By Diane Daignault, Master Gardener and Project Manager
On many mornings I walk my dog Pippin along the Sturgeon Creek Greenway Trail in St. James.
There is a section along the trail which has a naturalized tall grass prairie; approximately 3000m2 with various types of grasses, such as big bluestem and various native plants; purple prairie clover, blanket flower, prairie rose, smooth aster, stiff sunflower and wild flax.
As I walked along the pathway I would think to myself how beautiful it would be to have more native plants and colour throughout the area, which would also provide more habitat for the pollinators and birds. The more I thought about it, the more I could picture it. I felt this would be a worthwhile volunteer project and decided to research how a vision could become a reality.
I knew I could not do this on my own that’s for sure! I did know, being a member of the MMGA and the David Suzuki Foundation-Butterflyway Project, I would not have to look far for support from fellow members. I thought the most likely place to start would be with members of my study group (Charleswood/St. James). However, before I could bring my idea to the group, my first step would be to contact my City Councillor to get the process rolling.
In April I reached out to my City Councillor and explained what I had in mind. He then put me in touch with Sarah Semmler, Curator at the Living Prairie Museum. I contacted Sarah and we talked about the area in question and my vision. Sarah then put me in touch with her co-worker, Kristin Tuchscherer, Naturalist Education Coordinator, Parks & Open Space, Naturalist Services Branch.
Kristin was very receptive to the project idea and she also liked the suggestion of having MMGA volunteers work in tandem with the Naturalist Services Branch. We both saw it as being a very hands on project, as well as an educational and learning opportunity for volunteers. There would also be opportunity to educate the community on native plants and the benefit of having such a habitat for pollinators and birds. We discussed the size of the proposed planting area, site preparation, maintenance, the types of native plants that could be planted, and volunteer opportunities. The wheels had been set in motion, I now needed to enlist the help of my fellow members.
I reached out to everyone in the study group to let them know about my idea and the proposed project. I was hopeful some of them would be interested. I was very happy to receive the interest and assistance from 11 study group members. Our project group members are MGs & MGITs (a few of us are also Butterflyway Rangers); Pam Bachewich, Nancy Edwards, Janet Epp, Brenda Evans, Judy Heppelle, Sharon Moffat, Joelle Potrebka, Virginia Stephenson, Diane Wall, Fran Wershler and Lisa Wong.
We meet virtually to discuss details and to plan the work ahead of us. This was all new to most of us. We did not know a lot about native plants, but knew we wanted to learn more about them. At the beginning we were not sure how big of a planting area we should be taking on. My initial thought was to start off small possibly a 10 x 10 sq ft area. It was hard to envision as most of the group had never been to the area so we made plans to meet at the site to get a better idea on what we were dealing with. As more discussion took place, it was decided we would go with a strip planting 4 x 25 feet along the walkway.
The first day at the site a group of 8 members were ready to get busy. We all brought various tools, shovels, wheelbarrow, pails, jugs of water and lots of newspaper. The first step of the project was site preparation; we measured and marked out the strip with flag pegs and then layered numerous sheets of wet newspaper on top of the strip and proceeded by covering this with a thick layer of wood chips about 8 to 10 inches. The Naturalist Services Branch graciously supplied us with a mountain of wood chips, as well as flag pegs and rakes.
June 30 – Site preparation – Lisa, Joelle, Virginia, Janet, Brenda, Diane D.
Lots of woodchips – Joelle and Lisa
We completed the 4 x 25 foot strip in 2 hours. It was a great feeling to finally get the project underway and accomplish what we did. Discussion took place whether to extend the planting strip as it looked hardly noticeable and didn’t really have the effect we were looking for. We hardly made a dent in the huge pile of wood chips, so we decided to go for it!
June 30 - 4x25 foot strip completed
The second time we gathered, we extended the strip another 15 feet. We met a third and final time at the site and decided to see how much more we could get done. We had lots of wood chips to use up! By the end of that night we had lengthened the strip planting to the size of 4 x 95 feet long. We were a determined working group, and were pleased with what we had accomplished, it looked very impressive!
