City Wildflowers Tour

On a pleasant Sunday morning in early June, a group of people met on a quiet Saskatoon street to go looking for wildflowers, as participants in Wild about Saskatoon’s Spring Garden Tour.

The tour marked the second year of Pollinator Paradise YXE, a movement that is bringing local native plants back to gardens, schoolyards and parks around the city. To date, the project has certified more than 5 dozen Pollinator Paradises. Your garden could be next. Click here to apply.

Our June itinerary took us to four sites. First stop – a front yard on a crescent in the Adelaide/Churchill neighbourhood. Here James “Jay” Dynes, who is a research scientist by day, is conducting a bold experiment after hours. Despite the misgivings of certain members of his household, he has removed all the grass from his front yard, planning to replace it with wildflowers and shrubs. It’s tricky because the yard is shaded by established and valued trees, so it will take time to figure out which species of plants can thrive under these conditions. We have a few suggestions in the sidebar.

By contrast, the members of the Buena Vista Garden Group have the advantage of full sun. Their brand-new garden is on a broad, grassy boulevard at the corner of 6th Street East and McPherson Avenue, directly behind Buena Vista School. Again, the process began with removing sod, a laborious task shared by many willing participants from the community. A member of the group with access to a greenhouse had established a large number of plants from seed, so the community came out again to get the plugs in the ground. Add some mulch and a water reservoir, and, presto, they had a Pollinator Paradise. Looking for bedding plants or seeds? Check the sidebar for sources.

The demonstration garden behind the Nutrien Wonderhub is another new community space that celebrates local wildflowers. It is a project of Moira Moser, superintendent of the City’s naturalized parks. If you want to know more about native plants and get an idea how they might fare in your spaces, this is the place to go. The garden includes more than 30 species of wildflowers, each with a name tag to help you figure out who’s who. Saskatchewan Wildlife Photos is another invaluable resource for getting to know native plants.

The fourth stop on the tour was the yard of ethnobotanist Sandra Walker, author of The Path to Wild Food. For some of us, the highlight of the visit was the yellow ladyslippers –wild orchids –blooming in the shady front yard, but Sandra was more delighted by the wild onions that were flourishing in a sandy, sunny spot out back. Within a normal city lot, Sandra and her husband Wade have spent 20 years making room for their dogs, garage, two ponds, vegetable garden and hundreds of native plants. Next step: claiming the boulevard on the street for more wild beauty!

Thus ends our spring tour. The adventure continues.

– Joanne Blythe, Janet McVittie, Nikki Moggey, and Candace Savage

Part Shade

  • Bearberry Kinnikinnick Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
  • Wild Strawberry Fragaria virginiana
  • Early yellow locoweed Oxytropis sericea
  • Golden bean Thermopsis rhombifolia
  • Early Blue Violet Viola adunca
  • Northern Bedstraw Galium boreale
  • Long-fruited Anemone cylindrica
  • Cut-leaved Anemone multifida
  • Creamy Peavine Latrhyrus ochroleucus
  • Gaillardia/Blanket Flower Gaillardia aristata
  • Heartleaf Alexander Zizia aptera
  • Prairie Lily Lilium philadelphicum
  • Fireweed Chamerion augustifolium
  • Giant Hyssop Agastache foeniculum
  • Harebell Campanula rotundifolia
  • Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa
  • Wild Columbine Aquilegia canadensis
  • Wild Mint
  • Stiff Goldenrod Oligoneuron rigidum
  • Lindley’s Aster Symphyotrichum ciliolatum
  • Meadow Blazingstar Liatris ligulistylis
  • Smooth Aster laevis/Symphyotrichum leave
  • Dogwood Cornus sericea
  • Wild Black Currant Ribes Americanum
  • Golden Currant Ribes aureum
  • Northern Gooseberry Ribes oxyacanthoides
  • Western Snowberry Symphoricarpos occidentalis
  • Purple Oat Grass Schizachne purpurascens

Part to Full Shade

  • Bunchberry Cornus canadensis
  • Sarsasparilla Aralia nudicaulis
  • Veiny Meadow Rue Thalictrum venulosum
  • Canada Anemone Anemone canadensis
  • Star-flowered False Solomon’s Seal Smilacina stellate – Maianthemum stellatum
  • Sweet Scented Bedstraw Galium triflorum
  • Western Canada Violet Viola canadensis
  • Blue Columbine Aquilegia brevistyla
  • Tall Lungwort Mertensia paniculate

*Non-Flowering Full Shade

  • Ostrich Fern Matteuccia struthiopteris

Sources for Native Plants and Seeds

It’s important to source native plants from local and regional suppliers.

Earlier in the growing season is the best time for planting plugs. However, you can plant into late August providing you can make sure to water the plants for at least four to six weeks after planting.

Plant seeds in the late spring to early summer or late fall before freeze-up.

Preparing the Ground, or 3 Ways to Remove Lawn

You’ve decided to replace all or part of your lawn with native plants. Hooray!  Start small, say a space 1 meter x 1 meter.  Make a plan and add to it in stages.

1. Dig it up. If you are feeling energetic, you can dig up the lawn with a garden fork or spade, taking care to remove the roots. Shake the soil off the clumps of turf and compost what’s left. (Digging up lawn is a bit of a work-out, but we’ve done it, so we know it’s possible.) Alternatively, you may want to rent a sod-cutter or hire someone to cut the sod and roll it up. Use it upside down for mulch or compost it. 

2. Sheet mulch the lawn by covering it with pieces of overlapping cardboard with all tape and staples removed. Wet down the cardboard before topping it with 3 to 4 inches of wood mulch or sawdust from untreated wood.  You may want to add a few strategically placed stones to keep the cardboard in place.  You can plant plugs immediately or wait until next spring to plant them.  Cut through the cardboard to make a planting hole and move the mulch back from the new plant.  You cannot plant seeds using this method.

3. Solarize the lawn by covering it with a black plastic tarp, or heavy black plastic, using rocks or other anchors to hold it in place. The sunlight heats the black surface and in one or two summers, the grass, weeds and seeds should be dead. The downside of this method is the heat also sterilizes the soil life (beneficial microorganisms in the soil).

The method you choose will depend on your site (size, soil compaction, condition of lawn), your time energy, resources at hand and finances. Once the sod is removed, you do not need to add fertilizer or any other soil amendments.