As the Friends of Lemoine Point commemorate the 25th anniversary of their founding, its partner organization, Cataraqui Conservation is pleased to present a series of articles outlining not just the history of this important group of dedicated volunteers, but also the Friends’ importance and significance in protecting Lemoine Point Conservation Area for future generations.
One of the most recognizable and popular aspects of the Friends efforts, and one of the most visible, is the Native Plant Nursery located near the Coverdale Road Entrance of the Conservation Area. It is tangible evidence of the wonderful and mutually beneficial partnership between the Friends of Lemoine Point, Cataraqui Conservation, and the broader community.
The Native Plant Nursery at Lemoine Point Conservation Area was created to help ensure a sustainable supply of plant stock of species that are suitable for growing and planting within the Cataraqui Region. It has also proved to be a popular source of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers for property and homeowners looking not only to beautify their lands, but to help maintain and enhance the natural biodiversity of the area.
It had always been a goal of Cataraqui Conservation to develop an ‘in house’ method of building up stock of native species seedlings for its forestry programs. These forestry programs are also an important method of outreach for both the Authority and the Friends, as it not only encourages planting trees – which we all know is a wonderful way of enhancing and protecting the environment, but also as a way to educate are residents on the important of planting native species, as well as the work of Cataraqui Conservation and the Friends themselves.
Prior to the creation of the nursery in the early 2000s, potted stock would be sold on an ad hoc basis by Cataraqui Conservation staff at Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area. As well, tree planting had been ongoing, but the trees used for these events were purchased from whomever offered the stock at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, this meant there was no real sense of where exactly the plants were coming from. Numerous times, the species desired for planting, particularly at Lemoine Point, was not available.
Between the risk of not having the correct species available, and the unpredictability of cost, Cataraqui Conservation staff and The Friends of Lemoine Point homed in on the idea of creating a self-sustaining tree nursery, initially to simply provide seeds and seedlings for planting at the various conservation properties.
Discussion of creating some sort of nursery had been ongoing for many years but got more serious in 2003 when concrete plans were first initiated. At first the concept was very modest, until a chance encounter with an individual named Myles McCabe. A forestry expert with vast experience in the field, McCabe designed a larger, more structured, organized and ambitious nursery plan, incorporating raised beds, an effective irrigation system and helping choose the species to incorporate into the nursery.
“It was a very chance meeting. He didn’t just show up saying, ‘what are you guys doing, do you need my help?’ I ran into him one day when I was selling potted stock up at Little Cat. We got to talking about tree planting, because Myles used to run the greenhouse at Joyceville Penitentiary and he was just retired or almost retired at the time,” explained Cataraqui Conservation’s longest-serving staff member, Forestry Co-ordinator Rick Knapton.
“And somehow, we got on the subject of the idea that the Friends had about creating a native plant nursery and he expressed an interest in helping out, because he had a really good knowledge base and lots of experience. He knew that if we could harvest our own seeds and cuttings on site, those plants would be totally adapted to the area and they would be the most suitable.”
Added long-time Friends member David McMurray:
“Myles was quite a character. He said, ‘you don’t want to put up a piece of crap. You want to make it look right and function right. So he drew up a full plan for us. He was the guy who had the vision. We were going to just do a plot about the size of a meeting room and he said that we needed to do half an acre at least. He had the whole thing in his head from the get-go,” he said.
“The thing that’s amazing to me is when you look at the facility down here, starting with the fence to the raised beds, the irrigation and everything you see now, it’s all still based on what Myles drew up. And another amazing thing is that it was all fundraised from external sources, including the Friends of Lemoine Point.”
Volunteers, primarily provided by the Friends, have been integral to the growth and sustainability of the Native Plant Nursery since it’s inception 20 years ago. Pretty much every aspect of the facility, excluding the external fencing, which was installed by a contractor, the Friends created, developed, built and maintained by volunteers, with the assistance of Knapton and Operations staff from Cataraqui Conservation.
One of the most significant volunteers, and one whose legacy is still revered and respected, was the indomitable Jane Murphy. Besides being an expert gardener, with an encyclopedic knowledge of soil, plants and nurturing plants, she was also a bastion of enthusiasm and a motivational dynamo for the Friends. It was she who co-ordinated the various work sessions at the site, co-ordinated planting events, and generally ‘ran’ the native plant nursery until her untimely passing in 2020.
“Jane was our heart and soul. I don’t know how to put it any other way. She was not just a keen gardener, but a master gardener. She spent 40 hours a week down here at the nursery. She kept diaries of everything she did. She managed the people and taught the volunteers that came out. I don’t think the nursery would still be there without Jane. She basically picked up the torch from Myles when he passed away in 2011,” McMurray explained.
“When it comes to the nursery, the Friends have very much been into experimenting. Jane was always wanting to try different things to make the nursery better, like different types of deer deterrents. The volunteers working on the nursery are very dedicated in trying to make what they do successful. It’s pretty easy to walk away from things of they don’t work. But these folks never get put off by it, they just try something else. And that all comes from Jane.”
Since those humble beginnings, the Native Plant Nursery has continued to be a hub of activity for Cataraqui Conservation’s forestry activity, and a shining example of the power of volunteerism and commitment to community. Funds raised from tree sales are plowed back into the nursery to keep it running smoothly and to help pay for necessary upkeep. The Friends have helped with granting opportunities and other partnerships, such as with Trees Ontario, Tree Canada, as well as with TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.
“The tree nursery has also been a great way for us to attract volunteers. The planting events are good for people to come in and get boots on the ground and hands in the dirt to see firsthand what’s going on here. The planting events and tree sales bring people out here and make them aware of what we do, and a number of them end up getting involved,” said McMurray.
“It’s also great in educating people about the importance of native species. We often get people coming out and asking if we have horse chestnut or Norway maple, or other species that are non-native and often become invasive. We just explain to them that we don’t have them because of the harm planting them does to native species. And we also have some native species that you can’t get anywhere else, line Nanny Berry or and Iron Wood.
“The biggest thing for me, and for the other volunteers who have been here for a while, is the dedication of people like Jane and Myles. For a couple of years [the plant nursery] was just a concept and a vision and talk around the table. But that initial talk was the spark for what we have now. It took champions like Jane and Myles to take what was just idle chat into what we have today. I don’t think it would have happened at all without Myles and would never have lasted this long without Jane.”
For more information on the Friends of Lemoine Point and how you can become a volunteer or member please visit their website at https://cataraquiconservation.ca/pages/friends-lemoine-point
Don’t miss the tree and shrub sale happening this weekend (May 13, 2023) at the tree nursery from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon. The tree nursery is located just inside the gates of Lemoine Point Conservation Area off of the Coverdale Drive entrance in Kingston.