Bonjour! My name is Mélanie Ouellette and I am the founder of the Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library. Let me tell you why I started the Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library in 2020.
I had been looking for a volunteering opportunity for several years, reading and applying for positions, without finding anything that fit my values and that I felt could optimize the use of my experience and skills.
One night, I watched “What does the Earth Ask of Us?” by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer. When Dr. Wall Kimmerer told us the Seven Fire Prophecy, I remember thinking, I want to be one of these settlers that work alongside Indigenous peoples to prevent the Earth from going into this dark abyss.
At the end of the presentation, an audience member asked Dr. Wall Kimmerer: “The Earth is on fire; what can we do to help?” Her response was: “Do something that you are passionate about and that uses your talents.”
So that night, I reflected on my passion, something I could do every day without getting tired of it, and the only thing I could think of was gardening. I listed my values: feminism (we can all only be free when all—including nature—are free from violence), Indigenous reconciliation, and addressing climate change. Then I made a list of my talents and experience and what my contributions could be.
Once I had methodically made my list, only one thought came to mind: decolonizing spaces through native plant gardening. In many households, gardening decisions are made by women, often mothers.
I put on my MBA hat and thought, What prevents busy mothers from growing native plants? First, lack of local seed accessibility. Second, cost. Third, lack of easy to digest, science-based information on native plant gardening.
To be respectful of the act of decolonization, I read books on the Indigenous perspective of nature and gardening. Here are a few recommendations for those interested in learning more:
- Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
- Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss
- Mary Siisip Geniusz, Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask: Anishinaabe Botanical Teachings
I also asked some of my Indigenous friends critical questions. Key findings included the need to include community-building, reciprocity, removing money and teaching responsibilities.
Fortunately, I had studied agricultural policy and community development, so I was aware of seed libraries. I was not aware of any dealing with native plants exclusively. I decided to give it a try, even if I had only been gardening with native plants for less than five months. This is how the Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library was born in October 2020.
I created the various pillars that support the work of the Seed Library:
- Provide free access to seeds
- Teach people about gardening responsibly
- Ask seed recipients to reciprocate the gift of nature
I was lucky enough to find early supporters that believed in this project and donated native seeds from the beginning. To my knowledge, this is the only native seed library model like this in existence. I am hoping that together we create a model that can be reused across the world.
I am always touched by people sharing with me how deeply moved they are by this project. My Métis friend Matthew Oliver says that this is how it feels like to heal the land, and that the land is an elder that teaches us.
I know that as I am healing the land, the land is healing me. I also know that as the Seed Library community is healing me, my volunteering is also helping them heal.
Awards often recognize individuals, but I can tell you that the Seed Library community and this work has given me so much more than I have put in. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work to do, someone randomly pops up in my life, doing exactly what I need help with, making it possible for me to continue.
I am grateful to Ecology Ottawa for shedding light on the amazing work done by all of the volunteers that support the Seed Library.
We encourage you to grow native plants, in your garden, in containers, at your community park, or your local school. Learn more about how you can help by following us on Facebook, Instagram, or our website.
Image 1: Mélanie Ouelette, founder fo the Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library (credit: Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library).
Image 2: A seed exchange organized by the Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library (credit: Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library).
Image 3: A plant exchange organized by the Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library (credit: Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library).
Mélanie created the Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library to foster Indigenous reconciliation, address climate change and empower women through the collecting, sharing and growing of native plants. She is the recipient of Ecology Ottawa's first-ever Eco Awards in the category "Active & Accessible City"