Tag Archives: Native Plants

A Glimmer of Hope

We love outdoor play – in all types of weather – but this has been a very, very long winter.  On the positive side, this slow-to-warm-up spring has allowed the snow in the yard to melt without creating huge puddles of water.  Soaking wet children cannot stay outside in cool temperatures.

Yesterday the gravel area was almost dry and there are just a few patches of stubborn snow left.  We checked out the visible soil in the garden and on the hill;


Close inspection resulted in the discovery of some very tiny bits of new growth.  Baby plants – how exciting! There is some Yarrow – always the first one to show up here;


And even more exciting is this one;


It is growing where the Prairie Coneflower used to be.  The coneflower didn’t grow last year – I thought it may have died.

There are also some tiny sprouts of Giant Hyssop but the pictures were too blurry.

We can’t wait to go out today and see if the sprouts are bigger or if there are some more.  There is finally a glimmer of hope that this long winter may be over soon.


Saying Goodbye – For Now

I opened my front door and thought ‘What a beautiful sunny day’  – but wait, it is cloudy.  “Why does it seem so bright on such a cloudy day?”

I looked again.  Autumn seems to have arrived suddenly and winter is on its way.  The Elm trees that shade my yard have lost all their leaves.   The foliage usually blocks my view of the sky from here but now that the branches are bare the light comes through even on such a cloudy day.

A thick blanket of leaves covers the garden so I can barely see the gravel path.  Sigh.  Good-bye my friends.  Sleep well.

Back in March I wrote a brief history of my front yard garden and my plans to redo the whole garden.  You can read about it here.  Then in May I continued the saga as I began to create the space to plant my prairie garden.   I planned to write another chapter once the plants were in the ground but I never got around to it.

So here is the ‘before’ picture I took of my front yard;

This was taken in May as we began taking apart the old steps to make room for the expanded garden space.  You may notice that these old garden beds contain mainly day lilies along with a few other plants that had managed to survive.

The steps and sidewalk were then relocated to the far left side of the landing and a bench was added so we could sit and enjoy the new garden.  I left that big bush under the window (I don’t know what kind it is) and the Hosta which seemed happy this year.  All the other plants were dug up and most of the gravel was replaced with more soil.

Then I planted the seedlings from the shade garden kit that I purchased from Prairie Flora.  The plants include:

I’ll admit that at first the garden looked rather sparse.  There were a few casualties over the summer – mostly due to the neighbourhood cats who decided I had built the world’s greatest litterbox 😦

Some of the young plants grew much quicker than I anticipated.  Many even produced flowers – something I didn’t expect them to do in their first year.  I know that all these plants  were busy putting down strong roots to support them for years to come.

By September the garden looked like this;

In this view you can see some of the sticks I put in the soil to deter the nasty cats;

Yes, as I look at the thick blanket of leaves that now covers my prairie garden, I am a little sad.  As these young plants prepare for the long cold winter ahead I will say good-bye, for now.  I’ll see you again in the spring – stronger and more beautiful than ever.

Garden Questions

“Are these weeds?”

That’s a question I hear often – I don’t always know the answer but generally, if we didn’t plant it I say it’s a weed.  The children like to pick leaves and flowers to use in their activities like making soup or decorating structures.  They are careful not to damage the plants that we are trying to grow so they seek out the invaders – the ones we didn’t put there.

This plant is not even near the garden – it is growing through the fence but it originates in my neighbour’s yard.

Since it is not ours we don’t pick it.  It is a Virginia Creeper.  We have one in our yard too but it doesn’t grow the way we expected it to.  “Why?”

Ours has been here for four years but barely grows.  I suspect it is because we have planted it in a container.  There’s another plant growing in a container by the garage;

We didn’t plant anything in this container but we think this one looks like it is a bean plant.  Maybe when the children were playing with the beans from our garden one of the beans got dropped in this container.  Even though it is now October this plant looks new – not old and shrivelled like the beans we planted in the spring.

