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Gardening Tips from Local Experts

Learn the Latest on Pollination and Invasive Species

Mary Comber Miles Indigenous Plant Garden

Throughout the month of May, local gardeners at the Mary Comber Miles Indigenous Plant Garden will be providing information about the importance of local pollinator species, listing contact information for nurseries that stock indigenous plants, raising awareness about invasive species, and sharing information about Lions Bay-based biodiversity initiatives. The garden can be found on the south side of Lions Bay Avenue, just below the highway.

To learn a little more, The Watershed chatted with gardener Val Morton about some of these gardening initiatives.

Watershed: Can you tell us a little about yourself, Val? How long have you lived in the Village and have you always loved to garden?

Val Morton: I’ve lived in Lions Bay for 46 years. I came to gardening somewhat accidentally. I have no formal gardening training and started by randomly planting things in my typically rocky Lions Bay soil, with mixed success. I have learned a few things along the way, but I don’t consider myself an expert in any way. I’m a retired Biology teacher, so I do have a bit of background knowledge about ecology and plant physiology, and that has helped me to understand the importance of native plants in supporting local ecosystems.

Watershed: Who was Mary Comber Miles and why is the native-plant garden named for her?

VM: Mary was a well-known botanical artist who travelled the world sketching and painting. For a time she was the resident botanical artist at Van Dusen Gardens. She was concerned that native plants were disappearing from the gardens of Lions Bay and she wanted to establish a native plant garden to demonstrate the variety of native plants from our village and to show how a beautiful garden could be created using native plants. The garden was originally called the Lions Bay Native Plant Garden, but last year the name was changed in order to honour Mary for her inspiration and hard work in establishing the garden. She was not the only person involved in its creation, but I believe she was the main driving force and maintained her connection with the garden until health issues forced her to step down. When Mary died earlier this year, it was a huge loss to Lions Bay of a wonderful pioneer citizen.

Watershed: Can you explain what invasive species live nearby and what problems they cause?

VM: The Sea to Sky Invasive Species Council (SSISC) is an excellent place to find information about invasive species in our area. The usual plant suspects would be Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, periwinkle and lamnia, but there are many more, and of course, not just plants. The greatest problem is that they tend to outcompete native species and alter the ecosystem. The end result is a loss of biodiversity.

Two gardeners and a baby toil in the soil
Gardeners Val Morton, Hana Boye and apprentice Lena toiling among the indigenous plants.

Watershed: What is Invasive Species Action Month?

VM: In the month of May, the BC Invasive Species Council promotes awareness about invasive species using a variety of activities in local communities across BC. Again, our local invasive species council is in Squamish, and information about local invasive species can be found on their website.

Watershed: Let's talk about pollinators for a minute. What can you tell us about bees and why they are important?

VM: Bees are another huge topic. I’m not an expert on the various types of bees, but I’m learning more about them as I try to help pollinators through the David Suzuki Foundation Butterflyway Project. The Pollination Ecology Lab at SFU also has excellent information about native bees and their importance. I’m finding out that we can help our native bees when working in our gardens by being aware of where they nest and trying to provide good habitat for their nests. Choosing native plants that the bees are adapted to also helps them by providing a good source of nectar and pollen. Sometimes cultivated plants and hybrids look amazing, but might not actually provide lots of pollen or nectar. They have been bred for their appearance, not necessarily for their nutritional benefits to pollinators. Bees are important because they transfer pollen from plant to plant, thereby ensuring that the seeds and fruits will develop. In the ecosystem, this is crucial because seeds and fruits provide food for animals in the food web, helping to keep the whole food web strong.

Watershed: I understand there are 450 species of bee in BC. Somewhere I read that if the bees die out, we humans will also die as a species. Is that hyperbole?

VM: I don’t personally know if this is hyperbole. I have heard it myself, and I think it is a way to emphasize to us the overall importance of food webs in ecosystems. If we disrupt one part of the web, it can have critical effects on the whole web. The other consideration is agriculture, which is a completely different topic. Imported honey bees are essential for pollinating many crops, which are thereby important to our food supply. Interestingly, honey bees can outcompete native bees and thereby have a detrimental effect on native biodiversity. It is a complex topic. In general, insect populations are declining worldwide, and this is very concerning because of the effects on food webs.

Watershed: What else pollinates besides bees? Do hummingbirds also pollinate?

VM: Hummingbirds and bats also pollinate, as do many other insects besides bees, such as flies, beetles and wasps.

Watershed: Back to the Mary Comber Miles Garden. Who are the resident gardeners?

VM: We have a small dedicated group of gardeners: Trish Baker, Hana Boye, Kathy Duchene, Frances Gordon, Maureen Junck, and Susan Publicover. Our work schedule is very flexible, with people coming out to help as they are available. It’s very laid back. New gardeners are very welcome.

Watershed: What's the best time for villagers to visit in order to get help or information from the resident gardeners?

VM: Right now we don’t have a definite schedule. The best way to get information is to contact me at and I would be happy to meet visitors for a tour of the garden.

Watershed: What else is important for Village gardeners to know?

VM: I would suggest that Lions Bay gardeners consider sourcing purely native plants and try to eliminate invasives from their garden. Over the years I have had periwinkle and ivy spreading throughout my yard, so I am slowly trying to beat it back. Try to resist the urge to plant the most beautiful cultivars in the nursery. They are so tempting, but they aren’t always best for the ecosystem. There is lots of information online about how to plant to support native biodiversity.

Watershed: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Val. See you in the garden!

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Val's team is doing an amazing job in the Village! It should be mentioned their work supports several of the Bird Friendly City commitments, including planting native, protecting bird food sources (berries, native insects and caterpillars) and habitat (not all birds live in trees!), and educating residents on the importance of these elements in a healthy ecosystem. The native plant garden team (past and present) and its work earned points in the application to achieve the BFC designation and keep it. Birds are indeed important pollinators and very important to note baby birds' are fed insects and caterpillars, so these bugs and the plants they live on are so very vital for their populations. Bears and bats also rely on…

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