A lot of people move to Canmore from “nicer gardening” climates and don’t realize it is totally possible to have a great garden, even here. Look around you, this part of the world we inhabit has a super-lush amazing ecosystem. You just need to know what you’re dealing with, and it’s different than say, southern Ontario, or Saskatchewan.
Plant Hardiness Zone: The first thing to know is that Canmore’s growing zone is 2B. That’s low, but it’s not as bad as high up in the mountain peaks, or the Northern Tundra. It’s the warm end of Zone 2. Veseys lists 46 plants they sell that are hardy to Zone 2B or lower. Calgary is one step higher than us by the way, at 3A. Challenges facing plants trying to grow here include the short summers and long winters, the Chinook wind with its freeze-thaw going on all winter, and a Last Official Frost Date being in June (I’m not going to mention the First Official Frost date here…) so you really want to pay attention to the growing zone listed on the tag when you are buying a plant. Also be aware of micro climates in your yard that may make it possible for higher-zone plants (like Zone 3!!!) to thrive, like being located next to a building, south facing, sheltered from the wind, or near water, and if you are up with a balcony you will need to pay special attention to the wind.
Wildlife: The next big challenge to growing a garden here is wildlife. You need to consider the ungulates and lagomorphs (both indigenous and introduced) that are going to teach their babies about the amazing salad bar you are growing just for them. Most of us don’t have fences and we’re not going to be able to keep them out. Instead of fighting with the wildlife, choose plants they don’t want to eat, or that have co-evolved to enjoy being grazed. You can also just accept the fact that your garden is going to be an evolving organism that may have poppies for a couple of years and then one autumn evening a deer will come along and eat all the pods before they have a chance to re-seed again. Take a “the deer get some, I get some” attitude. It’s just less stressful. If it gets eaten, don’t plant more. You will also avoid a lot of grazing if you space the “grazables” around instead of planting them all together. If you are gardening on a balcony out of reach you will have different options than if you are gardening at ground level. The other wildlife factor to think about is what wildlife you want to attract (like hummingbirds) and what you don’t want (like bears).
Our short growing season: In case you hadn’t noticed, snow has a tendency to fall from the sky well into May and sometimes June. So the flora that lives here has to pack a lot of living into a short time. When choosing plants for your garden, it is a good idea to look for native species that have evolved for this climate. They get growing earlier, can tolerate a good snowfall, are adapted to our rain patterns so need less tap water, and generally need less work. Perennials are usually the first to show green in May. We have two great nurseries nearby, Bow Point Nursery (trees and woody shrubs) in Springbank, and Wild About Flowers(flowers and grass) in Black Diamond that specialize in native plants that are 100% hardy to here. The Town of Canmore has used their products in their landscaping and there is a special native wildflower garden by the bridge if you need inspiration. They have both come to do presentations for several years at the beginning of May. If it’s growing in the wild without any help from us, it should grow very nicely in your garden (with a few exceptions). A note of caution: Be aware of invasive introduced species that will and are taking over and displacing native plants. The Town has information on their website, and prints ads offering information about these problem plants, which include oxeye daisy, scentless camomile, cranesbill and yellow clematis.
What are your neighbors growing? If you see a great garden, find out whom it belongs to and go ask for advice. Gardeners love talking about their plants. The hospital has a fantastic garden that is thriving and blooming already. Plants I have seen growing well in gardens here include dianthus, pinks, chives, columbine, gentians, penstemons, potentilla, tulips (watch the grazing), poppies (ditto), sunflowers, hen-and-chicks, walking onions, blue onions, honeysuckle, sweet peas, begonias, bergamot, thyme, ornamental sage, bleeding hearts, lilies, Siberian iris, monkshood, delphinium, wild rose, lilacs, lupine, echinacea, rudbeckia, rhubarb, potatoes, muscari, calendula, violas and johnny-jump-ups, and some types of mint, for a start. Many of these are grazing resistant or tolerant. There is a huge wealth of knowledge and experience among Canmore Community Garden members, if you need ideas and advice.
If you have a favorite plant or flower that grows well for you in your garden please tell us about it! Happy gardening!
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