March 22, 2010

Shows what MY priorities are

Ottawa is a funny little city, usually symbolized by its Parliament building or canal (the "longest skateway IN THE WORLD!"). Neither are the outstanding feature, or the most unique among capital cities. Instead, it's the farm.

from the Fletcher Wildlife Garden website
Yes, there is a farm in the middle of town. With cows, horses, rabbits and... transgenic sheep. (You can make a skirt out their milk. Well, you probably can't. They use a special machine.)

See, we don't need more urban centres. People actually want more country. Ask them. They only move to cities for that city paycheque. So, all ye living in cities other than Ottawa, read what I did last Thursday and tell me you don't think the coolest thing about this place is the farm.

The Central Experimental Farm (that's its grown-up name) has fields and pastures, greenhouses and an observatory among other things. Last week I staked out the Fletcher Wildlife Gardens, several acres of woods and swampland managed so as to attract bees, butterflies, birds and other creatures. It's next to the Arboretum, and across from the Ornamental Gardens and New Hedge Collection.

To get there, I stuffed my daughter into the baby pack pack, and we took the bus downtown. I got off a stop too late, so we cut up through the trails to get back to the start. Most things being still beige or brown-coloured at this time of year, and with snow still on the ground, the wide-eyed baby and I had the place largely to ourselves, along with an astonishing supply of old tweedy gents and their dogs.

The long grasses swayed with a hushing sound as we tromped along. I passed a dozen wooden birdfeeders and one uninhabited butterfly garden. l admired a white stand of birch.

After circling a beaver pond, we toured the winter-dormant Backyard Garden. An Ontario naturalized garden, it will feature native plant varieties. I'm sure I can be persuaded to re-visit later in the spring to see them.

In a patch of sunny forest I sat down cross-legged to feed the baby. At home, her slow pace at the breast and table can be trying. But there, after twenty minutes or so, the squirrels began bounding closer and chickadees gathered to chirp on branches overhead. Lovely.

What I liked about the Gardens wasn't the species variety or any aspect of the arrangement of things. It's how familiar it was: pieces of Ontario - forests and grasslands at different maturity stages - cobbled together.