You may have lived in Calgary your whole life, or maybe this is your first summer to enjoy by the banks of the Bow and Elbow rivers. Whatever the circumstances are that you find yourself here looking for planting advice, you can be assured that you are in the right place.
Calgary is a grassland area. It is characterised by being flat, dry, windy and mildly cool with temperatures averaging between -10 to +15. All of the trees you see were brought here to create wind breaks to homesteads and shade to front yards. If you are curious to see how large a tree can get in a centruy here on this flat prarie city, some of the oldest stands of trees here are the Douglas firs on the north side of the Bow in Bowness park.
Drought and wind tolerant plants hardy to zone 3a are the best choices for a yard in this zone. There is a wide variety availble from local greenhouses that are grown here, ensuring they are of the hardiest stock. 3a plants are known for their ability to withstand temperatures of -35/-40 over the winter as well as the low precipitation that being the sunniest city in Cananda comes with.
The best choices for planting are drought tolerant in some way, but by no mean does that mean you are limited to succulants and cacti. Look for plants that have long taproots (Peoney, Lupine,). or silvery leaves (Willow family, Little Bluestem grasses). Some easy to identify choices have deep sinuses on their leaves (Cranesbill, Artemisia), or are waxy or glossy (Berenia, Perrywinkle). Plants with needles (Junipers, Mugo Pine) are a sure bet as are those with small leaves, (Spirea, Stonecrop). Other water saving adaptations that are easy to spot are leaf hairs (Lambs ears, Yarrow) or narrow leaves (Coneflower, Daylilies and ornamental grass). The combinations are endless. My favorite inspirations are strolls through established neighborhoods to pickout the plentiful combinations fellow gardeners have put together.
The first step to choosing the best plant is to think about its size and purpose and that can be easier when you have seen it in person.
With a garden there are no mistakes, only experiments that add to your story and the history of the lanscape that is Calgary.
Parks and green spaces have a positive impact on our moods and our productivity. I doubt you need to read the studies that prove it. Anyone who takes walks on their lunch breaks or enjoys the walks by the river can attest to relaxation and better focus when they return.
Any green space will do. Your balcony or window box filled with herbs or flowers, your spider plant sitting in the living room shelf. Even a poster can help. But there is something to be said about being able to be surrounded by garden. Houzz asked what the number one thing people wanted to do in their backyard and The most common answer was to simply be present and watch the grass grow.
There is something wonderful about the simple act of being present in the moment in a space that brings you pleasure.
If you are like me and are working from your home, I ask you to get out there tomorrow, or tonight as the sunsets, and appreciate the birds, the smells, the quiet. Maybe like my neighbors light a fire and chat quietly into the night. There really is no better place to be than in a space that makes you feel at ease.
Could this be your home? A mid century bungalow with full grown spruce and ash and a slight hill to the street? Is the original sidewalk heaving from roots, steep and narrow? There are ways to add a little charm to the aging landscaping and add some curb appeal.
In this image we added a front deck so the family could enjoy the view of the park across the street. A wide sidewalk replaced the broken one, moved over to allow guests to walk unhindered by the large full grown trees, leading to the newly painted front door. The low hill was retained and a small step added to make the entry formal and clean. The final step was to add some plants for color. Spring blooming lilacs along the deck. Two matching blooming verburnum, or cranberry to the top of the steps.Simple beautiful neat plants
Pest control and pollination is best done when you allow for insects and their predators places to live in your garden. You do this by planning spaces for the , the birds and bugs. Having nectar sources, water sources, nesting sites, and leaving overwintering refugia all provide habitat for natures predators. It is a hands off approach that has worked for gardeners for centuries.
Pollinating plants that bloom in succession will allow many different creatures nutrients while they await the arrival of our pests. A garden with early spring flowers like on Spurge
Euphorbia olychroma (Cushion Spurge) blooming with the Syringa (Lilac) feed the first wave of garden guests. Next the Lupinus (Lupines) and the Lonicera (Honeysuckle) are in bloom. Here in Alberta, these blooms are gone before we can put our annuals into the ground.
Good choices for necator amongst these are Verbena and Zinnia and Salvia. Beside these, The Nepeta Mussinii ( Catmint) and Dianthus (Garden Pinks) bloom all season long. Late Summer brings the blooms of Coreopsis (Tickseed) and Echinacea (Coneflowers). Pollinating plants both smell wonderful to us, and attract the predator insects that will help care for your flowers without pesticides. It is a win-win.
Sites with running water are important to beneficial insects survival too. The birds and insects active in the yard increases when you add water. You get to relax to the sound of a gurgling fountain, and nature will be busy doing the yard work.
Using natural pest deterrents like pollinator planting and adding a water source over applying pesticides is important. It increases the worm populations in the soil increasing soil health (and with it plant robustness) and it makes sure there are no residues on the flowers that could harm potential pollinators.
As for birds and critters we may not always notice them but they are there always. Often you will see the Robins out in the morning finding breakfast in the lawn. You can feel good that your hands off approach is feeding them well.
A commonality of some Canadian insects is their adaptation to be tolerant of extreme temperatures. In order for some beneficials to survive however there needs to be a place for them to hibernate in very hot dry times and in very cold times. For example, Ladybugs need decaying leaves to winter in as it will keep them from completely freezing. Many insects need the soil as protection and decomposing matter as their food. I do not know if wood chips alone that we mulch our gardens with would provide that. Leaving some leaf matter on your plants rather than cutting everything down to the ground in the fall is a great addition for your urban habitat.
Any of these ideas will attract the larger predators of the insects to the garden as well creating a more diverse setting.
I hope you find you can add a little bit of nature to your yard care routine.
Biological Survey of Canadian Terrestrial Anthropods. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://biologicalsurvey.ca/public/Bsc/Controller/Page/briefs/insectsofcane.pdf (Original work published 1988)
ezfromseed.org, . (2013). Priority: Pollinators. In Home Garden Seed Association. Retrieved from https://www.reneesgarden.com/articles/pollinators-hgsa.pdf
Degagne, J. (2016, May 31). Assignment 2: Plant and Pest Community. In Google doc. Retrieved June 16, 2016, from https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1vziBcTyiJqWfWZssJJJkqjVBRC71nrnMJAoLoMC6iAo/edit#gid=37802890
Gorsuch, C. (2002, October). Beneficial Insects and Related Arthropods. In Clemson University, South Carolina. Retrieved from http://www.clemson.edu/cafls/departments/esps/factsheets/beneficials/beneficial_insects_and_related_arthropods_bb01.htm
Kruss, S. W. (n.d.). The Best Ways To Attract More Songbirds To Your Property. In The Cornell Lab: All About Birds. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/the-best-ways-to-attract-more-songbirds-to-your-property/
Mainz, M. (2016, May 31). Top 10 Hummingbird Flowers. In About: Home. Retrieved from http://birding.about.com/od/Specific-Birds/tp/Top-10-Hummingbird-Flowers.htm
Mickelbart, M. (2010, May 3). Leaf characteristics of drought tolerant plants. In Purdue Extension. Retrieved from https://www.ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL/index.html
Phipps, N. (2016). Wind Resistant Plants For Your Windy Garden. In Gardening Know How. Retrieved June 16, 2016, from http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/spaces/wind-resistant-plants-for-your-windy-garden.htm
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