Canmore - 51° 4' 60" N 115° 22' 7" W

Gardening in AgCan Zone 3b

I am the daughter (and grand-daughter) of farmers.  Both my sisters are farmers.  A significant proportion of my uncles, aunts and cousins are farmers.  My DNA is farm girl.  I understand the cycle of the seasons, time of the year, the wet years, the dry years, the years with a caterpillar plague, the affect of hail on fruit crops and taste the winter turnips in the milk.  A vegetable garden is second nature, fruit trees grace the backyard and flowers and a lawn, a year round pleasure.  But I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula; Australian Plant Hardiness Zone 4 (or AgCan Zone 9) where snow is non-existent and a frost is rare.

Now I live in Canmore; AgCan Hardiness Zone 3b.

This is a foreign world.  The trees are bare branches from October to May. Perennials are the plants that poke through the dirt in late April and die in the first frost in September.  Annuals are plants we buy each year to fill our pots and hanging baskets.  They last the summer and die - a long lasting cut flower really.

In our new home, we have a back garden.  We are looking to plant some trees along the fence.  How about some fruit trees?  Then we can pick our own fruit in the autumn and we'll have blossoms in the spring.  Fabulous!  Errr no.  We live in Canmore, in bear country.  We are not allowed to plant fruit trees as they attract the bears.

Okay, how about a nice cyprus hedge?  Lovely green and we won't clip it, just allow it to be wild and scraggy.  Hahaha!  Zone 3b remember?  Waaaay too cold for cyprus (seriously??).

Indian Paintbrush
Castilleja miniata
Right then, Mr Google, what can we plant?  Ahh birch trees.  Paper Birch, I love the colour and the way the bark peels.  Let's plant paper birch.  Hmmm, nope!  Whilst the Paper Birch is a Zone 3 tree, they are not Chinook tolerant.  For those unfamiliar with the Chinook, they are a wind, a warm wind that can raise the temperature 20°C in several hours.  To the non-Chinook tolerant tree, it thinks woohoo, it's Spring and sap starts pumping up its trunk to nourish the buds and then, bam, we are back to minus 30°C, the sap freezes, expands and thus kills the tree.  Ouch.

So to the tree nursery we go.  We pay a fortune for a few sticks that I am assured will turn into trees.  Several Trembling Aspen, a couple of River Birch and, the sole evergreen, a Rocky Mountain Fir which in 20 years may top the fence.  Trees done, now to flowers....

But I am smarter now.  Let's plant wild flowers in the garden.  They are native, they will grow!  I order wildflower seeds from a reputable nursery.  I buy a "High Diversity Wildflower Mix", Harebell, Indian Paintbrush and Brown Eyed Susan. Totally suitable for our steep garden, well drained, part shade...

Then I read the instructions:

I guess we are not having wildflowers this year, or next year....


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