Ecology

Go Wild: Mayor Wants Natural Landscape on Highway Medians

By RTH Staff
Published May 27, 2008

In an effort to reduce operating expenses and provide a more natural environment, Mayor Fred Eisenberger advocates letting the medians of Hamilton's highways go au naturel with indigenous wildflowers rather than manicured grass.

In an email he sent out today, Mayor Eisenberger wrote, "Naturalization is native plant species; it is leading landscape design management. A naturalized landscape is low maintenance, doesn't need pesticides and has very few weeds."

Needless to say, Councillor Lloyd Ferguson (Ancaster) disagrees. Today's Spectator reported his opposition to the idea: "Wildflowers is a nice way of saying weeds."

What do you think? Should Hamilton encourage natural biodiversity on public medians, or should we maintain residential lawn standards of consistency and uniformity?

24 Comments

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted May 27, 2008 at 20:04:30

Let's go green. Plant wildflowers and grasses. Cut the grass once a year in August to simulate fire and to keep trees from being established.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 21:31:06

I think "Lloyd Ferguson" is a nice way of saying "Homo neanderthalensis".

Gullchasedship, you had me right up to the part about keeping trees from being established. What's with that? Healthy native trees survive wildfires, why shouldn't they survive a fire-simulating mow?

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 05:17:33

love the naturalization idea. not sure about trees on the median, though - wouldn't they be a driving hazard?

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 08:53:25

peter is right highwater. Trees won't be allowed in the medians because of driving hazards. Lower speed streets can have trees but they wreck the road pretty easily as well. Natural vegetation minus trees is definitely the way to go.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 11:33:28

I guess I'm thinking of the sides of the Linc and Redhill. There are trees growing there already and there could easily be more, albeit well back from the road.

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By andy (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 12:25:36

I think this is a fairly good idea. Having manicured grass doesn't improve my quality of life much. I'm sure Ferguson sleeps much better knowing there are no weeds on medians :P

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By guerilla gardening (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 12:42:13

Lorraine Johnson is a great Toronto writer who specializes in the politics of gardening (no, seriously!). She wrote a great book a few years ago called "The New Ontario Naturalized Garden" that explored the practice of naturalized gardening, or trying to produce a complex ecosystem of indigenous plants instead of a monoculture of manicured turf. Some people look at naturalized gardens and see only "weeds" - why on earth should we penalize plants that are so well adapted to our local climate and soil they don't need babying??

It's nice to see Hamilton start to break out of old-fashioned thinking and explore naturalized highway medians.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 12:44:14

The sides of the Linc actually have quite a few trees already. They're just young and small already. I actually noticed that this past weekend... I can't wait til they get bigger. It'd be nice to have the median grow high enough that ppl on one side of the Linc can't rubberneck when someone gets pulled over on the other side.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 28, 2008 at 13:16:04

Referring to wildflowers as weeds is pretty sad. It just proves how much certain powerful people in this town hate nature. Clean, manicured (not to mention chemically treated) grass is the "natural" equivalent of concrete...but then again, what would you expect from the former general manager of Dufferin Consturction (a division of St. Lawrence Cement). These kinds of aesthetics look great in scale models, but their totally artificial nature isn't well suited to real life. Our fair town is adorned by grass (virtually always species which are not native) setbacks for all manner of structures, which serves no purpose but to consume time, chemicals and lawnmower fuel.

If people are playing, walking, picnic-ing or otherwise making use of an open greenspace, then it's great stuff. If, however, it's just unused space, why not let something prettier and more natural grow in?

Why call these plants weeds? Because they grow quickly, effortlessly, and with next to no chemical or mechanical maintenance. Sounds like a bargain to me.

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By lorne (registered) - website | Posted May 28, 2008 at 14:20:21

Lloyd Ferguson's reactions are almost comical in their banal predictability. First, when the discussion about Hamilton’s pesticide ban was in full debate, he opposed it because he didn’t want some 'poor Ancaster grandmother being fined $10,000 for killing some dandelions.' Next he objected to an anti-idling bylaw. Then he vehemently railed against light rail transit because it would mean taking out a traffic lane. And now this opposition to grasses and wildflowers. It’s really sad how so very few people sitting on council have any vision, other than that of the concrete jungle (a.k.a. the developers’ vision of paradise).

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By Bee (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 21:18:15

It's not just Ferguson with a foot in his mouth. Scott Duvall let Hall Marks readers know that natural medians are an eyesore because of the amount of garbage that collects in them. What he failed to realise is that litter doesn't grow like a wildflower and is usually carelessly put there by his constituents. His solution is obviously to keep mowing the grass to look like his front lawn and let the trash just blow over onto his neighbours'

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By Balance (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 22:20:52

I'm all for the naturalization of the medians, we can spend the money we save cutting grass picking up the garbage. Now they just cut the garbage up into 1000 smaller pieces. While they are picking up the garbage they should weed whack around the trees (tiny) they've planted to give them a chance at growing into large beautiful trees.

I used to be a person who sprayed weeds but now I don't. Instead I've diverted my dollars from weed spraying to using natural fertilizer, top dressing and overseeding. A healthy lawn with natural products kills out the weeds due to the grass being so lucious and thick.

I think society is starting to see the beauty in natural unmanicured lawns. I live in Ancaster and was extremely disappointed to see that the fire station had received a chemical bath to remove dandelions. They should have spent the money trying to create a healthy soil layer by adding compost and over seeding with fescue and rye seed rather then chemical that kills more than dandelions (such as worms which aerate soil).

Since I've been pesticide free I've noticed more worms and birds around my property. This is the way it is meant to be. I cut grass at 3 inches and am in the market for a reel mower.

