Attractions at conservatory grow

Thunder Bay conservatory supervisor Mike Dixon inspects the condition of a straw bed garden that was installed by Friends of the Conservatory last weekend.

The place to check out this summer is the Thunder Bay Botanical Conservatory.

From a new children’s garden and honey bee farm to the pollinator beds and horticultural gardens, there’s something to see both inside and out. New summer hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Mike Dixon, supervisor of forestry and horticulture with the City of Thunder Bay, said the pollinator bed is coming into full bloom, helped along this year by the installation of mulch.

“We mulched this with city wood chips because it keeps the competition (weeds) down and as it breaks down, it releases nutrients back into the soil and fertilizes the plants at the same time,” he said.

On the west side of the parking lot, a large woodchip pile is found. The chips are made from various tree removals by city crews.

“The chips are something that naturally occurs in a clean-up operation,” said Dixon. “Normally we send them to the landfill to turn into next years compost or contribute them to a local producer for biomass. This year we are offering them to the public.”

The combination of the honey bee farm, mulching and installation of perennials have all contributed to healthy, lush exterior gardens, a direction the conservatory is heading toward.

“We’ve started changing a lot of our beds and moved to perennial type beds with annuals added for colour and that’s a move that’s going to continue,” said Dixon.

By not going through as many annuals as they used to, it helps to lower overall costs, he added.

“In its heyday, the conservatory used to produce 135,000 annuals that we would grow from seed to go into the parks and hanging baskets,” said Dixon.

“Now we’re starting to plant perennials that will cut down on amount that we have to produce each year.”

Dixon said they are hoping to diversify other types of plants and flowers to help with the low impact diversion projects around the city, which is all part of the stormwater management plan.

Many of these plants are not mainstream for gardening centres, and Dixon said they are actually hard to come by.

“Sedges, grasses, shrubs, fescues and a lot of the stuff gardeners might look at as weeds in their garden, work well to divert stormwater. They are thirsty plants and perform quite the service,” he said.

The new children’s garden, which was installed by the Friends of the Conservatory and many children, last weekend, features hay bale or straw-bed gardening.

Dixon explained that bales of hay were soaked with water and fertilizer, daily for two weeks, to help them break down and decompose.

As the hay deteriorates, holes are dug unto the bales and plants are inserted with a little soil.

“The decomposition creates heat — which the plants love — and they grow like crazy,” added Dixon.

People are welcome to stroll both inside and out at the botanical conservatory. A picnic lunch or coffee can be shared on one of the many benches that have been donated from Grandview Manor.

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