“What about these flowers?”

They are growing in the garden with the lemon balm but their leaves don’t smell like lemon so it must be a different plant.  It looks similar to the plant on the hill.  “Are they the same plant?”

We did plant that Giant Hyssop on the hill but not in the garden.  “Could some of the seeds have blown across the yard and landed in the soil by the lemon balm?”  That’s another good question.

We may never know all the right answers but I love that we ask so many questions.

Garden Visitor

Yesterday we discovered a visitor in our garden.  It was crawling on the patch of earth where our milkweed plant should be — our milkweed did not appear this spring, I suspect the unusual winter confused or killed it.

I hoped our visitor wasn’t too dissappointed that we didn’t have any milkweed.  We watched as he/she travelled over to the sweet grass instead;

Some of the children were concerened for the caterpillar’s safety and suggested that we should put it in a jar.  Instead, we discussed what the caterpillar needed to survive and eventually become a butterfly.  Somewhat reluctantly the children agreed that the garden was a better place for our visitor to stay.

Our native prairie plants have been attraching an abundant array of interesting visitors including ladybug nymphs and huge fuzzy bumble bees.  Now we can add monarchs to the list of visitors to our garden.  🙂

Our Week Outdoors – Day Two

The weather was perfect.  There is however, at least one thing that I don’t like about spending all day outside — my sunroom looks like this;

Crammed full of all the things we need for the day.  Now I remember why I don’t go camping – I detest setting up and taking down the campsite.

We have fun once we get outside.  The younger preschoolers favorite toys are the balls – we have 14 so they count sort and organize them into ‘teams’;

And have wild ball games;

We spent some time in the garden learning about the native plants we have that are waiting to be planted in the front yard;

And checked out some of the herbs – mmmm they smell so good;

They like the way the sage leaves feel;

We found a cutworm — ewww — I didn’t have to tell them what to do, we’ve had cutworms in the garden before and we’ve seen the damage they can do.  This one was squished, stabbed and stomped on;

They dug a hole in the gravel – as usual;

They found an earthworm in the gravel too, and moved it to the garden – unlike cutworms, earthworms are welcome in our garden;

She poked a hole in the soil so the earthworm would have an easy route to take home — it appreciated the assistance;

When we went back indoors at the end of the day a very cuddly Mali cat told us she missed having us indoors.  She soaked up all the hugs and kisses;


Last year I began making plans to overhaul my front yard – I wrote about it here. I ordered my plants months ago and made arrangements to pick them up on May 27th.  This weekend – all three days – I was planning to get the yard ready for planting.  The weekend is over and I’m not finished the prep work.

First, I had a list of little things that could be done on evenings and weekends before the May long weekend – very few of them got done ahead of time so that made my weekend ‘to do’ list even longer.  Three days were probably not going to be enough to get all the work done. Then there were a few other obstacles.

Friday evening there was a thunderstorm.  That was really not a bad thing because if there had not been a storm I would have probably wanted to plunge right into the yard work with only a few hours of daylight left.  A few hours of work is just enough for me to really get ‘into’ the job and I wouldn’t have wanted to stop.

The real setback was the full day of steady rain on Saturday so no yard work got done that day.  The day wasn’t completely wasted – I got a lot of paperwork done.  I finished work on the 2013 resource calendar and sent it off to MCCA for final edit so that big job is completed – early.  However, the yard renovation was way behind schedule.

On Sunday the weather was absolutely perfect for doing yard work.  Dealing with canker worms was the only issue.  We may have gotten a lot of work done but even though I skipped a meal or two I didn’t want ‘protein’ added to my coffee.  My husband suggested that we should patent my fancy cup covers (empty plastic containers turned upside down).

By Monday morning I had already realized that there was no chance that the yard work would be complete.  It was a good thing that I hadn’t ordered soil to be delivered for the garden beds because I wasn’t even close to having the gravel moved out of the way yet.

