate and soils and have developed a co-dependency with each other as well as with native wildlife, insects and fungi. They are far friendlier to our wild birds and animals than exotics or cultivars are. Many wildlife species depend on old fields and forest, and use the cavities in decaying trees for food, shelter and safety. Native shrubs and trees planted as windbreaks and buffers can establish a continuous corridor for wildlife, allowing them to move safely from the shelter of wooded areas to the water to drink. A border of natural vegetation along the shoreline of lakes, rivers and streams (an "arora") plays a crucial role in protecting water quality and preventing soil erosion. Aroras provide shelter and food for wildlife, protect spawning beds for fish, and filter out fertilizers and other contaminants before they reach the water.

Myth of No Maintenance

Naturescaping is an exciting way to celebrate the plants that are uniquely suited to our area, but, disruption of the land through urbanization and agricultural development requires our input to put it back into balance. Unless you want to let nature take its course completely unaided and let your property return to forest through the process of old-field succession (a perfectly environmentally-valid decision) your care and attention is going to be required. Even if you just want to maintain a wildflower meadow with its attendant naturalized species, you will have to mow it once a year in the late summer to suppress the growth of trees and shrubs. If you want to go further towards naturalization your site needs to be properly prepared and invasive or unwanted plants weeded out.

Choose and prepare your site

Check conditions in the area to be planted and choose plants appropriate to the site. Is it a dry or wet area, woodland or full sun? Is the soil sandy- or clay-based? Soil conditions can be changed with the addition of leaf moulds and compost. If digging is required, add leaf mould and compost to at least 12 inches.

If your area is full of grass and weeds that seem difficult to remove, mulch with newspapers layered as thickly as possible over the area to be planted. Overlap the edges and cover with compost, leaf mould and soil. Alternately, you can cover larger areas with black plastic weighted with rocks for a couple of weeks, uncover, turn over the soil, wait until any dormant weed seeds have germinated and repeat. If you want a rock garden and are using alpine-like plants, use builder sand on top of the soil. The sand inhibits germination of other seeds and the larger particles of sand rise to the top to form a mulch.


Mulch is anything that covers the bare earth. Mulch prevents soil erosion and winter compacting, conserves moisture and keep roots cool, inhibits weed seed germination and feeds the micro-organisms in the soil. Organic mulches are the best, such as compost, shredded leaves or leaf mould, or bark chips (for around trees and shrubs). Most garden books have a chapter devoted to composting. Purchasing topsoil or peat moss means that land or a bog elsewhere has been degraded and is best avoided.

Where to find native plant material

  • Construction sites are excellent, especially those in your own neighbourhood or community, because you are preserving the genetic diversity within the species by choosing wild plants from as close to you as possible. Do your part for the survival of native plants by rescuing them from the bulldozer. Be sure to ask permission in case the owner wants to do his or her own transplanting. Plant in the same or similar conditions to where they were growing.

  • Your own property. You can often transplant native plants from one place to another on your own property if the soil and sun exposure conditions are similar. Never transplant more than a small percentage of the plants in any one area. That way you don’t eradicate the species from the original site, and, you have a chance to try again if your transplant doesn’t thrive.

  • Your neighbour’s properties with their permission. Same as above.

  • The Railway tracks. Some native plant seeds germinate easily on the tracks (Canada anemone, for example). You have to rescue these before the railway people steam them dead, though.

Plant List – suggestions for the Chelsea area

A very short list of some common species of our area. (Note: DO NOT dig up native plants from the woods and fields. A generation ago there were many more wildflowers, both in quantity and variety. Now the habitats have been degraded and many have been destroyed altogether. If everyone picks "just a few" plants, after a while there are none left. Do everything you can to preserve the biodiversity of our native woodlands and wetlands.) *Naturalized species indicated with an asterisk.

For moist areas

  • Blue Flag Iris versicolor
  • Bog Goldenrod Solidago uliginosa
  • Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis
  • Evening Primrose Oenathera biennis
  • Great lobelia Lobelia siphilitica
  • Joe pye weed Eupatorium maculatum
  • Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris
  • Ostrich Fern Matteuccia struthiopteris
  • Purple bergamot Monarda fistulosa*
  • Sensitive Fern Onoclea sensiblis
  • Spearmint Mentha piperita*
  • Swamp milkweed Asclepia incarnata
  • Sweet gale Myrica gale
  • Turtlehead Chelone glabra
  • Water Arum Calla palustris

For acidic soil

  • Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia serotina
  • Black snakeroot Cimicifuga racemosa
  • Canada mayflower Maianthemum canadense
  • Christmas fern Polystichum acrostichoides
  • False Solomon Seal Smilacina racemosa
  • Foamflower Tiarella cordifolia
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema atrorubens
  • Red Baneberry Actea rubra
  • Solomon’s seal Polygonatum caniculatum
  • Spring beauty Claytonia virginica
  • White trillium Trillium grandiflorum
  • Wild columbine Aguilegia canadensis

