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Walk on the wild side at Urquhart Butterfly Garden

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I have found the secret garden. There is no gate or little door, but there certainly is a Fairy Queen who is welcoming and gracious, yet formidable with an ever so slightly mischievous side. And, the Queen has a loyal helper who draws energy and life from her work caring for the garden.

Where is this wonderful sanctuary that's home to butterflies, flying and crawling insects, snakes, frogs, toads, and a variety of birds you ask? Well, it's hidden away down an unassuming road where the Desjardins Canal finds its final resting place in Dundas now a reluctant amalgamation into the City of Hamilton, Ontario.

This hidden gem has eluded me for years. I often used to buy beads from the amazing shop Beads of Colour which closed its doors permanently this past winter. I also frequent the Carnegie Gallery in downtown Dundas and used to take pottery classes at the Dundas School of Art. Yet, I never stumbled across this incredible naturalized garden that is free for all to see and enjoy.

The Urquhart Butterfly Garden is named for pioneering entomologists Dr. Frederick and Norah Urquhart, who after forty years of patient research solved the mystery of the migrating monarchs.

The garden is the brainchild of local businesswoman Joanna Chapman, who observed a butterfly laying eggs on a milkweed plant outside her landmark book shop, Chapman Books. An independent woman after my own activist heart, Joanna was the unifying force behind forming the 1992 group the Butterfly Coalition.

Members of the Coalition secured funding, identified an appropriate site, solicited contributions in kind from local businesses and individuals, gained the support of the Town of Dundas and devoted many hours of their own time to planting and maintaining the garden. The construction of Canada's first municipal butterfly garden began in 1994 and Chapman is still there virtually every day.

The garden has expanded exponentially and now envelopes intertwining paths adjacent to the bank of the canal. All are planted with shrubs, perennials and annuals. The Butterfly Coalition also planted ten memorial apple trees in Centennial Park, just adjacent to the garden.

But, the garden is so much more than that. It is a place for children and adults to breath in life. To find calm in the proverbial storm that has become our everyday existence. It is a chance to understand how human life and wild life need to meet, mingle, and heal each other.

And, it's Jessah's role to make sure that the garden continues to reflect the essential beginnings as well as the evolutionary development of the garden. Jessah also assists in the nearby Canal Park, owned by the Hamilton Conservation Authority. In Canal Park, Jessah has incorporated simple technology called solarization that involves cutting down invasive species like thistles -- and no one loves thistles more than me -- and then covering the exposed space with plastic ground cover so that the heat of the sun destroys the unrelenting roots -- a decisively Scottish thing. This means Jessah and Chapman are able to plant more native species that will thrive without taking over.

Throughout the summer the Urquhart Butterfly Garden runs a series of free public workshops each Saturday, from August 4 to September 8 at 11 a.m. sharp. The workshops are approximately one hour in length but presenters will stay to answer questions from those who want to linger a little longer.

I am pleased to announce that I will be guiding the August 4 talk and walk focusing on Naturalization, Monarchs and their Milkweeds. Thanks to my recent success at convincing Burlington City Council to let me keep my milkweed plants in my front garden, Chapman has been generous enough to invite me to tell my naturalized garden story and my limited experience with milkweed and the beautiful Monarchs that depend on this plant for the survival of their offspring.

August 11 focuses on my own favourite flying insect Dragonflies and Their Kin.

August 18  is a guided Butterfly and Moth Identification Walk.

August 25 come and learn about Birds of the Garden and Canal Park.

September 1 we'll be finding out what there is to know about Bees and Bugs.

Finally, on September 8 join in the guided Butterfly and Moth Identification Walk.

It is important to keep in mind that the talks and walks will not proceed in the event of rain, but the garden would still be spectacular.

Visitors should also know that Urquhart Butterfly Garden is sponsoring a photo contest that ends at midnight Tuesday, September 4, 2018. There are two age categories: Youth under 18 and Adult 18+. In order to qualify, photo entries must be taken from the paths of the Urquhart Butterfly Garden which includes the path along the canal. Addition information and entry details are available at: urquhartbutterfly.com.

The garden is free to visitors, but should you want to contribute to this very worthy and beautiful cause please make your cheque payable to the Hamilton Naturalists' Club and make note on the cheque that you want the funds to go to the Urquhart Butterfly Garden.

Located in Centennial Park at the corner of Cootes Drive and East Street the garden is conveniently accessible by bus or bike. Parking is available off King Street East.

I hope to run into you enjoying this wonderful wild side of life in quaint Dundas, Ontario.

Image: C Watts/Flickr

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