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Calgarians are creating natural habitats in their own backyards

With the City encouraging residents to have a water-wise summer, some Calgarians have turned to a nature-scaped oasis.

Naturescaping stresses diversity and native species, or at the very least species that create and provide food, water, and shelter for animals and pollinators. 

“We like to pick plants that will bloom at different times of the summer— which extend your summer,” said Debbie Blakeman, McKenzie Resident. 

Blakeman is one of many whom, whether they know it or not, participate in naturescaping.

Blakeman’s garden gets a whole host of birds; from hummingbirds and tree swallows to American goldfinches and more common ones like robins. 

With drip irrigation that saves water, Blakeman is able to reduce water loss while directing water closer to the base of the plant which encourages deeper and stronger root growth.

“You can lose a lot of water if you don’t water at the right time of the day,” said Blakeman.

Myrna Pearman, biologist and author of NatureScape Alberta said, “Any native plant that survives in an ecosystem because it gets pollinated.”

The biologist suggests looking at the surrounding area and emulating those plants.

A corner of Debbie Blakeman’s garden in McKenzie Towne, Calgary on July 22, 2022.

Creating a nature-scape habitat

Because native plants and their pollinators have evolved over millennia, a greater emphasis should be placed on utilizing them in the garden, said Pearman.

Naturescaping reduces one’s environmental footprint in many ways. 

Pearman recommends starting by developing a long-term plan instead of getting rid of the grass all at once since many families enjoy being able to sit down and barbecue.

“Just do it in slow, workable chunks so that you can see the benefits of your work but you’re not overwhelmed,” Pearman said.

“When you nature-scape what you’re doing is providing habitat. It’s a space where the animal can find food, water and shelter.” 

Pearman said to think about incorporating a little pond, in-ground pool, or wetland so that animals can not only bathe but drink.

“So many people think that we have to put up shelter like birdhouses. Well, very few species actually will take up residence in a bird box” said the biologist.

The example Pearman gave is plenty of shrubs. Small birds find shelter from predators or large trees provides refuge from the wind. You can also leave logs or rock piles in the garden so that species can find their own shelter.

With about 426 Alberta bird species, and some species declining at a staggering rate of 90 per cent, doing this can help re-establish healthy ecosystems.

To bring in certain birds or pollinators, grow specific plants or flowers that can attract them to your habitat. 

Red tubular flowers, honeysuckle, scarlet runner beans, and delphinium, for example, are a great way to bring hummingbirds in.

But what if I like my lawn?

If you do enjoy your perfectly manicured lawn but want to remain resource efficient, the City has a couple of ideas.

It recommends reducing the watering by keeping the lawn three inches high. Then leaving the clippings on the grass so that the nutrients return to the soil. 

Adding bark, wood or mulch to garden beds aids in sun protection and reduced water evaporation from the soil. 

For those feeling adventurous, Pearman said an alternative could be a tapestry lawn. It’s not only low maintenance but also verdant and lush with creeping thyme, clover, and sedum.