For deep shade

  • Bellwort Uvularia perfoliata
  • Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis
  • Christmas fern Polystichum acrostichoides
  • Cut-leaved toothwort Dentaria diphylla
  • Painted trillium Trillium undulatum
  • Polypody fern Polypodium vulgare
  • Red trillium Trillium erectum
  • Rose twisted-stalk Streptopus roseus
  • Sharp-lobed hepatica Hepatica acutiloba
  • Trout lily Erythronium americanum
  • White trillium Trillium grandiflorum
  • White wood aster Aster divaricatus
  • Wild ginger Asarum canadense
  • Virginia creeper Parthenocissus spp
  • Zigzag goldenrod Solidago flexicaulis

For open areas

  • Barren strawberry Waldsteinia fragarioides
  • Bee balm Monarda didyma*
  • Blue vervain Verbena hastata
  • Boneset Eupatorium perfoliatum
  • Butterflyweed Asclepias tuberosa*
  • Canada anemone Anemone canadensis
  • Fireweed Epilobium angustifolium
  • New England aster Aster novae-angliae
  • Purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea*

Shrubs and trees

  • Southern arrow-wood Viburnum recognitum
  • Downy arrow-wood Viburnum rafinesquianum
  • High-bush cranberry Viburnum trilobum
  • Hobblebush Viburnum alnifolium
  • Maple-leaved viburnum Viburnam acerifolium
  • Nannyberry Viburnum lentago
  • Balsam fir Abies balsamea
  • Red-berried elder Sambucus pubens
  • American elder Sambucus canadensis
  • Eastern hemlock Tsuga canadensis
  • Red osier dogwood Cornus stolonifera
  • Gray dogwood Cornus racemosa
  • Leatherwood Dirca palustris
  • Red maple Acer rubrum
  • Red oak Quercus rubra
  • Serviceberry Amelanchier spp.
  • White birch Betula papyrifera
  • Staghorn sumac Rhus typhina
  • Sugar maple Acer saccharum
  • Eastern white-cedar Thuja occidentalis
  • White pine Pinus strobus
  • White spruce Picea glauca

Additional Resources


"The Ontario Naturalized Garden – the Complete Guide to using Native Plants" by Lorraine Johnson , published by Whitecap Books. Excellent overview of native plant gardening, the why, the how, the where and the various habitats, eg woodland areas, meadows, wetlands.

"100 Easy-To-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens", by Lorraine Johnson with photographs by Andrew Leyerle, published by Random House of Canada. Includes photographs, descriptions, maintenance and requirements for planting.

"The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, A Complete Problem-Solving Guide to Keeping Your Garden and Yard Healthy without Chemicals", edited by Barbara W. Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley, published by RODALE.

"Colour Handbook of Garden Insects", by Anna Carr, published by RODALE.

"Trees of Canada", by John Laird Farrar, published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited and Canadian Forestry Service. Comprehensive information on identification, habitat, area maps.

"Shrubs of Ontario", by Soper and Heimburger, published by Royal Ontario Museum Includes keys for identification, distibution maps, and habitat preferences.

Web sites

There are many gardening web sites but these ones focus on naturescaping. Each site has a great deal of information and links to other sites for further ideas.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation – has sections on how to get started, attracting wildlife and "Golden Gardens", a special project for gardeners over 55.

The North American Native Plant Society – includes information about "plant rescue" (getting plants ahead of the bulldozers), and plant sources, some that are nearby.

Philip Fry’s local source garden and wildflower nursery – a tour and information about individual plants – includes many links to other resources.

Fletcher Wildlife Garden at the Ottawa Experimental Farm. The OFNC (Ottawa Field Naturalist Club) is a partner in this project. The site includes a map of the location of many resources, information on invasive plants, and a newsletter.

Commercial suppliers

When ordering plant material from any nursery make certain that it is suitable to be grown in Zone 4 as well as in your soil and light conditions. It is also important to ask the supplier from how far away the plants have come. By choosing plant sources as close to you as possible you avoid homogenizing the natural genetic variability within the species across its geographic range, thus preserving biodiversity.

Bedrock Gardeners : 210 Wagon Drive, R.R. #1. Dunrobin, ON K0A 1T0 (Zone 5A)
Tel. (613) 832-4943

Gardens North : 5984 Third Line Road North, North Gower, ON K0A 2T0 (Zone 4)
Tel. (613) 489-0065 All species available in their seed catalogue are also available as nursery plants.

Old Field Garden and Wildflower Nursery (Philip Fry): 2935 Porter Road, Oxford Station ON K0G 1T0 (Zones 4 and 5)
See Phil’s plant list on his web site. Guaranteed from local sources only.

Jardin de Jean-Pierre: 1070 R.R. #1 Ouest, Sainte-Christine, QC J0H 1H0 (Zone 4)
Tel. (819) 858-2142 specializing in conifers but has some native perennials.

Indigo: 80 Route 116, Ulverton, QC J0B 2B0 (near Sherbrooke) (Zone 4)
Tel. (819) 826-3314 specializing in native and wild plants of Quebec.
Will deliver orders of $500 or more.

Centre Commons Perennials: R.R. #2, Newington, ON K0C 1Y0 (Zone 5A)
Tel. (613) 984-2645 specializing in drought resistant perennials, native and foliage plants and grasses. They do not conduct any mail order business.

Ritchie Feed and Seed Inc: 1390 Windmill Lane, Gloucester, ON (613)-741- 4430
Many native shrubs and trees available.