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Friday, February 15th, 2019


The day started with extreme weather and cancellation of all TDSB classes, sending me scrambling for childcare so I could attend the much anticipated sophomore production of Shifting the Paradigm put on by Carolinian Canada. My late arrival meant missing the opening ceremony with Carolyn King the former elected Chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. I was pleasantly surprised at the great turnout of attendees already seated, so I can only conclude either nobody at the conference has kids or perhaps more likely I am the only one not organized enough to have backup childcare options. In my defense snow days have only occurred three times in the last two decades but I digress.


From the get go this conference differs in its indigenous centred approach and balancing the panels with both men and woman (no easy feat I know this to be true as we have had many a manel over the years). Michelle Kanter began the proceedings with the overall goal reversing the trend of habitat loss through building strategic partnerships with stakeholders, landowners and growers. Looking around the room I had hoped to see more horticultural trades that will be a critical component in implementing green infrastructure projects. This was echoed by many speakers throughout the day calling for greater connections and bridge building.


There are some great resources for each panel so I won’t go into too much detail but rather try and capture my impressions overall. Janet Sumner talked about how tough its going to be to reach 17% protected land for conservation and climate change commitments. According to Janet Canada has a huge role to play since we control 24% of the worlds fresh water, have billions of tons of carbon and 40% of the continents birds population and mammals pass through the country. Janet stated the importance of working with stakeholders and removing barriers to conservation.

During question period Sumner identified Ontario as a great place to grow the big solutions we need. Farmers, greenbelt and landtrusts each have a piece of the puzzle. What needs to be done is to create targets around corridors of green space. Increasing connectivity will help to rebuild healthy landscapes. Sumner added that people are hungry to help and want to connect to nature.


Kayri Havens Director of Plant Science and Conservation, Chicago Botanic Garden outlined the challenges south of the border. According to Havens the national seed strategy was implemented in response to record temperatures, wildfires and floods. Havens considers the availability of native seed for restoration part of emergency preparedness. “unfortunately we don’t have the seed we need” said Havens. Genetically appropriate seed is a critical natural resource that has been unrecognized, undervalued and under protected stated Havens. The Plant Conservation Alliance along with 12 federal agencies developed the seed conservation strategy back in the 90’s. Havens outlined the basic strategy:

  1. Identify seed needs and ensure availability of appropriate seed while expanding seed collection thought partnerships
  2. Identify research needs and conduct research
  3. Provide tools for land managers
  4. Ensure good communication

During question period Havens mentioned of the hundreds of thousands of acres restored in the United States only 60% of the seed used are genetically appropriate native seed. Havens continued “One big challange is the market is unpredictable and made worse by extreme weather events.”


Smiling Water took a different approach asking us to engage diverse cultures as part of biodiversity strategy. According to Smiling Water engaging diverse cultures will lead to youth being more motivated to be part of the solution. During question period Smiling Water stated “Climate change is here! We often focus on how nature can save us, when the earth was formed our grandmothers (rocks) and aunties (plants) gave us the original instructions that tells us nature is our teacher, we are responsible for our actions and required to do the least harm. Smiling Water continued that on the other hand is rooted in euro-american culture and therefore not objective and unbiased as it is all too often referred to. “If you are a scientist you bring culture” Smiling Water stated matter of factly, concluding that its important to bring together multiple systems of knowledge.


Andrew Nobrega outlined ambitious projects with large corporations that supports habitat conservation in the communities where materials are being sourced. This includes a large reforestation and agroforestry project in Peru. This provides a way for producers to reuse land that has been severely degraded. During question period Nobrega explained that the available philanthropic money available is an order pf magnitude less than what is needed. Therefore its important that ecosystem restoration projects have a great business model that allows impact investors to contribute.


photo courtesy of Megan Leslie twitter @MeganALeslie Feb 12 2019


A short 15 minute break provided some time to catch up with fascinating people, I thought it might be nice to take a break from a summary of the event to shout out to some of the wonderful and interesting people I ran into during break time/reception:

Skai Leja – chatted about how few horticulturalists, landscape contractors, designers and landscape architects were in attendance. Also Antonia jumped in to talk about Milkweed, Monarchs and what else we need to plant if we really want to help (hint milkweed is a food source for the caterpiller only!)

