Adventures in Planting

A week ago, I was surprised by an e-mail. It was serendipity – the kind of serendipity that has kindness, dedication, and vigilance behind it.

The e-mail was from TRCA (Toronto and Region Conservation) who manage Altona Forest. During the ‘planting event’ time I’d asked if they had any leftover plants from other projects, if they could please think of Altona Forest. There were no plans to do any maintenance or improvements in Altona Forest this year – there was just no budget for it from our municipality.

There were a few plants that they could get for the forest – and they would be delivered to my home in the next two days. I’d requested a few key species that are ‘perfect’ for Altona Forest. Plants that naturally remediate the areas they are in and have the capability to make a lasting difference to forest health and biodiversity long years from now. The next morning TRCA delivered the plants: 3 healthy tamarack trees, 3 beautiful elderberry shrub/trees, and 10 blue flag iris.

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I added the wraps to protect the elderberry from being grazed by deer or rabbits

I had volunteered myself and my husband as planning/labour for this project since the target area for these plants is the wet, problematic, and transitioning north-west corner of the forest. This would not be a volunteer-friendly planting experience. An added challenge was the time frame: November is late for planting based on ground-freezing cold snaps.

Luckily we’d had no freezing weather yet and the rain was going to hold off until Sunday – so that left Friday/Saturday for the planting.

10 Blue Flag Iris

Blue flag iris was high on my ‘wish list’ for the north-west corner because they are native to this area, beautiful, semi-aquatic and do well in wet saturated soil, and can proliferate in the sunny conditions offered in that area. Additionally, blue flag iris might be extirpated from Altona Forest due to development of the area – so reintroduction of this local species would be a boon for biodiversity. Finally and most importantly, blue flag iris excels at cleaning the water it grows beside. The north-west corner has over-abundant nutrients flowing into it from the nearby tree nursery and this hard-working plant will help filter this water. Over rich water affects the algae and weed growth in the wetland restoration pond every summer.

I planted 3 iris at a tiny pond where the water enters the forest – and the others along the wetland ‘stream’ that brings that same water to the restoration pond. For forest visitors, I made sure to plant one visible from the viewing deck at the pond edge where it can be spotted and talked about at hikes. Each plant has the capacity to not only seed and fill into the area, but to build large clumps using their spreading root system.

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3 Tamaracks

Tamaracks exist in Altona Forest – but not in large numbers. They are more abundant in the boreal forest further north – in wet boggy areas, thin rocky soil and short growing seasons. They are great to stabilize an area and hold the earth – later dropping cones to fill in an area. They are also so beautiful in fall with golden and orange needles that Algonquin Park advertises their ‘golden encore’ of fall colour.

In spring 2016 we planted 3 tamaracks in the very wet area by the fence that is littered with deadfall – on the west side of the boardwalk. Not only did they survive, but they tripled in height in their 2 summers. The new 3 tamaracks were planted just to the north of the existing 3 – with the hopes that they will have similiar success and create a small grove over time. This is very tricky for planting – it’s waterlogged, there are branches and dead trees everywhere, and you have to watch your footing as rotten wood suddenly gives way. I went in only a few feet from the boardwalk, but the spouse went much further to get these planted properly. Given the lateness of the season, I didn’t loosen the root ball as I usually do with potted plants – and I also asked the spouse to plant them so that one inch of crown was above the muddy earth to allow better oxygen uptake in the surface roots (a challenge in wet soils).

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The crown just above the muddy earth, this is a humble start among the wildflowers for this tamarack

3 Elderberry

Beside the north pond (aka amphibian pond) there is a wet meadow with dead trees – all ash that were decimated by the emerald ash borer. Without the shade of leaves, this area is now sunny and grasses, wildflowers and shrubs can thrive. A biologist report for Altona Forest suggested varied species should be added here to replace the dying ashes. One species mentioned was elderberry – and I was thrilled to get these three healthy shrubs to plant into the area.

Elderberry offers multiple stems, a wide branching pattern, white clusters of flowers for native pollinators in spring and ample berries for birds and wildlife in fall. They are not only beautiful, native to the area (I’ve seen some wild in Rouge Park), and able to grow in wet areas, but they sustain wildlife who have lost habitat and food sources through this area. The section east of the boardwalk at Post 30 was wetter than anticipated but will offer a good home for these young shrubs.

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View from the boardwalk – you’ll be able to see this one, but the other two are further back

And so ends my adventure in remediation planting. Scratched and scraped, cold, muddy, and a little sore from carrying the plants along the trails, we were that happy-satisfied-tired you get from doing something truly worthwhile.


The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.

The second best time is now



Adventures in Planting ~ © 2017 Natasha G



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