Native plant garden joins university’s landscape

ThumbGroundsDepSpring is a season of life — geese come back from long treks, trees bud and flowers bloom; spring unthaws the earth and welcomes the sun.

The bright season is also a perfect time for renewing our relationship with nature and discussing sustainability.

For Mount Royal University (MRU), a new garden is part of the plan to create a greener community.

Diana Fletcher, an instructor in Environmental Science, and Michelle Pisicoli, grounds supervisor at MRU came up with the idea of a native plant garden in order to increase biodiversity while decreasing labour costs.

The project was funded by the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, through a grant of $10,200.

Initial planting took place in August 2014 with 2,548 plants installed by the MRU grounds department. The garden is located just outside the hall leading to the recreation centre on Gautier Hillside. It is approximately 810 square metres and home to 50 different species of native fauna, including blue flax, common yarrow, geraniums and thimbleweed.Plants1A shipment of native plant plugs that are waiting to be installed.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Pisicoli

As members of MRU’s sustainability committee, Pisicoli and Fletcher were drawn to the idea, in part, to replace spaces requiring higher maintenance.

“This was something that I wanted to do for a while and [native plants] just seemed like a really logical choice,” Pisicoli said.

“It’s a hillside — a very steep hillside and it was problematic actually mowing it, so that was sort of what triggered this whole, ‘we need to find better ways of doing this.’ So, instead of high-maintenance, ridiculous slopes to mow we could have a beautiful, wild flower garden.”

Fletcher said, “As far as the sustainability committee, the reason we got involved was because it’s more sustainable to have native plants because you don’t have to take as much care of them.”

On top of reducing manpower, native plant gardens provide homes to a smaller ecosystem  in particular, bees and other insects.

“This was something that I wanted to do for a while and [native plants] just seemed like a really logical choice.”

Michelle Pisicoli, grounds supervisor with Mount Royal UniversityThey also contribute to the ‘pollinator pathway‘ — a movement founded in Seattle by Sarah Bergmann, an ecological architect. The idea is to reconnect green spaces and encourage a thriving community of pollinators.

“The pollinator pathway is all across Calgary — everybody is supposed to have a pathway where bees will get food and survive, so making the link here at Mount Royal is important,” Fletcher said.

Pisicoli added the importance of preserving native fauna and “increasing our biodiversity… especially nowadays — there’s all kinds of weird little introduced things like diseases and pests, so that’s one thing that we are trying to do in the department as well.”

After a massive snowstorm hit Calgary in September, not only did it take down trees across the city, but the garden was flattened.

Nevertheless, the duo hopes the plants will bounce back and bloom come spring. They also aspire for the garden to aid the Environmental Science department in educating students about succession  a planting method where one crop is placed on top of another – in this case, native fauna taking over the current grass beds.GroundsDepMount Royal University’s grounds department planted 2,548 native plants in August 2014.

Photo courtesy of Diana Fletcher

“Right now, we’re trying to get it established I guess, and we’re going to be monitoring it to see if they are starting to reseed themselves and how well they’re doing and things like that, and eventually it would be nice to have it as an education tool,” Pisicoli said.

Fletcher hopes the space will serve as an “auxiliary classroom,” with students not having to go as far to identify natural plants.

Both Pisicoli and Fletcher cite TD as the benefactor making the naturalization process possible.

“We want to give recognition to TD for their contribution,” Pisicoli said.

“They have helped us immensely with one of our ideas and made it come to life  no pun intended.”

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