Jode Roberts – we talked about social media, how much potential clients already know about you and self select for eco designs. Also potentially linking LO bursary program with extra plants.

Clement Kent – looking forward to seeing him soon at Reference: The Natural City

Doris Chu – Former president of Ontario Association of Landscape Architects talking about what its like working at Hydro One and how they are increasingly replacing grass with meadow plantings (and we talked about the fact that she has virtually no social media presence 😉

Lorraine Johnson – Lorraine was trying to introduce me to her friend but couldn’t find her. I told her that I was looking forward to her panel the most. We also chatted with Antonia about the recent insectageddon article in the guardian.

Dale Leadbeater – After several emails back and forth and phone conversations, Dale was almost our speaker on Alvar ecosystems at Reference: The Natural City. It was nice to actually meet in person!

Stephen Smith – Legendary urban forest and ravine specialist Steve told me he was looking forward to Reference: The Natural City and wondered if we plan to extend the Landscape Ontario Toronto Chapter 10 $1K bursaries (yes I would like to we just need to pass it at our next board meeting).

Michael Albinase – Talking shop about how expensive those fancy weeping tiles with the mesh and styrofoam peanuts are and how that is offset by how much labour they save.

Sean James – We spoke about horticulture schools, the apparent lack of horticultural trades in attendance, the ins and outs of live tweeting and his (very) busy speaking schedule.

Antonia Guidotti – We talked about how she got interested in bugs, the coming insectageddon, the focus on monarchs and milkweed and working at the ROM as an entomologist. Antonia suggested we check out Butterflies of Toronto and Field Guide to butterflies of Ontario of which she is the author!

Michelle Kanter – We talked about how we can work together to engage with the horticultural trades on building healthy landscapes. Michelle is envisioning workshops (this might work well with landscape ontarios already extensive educational offerings in Milton).

Smiling Water – We chatted about her comments regarding our concrete covered city. I mentioned that we are talking about recolonizing the urban core with appropriate plants using ecological references. She seemed intrigued.

Rob Messervey – I reminded Rob we met by phone when I called looking for some native plants to force for our feature garden at Canada Blooms this year. Then I asked him how he felt about the formation of the native plant growers group. Turns out he is on the executive so I guess he is a fan! It was interesting to hear his perspective on labeling, source identified seed and a number of other contentious issues they need to address going forward.

Guiliana Casimirri – One of my favourite things is meeting someone in real life who I am following on social media. I screwed it up a little as I did not recognize Guiliana right away.

Allan Arthur – Talked about his general impressions of the day, including an insight on the tension between non profit conservation and landscape contractors. It was interesting to hear his thoughts on the Native Plant Growers regarding labelling, source identified seed etc.

Stefan Weber – Expressed some concern that focusing on flood mitigation alone misses the point in terms of using appropriate plants. We also had a running count of how many times we heard gratuitous uses of the word “sustainability” In case you are wondering Stefan is awesome!

And so many more…sometimes its the meeting after the meeting that really matters. Speaking of meeting people and working together…


Jarmo Jalava kicked off the second panel by comparing the gap between 17% commitment to protected landscapes and the actual amount 3% currently under protection in the southern Ontario. According to Jalava a collaborative strategy if the best way forward (are you sensing a pattern yet?)


Kelly from Aamjiwnaang first nation gently let us know the best way to work with indigenous people is to learn about indigenous descriptors (my apologies this speaker was not on the speaker list and I did not catch a last name). According to Kelly “saying First Nations is like saying white people” This echoed earlier statements by Smiling Water when she used most of her 5 minute time limit introducing herself and explaining the meaning of her name (Smiling Water is the shape created by two waves coming together just right). Kelly concluded by informing the audience that even though many treaties have been signed Indigenous people have not surrendered responsibility to care for the land. Kelly also told us about how the government tried to get his community to take up farming. Instead the Chippewas leased out the land to non native farmers. Kelly joked they also didn’t take to the attempts at christian conversion either. Later during questions period Kelly outlined a 100 year plan that included improving quality of natural environment, more forest cover, comanagement of Thames river.

Kelly was a last minute replacement for Dorun Ritchie who had to leave due to the extreme weather. Ritchie left some comments and asked what would happen if Indigenous people wanted to build structures on protected land? Another note Ritchie made was the importance of going beyond conventional plan reviews to include important traditional uses as indicators (perhaps specific plants or animals? not sure didn’t catch the last part).


