The Greening of Calgary: more Kinnikinnick please

September 29, 2009

Does the City of Calgary use its own WaterWise Gardening and Planting advice along its bike paths, walking trails and public green spaces within the city? This question arose at the City’s booth at the 2009 EcoLiving Fair held at the Mount Royal University campus, September 26 & 27, 2009. There are lots of native plants in the “Special Protection Natural Areas” around the city but not in these other spaces that now seem to have the ubiquitous Canadian coast-to-coast urban plants. Calgary has such a unique setting and ecosystem with stunning visual potential for planned urban local/native/wild flowers.

Apparently it has been a hard sell for local suppliers such as ALCLA Native Plant Restoration Inc competing against petunias.

WaterWise workshop leaders encourage Calgary gardeners to go ditch-diving for native wild plants. But our ditches have pretty slim picking. The incredibly hardy and year-round attractive and useful Kinnikinnick, aka Bearberry or Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is not easy to find in Calgary in city parks let alone ditches (although robust 3.5″ plugs in ‘deep root trainers’ are available at Bow Point Nursery).

Why is there not more sweetgrass Hierachloe odorata planted ?

Plants that are abundant on the lands of the Tsuu T’ina Nation for example could easily be grown anywhere in Calgary with less cost and maintenance than the urban selections we now have. If the city set the example by changing the aesthetic perhaps private corporations and business owners would include more low-maintenance but high-impact native plant varieties. We would also be encouraging local entrepreneurs who have already begun to shift.

Familiarity with native plants could be much enhanced by having more of them in urban parks-perhaps even labelled as hardy native plants-in urban areas and eventually gardeners would surely be attracted to these healthy alternatives.

There are several local small businesses that market native wild plants while slowly educating the public to a shift in aesthetics towards water-wise planting. Bow Point Nursery, has its own glossary of native plants. Bow Point Nursery is also a reliable place to get Sheep’s Fescue seed and extraordinary lawn grass substitute that can be over-seeded with great results in three years. Laureen Rama was at the EcoLiving Fair with huge bins of Sheep’s Fescue seed and very practical hints. For more info on her services visit Eco-yards. The ALCLA Native Plant Restoration Inc. includes this long list of native plants they have available.


1. Dorothy Harvie Gardens at the Calgary Zoo use ‘deep root trainers’. Root trainer cell packs for seedlings encourage deep root growth, reducing the risk of stress when planted.

2. Westgro Horticultural Supplies Inc., 1557 Hastings Crescent SE, Calgary, AB T2G 4C8, Canada and Professional Gardener Co Ltd
915 23 Avenue Se, Calgary, AB T2G 1P1 -Telephone : 403-263-4200 both have ‘deep root trainers.’

3. Arctostaphylos uva-ursi – Kinnikinnick – Low mat forming evergreen groundcover. Dark green, leathery leaves, turn red in full sun. Small red berries. Full sun or shade. (Bow Point Nursery glossary).

4. Calgary and Area Native Plant Nurseries and Services: Bow Point Nursery, Springbank, 403-686-4434, www.bowpointnursery.com, for native trees and shrubs, and low-maintenance grass seed. Also for composted soil, compost, wood chip mulch, wooden rounds; ALCLA Native Plant Restoration, 3208 Bearspaw Drive, NW, Calgary, AB, 403-282-6515, www.alclanativeplants.com for native perennial flowers and native grass seed mixes; Wild About Flowers, Turner Valley, 403-933-3903, www.wildaboutflowers.ca for native perennial flowers and native grass mixes; Laureen Rama’s Eco-yards.

5. Calgary-based author and gardener, Donna Balzer’s list of water-wise plant recommendations for Calgary gardens which includes many native plants available on the City of Calgary’s website.

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