My husband and I dug up and relocated 18 small and medium sized sidewalk blocks to make room for the new flower beds.  Then we made a horrifying discovery – ten years ago, when we put all this gravel and sidewalk in, we put it over the original sidewalk.  We had forgotten that it was there so now we were staring at three 30” x 36” slabs of concrete that were four inches thick!  I was certain that my native prairie plants would not be happy if we just put soil over those slabs.  We would have to take them out.

While we worked on our yard there were many real estate agents and prospective buyers coming to view the house next door. I struggled with trying to be friendly without coming across as the nosy neighbour. Wielding a sledge hammer I may have come across as crazy.  I had an enjoyable conversation with one woman until our husbands interrupted us.  Maybe she was crazy too – I liked her.

We got one concrete slab removed before the rain returned and we quit working. The whole project may have been too big for two people to complete in three days.  It was definitely too much for the 1 ½ days of good weather that we had.  It is not complete, the reality is – it is a work in progress.

Planning the Garden

I enjoy gardening but I don’t think I am a very skilful or successful gardener.  Sometimes I am a lucky gardener but often I am a disappointed gardener.  Most of my childhood memories of gardening are from spending summers on my Aunt’s farm – growing ‘practical’ plants – food for the family – mostly picking and preparing the produce.  At home, decorative gardens were simply a few annuals stuck in the ground alongside the sidewalk or a small bed against the front of the house.

Through years of living in rented apartments and townhouses I continued to plant annuals in small flowerbeds and pots. They were pretty but not really exciting or interesting. I dreamed of some day owning a house where I could have a ‘real’ garden – one with perennials.

When I finally moved into my house the yard was dismal. Through years of neglect and indifference the previous owners had created a mix of overgrown weeds between patches a barren hard earth.  My husband tilled the entire front yard – it is not a big space, only about 300 square feet.  We spread yards of new soil, created a few small flower beds and put lawn seed in the remaining areas.

For the next five years I continued to plant bushes and perennials and I prayed for their survival.  Every year I watched as the yard sucked the life out of almost every plant I placed there.  Some of the perennials attempted to hold on for a year or two but the collection of empty nursery pots was the only thing that grew.  I was losing hope.

I gave up on the grass and chose to put gravel between the planting beds.  I never really wanted a lawn anyway.  Neighbours walking by would watch me picking out the weeds from the gravel and comment ‘That must be a lot of work’.  Really it wasn’t.  In fact, it was a lot easier than trying to get grass to grow and I never needed to mow the gravel.  I had never needed to mow the dead grass either but the coloured gravel was prettier.

I persistently chose the hardy shade plants that garden centre staff assured me would be more likely to survive in my North facing yard and compete with the ancient elm trees on the boulevard. It was not the garden of my dreams but there were at least some patches of green between the areas of red and beige gravel. Mostly it was just a bunch of day lilies with a few other survivors.

Then I began to emphasise nature education in my childcare program.  Trips to Fort Whyte AliveLiving Prairie MuseumOak Hammock Marsh  and the Transcona Community Bioreserve  introduced me to native prairie plants.

I began to understand that many of the struggles that I had faced with my front yard were a result of trying to grow the wrong plants.  I had considered myself to be a somewhat lazy gardener but suddenly I realized that my gardening philosophy was very similar to my childcare philosophy.  I don’t compel children to follow a rigid curriculum and I don’t like to coerce plants to grow where they don’t belong.  For both plants and children I want to create the right environment for them and allow them to grow and develop naturally.

Over the past few years I’ve observed the children and the native plants we have in the back yard.  I’ve watched the children stomp on plants as they make their first unsteady ascent up the hill.  I’ve seen the children bend and break the plants as they analyze its structure.  I’ve also witnessed the plants stubbornly push their way through the pile of gravel that was dumped on them.  Those plants are survivors.  Together they thrive.

Last year I began making plans — this spring my front yard will be overhauled. I’ve ordered my plants from Prairie Flora and soon the work will begin.  Stay tuned….