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Sustainable Gardening Part 4: Focus on Climate Compatible Plants & Reducing Energy Use

This last part of our Sustainable Gardening series will focus on how plant choice and energy use effects sustainability.


Plant Choice:


Many of us incorporate annuals and perennials in our gardens.  Perennials come back year after year (but not indefinitely), and annuals are planted yearly.  Perennials generally have a season of bloom and annuals bloom all summer – that’s why the two pair so well. Because perennials don’t need to be planted each year, they promote sustainability for many reasons – less energy use, less water, etc.

That being said, planting perennials appropriate for the zone you live in so they return each year is really important. For us in the Edmonton area, we can use plants that grow in zones 1 – 4, with zone 4 being the highest zone with a good success rate.  Here a few suggestions for great perennials in those zones:

  • Zone 4 perennials: Ligularia, Calamagrostis Reed Grasses, Salvia, Fall Blooming Sedum, Solidago, Cimicifuga (Actea)
  • Zone 3 perennials: Euphorbia polychroma, Dictamnus, Peony, Lily, Hosta, Hemerocallis, Campanula Clips, Dicentra
  • Zone 2 perennials: Pulsatilla, Primula auricula, Phlox subulata, Alchemilla


Check out this link our blog on Fifteen Fab & Faithful Perennials for more details on great perennials performers for the Edmonton area. Keltie, can you make a link here?


The culture of native plants is fairly new to the horticultural industry and more are becoming available.  This is definitely a class of plant to keep your eye as it develops.



Reducing Energy Use to Tend Gardens


This isn’t an island to itself, other measures mentioned in parts 1-3 of this series all contribute to a smaller energy footprint.  Here are some ideas:

  • Consider using a manual lawn mower
  • Rain water collection
  • Gravity feed irrigation systems
  • Solar lighting for paths & walkways
  • Mulching reduces landfill quantities & the energy to get it there
  • Mulching lawnmower




Sustainability is something we can all work towards but it’s something that we can head towards one step at a time.  In some cases, it’s about redefining our definition of  pretty and what our expectations are to make it happen.  Everything we do to head in this direction contributes to keeping our world a good place for future generations.


Sustainable Gardening Part 3: Garden Design & Growing Food

Sustainable gardening not only has an impact on the future, but it also impacts our present because generally these gardening techniques make your life easier and decreases the amount of your own personal work. Let’s look at Garden Design and Food Cultivation ideas.

Garden Design:

The internet is ripe with ideas and designs for beautiful, efficient, and effective gardening to conserve water and energy, and to decrease runoff. There are many actual design blueprints that you could customize for your own yard.
All of the following could be their own separate blog topics and warrant more elaboration but this is a good launching pad:
• Raised bed gardening
• Square foot intensive gardening
• Container gardening
• Designs that encourage water to flow into flower beds
• Companion planting establishing symbiotic relationships
• Including perennials that attract pollinators
• Using recycled materials for your hard-scaping
• Using a brick or pea gravel pathways instead of a concrete footpath encourages water retention
• Use of trees and shrubs to decrease water evaporation
Check out this link for some amazing sustainable landscapes compiled by the American Society of Landscape Architects:

Food Cultivation:

Not only does growing your own food promote health, but it is also a way of keeping us active. Raised bed gardening and intensive square foot gardening are impressively productive and adaptable methods for the home gardener. When we grown our own food we can control how it is produced, reduce environmental impact regarding transportation. It reconnects us to the ebb & flow of weather patterns, and unites us as families & communities as we work together and help one another.
A few ideas to get started on growing your own food include:
• Growing a kitchen garden of herbs and / or veggies
• Exploring the use of edible flowers
• Companion planting – more productivity & benefits soil health
• Establishing perennial fruits and vegetables – for our area – things like: asparagus, chives, raspberries, strawberries
• Establish fruit trees and shrubs – apples, cherries, plums, haskaps, saskatoons
• No space? Get involved with a community garden

Part 4 of this discussion will take a look at Using Climate Compatible Plants and Reducing Energy Use.


Sustainable Gardening Part 2: Conserving Water Resources & Soil Protection

Sustainable gardening, a method of gardening that meets present needs and seeks to protect the continuation of gardening is becoming a large part of the horticultural discussion today. Two practices that encourage the legacy are conserving water resources and soil protection.
Let’s take a look at those.

Conserving Water Resources:

Fresh, clean water is an abundant luxury that we still have in Alberta. Being good stewards of our resources is to not take it for granted and to employ methods that protect it. Here are some ideas to help conserve water in our gardens.
• Using rain barrels to collect rain water
• Mulching – reduces water evaporation and decreases water consumption
• Using drought tolerant plants
• Grouping plants with similar water needs together
• Incorporating shade trees and windbreaks
• Decreasing the quantity of impermeable surfaces decreases the amount of water runoff
• Including swales to catch rain water and divert it into your garden
• Using a mulching lawn mower

Soil Protective Practices:

Finding methods to maintain and improve soil health will encourage sustainable legacy
• Employing preventative & alternative practices with the goal of decreasing use of herbicides and pesticides such as:
o Hand weeding
o Using Safer Soap
o Employing diatomaceous earth for deterring slugs and other soil borne pests
o Using other home remedies for bugs & weeds
• Mulching – builds up the soil & protects it from running off in heavy rains
• Composting – enriches the soil
• Using a mulching lawn mower and cutting the lawn at a higher height – builds up soil
• Rotating crops in a vegetable garden – promotes nutrient enhancement & prevents nutrient exhaustion
• Maintaining supple, malleable soil – promotes nutrient & water absorption

Stay tuned for part 3 on Sustainable Gardening design & growing of food.

Looking for a good, practical hands-on guide? Check out this article written by North Dakota State University.

Sustainable Gardening Part 1: Sustainable Gardening Defined

As we look to this new year of 2017 and begin planning for our spring gardens, let’s take a look at Sustainable Gardening, what it is and what it looks like. This blog will be the first in a series of 4 exploring sustainable gardening practices.

Sustainable development was defined by a UN World Commission on Environment and Development document entitled “Our Common Future” in 1987 as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Extrapolating on the concept of that definition and applying it to what we do in our gardens, sustainable gardening is one that is about good stewardship – taking responsible care of our resources so that our gardens will always be places that will grow productively for future generations – kind of like when your mom told you to always leave any place you’ve visited in better condition than when you found it.

Sustainable gardening practices reduce the workload of the gardener them self, and they focus on prevention and being proactive.

The following is a list of elements of sustainable gardening – none of these elements exist in isolation – they are interdependent and work together to that end.

Components of sustainable gardening include:
• Conserving water resources
• Incorporating soil protective practices
• Garden design that increases productivity
• Growing food
• Using climate compatible plants
• Reducing energy use

When looking at this as a whole, incorporating changes can be overwhelming but changes are made by moving forward one baby step at a time. In our next blog we will take a look at conserving water resources and soil protective practices more closely.