“Plant them to look as though they had always been there” advised Lois Wilson about native wild flowers and ferns in her ground-breaking, exhaustively researched guide to Canadian gardening published in 1970.
Chatelaine’s Gardening Book: The Complete All-Canada Guide to Garden Success is considered the country’s first modern book devoted to general gardening principles and practice.
“Never before has Canada had a comprehensive gardening book that covers all regions – from coast to coast, from the border to the Arctic,” observed then-Chatelaine editor Doris Anderson in the forward.
Wilson was indeed a Canadian garden missionary – a garden writer, editor, photographer and advocate whose contributions were recognized with numerous awards.
And so we note that Wilson’s gardening manual, which is readily found today in second-hand shops, at used-book sales and online, devotes a full chapter to the merits of native plants, from a list of nurseries selling them to recommended species for gardens in the east, mid-west and west coast regions to detailed descriptions of their design and even culinary potential:
“Virginia creeper is lovely all summer and turns to a gorgeous burgundy red in fall; bittersweet is a rhythmic tangle of twisted branches and orange fruits to cut for indoors in winter; the silky seed heads of wild clematis catch the light in late summer,” she wrote. “Wild grape, one of the most useful, has a haunting fragrance in flower, flavory leaves for wrapping around hamburgers and marvellous fruit for gourmet jelly and jam.”
Wilson also devoted another chapter to “A Garden to Lure Birds” with information about providing shelter, water and food:
“You can attract birds with specially chosen trees, shrubs and flowers – things with tasty berries like mountain ash, or honeysuckle, or the sweet-nectared plants such as monarda for such winged jewels as the hummingbirds.”
For Wilson, native plants inspired “Love at first sight and forever after.
“The quest is pure pleasure: the identification and delving into their history and habitat a challenge; the wish to grow them a natural next step.”