I'm happy because I don't have to smell that foul smell from pesticides and am worry free for my child and pets.

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By adam (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 22:42:10

Here is a great resource on how to create a naturescape with natural foliage www.nwf.org/backyard

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 09:52:51

Just a bit of clarification regarding weeds and wildflowers. The Webster's definition of weed is "a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth; especially : one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants" so the term weed is somewhat subjective and it is quite possible that some view what others call wildflowers ("the flower of a wild or uncultivated plant or the plant bearing it") as weeds. Having grown up in the country I know that although some wildflowers might look great, once they take over and choke out other growth they do become weeds. Naturlization doesn't mean just leaving dandelions to take over ever part of the city. A naturescape is precisely that, a "scape" not a field of dandelions, which btw, look great when they're flowering but once the seeds have left them, look as ugly as sin. In terms of logic, it is quite possible that a weed is a wildflower however not all wildflowers are weeds.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionar...

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionar...

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 09:59:07

As far as your pesticide free lawn Balance....two thumbs up but what you're proposing is more work than mowing the medians. I'd suggest letting the vegetation grow in the medians and cutting it once in the fall rather than "trying to create a healthy soil layer by adding compost and overseeding with fescue and rye seed" which would in the end be much more labour intensive.

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By al Fresco (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 10:02:40

Say it's a wash: less money going to fuel, pesticides and fertilizer balanced by more money going to labour. That sounds win-win all by itself.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 12:14:55

Haven't you checked out the cost of labour for city workers lately? I don't think it'd come out as a wash.

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By Balance (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 12:22:10

Just to clarify, I didn't mean that we should top dress and overseed the medians. Just pick the garbage up once or twice a year and give the trees a chance at growing. Should be cheaper then mowing. To me, it's not the long grass on the highway that leaves a bad impression, its all the garbage.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 13:30:17

I completely agree then. I don't think trees in the median would be smart tho. Ancaster drivers should know how that works. Think Rousseau Street last year...

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 02, 2008 at 13:38:49

One more thing tho and I thought about this on the weekend... What about critters? I know that's a bit of an issue in "natural gardens". How would that affect the traffic surrounding the medians?

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By GardenXpressway (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2008 at 18:11:37

Is Echineacea (purple cone flower) a wild flower, a garden flower(cultived flower) or a weed? I think it's all 3, depending on your taste. It hasn't changed much since weed status..so do people think it should be not allowed in gardens?

All garden flowers, plants & trees began as 'weeds'. Even roses, & tulips. Some have been improved/changed by selective breeding to be more attractive to gardeners.

Lupins, Black-eyed Susans, Oxe Eye Daisys, Fireweed, Wild Asters, many kinds of Golden Rod & many other attractive plants all happily grow in Ontario. The provincial (Wild!) flowers of each province & territory in Canada are beautiful, & all probably could be grown in S. Ontario, depending on selecting soil conditions carefully.

Is the White Trillium a 'weed' too? :-)

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By GardenXpressway (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2008 at 22:36:27

Quote: "A naturescape is precisely that, a "scape" not a field of dandelions, which btw, look great when they're flowering but once the seeds have left them, look as ugly as sin."

By organizing plants by height & flowering time, there could be a continous show of colour. Yup, some plants will be more vigorous & take over, but that would take a few seasons. Workers can come in & 'weed' at that time.

There are also many garden flowers that propagate themselves easily by seed. Why not try some of these? (I hope that Doesn't make them weeds.)
As far as the subject here is concerned, I'd be happy if more attention was paid to keeping grass/vegetation cut down at entrances & exits so that drivers can see pedestrians & other vehicles. If we are gonna put effort & labour into 'maintenance' of roadsides etc., I'd be happy to see it put into safety before pure decoration, & that simply isn't happening now.
(Especially in Ancaster!)

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 09:55:31

"There are also many garden flowers that propagate themselves easily by seed. Why not try some of these? (I hope that Doesn't make them weeds.)"

I'm not an expert, but I have a native plant garden and have been studying native plants for several years now. ( Lorraine Johnson's New Ontario Naturalized Garden is my bible - highly recommended if you don't have it already.) From everything that I have read, I would define a weed as an invasive non-native plant ie. a plant that should not be there not because we don't want it there, but because Mother Nature never intended it to be there. Because they are highly adaptive and have no natural competitors in their new ecosystems, they can take over and create monocultures which represent a loss of biodiversity, loss of animal habitat, and leave our natural areas weakened, etc, etc. I'm sure you already know alot of this stuff. Examples of weeds then, are garlic mustard, burdock, purple loosetrife, celandine or small wort, and Norway Maples, to name a few.

As for your question about Echinacea purpurea, it is native to North America, but only the pale purple coneflower is native to Ontario. Most Ontario native plant experts give it a pass though, because of it's beauty. Because of its popularity, there are many cultivated varieties that bear little resemblance to their native forebear, so you should only purchase it from a native plant nursery. As for its 'weed' status, I would only call it a weed if one of the cultivated varieties escaped to a natural area and crowded out the native variety. Since cultivars don't usually propogate as aggressively, that's unlikely.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 04, 2008 at 12:17:27

I believe the idea for going wild would stem from the desire to make the maintenance of highway medians less labour intensive. Doesn't sound like that's what you're proposing. "Going wild" means, just letting them grow not planting other varieties of plants and arranging them in ways that make it show colour all year round. My statement about some plants being weeds because of subjective reasoning still holds. Just because one person likes something doesn't necessarily mean that it's not a weed. See the definitions I posted above...

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