Friday, 6 September 2013


When we volunteer with the Bow Valley Stewards or the Friends of Kananaskis, we commonly refer to it as "gardening in the woods". We pull out unwanted plants like noxious weeds, or tear up the forest to build trails. Sometimes, we do the opposite, planting trees at wildlife overpasses to make them more appealing for wildlife, or in the middle of rogue trails to make them "go away".

Karen always jokes that we do that kind of work as volunteers but never do it at home.

Well, it was time to change that. For the last year, my yard has been a disaster. It started way back here with the first of the heavy equipment digging a new basement section, and got worse here just before the floods started when we finally re-graded the yard. I threw down some grass seed after the floods as a temporary measure to stabilize the soil until we could fix things properly.

This week was "fix things properly" week. We planted a total of 10 trees, plus a bunch of other stuff, including a small collection of native alpine flowers. We got all our plants at Bow Point Nursery, who specialize in nothing but local, native plants grown from seed without irrigation. In the end, we did plant one non-native tree (a Siberian Larch), but we have 3 of them already and even Bow Point sells them.

My car could only carry about 6 trees at a time, so we took 2 days to do the work. Our friend Monty helped us on the first day.
Monty and I digging holes 
Some stuff in and finished on Day 1
We had already planted 3 sub-alpine fir that we rescued from a trail building project we did last week. We pulled them out and were going to throw them into the forest to die, but instead brought them home in a bucket and planted them.
At the end of planting day 2 
My nascent forest
After we were done, I threw some more grass seed in the bare patches we created, and also where the original seed had not taken well. We also added some more organic rich covering in places where our yard is clay and rock. Digging the holes, I was astounded at the variability of the soil in my yard. We found black organic stuff, sand, clay, gravel and rock, and everything in-between.

In total, we planted:

  • A Douglas Fir. I have one that is 60' tall. Now I have one 4' tall, too;
  • A Tamarack and a Siberian Larch. Both turn beautiful yellow and lose their needles in the fall. The tamarack is more typical in eastern Canadian, but this is the western limit of its range. Larches are beautiful trees, but the high alpine Lyall's larch that we see on the trails here doesn't grow below 1,800 m altitude (we're at 1,375 m);
  • 2 Paper Birch and 2 River Birch. I already have a VERY happy 30' tall River Birch that the birds love and turns pretty fall colours, too;
  • 2 Dwarf Poplar. These poplar don't sucker, don't grow too high, and get nice and bushy;
  • 3 rescued sub-alpine fir. They're really small right now, and came from 1,700 m in a dense, damp forest. Here's hoping they survive;
  • 3 shrubby cinquefoil, better known as native potentilla. We have some hybrid potentilla in the front yard that don't ever flower. These will;
  • A green alder. Alder like some shade and damp ground, and get very dense;
  • 2 blackbud willows. These have bright red stems all winter, and the birds love them;
  • A Louise willow. Actually from a seed source in Lake Louise.
There's also 4 or 5 trembling aspens growing up in the middle of everything from suckers of an aspen tree I have. We'll let them grow as long as they don't bug us. The grass underneath it all is native sheep fescue, which doesn't need mowing and doesn't get more than 6" high.

So in short, we now have a zero maintenance yard.

In about 5 years, we should have a genuine forest. Until then, it looks pretty nice anyway, and will offer a mix of sun and shade, cool colours in our short fall season, and let in lots of winter sunshine. We may continue to transplant in baby pine trees that grow like weeds in our hamlet (I have at least 5 in the front yard to pick from, all a foot tall) if my forest needs more.

All that's left is to finish the fence and build a big gate. That's a project for next week.

No comments: