flora homestead


Neil took this beautiful photo the other day of an eastern tiger swallowtail on our ninebark shrub.

I hate ninebark shrubs. Also, ninebark shrubs are one of my favourite plants.

The ninebark in our yard is the legacy of a previous owner. It is a good size and prominently placed. I would never have planted ninebark here. This nursery variety one is called “summer wine”, branded to evoke warm afternoons and pleasing things. But to me, a child of the 80s, it is the colour of repressively brutalist elementary school buildings and suburbia. It belongs to a landscape of pressure treated stacked railroad ties and salmon-coloured patio stones. To me, it is “morose maroon”.

It is not… to my taste.

But when we moved in here, we left all the plants as-is for awhile. We didn’t know much, but we knew enough to know what we don’t know. So we gave ourselves a few years to learn about what was already here, and kept a light touch with our horticultural changes. We added, but we didn’t take away.

We moved in during summertime. When our first spring came the next year, we discovered the ninebark exploded with baubles of tiny pink and white blooms. Alright. That’s a solid +1. But that’s still many months of morosity.

A couple more years along, and my love of and fascination with insects was beginning to blossom. In the springs that followed, I realized that the ninebark was covered, absolutely covered, in what looked like tiny buzzy bees. Each spring and early summer the shrub literally hums, throbs and pulses with life.

Now, 7 years later, the ninebark is still here, in pride of place. And it is welcome to stay as long as it likes. Because now I know that it is a much needed source of early food and shelter for all sorts of flying things. Yesterday a hummingbird perched on the tip of its branches. The tiger swallowtails flutter through it, birds build nests under its canopy, and the tiny buzzy bees are a sure sign more blooms are on their way.

I recently learned there are two more ninebarks here, struggling to survive in poorly suited sites. I dug them up out of the ground — and moved them to better locations. You can’t have enough ninebark.

Have a great week folks! 🌿🐝