2023 Spring Garden Tour

Pollinator Paradise YXE had its first tour of the summer on Saturday morning, June 10. The joy and learning that takes place on these tours! On a tour, you will be able to visit several yards, view some larger projects, all in locations where people are working to support biodiversity in the city. Although agriculture has destroyed much of the native prairie, it is important to remember that cities and acreages also destroy native prairie, and urbanization has unique challenges returning to its biodiverse state than agricultural conversion. Thus, everyone who converts an urban area back to a Pollinator Paradise is working towards preserving the prairie.

This summer has been wonderful, after a lovely (although often cold) winter, and a season of miyoskamin. Since our last snow melted, I have been in my garden nearly daily, pulling invasive weeds, but also, on this tour, I have learned I need to play the role of grazer that would have chewed back the brushland, ripping out some hard-won native specimens (only some of them, never all of them). Unlike true grazers, I would use scissors, rather than my teeth, though.

The Swale for water, bark mulch for weed suppression. Photo by Janet McVittie

Many of the members of Wild About Saskatoon have their own Pollinator Paradise gardens, and, to support others to join us in this biodiversity project, we have annual tours. Last summer, there were two different tours to visit various Pollinator Paradises. This summer, we have already had our first adventure, seeing a different group of four gardens than we have seen before, and a different group of “tourists”. Come along with us to see the different approaches people take to create Pollinator Paradises, supporting urban biodiversity.

We began with a visit to a family home front yard, which has been converted from lawn grass with a few ornamentals to a now one-year-old thriving naturalized area. The owners of the home contracted Common Ground Landscapes, a landscaping company which specializes in landscaping with native species. The co-presentation involved the owners of Common Ground and the owners of the home. Clearly, all four partners in the team are happy with the outcome. Features of the garden include:

  • incorporation of the desired exotics, such as a spruce tree, and a fruit tree;
  • a swale, which catches run off from the roof and allows the water to drain slowly slowly downstream (still on the property), with lots of time to soak into the ground (mitigating much of the need for watering);
  • heavy use of bark mulch to suppress weeds, but which will ultimately break down and allow native plants to re-seed into (mulch mitigates much of the need for weeding).

The overall effect is beautiful and peaceful, as well as providing food for the birds and pollinators. And, perhaps, the occasional white-tailed jack rabbit.

Baby plants – they will grow and spread, but it will take a year. Photo by Nikki Moggey

Our next stop was at a condominium-complex naturalized garden. This project was one week old (!), and as we say about babies that old: how cute! A group of people from Pollinators Paradise YXE had gone to the condo the Saturday before and dug up invasive grasses and alfalfa. In the digging, yarrow, a resilient native plant, was discovered and salvaged. Numerous “artifacts” were also discovered in the soil – bits of plastic and metal. The members of PPYXE had all brought some native plants from their own gardens to add into the bare earth. Note that without any bark mulch and being open to the wind-blown seeds from a city park, there will be a need for ongoing weeding. Also, water is currently difficult to access. However, the garden now has the requisite more than 15 native plants, with about 10 different species in all.

Our discussion at this site included trying to figure out how to get water to the garden for its first summer (native plants do not need water after they get established). As for weeding, the organizer of the garden can call on her friends from PPYXE.

A mix of native plants and food cultivars. Photo by Janet McVittie

The next stop covered a much larger area, but involves a school and at least one class full of enthusiastic students. DePave Paradise is a part of Green Ventures Canada.

A DePave project is about removing pavement to allow more permeable surfaces (mitigating floods and retaining water for the plants that grow in permeable soil) and for growing more food and/or native plants. DePaving is about biodiversity, human food production, and the environment. A teacher at Walter Murray Collegiate and a member of DePave worked together on the old and unused tennis courts. Shannon Dyck of GreenEdge Studio assisted them in the landscape design. At least one high school class has engaged in the project, and these students talk about the meaningful nature of their learning when they are in the garden. All the curriculum can be learned in an outdoor depaving-gardening project! Math, history, geography, ELA …

So far, much of the pavement has been pulled up, although less than half of it is gone. To ensure food production while taking a break from pulling up pavement, some raised beds have been installed. Of the already depaved area, there are some plots where vegetables and herbs are grown, other plots where native plants are grown (to draw in native pollinators and to feed birds, and to enhance biodiversity and beauty) and still other plots where the natives and foods are mixed. Many native plants are good food sources too.

A mixture of native grasses and flowers. Photo by Ahmed Badawy

Lastly, we visited a home front yard which has been gradually converted to a native prairie since 2017. The owner of the home missed the prairie she had grown up on, and so she removed her lawn, and planted three species of grasses (blue grama grass, June grass, and prairie dropseed), and two species of flowers. Each year, she has added more variety in her flower species. Along the front edge of the yard, spilling onto the sidewalk, is a plant called silver weed (Potentilla anserina, but also known as Argentina anserina) and she invited us to help ourselves to any runners we wanted. The owner talked about how she “grazes” her grass – she has taken on the role that native grazers (such as bison and antelope) to graze back grasses to  allow more room for other plants. She uses scissors and her compost bin rather than teeth and a strong digestive system. She does not have to wait for the grasses to flower, the way I do with my lawn, because her 6 year old lawn has reseeded itself densely, and the grasses are now robust.

Of the gardens we visited, my personal favourite was this last one, because of the lesson I learned: I had started my yard without grasses, adding them after I was certain all the lawn, crab, and brome grasses were gone. However, I would likely have been safe to start with the few species that this gardener started with (blue grama, June grass, and dropseed). As well, she incorporated two species of native flowers in her first year, and has continued to add. One flower I am especially drawn to was in the DePaved project and this garden: prairie columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), which is elegant, tall, and has red and yellow blooms. Simply divine. Oh – but I am planting this garden for the birds and the bees, right? Not for me? No: for all of us.

My yard is not mine, but is to be shared with the other people who want to admire it, and all the other species that can access and enjoy it.

Although this last garden was my favourite, I learned much at each site. How to mulch and build a swale, to reduce inputs; how to work with others to create a naturalized space; how to turn pavement into a beautiful productive area. Every garden on the tour was unique. Every garden supports biodiversity, and supporting native pollinators.

– Janet McVittie


Photo by Ahmed Badawy

A garden designed by Common Ground Landscapers. Photo by Ahmed Badawy

Pollinator Paradise YXE

Is a project of Wild About Saskatoon, joyfully advocating for nature in Saskatoon, SK

A week old native plant garden. Photo by Ahmed Badawy

Start a Native Plant Garden

Start your own native plant garden by following our simple guide!

Professional resources for supporting changing your yard to a Pollinator Paradise YXE:

Landscape design by Shannon Dyck, GreenEdge Studio. Photo by Nikki Moggey

Native plants blooming: blue flax, black-eyed susans, and silverweed. Photo by Janet McVittie

Why grow native grasses?

Native grasses complement any native plant garden, and some might argue a garden isn’t complete without them! Not only are they able to tolerate heat and drought, but they also provide many benefits:

  • Habitat for insects, like hosting butterflies during their larval stage.
  • Ecosystem services, such as reducing soil erosion and increasing water absorption into soil.
  • Improve the aesthetics of your garden by introducing unique textures and colours throughout the seasons.