Being gentler with the earth and leaving a greener world can start right in your own backyard.
That was one of the messages at the Alberta Ecotrust Foundation’s third annual Environmental Gathering: Create the Future, held recently at Mount Royal University in Calgary with more than 200 attendees from across the province. The two-day gathering focused on creating a just, prosperous and sustainable future through idea cultivation, collaboration, and re-imagination. Speakers presented on topics ranging from repurposing oil and gas infrastructure, to biocultural diversity, food resiliency, reducing food waste – and much more.
Here’s a look at what speaker and garden re-wilding consultant Julie Walker, owner of Full Circle Adventures, a southern Alberta company that connects people to nature, had to say about the link between wild edibles and food resiliency:
Re-wilding a garden with native plant species benefits not only people, but also insects, birds and animals.
“For people, it extends our food season – we can start harvesting in May rather than in July,” says Walker, who holds a Bachelor of Physical Education degree in Outdoor Pursuits, and is a professional guide with the Interpretive Guides Association.
A garden that includes native plants helps nature. “It rebuilds the broken food chain of plants, insects and birds, in particular because insects have evolved in adaptation to digest the plant materials in the habitat they live in,” Walker explains. “So when people bring in non-native plants, we literally start starving out the various insects.”
One of the reasons that insects are so beneficial, she notes, is that 90 per cent of all small birds – such as songbirds – feed insects to their young.
Mimicking a natural ecosystem by re-wilding your garden can help you save money in the long run, according to Walker, because a re-wilded garden is more energy efficient. “You’ll have healthier soil. You‘ll know where your food comes from. You can reduce your grocery bill, reduce your lawn care bill and reduce your watering” – because once they are established, native plants need little to no water.
“And if you learn about your weeds you don’t need to worry about them – you just eat your weeds,” Walker says, pointing to common weeds that are edible, such as Lamb’s quarters, pennycress, chickweed and dandelions (people will need to monitor themselves in case of allergies, she adds).
When people take steps to add native plants to their yards, they’ll be doing their part to bring Calgary back to what this place was before it became a city.
“If everyone re-wilds their lawn, it will be amazing what we do to make our ecosystem healthier,” Walker says.
And it doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of all of your lawn. Lawns can be kept as pathways, or retained as accents to enhance a garden’s beauty.
Re-wilding your yard is not about sacrifice or untidiness, Walker notes. “It’s not about unruliness – you can still have order.” Think about the beauty of a wildflower or alpine meadow, she suggests. When you re-wild your yard, it means “you could have that in your garden.”
Where to buy native plants and seeds in the Calgary area:
Wild About Flowers
Bow Point Nursery
Wild plants that grow well in shady spots include dwarf dogwood and wild violet. Wild strawberries – “tiny but delicious,” Walker says – thrive in a mix of sun and shade. And plants that do well in sunny spots include goldenrod, bergamot, and native berries like saskatoons.
For information about the next Alberta Ecotrust Foundation Environmental Gathering and other Ecotrust Foundation events, please visit: albertaecotrust.com