Nova Scotia

Native plants finding their way to more Nova Scotia gardens this spring

Over the last six years, an Annapolis Valley plant nursery has noticed an increase in interest for native plant species.

'When you have a native species, it'll be more successful. It's already used to the climate here'

Susan Lawrence works at Baldwin Nurseries in Upper Falmouth. (Robert Short/CBC)

Susan Lawrence knows her plants. 

She and her partner, Robert Baldwin, own and operate Baldwin Nurseries in Upper Falmouth. Over 27 years, the nursery has grown into a two-hectare operation offering tree seedlings, shrubs, perennials, and more. 

But Baldwin Nurseries offers something not all plant sellers provide ⁠— native Nova Scotian species. 

"For me, it's exciting to see a young couple coming in, and they want to do a garden, they want a pollinator garden," Lawrence said. "They want as much native as they can get."

Over the last six years, she's noticed an increase in interest for native plant species. Plants indigenous to the area now make up about 20 per cent of stock, something Lawrence said brings benefits to a home garden.

Ostrich ferns are native to the Wabanaki forest region. (Robert Short/CBC)

"When you have a native species, it'll be more successful, she said. "It's already used to the climate here.

"There's going to be no problem with a harsh winter or droughts. It's already been here for so long. So, it's adaptable."

Defining native plants

Melanie Priesnitz, a conservation horticulturist at Acadia University's Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, has spent much of her life working with native plants. The gardens have over 250 different species, all native to the region.

"A native plant to here is one that existed prior to European settlement, and its range is the Acadian Forest," Priesnitz said. 

"Before European settlement, it was called the Wabanaki Forest, named by the Mi'kmaq of this whole area, which is the land of the dawn where the sun first rises."

Melanie Priesnitz has spent the last 20 years caring for the native species at the Harriet Irving Botanical Garden at Acadia University. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Wabanaki forest region includes the Maritime provinces, parts of Quebec and certain areas of the northwestern U.S.

Priesnitz said there were originally over 1,400 indigenous species in the region until colonization when around 900 non-native species were introduced.

"It really changed our ecosystem here. It changed what the Wabanaki Forest is, some of them changed for good, maybe some of them for bad — you know, bringing in some invasive hitchhikers along the way."

Priesnitz said there are many benefits to planting native species in a garden. They include insect resistance, saving water, deterring invasive species and using less pesticide and fertilizer.

"Gardening with native plants is really giving back to the land," Priesnitz said. "It's providing habitat for wildlife, it's putting the right plant in the right place. It's reforesting areas, it's trying to restore pieces of land that we have changed.

"We can really make a difference to the natural world by making good, responsible choices about planting."

Bayberries have a fragrant scent and a waxy coating that can be used in candle-making. (Robert Short/CBC)

The botanical gardens have native plants like ostrich fern, yellow twig dogwood, mayflower and bayberry that could easily be planted in a home garden.

Lawrence also grows and sells bayberry, a plant known for its fragrance, at the nursery. They start the seeds in their propagation room where most of their native plants begin their life. After four years of growth, they're ready to be taken home and planted. 

"Bayberry is a coastal plant, mostly on the edges of beaches. So Lockeport, Chéticamp, Cape Breton, anywhere where there's a coastal area you'll probably find bayberry," Lawrence said.

Right now, she's gearing up for what she expects to be a busy spring planting season.

"I've had a few different jobs in my life, but this job, every single day at the end of my day, I say, 'I love my job.' I love it."