A review of The Prairie Garden 2023: Climate Aware Gardening

By Darlene Belton, Master Gardener

A dire theme, one that many would rather avoid, is faced head on in this year’s edition of The Prairie Garden (TPG) that styles itself as ‘Western Canada’s only gardening annual’.

A vigorous mix of climate change and soil science for our region, viable plant options recommended by renowned cold-climate breeders, and practical strategies for increasing the resilience of one’s home garden eases the reader into this urgent topic, even fostering enthusiasm to ‘get at it’.

The well-chosen, even gentle, wording of the theme title, ‘climate-aware gardening’, speaks to our continuing need to pursue our passions even while adjusting to the new realities we can no longer deny.

Guest editor, Danny Blair, a climatologist, geography professor and co-director of the University of Winnipeg-based Prairie Climate Centre, launches the discussion by presenting the most likely climate change futures for the prairie region, summarizing that “the American climate migrates northward” and “plant hardiness zones are on the move”. By looking south, he says we can find ‘analogues’ of regions whose climate we may soon experience under either lower or higher carbon emissions scenarios – such as that of eastern Kansas state under a high-carbon future where right now close to sixty +30C days are the norm. Danny concludes that being forewarned allows one to become forearmed “to continue to be a productive and happy prairie gardener”.

Then follows a cornucopia of articles describing how prairie gardeners can adapt their spaces to withstand drought, deluges and the invasive pests and diseases that also move northward, while promoting ecological diversity particularly of native pollinators, as well as to make appropriate plant choices for the future including, but not limited to, native perennials, shrubs and trees.

A few highlights:
• University of Saskatchewan horticulture extension education coordinator, Vanessa Young’s two highly readable articles succinctly present the salient points from the new soil bioscience that relate to gardens and gardening practices. Vanessa offers strategies anyone can use to build healthy living soil that supports pest and disease-resistant plants able to stand strong against climate change stressors.
• MMGA member, Derek Yarnell, M.G., who is completing the landscape design for climate resilience program of Toronto’s Metropolitan University, reflects on the early results of his multi-year home garden project to reduce lawn and build plant and pollinator diversity and resilience.
• With the anxious attention today on the benefits of and stressors particularly on urban forests, well-known breeder of prairie hardy trees, shrubs and perennials, Rick Durand’s question, “Which prairie trees will survive climate change?” could not be more pertinent. He says that the trees we consider ‘native’ actually migrated here from the Midwestern USA (i.e., Kansas region) after the last ice age, adapting to our much harsher climate in the process. Tree species that survive the current climate changes, Rick notes, will be drought resistant, with a preference for grouping themselves into forests. He lists some species that are likely to be climate change survivors and refers readers to the ongoing prairie tree hardiness trials, with results at www.prairietrees.ca.

In all, 37 of the 59 articles in the 2023 edition are on theme 1 , providing a wide choice to fit individual interests and to satisfy readers’ needs for practical, proactive coping strategies and up-to-date, well-balanced information about climate change in the northern prairies.

The Prairie Garden is produced and marketed annually by an all-volunteer committee based in Winnipeg and is always interested in new volunteers. Several committee members and contributors to this and other editions are MMGA members.

1 It is TPG’s policy to include approximately 30% non-theme articles per edition, to ensure there are articles of interest to a wide range of gardeners.

Published: March 2023