Kathryn Enders is executive director of Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT). Sidenote we worked with OFT and landscape architect Victoria Taylor on a feature garden at Canada Blooms entitled Severance. Enders explains that OFT works with farmers to change the title of the deed to include OFT. That way even if the title changes hands OFT stays on the title and the land is permanently prevented from being developed. Enders identified many of the farmers OTF works with have provincially protected wetlands already.

OFT hosts an annual farmland forum on March 28th. According to Enders the total amount of property under protection is approximately 1200 acres divided between 12 farms. Interestingly some of the farms a in the greenbelt, but some farmers don’t trust that the greenbelt will last forever (not a bad call seeing as how Dougie has flip flopped like a trout in shallow water on greenbelt development.)

Enders also brought up Morrison farm that had been earmarked for development in an old municipal plan dating back to the 70’s. According to Enders the development will never happen because easements provide powerful legal protection and supersede municipal plans. During question period Enders mentioned the unfairness of valuing farmland adjacent to greenbelt higher than farmland inside the greenbelt. Since both contribute to clean water the same amount (perhaps this is an unintended consequence of greenbelt policy within the context of a capitalist market system for valuing real estate, but we keep it moving).


Bryan Gilvasey is CEO of Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS). Gilvasey works with farmers to identify land that is marginal and using a community engagement model engage farmers to protect the uneconomic portions. Gilvasey envisions a restoration economy where farmers realize additional benefits such as increased pollination and better water retention. Gilvasey offers a long term vision based on a culture of care that extends to the corporate community. During question period Gilvasey supported working with people from diverse perspectives and seeking out people who are not in the room (even those who believe economics trumps everything else).


Clint Jacobs of the Walpole Island First Nation and president of the Walpole Island Land Trust expressed the need for people to make time to be one with nature using all our senses. Jacobs wants society to put a greater premium on getting kids outside, then ask them what they learned before you tell them what you know. Jacobs wants to see people planting and caring for gardens and engaging youth when they are young. Jacobs bluntly states “lets dust off our strategies and just do it.” Another memorable quote from Jacobs “since we are the ones who messed things up and can’t get our shit together, lets listen to our elders and youth.” Another strategy Jacobs mentioned is to make people aware of the cost of not protecting nature. Jacobs reiterated “we can buy up the land but if the kids arent connected in any way than they aren’t going to give a care.” Perhaps one of the top quotes of the day (see below for my favourite quote of the day).


Jill Crosthwaite conservation biology coordinator for the Nature Conservancy of Canada introduced the idea of buying up land for the purpose of conservation. Crosthwaite showed some examples of properties adjacent to Pelee National Park. Crosthwaite reinforces again the importance of working with the local community, conservation partners to achieve conservation goals. After Jarmo Jalava did some back of the napkin calculations (I lost the tweet somehow but it was something like 10K/acre x 150K acres to protect costs 1.5 billion). Jalava then delivered a great quote comparing this to the cost of one lousy subway stop in Toronto. A devastating comparison between one (unnecessary) subway stop vs. protecting enough land in southern Ontario to achieve existing goals for land protection. A benefit of packing humans tightly into cities is avoiding the environmental impact of spreading urban populations more widely across the land. Those city dwellers need appropriate public transit but you have to give it to Jalava for the great soundbyte. During question period Crosthwaite reiterated the critical importance of increasing the size of forests and wetlands. It was also telling that Crosthwaite, Jacobs, Kelly and Gilvasey all talked about engaging people to care more about nature.


I am deliberately condensing this panel to try and get to the good stuff later on in the day. This panel did leave me with some interesting questions and takeaways.  It appears that non-profit conservation groups are looking at moving away from the grant model and are exploring ways that financial products could fund a bigger chunk of the work they want to do. I imagine that the age of austerity has made it difficult for organizations that rely on grants to survive.

Lina Bowdon founder of Verge Capital explains “conservation finance is about providing traditional investors with alternatives.” Impact investors can help drive some investment to stay in the community and bridge the gap between environmental sector and finance sector Bowdon said.

Chelsea Hunt environmental finance specialist for the fair finance fund might describe herself as a quant. Hunt told the audience how difficult working in finance was coming home from work every day and crying about how powerful finance can negatively impact local communities. Now Hunt raises capital through community bonds, engages investors to create awareness and measures social outcomes.

