While writing this update, the weather is sunny and unseasonably warm (it might be completely different by time this article “hits the presses”) and it is difficult to believe it is still winter (for another week anyway). However, signs of spring are showing up in Nature’s Place: small green leaves and shoots are pushing their way up in response to the longer daylight hours and the warmth. It is a fragile time of year for gardens, especially following a very dry winter. Seedlings and trees are receiving signals that spring is here, and in turn do what plants do at the start of new growing season: grow. However, without a cover of protective snow this year, these emerging leaves and buds are susceptible to frost, insects and nibbling animals. Unpredictable climate, alkaline clay soils, and drying winds certainly make gardening a challenge in Calgary!
While the plants in Nature’s Place may be in for a rough start of the year, they are all native plants, which gives them a leg up over showier but less resilient non-native varieties. This outdoor garden will never resemble the sweeping colour beds of an English garden, or the manicured and symmetrical gardens of Versailles, but there is beauty in Nature’s Place if you know how and where to look. Next time you find yourself standing on the sidewalk facing the front doors, consider taking a panoramic view of Nature’s Place: to the far left are the Woodlands, filled with tall trees and shrubs. To the right is the area known as the Amphitheater, a circular design of large layered sandstones. This “outdoor classroom” always brings to mind the wooden amphitheaters found in many campgrounds in western Canada, or the amphitheaters used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. How wonderful to think of where students are transported in their imaginations when using this amazing space.
The gardens directly adjacent to the front of the school are referred to as the Rocky Outcroppings. This part of Nature’s Place is the most sheltered, both from the elements and the daily drumming of hundreds of feet, and it is where there is the most chance of observing delicate plants.
When looking to the right of the school’s front doors, in the middle of the school yard is the area known as the Grasslands. This small hill is supposed to be filled with the wild grasses found in native prairies. Admittedly this portion of Nature’s Place is a challenge: constant intrusions of invasive crab grass and cicer milkvetch, as well as thick clay soils, are an ever present impediment to the thick growth of fescue and prairie flowers that we would like to see here. And it is a hill – kids LOVE scaling, hiking, and hopping on hills. In an effort to help restrict where the kids climb this hill, a stone path has recently been added.
The remainder of Nature’s Place is made up of the Foothills, an area with gentle deciduous trees and a dry creek bed to simulate a meandering stream. The creek bed will be getting a make over this calendar year, with the addition of gravel and hopefully new border stones. Currently there is a large “gash” running across the Foothills, as digging had to be done to reach a section of pipe that needed replacing. In short time this scar will be grown over and will not be noticeable.
Over the years, students have enjoyed being stewards of Nature’s Place. I’m sure many will remember the giant pile of cedar mulch that spread around the gardens, or the many seedlings and shrubs planted over the years. Each spring students also spread compost (made from their very own food wastes!), adding nutrients for the plants.
Nature’s Place isn’t perfect; weeds and minor maintenance will always be required, and volunteers will always be appreciated and welcomed. Whether you sign up as a summer weeding volunteer, attend Nature’s Place meetings, or just stop and pick a handful of dandelions before the seed, every bit counts.
I hope you enjoyed this “stroll” through Nature’s Place. Our next blog post will highlight the different ways the students have been using Nature’s Place this school year!