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East Gwillimbury resident looks to protect butterflies and bees one garden at a time
April 20, 2022

When East Gwillimbury’s Meagan Potter tried her hand at beekeeping a few years ago, she was alarmed when the hives didn’t make it through the winter.

So, during the pandemic with some extra time on her hands and seeing an opportunity to be a butterfly ranger for the David Suzuki Foundation, she sank her teeth into a new project.

“I’ve always admired David Suzuki and I’ve always followed the foundation,” she said. “I like how they give everyday solutions that everyday people can do.”

In this case, the Butterflyway Project gets local volunteers like Potter to plant native wildflowers in yards, schoolyards, streets and parks to help support bee and butterflies whose habitat is steadily being depleted.

Since 2017, more than 6,000 pollinator patches have been planted across Canada.

“It’s really easy to point fingers and say what other people should do and what the politicians and corporations could do, but to have practical feet on the ground out there doing work is priceless,” Potter said.

The interest Potter received from the community was much greater than she expected. “It was amazing. I never anticipated I would have such support,” she said. “I just kind of thought I would be a nameless person out there planting flowers, but it has been embraced and the environmental advisory committee has been so supportive.”

She planted a pollinator patch in the garden at her home using flowers like black-eyed Susans and wild lupines. Potter said she is extra-focused on lupines because Karner blue butterflies need them to survive.

But Potter’s work didn’t stop at her own garden. She was able to work with the town and the environmental advisory committee to get a pollinator patch planted at the River Drive Park Community Centre and the River Drive Park parkette.

Stephane Deschenes from Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park got wind of the program and thought the park would be a good demonstration area to show off the concept. “They were all native plants and general wildflowers that are fairly easy to maintain,” he said.

For Deschenes, it was an opportunity to do something specific with the hope his guests would consider doing the same thing at their homes.

“It’s the suburban areas that are often devoid of places for pollinators,” he said.

The importance of projects like the Butterflyway can’t be understated for Potter. She said 76 per cent of insects have disappeared over the last 20 years. Food crops like tomatoes and blueberries are reliant on pollinators. “We need a variety of different pollinators for different reasons,” she said. “Collectively we can have a big impact. A small group of residents can make a big difference.”

In one year, Potter said she noticed more butterflies in her home garden and the gardens at the public spaces in River Drive Park.

She’s hoping to increase the number of plots on both town and private land in town, as the environmental advisory committee has established a subcommittee to focus on the project.

There is also work being done to have native flowers added to the East Gwillimbury Public Library’s seed library.   

In order to be part of the Butterflyway, a garden must include a minimum of five native plants, and two of those plants need to be host plants.

The gardener must also participate in at least three of the following practices: plant a diversity of species that bloom from spring to fall; leave some bare ground for nesting bees; leave dead, hollow stems for cavity nesting bees; include features such as rocks and old logs; don’t use pesticides; don’t mow in May; and leave leaves.

Ward 1 Coun. Loralea Carruthers, who has worked with the environmental advisory committee on the project, said so much good work has been done, with more to come.

Residents interested in getting involved in the project can email