Encouraging sustainable gardening choices is the goal of Metro Vancouver’s new Grow Green Guide – which offers local plant recommendations and eco-friendly gardening ideas. Reducing the demand on our water supply is a part of the plan. This water wise strategy is being embraced by municipalities, commercial landscapers, educators, and individual homeowners.
Across the region, conserving water is becoming an important consideration in creating sustainable gardens. At Terra Nova Rural Farm Park in Richmond, the Water Wise demonstration garden provides visitors and community gardeners with examples of low water use options such as drip irrigation. In Vancouver, at the City Farmer demonstration gardens, the value of drip irrigation is just one of the key concepts for sustainable gardening shared by educator Lynsey Dobbie.
“So what we use is a hose which has lots of very small holes in it and is laid right in the bed beside the roots of the plants. This provides water right at the roots of the plant which is where it needs it and is healthiest for the plants. What we don’t want to do is provide water on the leaves. They don’t take water in through their leaves and also some plant diseases can be caused by having water that sits in the leaves of the plant.”
Lawns have traditionally been a popular landscaping choice for homeowners, but they need lots of water… and are susceptible to pests such as chafer beetles. Vancouver resident Karin England updated her front yard with an attractive, low maintenance alternative.
So by the spring of 2015 we had no lawn left. We had kind of the moonscape that’s left behind after chafer beetle, so I started doing research about lawn alternatives and I came across a garden in Sissinghurst which is a famous English garden where they had installed a thyme lawn and I thought that we could make it work.
There’s a mixture of three different varieties. There’s red creeping thyme, white creeping thyme and woolly thyme. This is almost a year later and it’s filled in very nicely and doing really well. I haven’t really watered it in almost a year, I don’t have to mow and the weeding is minimal. Most of the plants that are in the yard are very low water use and that was a conscious decision. The more water intensive plants are placed closer to the building on the north face, so it’s naturally damper there, more moist and I don’t have to water as much in that area.
Promoting water conservation is an important initiative for Metro Vancouver, and one of the reasons for the Grow Green Guide. At the Annacis Research Centre it’s also part of the landscape. Native vegetation, rainwater collection, and a green roof are key features of the building and the surrounding grounds. As commercial landscaper Sheldon Ridout notes, there’s another benefit beyond drought resistance.
“One of the benefits of using these more drought tolerant plants like lavendar and salvia and that sort of stuff is it’s also a pollinator attractant. You end up doing two things, you help with the pollinators which is a big thing right now, I’m a beekeeper as well, as well as you get plants that are flowering through the summer and you are not having to put a lot of effort into it.”
Karin England also had bees in mind with her plant selection.
(The) plants were selected because they were pollinator supporting and low water use. So there’s a salvia that the bees adore, again low water use, long blooming, Russian sage, blooms a bit later and again is attractive to bees… and perhaps my favourite plant in the garden, although not native and not necessarily low water use is a plant called Daphne. This one is long blooming and it starts in February and doesn’t quit until October and if you were here in the garden in person, that is the plant that is filling the garden with beautiful perfume.
As our gardeners note, when it comes to creating a sustainable garden, plant selection, location… and timing are important. The Grow Green Guide can help with all of it.
“People will try to plant stuff in June, July, August,” says Ridout. “And not realize that even though today we are on a June-uary sort of day, two weeks from now it could be 30 degrees outside and that plant you stuck in the ground is suffering all summer because you not watering it.”
“Don’t try and fight against what you have,” notes Lynsey Dobbie. “Work with the growing conditions you have and choose a plant that will thrive there, rather than a plant that will become stressed there.”
“When I speak to people about gardening everyone is looking for something they can do to help with the issues we are facing now,” says Karin England. “Habitat loss, pollinator decline, increased heat in the summer, increasing water restrictions. People are looking for easy, ready-to-go, trustworthy solutions for our local environment and Grow Green provides that.”