Lynn Davis founder of Alegria 3 expressed interest in conservation finance bonds. “I use money as a tool for good” Davis said. Jarret Leaman founder of the Centre for Innovation and Technology explained that there must be a social impact built into every project they do.

Jarma Jalava wanted to know how impact investors handle low return on investment and transition from a grant model where money is not paid back. Lina Bowdon responded that one mechanism could be using carbon credits, another way could be partnering with a native plant nursery. Chelsea Hunt suggested that engaging investors that care about the environment might be enough for them to make a change in where they invest money.

Sean James asked if insurance companies would invest in green infrastructure to mitigate risk of flooding (this question was revisited later when an Craig Stewart of the Insurance Bureau of Canada told the audience that most/all of the big money is in grey infrastructure). Chelsea Hunt added that Cooperators Group now has an impact investing fund so changes have already begun in the marketplace.  Sidenote this has not been my experience at all with retail investment advice. A (non) question from the audience echoed the fact that the mainstream banks, financial advisers have no knowledge of available products.(on a personal note I have recently paid for a consultation with the Sustainable Economist to divest my savings from fossil fuels and explore impact investing that is already ready to go).

Photo credit Sean James @seanjamesdesign February 12th 2019


Craig Stewart from the Insurance Bureau of Canada put it simply “we are insurers, we worry that’s what we do.” Stewart explains that global insurers rang the bells about climate risk in the 1990’s. Stewart identified an increase in costs from extreme weather events, furthermore the location of the risk correlate with areas where natural infrastructure had been removed. According to Stewart “increasing green infrastructure reduces risk and reduces premiums over time.” Stewart summarized the natural infrastructure report that allows insurers to quantify risk. During question period Stewart identified “right now our funding heavily favours grey solutions and thats a problem. The 20 million dollar threshold excludes lots of smaller projects including green infrastructure.” “we need to educate engineers about green infrastructure, widen the tool box and add more tools to the toolbox.” (definitely one of the best quotes of the day!)


Carolyn Scotchmer is proud of the 90 million dollars dished out to 26K projects over the years. In 2018 TD Friends of the Environment introduced the ready commitment identifying four pillars vibrant planet, financial security, better health and connected communities as part of a corporate citizen strategy. Scotchmer sites a TD Bank Toronto tree valuation study that shows city trees remove 1.1 millions tonnes of CO2 annually that is equivalent to 700K cars. Scotchmer has plans to plan 1 million trees. According to Scotchmer the only way to move forward faster is to include the private sector (this comment was echoed by native plant growers on the next panel). Its fair to say that there is not a lot of faith in government alone to handle things amongst the people I have spoken with here today.


Mayor Dave Ferguson of Brooke-Alvinston Township admits that rural communities have shifted their politics to the right, denied climate change and are losing youth to urban centres. Ferguson envisions urban rural partnerships that boost farmers bottom line and increase environmental benefit for the public good. Mayor Marianne Meed Ward of Burlington insists that we need to get away from an either/or mentality when it comes to developing additional density or developing inside the green belt. Ward stood up against Bill 66 arguing that there are 500 acres of urban land set aside as employment districts without ever having to touch the green belt. “we called out that fallacy right away” Ward said.

Ward outlined the tension around tree protection by-laws. “we still have lots of people who think they have the right to do anything they want on their property”. Mayor Ward is looking at ways to incentivize planting trees on private property (at this point several people started tweeting me about LEAF’s back yard tree program and Oakville green’s similar program). Mayor Ward got some loud clapping from the back when informing us about road closures to protect the Jefferson Salamandar.


Carolyn King describes the environmental movement as a bunch of raindrops on the windshield. Its only when we have an issue that the raindrops gather into a pond or perhaps an ocean. “Everybody has their stuff all over our land” King said. At this point King read a short note written by a young woman. My apologies as I did not get it all.

Its easy to get disconnected to our world. We need to get back to our original purpose in this world. Our ancestors will never be forgotten. King concluded the reading by saying if an 18 yr old woman can think like that we are going to be all right. Finally King talked about the moccasin stencil project.


