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City council abuzz over creating new pollinator gardens

Staff directed to find ways to create new gardens rather than simply enhance existing ones; Mayor says it's part of 'an awakening in our community'
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A bee checks out a flower in a pollinator garden. Tony Saxon/Village Media file photo

A staff recommendation regarding pollinator gardens in the city didn’t go far enough for council committee Monday afternoon.

In a report, staff suggested a review be conducted to determine “existing gardens that could be enhanced to provide additional habitat for pollinators.”

The report also recommended staff “consider the establishment of new pollinator gardens or pollinator habitat in naturalized areas for any of the identified candidate locations when those areas are scheduled for refurbishment/refreshment.”

Council members’ attention quickly turned to Option 2, however, which was not recommended by staff. It calls for staff to look at opportunities to create new gardens and that, based on that review, “a budget amount be determined to incrementally build new pollinator gardens and/or habitat for each year of the city’s 10-year capital forecast,” to be discussed during 2022 budget deliberations.

John McMullen, manager of park planning and development, noted the city maintains 70 annual and perennial gardens, three butterfly and bee gardens and two community gardens.

Improvements to existing beds are completed on as “as-needed basis,” he said, adding the cost of creating new perennial planting beds is $30 per square foot

Option 2 would have a financial impact because it would require more staffing and resources, McMullen said.

Coun. Ted Emond suggested going with Option 2, “not because I'm not committed to the program that we currently have going … I also believe that enhancing the pollinator gardens in our community would contribute, in the longer term, to the climate change issues and environmental issues that we are facing in Orillia and the province and the country.”

He said he understands the city is “tapped out” in terms of staffing, but added the absence of a 10-year plan would make it difficult to commit to meaningful action.

“I believe that we should be looking at pollinator gardens and other issues of this nature as part of the infrastructure that our city is responsible for providing. To do that, we need a plan,” Emond said.

Coun. Lauer was also sold on Option 2 and wanted to be sure there was a public education component.

“One of the most important aspects of this is education. I really think if we can get citizens thinking in terms of pollinators, that would be a huge step forward,” he said.

He also asked about the possibility of planting appropriate plants for pollinators around stormwater management ponds.

That would be “a lot more difficult to maintain in the long run,” McMullen replied, noting it would sometimes require “spot planting” and managing noxious plants and invasive species.

“It’s not as simple as casting seeds about and heading off down the road. It is a more intensive process,” he said.

There’s also the issue of esthetics, McMullen added, saying the public should be aware ”it’s not going to look like the Swiss meadow” computer screen saver.

Practically speaking, he said, storm management ponds are ideal for pollinating insects.

“They just may not look like you want them to,” he said.

Mayor Steve Clarke hopes residents will see beyond esthetics.

“I hope and I believe there’s an awakening in our community and, beyond that, there’s a benefit to natural areas even though they may not look completely cultivated all the time,” he said.

Council committee approved Option 2, with an amendment that also directs staff to provide public education on the matter.

Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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