Native plant nurseries are sometimes overlooked, but they are an important part of maintaining our environment. Native species here are those that naturally inhabit this part of North America. However, many of the plants growing in gardens and spreading to natural communities originated from Europe, Asia and other parts of the world with a similar climate.
Their presence destabilizes local natural communities that have evolved over thousands of years with their complex interactions and interdependencies. In most cases, non-native species will push out native species because there is no natural control to restrict their growth. This has resulted in a lot of species being threatened with extinction.
Did you know native plants provide shelter and food for a variety of wildlife? They support pollinators, which are essential to our ecosystem, especially farming. They also attract birds, butterflies and many other insects and animals by providing diverse habitats and food sources.
Bea Heissler, owner and operator of Natural Themes Native Plant Nursery in Quinte West, has been farming since 2006 but has recently started focusing more on Indigenous plant species.
Bea grows certain native plants such as wildflowers that are great for recreating a meadow area in any yard size. For shaded areas, they have ferns and woodland flowers and grasses. For ponds and shorelines, they have a diversity of wildflowers, ferns and grasses that provide food and shelter for wildlife going into and out of the water. Plantings of native species along shorelines are also important for erosion control. There is also an excellent diversity of trees, shrubs and vines offered at the nursery, makes it possible to create natural habitats vertically as you would find in forests.
Bea’s family immigrated to the farm in Canada from Germany in 1953. Although both of her parents had experience with gardening, farming was a new venture for them. Knowing the rolling landscape, rivers, creeks and the Bay of Quinte provide a phenomenal diversity of plant and animal life, her parents saw farming in the Bay of Quinte as a way to ‘put down roots’ in Canada.
The farm had many challenges over the years, demanding full participation of the whole family as they built up a successful market-gardening business on the farm in Frankford. Bea decided to take the farm over in 2006, making her love for working close to the earth her retirement project after working 20 years in outdoor education. She has incorporated her love and knowledge of nature, plants and animals, and continues to share that knowledge with others.
Bea loves working with nature and “learning to accept what is.” She looks at farming in a very humble way: “If things don’t work out, it’s not a big deal, as we grow a diversity of produce.” Even in the brisk winter, Natural Themes found a way to overcome the cold and grow all year round with their cold frame greenhouses.
Bea decided to start focusing more on her original plans and returning to where she started with the business 16 years ago; building a native plant nursery rather than market gardening. The demand for organically-grown produce 16 years ago was considerably greater than the demand for native plants.
“Times are changing. It’s good to see a shift in thinking as this is one major step closer to environmental recovery,” says Bea. “Ten years ago, most people still considered native plants to be weeds.”
There is more awareness now of the need to help natural communities recover. This is where we need to be as we move forward through all the challenges that we have essentially created through our disconnection with the natural world. Bea’s objective with the nursery is to bring back the natural biodiversity of plants in the area, helping to recreate a healthy environment for future generations.
Natural Themes has a rich history and is still located on part of the original farm. Natural Themes produce will be available at the Quinte West Farmers’ Market on Saturdays until the end of October, or you can find the produce on their website. With COVID on the rise again, Bea has decided to only open by request for the remainder of the fall.
If interested in starting your own native plant nursery at home, Bea does consult through email or chatting with people at the nursery. They encourage customers to contact them regarding plant orders for pick up at the farm or market.