Are you a golfer or a gardener? How to get the most out of your Calgary garden with YardSmart
New Calgary program is helping gardeners plant for the city’s environment
Step into a magical world at the YardSmart demonstration where insects dance and habitats flourish. // Julie Patton
Planting the perfect garden that is beautiful, water-efficient, and able to survive Calgary’s climate can be challenging.
The program’s purpose is to help Calgarians create a garden that is suited to the environment, keeps water on the property, and requires little maintenance.
Kath Smyth is a horticulturist at the Calgary Horticultural Society. She says the program helps create gardens that are both beautiful and beneficial to the environment.
“What we're trying to do is keep the moisture on your property so the water is not running off into the street and not putting out a lot of pollutants,” Smyth says. “What we plant is for our surrounding environment and for the wildlife and pollinators.”
Smyth says she’s seen improvement over the years as Calgarians are changing their focus from wanting a large stretch of grass to planting more diverse shrubs, grasses, flowers, and trees.
“The most important feature of using native plant material is they’re already adapted to our less-than-great soil,” she says. “They've been growing in this part of the world on rock and clay, and they adapt to all sorts of conditions.”
Native garden opening
On June 3, the horticultural society hosted a Be YardSmart event to officially launch its YardSmart native garden design.
Elaine Rude, designer of the native plant garden, gave a short explanation of the design and selected plants.
“The idea is that the plants will spread and mingle on their own,” Rude says. “We have three species that will bloom in the spring, three species that will bloom in the summer, and three species that will bloom later on.”
You can find her design online to replicate or you can visit the horticultural society in person to see the garden and take inspiration.
“The idea is hopefully that we're going to encourage more people to plant native plants. Because our green spaces are fewer and there's lots of space in between, if we plant more native plants then we're supporting insects. They won't be stuck on an island, they’ll actually be able to move through, and so we're creating habitats,” she says.
Rude adds that gardeners don’t need to limit themselves to native plants, but with their addition, insects will find a better habitat outside of ornamentals that finish blooming mid-summer.
Low costs and low maintenance
In addition to benefiting the environment, a native garden also helps Calgarians with its low costs and low maintenance.
“Any plant that you first put it in, even if it's something that's tolerant, you still have to water it really well just to get it established. But once these guys are established, then you want to back off,” she says.
“You might go in and trim them back in the spring, but you don't really have to do that either. Mother Nature doesn't do it.”
As for costs, she says the native plants they used were actually cheaper than most ornamentals bought in stores.
Rude recommends the Alcla Native Plants nursery for Calgarians in search of native plants. She says that buying seedlings can be daunting as they are quite small at purchase, however, they grow quickly and spread around their space.
At the YardSmart event, several exhibits were set up featuring program partners and affiliate members. The event created a marketplace for gardeners featuring supplies and educational material.
City of Calgary staff attended as well to share further education about the YardSmart program.
Roberta Waddell, public program coordinator at the City of Calgary, has been working for the YardSmart program over the past five years. She says the program has been around for over a decade and she’s seen many Calgarians adapting their backyard to help the environment.
“There is a really large opportunity in Calgarians’ backyards to help support the vibrancy and the health of our city as a whole,” she says.
She adds that in addition to supporting the biodiversity and ecosystem of the city, a YardSmart lawn also soaks up more water than a traditional lawn.
“It helps to keep our rivers clean and another big driver is water conservation,” she says. “A YardSmart yard needs little water once it's established, which really helps with our water efficiency goals with the city, as outdoor water use is the highest use of water typically in the summertime.”
Continuing to grow
Following the opening of the native garden at the Calgary Horticultural Society, the YardSmart programmers are hoping to plant similar gardens throughout the city.
They hope that through presenting more native gardens Calgarians will be inspired to start their own.
Smyth’s advice for blooming gardeners is to take inspiration from their neighbours and not be afraid to ask questions.
“Start walking the neighborhood seeing gardens that appeal to you and if you're lucky, maybe the homeowners are home and you can have a bit of a conversation about what cost goes with it.”
Smyth adds that no garden goes without work, however you can plan your garden around how much work you’d like to put in.
“Ask yourself, ‘Are you a golfer or a gardener?’” she laughs.
“Every garden is gonna have a certain amount of work, but every garden is also going to have many more months of just pure enjoyment.”