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Help Friends of Fish Creek reintroduce native plants through Grow With Us project

Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society is looking for gardeners to sign up for a project called ‘Grow With Us.’

The idea is to have people all over Calgary plant a variety of native species, and then harvest the seeds, which will be planted in Fish Creek Provincial Park.

The organization says it’s a massive project, because Fish Creek is the second-largest urban park in Canada, covering an area of 13.48 square kilometres.

“It is daunting,” said Emma Stroud, a biologist who serves as the park’s ecology and conservation program team lead.

“Sometimes you can look at it as discouraging, but also sometimes it’s quite motivating, because the park is so bad in some places, it’s only up from there.

“When you’re left with a really crappy canvas, there’s a lot of things you can do – little differences that make a big difference in the grand scheme of things.”

The area was part of the Bow Valley Ranch in the late 1800s.

Back then, it was home to thousands of cattle. Native grass was replaced with agricultural crops, smooth brome, crested wheatgrass and timothy grass.

Today, more invasive species like ornamental plants have crept into the park from neighbouring communities.

“Native species really like a heterogeneous landscape, so you want tall plants, small plants, bushy ones, for the critters to hide in,” said Stroud.

“We’re mostly in the Foothills Fescue Natural Subregion here, so we have really hearty, drought-tolerant plants, stuff like sage, foothills rough fescue, wild bergamot, a little strawberry, everything from little plants to bigger shrubs.

“There’s a lot of diversity in grasslands.”

Stroud says the native species are better adapted to the southern Alberta climate and can withstand frosty spring mornings and drought cycles.

“It’s been tricky with the water crisis that we’re facing in Calgary, but a lot of these native ones have been still standing up straight, they don’t require long-term watering, they’re really drought tolerant,” she said.

Stroud says public reaction to the Grow With Us program is positive.

“It’s been really surprising how many people have signed up to take part in this,” she said.

“We’ve gotten volunteers who have now planted entire patches in their garden, we’ve got community gardens on board, and schools that have been asking us to come out and help them, so it’s been great.”

Rose and Will Ratliffe are long-time volunteers with the Friends of Fish Creek, and say they jumped at the chance to help the park re-establish native plant species by taking free plants and putting them in their yard.

“We’ve got some really cool native plants that we dug up and stuck in the ground, and we’re hoping that they grow and spread,” said Rose.

“We have some tick seed and we have a variety of pussy toes, we have a bit of frilly sage and this is called metal chickweed, I believe.”

The couple has replaced the grass along their fence that boarders the back alley with their native garden plots, and have put in more than 150 plants.

“A garden can be a tiny patch of a meter across. You can go crazy like we may have, and really go big,” said Will.

“It really is easy, we’ve been delighted with how well these plants have survived.”

“We have neighbors that are talking about doing the same thing. I’m hoping that eventually we’ll be giving seed to the neighbours if this gets too crowded.”

Stroud says the Grow With Us program is a cost effective way to repopulate the park with native plant species.

“What we want is to give people the plants for free, and then once they start producing seed or propagating plugs, we’ll take some of that back to put them in our restoration sites and keep the cycle going,” she said.

“The whole goal is really creating a sustainable seed cycle that doesn’t rely on commercial availability.”

You can learn more about the program by visiting the Friends of Fish Creek website

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