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Maureen Sexsmith-West

ISA Certified Arborist, PR-4600A

I am glad to be one of the old dogs that is open to learning new tricks. I enjoy learning techniques I can test out in my own space and share this knowledge with clients. While trees are my first love, I appreciate a pretty flower outside my office window. The best landscapes allow for a balance of plant materials, color, form and uses.

Recently, I participated in a Xeriscaping Workshop sponsored by the Oldman Watershed Council. At the head of the classroom of enthusiastic students was Steve McRae, M.Sc. P.Ag, instructor at Lethbridge College. Steve also operates his own consulting company, Prairie Xeriscape Designs.

We were welcomed with hot coffee, muffins and a great lunch by local businesses (thanks Andrea). Steve brought along a great display of inspiring books to investigate. I know what to ask the Easter bunny for this year – a new item for my reference library.

Steve’s slide presentation was excellent as he covered all the key elements in planning a Xeriscape design. What was especially great was the series of slides that showed the progress of his own yard from a bare canvas to an incredibly lush, low maintenance display over the past 5-6 years. It highlighted proper plant spacing for mature growth. This is key to keep your initial investment and the aftercare needs lower. What was most surprising was the absence of any irrigation systems. Aside from watering during the establishment period (two seasons), he rarely has to put a hose to his front yard. This resulted in an initial savings and reduced water usage over the life of the installation. He capitalizes on snow capture and overwintering sites for ladybugs by NOT pruning down perennials until March annually. The design provided for spaces to push snow drive walks and drives so that he didn’t have to risk damaging shrubs. Perennials can tolerate the weight of snow much better since the crown is dormant. His design provided a bouquet of colors from early spring to frost with trees and shrubs to provide vertical, year round interest. Students were able to test soil samples from their proposed growing sites for pH levels and composition to help in making appropriate plant selections.

He covered the importance of selecting foundation plants (TREES and SHRUBS) as well as a wide range of native grasses and flowers great for our region.

You do want to be careful to check out local weed by-laws and the provincial prohibited plant list (Invasive Plant Council of AB), especially if you are planning to participate in plant exchanges this spring or visiting big box stores. When you shop at your local garden centres, you can be more confident that they don’t sell invasive plants.

The OMWC has published a great little booklet that includes 50 plant suggestions.

You can also check out the demonstration garden at the Lethbridge College (on the east side of the Cousins Building). Visit the Galt Museum’s garden for inspiration as well.

Most of the plants have labels to help you put together a shopping list.

The OMWC will have a display at the upcoming Lethbridge Home and Garden Show (March 13 – 16th) where you can pick up a wealth of information. They are also organizing a tour of Lethbridge Gardens in June, 2013. Watch their site for more details.

For more information or to purchase their booklet, contact the OMWC

Andrea Vaxvick, Program Coordinator Phone: (403) 381-5801

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