By far the final panel was the one I was most looking forward to and it did not disappoint. Stefan Weber provided an outline of the Ontario Plant Restoration Alliance (OPRA) Hamilton Seed Strategy. Setting up seed “gardens” that can provide a steady supply of seed for future projects. According to Weber the seed strategy helps with assisted migration. “Plant populations are dynamic and they move around” Weber said.


Weber mentioned the online native plant survey currently underway to capture demand for specific native plants. This can be used by growers to gauge demand for specific species. “We are not walmart. We need to time to ramp up production” (this one liner was definitely the best soundbyte of the entire day). “We can’t just keep going to remnant populations and taking seeds. Seed orchards allow us to give back by farming biodiversity” Weber exclaimed. Seed orchards fulfill multiple functions including pollinator garden, seed production and green business. According to Weber we should be harnessing our horticultural knowledge for this purpose (I really hope some of the smart impact investors stuck around for this part because this would be a great one for someone to figure out a financial product to fund this approach.) Later during question period Weber suggested that forming long term relationships could mean Landscape Architects preordering plants two years in advance (this might be tough for smaller projects as I don’t even know what I need this spring never mind next year 🙂


Kyle Williams is a horticultural technician growing 300 species of native plants in a modest greenhouse. Williams describes several outreach programs for youth and daycare. The coolest part was Williams telling us about digging up native plants prior to development for resale. During question period Williams added that great plant labels and trained staff help increase sales. Also Williams advocates for selling native plants as a premium product similar to organic food.


Sean James remarks that when we sell native plants we need to think about peoples perception of beauty. “I can remember a custom meadow we did that I thought was lovely…and the client hated it” James said. “we need to think as artists not just native plant enthusiasts”. According to James “hanging on the coattails of success stories like milkweed planting for monarchs” is a good strategy. James also agreed that combining efforts of different groups and using social media to create synergy is also important. James noted that native plants can also be harder to source leading to a discussion about how native plants are often sold in spring when they look better in late summer. During question period James remarked that scaling up might also mean holding some stock back in order to size up plants.


Paul Laporte is the past president of the North American Native Plant Society (NAANPS). “I am proud to be representing the Native Plant Growers” Laporte said. According to Laporte given that we need native species flourishing for healthy ecosystems and the pressure from development we need to do better when it comes to restoration. Laporte believes that source identified seed is important and we also need to be able to supply native plants for every size project.


Laporte and Weber agreed private industry is more reliable than government. Weber reminded us of the tremendous knowledge available in both the private sector and academia but both agreed that we still need coordination and proper policies in place.


It felt like we ended off where we started. An audience member commented that landscape architects and designers are the worst offenders. Reaching out means engaging stakeholders where they are and working with them to find common ground. I was ecstatic when Stefan Weber mentioned Reference: The Natural City conference happening next week and suggested an audience member reference escarpment and alvar plants such as Penstamon hirsutus when planting her balcony garden. Another person questioned the value of increasing demand for native plants given that supply is already constrained. Its important to note that several conflicting strategies need to occur together. While a robust seed strategy is being implemented, increased demand for specific species will trigger growers to respond to the market. The survey mentioned above is a means of reducing risk to growers.

penstemon hirsutus photoPenstemon hirsutus Photo by 阿橋花譜 KHQ Flower Guide


The closing ceremony was lead by Gary Pritchard Manager of Energy & Environment at Cambium Aboriginal. He asked the audience for thoughts and people shared some impressions of the day. As mentioned at the top I had hoped to see more horticultural trades and conventional growers attend. I am left wondering who will actually be executing the (huge amount of) work that is required. I feel strongly that horticultural trades will play a critical role, however, there are shortages in all skilled trades including horticulture. This poses another challenge down the road. I agree with the majority of speakers about building bridges. When it comes to mainstream horticultural trades and landscape architecture I think it starts with breaking bread with people where they are. This might mean meaningful outreach to the horticultural trades, landscape designers and landscape architects at their meetings, conferences and events. Finally, several speakers talked about source identified seeds and growing larger sizes of plants. It seems to me that source identified seed will always be the gold standard when it comes to restoration projects, however, to make native plants accessible at the retail level for urban applications we have a range of options. Personally I have been using a lot of plugs for large herbaceous plantings. Larger shrubs and container grown trees are standard in the industry and older clients don’t want to wait around and watch them grow to size. So there will always be a market for larger plant material.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed the summary please share on social media.









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