by Sharon Boddy
The Bee Spot opened in June 2023. Located in an Ottawa park, this 2-m2 demonstration garden includes about 50 plants, all native wildflower species. The garden shows others what they can grow in their own gardens, provides food and habitat for pollinating insects and birds, seeds for the future, and reduces unwanted plant species. All plants were grown from seed by Nepean High School ecology students, who also helped prepare the area and plant.
It also acts as a focal point for activities and events that highlight the need to protect and conserve all types and sizes of ecosystems.
Hampton Park Woods
The Bee Spot is in a grassy area on the edge of 10-hectare urban forest. The Hampton Park Woods are a deciduous-conifer mix, with some trees more than 200 years old. It is part of an old river shore escarpment, and
a once functioning creek now serves as overflow for stormwater, as habitat for riparian plant species, and food and habitat for wildlife, including several species of dragon fly and some migratory birds.
The southern portion contains the remnants of a swamp deciduous forest. To the north and east, the area has more conifers and is characterized by sandier soils and glacial till. At the forest edge to the east is an open meadow, where grasses and small shrubs dominate, and
where Friends have been planting additional native meadow species.
Due to its central location, the Hampton Park Woods has been a popular recreational area for residents since the early 1900s, and new research is uncovering how it may have also formed part of an Indigenous trail network. The park was created in 1927 when the NCC, then the Federal District Commission, purchased the land from a private owner.
The Woods are under stress from:
Friends of Hampton Park, with its partner group the Friends of Carlington Woods, had previous experience with two native pollinator gardens on the edge of the Carlington Woods, another urban forest two kilometres from Hampton Park. Given their proximity, volunteers often help at both.
Friends had partnered with the ecology teacher at Nepean High School since 2021. Students had already done many tasks, including removing invasive species and preparing tree inventories. In early 2022, they began growing plants from seed that Friends had collected. By the end of May 2022, the team had grown 200+ plants, ready for planting.
Inspired by the Carlington successes and the commitment of the Nepean teacher, Friends chose a small area close to one of the park entrances as the best location for a new garden. The location was chosen based on:
- Authority. Friends has a Land Access Permit with the NCC to do these types of projects.
- High visibility, water source. The area is near an entrance and, although not ideal for this purpose, there is a drinking fountain nearby that can be used.
- Mostly non-native and invasive plants growing in the area (creeping bell flower, dandelions, burdock, Norway and Manitoba maple, and buckthorn, but also at least one noxious species, poison ivy). This would help control some of those species.
- Clay soil. Clay holds in moisture longer and would likely reduce the need to water frequently.
- Manageable. Friends is involved in multiple planting projects so this was deliberately kept small so that even one volunteer could maintain it if need be.
Summer 2022 Friends decide on the location, measure the area, discuss how to create the border, and which species to include. The NCC is informed and provided with a list of species to be planted.
October 2022 City Parks is informed so that ground crews are alerted in the spring of 2023. Nepean students and Friends prepare the site area.
- Marked out the area with bricks and paving stones and made them flush with the ground for easier maintenance and access.
- Installed posts at each corner.
- Weighed the area down with a combination of clean cardboard, heavy duty paper, and burlap to suppress weed growth.
Winter 2023 Students begin outdoor winter seed sowing at the school.
March/April 2023 Students begin sowing seeds inside.
June 2, 2023 Friends and students plant the garden.
- Removed the weed suppression material.
- Dug out the top layer of soil, removed weeds, reused soil.
- Bagged invasive plant material for proper disposal.
- Planted and watered approximately 50 plants.
June 10, 2023 Officially named The Bee Spot as part of an Open Meadow event with a new partner, Ecology Ottawa.
Partnerships and plants
The National Capital Commission granted the Friends a Land Access Permit in 2021. This was made possible by the partnership between Friends and Tree Fest Ottawa, who signed for the permit on behalf of both the Hampton Park Woods and Carlington Woods.
A teacher at Nepean High School oversaw the growing team, arranged field trips, and worked alongside her students.
Local neighbours keep the garden watered during dry periods.
In early 2023, the same year the Bee Spot was planted, Friends teamed up with Ecology Ottawa to plant even more pollinating plants in Hampton. Ecology Ottawa is a leading environmental NGO in Ottawa.
Plant drawings done by the digital media students of Canterbury High School in Ottawa, another ongoing partnership!
Lessons learned and advice
Be flexible. Friends originally wanted a school class to design the garden but the timing was not right. Design was done during planting, putting taller species at the back, lower growing ones at the front.
Prepare the ground well. The weed suppression method didn’t work because it was not a thick enough
layer and light was able to penetrate. Darker and heavier material would have killed more weeds and
reduced prep time.
Label as you plant. Labelling helps to identify and track plant health over time. Friends forgot the labels on planting day, but with only a small variety of species, opted to list them on the sign instead.
Before & after photos/video. Document the area before, during and after the work. Take photos or video during each season (even winter) and from the same spot to compare photos over time and to show progress.
Know your species. Friends researched each species to ensure it would work in Hampton’s conditions, and to assure the NCC that all were species native to the region. The high school students also researched the germination needs of each species.
Mitigate potential problems. Friends informed the City of Ottawa, which maintains the area on the NCC’s behalf. Friends created a brick border flush to the ground, making it easy for city mowers to maintain the area without harming the garden.
Hold some plants in reserve. The first few weeks after planting can be critical and some plants may not survive. Friends held back some plants, but didn’t have to use them; they were planted elsewhere in Hampton.
Have a maintenance plan. Throughout the first year of the garden, at least two volunteers regularly watered when needed. Small gardens need regular maintenance for the first 2-3 years, after which, seasonal weeding or watering during particularly dry times may be all that’s required. Land authorities are sometimes reluctant to approve projects because they are not confident the area will be maintained and it will fall to them. Don’t give them a chance to say no!
Have a seed collection plan. Friends has been collecting a portion of the seed from the native plants planted over the last three years. Most is left in the field, and some is shared with schools, community groups, and individuals to expand future growing teams. Although more labour intensive, it reduces the need to buy plants every year.
Don’t bee a stranger!
For more information about The Bee Spot, contact Sharon Boddy, Director, Friends of Hampton Park / Friends of Carlington Woods.
© 2023 Sharon Boddy. All rights reserved.