Recently, Studio TLA made the decision to revitalise the front lawn at our office. Over the course of the past year, staff have worked to conceive, design and implement the changes. This builds upon the site updates from the previous summer, where as some of you may recall, we installed a few new planting beds. We also celebrated our Spring Interventions – where staff members had the opportunity to create their own mini landscapes, within a $400 budget. This year, with a much larger budget, the office is turning the front lawn into a Pollinator Meadow!
The concept for the Pollinator Meadow was put forth by our newest partner, Jeff Craft and given to the employees of Studio TLA to realize. We formed two committees to further the work; a design committee to research and iterate proposals for the meadow’s program, as well as a review committee to provide feedback along the way. The final concept was heavily inspired by the plant banding seen at tulip farms overseas. We were captivated by the idea of creating strong strokes of coloured flowers to punctuate the meadow. The intent was to produce a more visible and accessible delineation of species for an easy interpretation by the public, specifically the quiet residential neighbourhood in which our office is located. This simple design strategy was heavily informed by rigorous plant analysis, exploration and investigation.
Extensive research was conducted to plan the meadow, to help ensure its success and longevity throughout the coming years. Native Ontario plants, local pollinators, suggested meadow species as well as tried and true methods of site preparation were the focus of this research. The City of Toronto Pollinator Protection Strategy served as our first jumping off point, followed by the Environment Canada research guideline Planting The Seed.
Consequently, a number of factors informed the overall planting strategy of the meadow. Plant selection and placement was determined by a combination of flower colour, bloom time, moisture tolerance, sun requirements, winter interest and height aesthetics. The functional role of the individual species within the meadow also influenced the design as the successional stage, and placement of core meadow species were considered with great intention. Furthermore, three drumlins were incorporated into the design, providing subtle undulations in the topography. These features underpinned the framework of the design, in addition to considerations of the needs of the intended pollinators within their new urban habitat.
Since Toronto is the first Bee City in Canada we chose to specifically cater our meadow planting selections to native bees. Honey bees, as loved as they may be, are not actually native to North America but rather to Europe. Native bees in North America are solitary bees, and generally live in the ground or in hollowed out sticks, rather than hives. Moreover, they do not make honey, and most cannot sting.
There are over 360 species of bees in Toronto. This includes many varieties of the beloved bumble bee, as well as a number of other unique bees that can be easily mistaken for houseflies (The unofficial Bee of Toronto, for example, The Sweat Bee or Agapostemon virescens, has a metallic green body with a “traditionally” striped yellow and black abdomen making it easy to be mistaken for a fly if one doesn’t look closely.)
In consideration of the bee population, we chose a variety of perennial wildflowers that produce nectar, including plants known for their attractiveness to bees like Achillea millefolium (Yarrow), Monarda fistulosaI (Bee Balm), Solidago spp. (Goldenrods), Rudbeckia hirta (Black Eyed Susan), and Symphotrichum spp. (Asters). We also included Asclepias tuberosa (Milkweed) for Danaus plexippus (Monarch Butterfly), whose habitat extends throughout and well beyond Toronto. Monarch butterflies come here to breed in the summer and milkweed is a critical species for the Monarch, as it is the only species of flower that can host their larvae. This kind of Milkweed in particular, was chosen because it is native to southern Ontario and not invasive. The meadow team spent months researching, refining and iterating plant selection schemes, as well as resolving a robust methodology to implement it.
One of the paramount goals of the meadow project was to make an immediate aesthetic impact upon the installation of the meadow. This directly translated into the ways in which the meadow was implemented as it was determined that a combination of container plants (early succession species), plugs (later succession species), and seeding, would be best to give some species a leg up on establishment. Terraseeding was also employed to distribute seed mix which included a cover crop, in designated planting zones. Specifically, annual rye was employed to help manage weeds and supress pests, allowing the plantings to thrive in their new site. This combination of planting methods allowed the meadow to flourish in its first year.
The meadow experienced significant growth over the summer. Beyond the initial installation, great care and attention was paid to monitor its development, to help ensure its success. A maintenance regiment was set in place including weeding and watering schedules. Staff regularly grazed the meadow, identifying weeds and removing them accordingly. Moisture censors were also installed in concert with the irrigation system, to monitor the water levels on site. This feature proved to be a sustainable effort in water conservation as the irrigation system adjusted output levels, accounting for fluctuations in moisture levels from rainfall over the season.
As the autumn season is now upon us, steps will be taken to prepare the meadow, in anticipation of the coming season and the second year of growth. The meadow will be mowed, as a means of maintenance as well as to encourage new growth. A second round of seeding is also scheduled to take place in the fall. Concerns were raised that the initial terraseeding occurred too late in the spring, and consequently another round is necessary to help ensure lasting success.
Throughout the design, implementation and monitoring of the project, the successional aspect of the meadow was always at the forefront of thought. The intent of Studio TLA is to offer longevity to the community, through urban habitat, public amenity and landscape education, for years to come.
Update: as of December, 2018 the meadow is officially certified as a Wildlife-Friendly Habitat! Read more here.