July 6 – another 15ft added - Pam, Diane W, Diane D, Joelle
July 14 – 4 x 95ft strip completed
The plan was to leave the strip until the end of September and then start adding in the native plants. A few members of the group had also volunteered to assist in transplanting native seedlings at the Naturalist Services Branch native plant nursery. In July and August (1 day a week for 2 hours) we transplanted seedlings into growing tubes and potted up larger seedlings into pots. We also transplanted trees and shrubs into 1 gallon pots; highbush cranberry, Saskatoon berry, wolf willow (silverberry), basswood and hawthorn to name a few. There was a wide assortment of native plants to work with such as rudbeckia, bergamot, giant hyssop and Solomon’s seal.
At the city’s plant nursery -Virginia, Sharon, Brenda, Nancy
Road Block! Since September there had been construction in the direct vicinity of our project. Improvements to the walkway, light standards and new benches were being installed. This will bring more public traffic to the area which will also give our project more exposure. Our planting was delayed until late October, we did manage to plant a bur oak, sand cherry, a few native plants and seeds which were donated by the Naturalist Services Branch as well as from group members. More plantings will take place in spring 2022.
This was a real team-building project and we got to know one and another outside of our monthly virtual meetings. The project was also a great learning and educational experience for both MGs and MGITs. The following are comments from a few of the project members and also from Kristin at Naturalist Services Branch on how they viewed the project.
Joelle Potrebka, MG: “It’s great working on a project that will benefit the whole neighbourhood and increase awareness about planting native to help support the pollinators. I was impressed by how many people stopped to ask what we were doing and showed genuine enthusiasm for the project. We had a great team that couldn’t wait to dig in and get their hands dirty. It’s a bit disappointing that the timing of the work on the path may interfere with our planting. But I’m still optimistic that we will get some things in the ground this fall. Can’t wait to see it in a couple of years when in full bloom and buzzing with life!”
Nancy Edwards, MGIT: “I really enjoyed the work we did at the city’s plant nursery. Kristin and Shawnee were very enthusiastic to share their knowledge and skills around native plants – like some of the tricks involved in harvesting seed from different native species which I’m sure will come in handy. And I enjoyed the companionship and conversations with my fellow gardeners while transplanting what felt like thousands of seedlings.”
Lisa Wong, MGIT: “I found it very fulfilling to help out in a neighbourhood so close to my community. I gained knowledge working as an MGIT and will bring forth this experience.”
Kristin Tuchscherer, Naturalist Education Coordinator: “The Naturalist Services Branch’s partnership with the Manitoba Master Gardeners and Gardeners in Training has been a great success. The MMGA group assisted in our native plant nursery helping to nurture new plants not only for the Sturgeon Creek Greenway project, but also for Butterflyway projects and for other habitat restoration projects around the city. To work with such dedicated and passionate volunteers has been valuable with both volunteers and staff learning from each other
Planting October 26,2021 - Lisa, Nancy, Fran, Sharon, Virginia
Planting Day 2 - Virginia, Lisa, Fran, Joelle, and Merriam & Kristin from the Naturalist Services Branch
Planting the Bur Oak tree: Fran, Diane, Kristin (Naturalist Services Branch), Virginia
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta
Blanket flower, Gaillardia aristata
Big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii
Giant Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum
Lewis wild flax, Linum lewisii
Purple prairie-clover, Dalea purpurea
Prairie rose, Rosa arkansana
Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum
Smooth Aster, Symphyotrichum laeve
Stiff sunflower, Helianthus pauciflorus
Wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa
Trees and Shrubs:
Basswood, Tilia americana
Bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa
Hawthorn, Crataegus sp
Highbush cranberry, Viburnum opulus var Americanum (syn. V. trilobum)
Sand cherry, Prunus pumila
Saskatoon berry, Amelanchier alnifolia
Silverberry, wolf-willow, Elaeagnus commutata
Photos by Diane Daignault
Published: November 2021