Dig in to Sustainable Gardening

Is your garden in need of attention but you don’t know where to start? Turns out that planning with sustainability in mind results in less maintenance and lower costs in the long run, says Reid Williamson, Outreach and Education Co-ordinator with Sustainable Roots Ecological Restoration Inc., based in Toronto and Pickering, Ont. We asked Williamson to dish the dirt on creating a truly green garden.

By Laura Bickle | 3 minute read

May 29

Francisco Alvarez

“Using native plants not only provides food and shelter for wildlife, it requires less additional resources like irrigation and fertilizers because they are adapted to thriving in that area.”

Reid Williamson

What does it mean to have a sustainable garden?

It means creating a garden that supports, and is connected to, the local ecology. Using native plants not only provides food and shelter for wildlife, it requires less additional resources like irrigation and fertilizers because they are adapted to thriving in that area. This creates a more resilient garden that sustains the health of surrounding systems.


A sustainable garden is low maintenance, supports the surrounding habitat and costs less in the long run.

What should homeowners consider when planning a garden?

The potential of every garden depends on the space — the size, the terrain, water availability, and the presence of invasive species. The first things to consider are the time and money that homeowners can realistically put into that space. For larger spaces, being able to break the project down into phases can be a great way to manage a budget. We promote the use of native species in gardens, which can sometimes be harder to find than conventional ornamental plants. Always consider your soil type, moisture levels, and light availability when selecting your plants.

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What misconceptions do homeowners have about sustainable gardening?

There are so many plant products that are questionably labelled, with phrases like “Wildflower Seed Mix” or “Pollinator Plants” that contain things that are not native to that area. Big problems can arise from well-intentioned but ill-informed consumer choices. Just because something is called “Butterfly Bush” does not mean that it supports our local pollinators.


What tips do you have for plant selection?

The first thing that we look at is what is already successfully growing in the surrounding area. This can be a great jumping off point when considering plant selection. Understanding your soil type, moisture levels, and light availability will narrow down your choices. When considering wildlife, we like to make sure that there is always something blooming throughout the season. Choosing a variety of plants that range from early spring to late fall will ensure that there is always food for pollinators and always colour for humans. We recommend having a variety of flower colours and shapes, as well as a variety of plant heights to encourage diverse garden visitors. Adding grasses, sedges and shrubs is also great for attracting birds!


Not all pollinator plants are created equal. Look for plants that are native to the area.

Any suggestions for drought-resistant, low maintenance plants?

There are so many! That’s the great thing about using regionally appropriate native plants — they are adapted to the available resources. My suggestion would be to find a local native plant nursery and go from there.


What should homeowners look for on plant tags? 

I think the most important thing is to look for native plants that have been grown from locally and sustainably harvested verified seed to ensure that ethical seed collecting is being supported. Common names can be confusing and sometimes incorrect, so always check the genus and species so you will come home with the right plants.

Laura Bickle

Wahi Writer

Photo: Sustainable Roots Ecological Restoration Inc. 


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