Outdoor classroom

The pollinator garden has also become an outdoor science classroom for our whole family, as well as for people passing by. I was not expecting it to be so interesting or educational.

Throughout most of my life, I’ve had very little contact with nature. Although I grew up in a rural area, it wasn’t natural. There was a smelly paper recycling factory nearby, fields of corn and beef cattle, and neighbours with large lawns. I never hiked or camped. For most of my adult life, I lived in downtown city apartments. Even in our current home with its large yard, I spent almost 20 years growing purely ornamental plants with little value to wildlife.

My lack of experience with wildlife and wild spaces is common for many city-dwellers. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods (available at the Ottawa Public Library), coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe our modern disconnect from nature. He also describes how spending time in nature benefits our mental and physical health. Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative (at OPL) conveys a similar message.

My pollinator garden has changed that. When we see a new insect or bird, we pause to observe it, and learn more about its role in our little ecosystem. We’ve become so interested in the natural world around us that we now frequent trails and parks on weekends, and joined the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club guided outings.

Our boys enjoying a local nature trail.

My new and intimate connection with nature has also made me recognize the harmful effects of habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change first hand. Now I know what I’ve been missing most of my life, and what we will all be missing for good, if we don’t act now.

Urban gardens cannot completely make up for the loss of wild places and the insects, birds and other wildlife that live there. We still need to protect and restore existing natural spaces. However, our gardens can connect us with nature, educate us, and nurture a new generation of conservationists.