How to landscape at the cottage without wrecking the forest

Wild strawberry (Frigaria virginiana) Matt Benoit/shutterstock

They deserve their spots on cottage country’s Least Wanted list: giant hogweed, phragmites, goutweed. They sound like monsters.

But what about the plants with appealing names? The ones that we plant on purpose? The ones for sale at nurseries? Periwinkle, for instance?

Years ago at her cottage, Collen Cirillo’s mother-in-law planted some pretty periwinkle in her cottage garden. Who doesn’t love those sweet purple flowers? And then the trilliums disappeared. Other native plants vanished too. The periwinkle continued its relentless advance, out of the garden into natural spaces around the cottage. Cirillo, committee chair for the Ontario Invasive Plant Council, Horticultural Outreach Collaborative, has made it her mission to restore native species at the cottage. “I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get out goutweed or periwinkle,” she says. “It’s a multi-year project.”

It’s also a reminder that not all invasives arrive looking like thugs. Some seduce us with their beauty, lull us with their ubiquity. But we must remain vigilant, trusting no plant until it proves itself not only beautiful but benign.

Vicki Simkovic, coordinator for Ontario Invasive Plant Council, says that “cottage country is a high-risk area for the spread of invasive species. Prevention is key.”

Fortunately, the Grow Me Instead Nursery Recognition Program offers a straightforward way for cottagers to ensure they’re not inadvertently planting an invasive. It offers alternatives to invasives, based on similar style and required growing conditions and also includes a list of nurseries committed to selling only native plants.

The threat of invasives can’t be overstated, according to Simkovik. “Once an invasive species enters an ecosystem, it can have devastating effects.”

Far better, says Cirillo, “to plant those that provide food and habitat to pollinators.”

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