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.