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Gardening in Cochrane part 1: Gardening in a tough climate

Gardening in Cochrane has its challenges but with a plan, it does not have to be overwhelming

Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series on gardening from Cochrane Eagle reporter Howard May. Second and third instalments will be published in the next two weeks in print and online.

You never want to say it too loud in this part of the world, but spring seems to be finally here.

And with that, people’s minds naturally turn towards what to do with their yard.

One of the growing trends over the past couple of years has been an uptick in interest in all things green – gardening, landscaping, and designing your dream yard.

According to a 2020 report from Dalhousie University examining home food gardening in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, just over half of Canadians surveyed grew at least one type of fruit or vegetable that year. And of those, nearly one in five (17.4 per cent) started growing their own food for the first time.

If you are planning on joining the trend, depending on where you live in or around Cochrane, you will be faced with a mixture of challenges: drought, wind, Chinooks, a lack of topsoil, and different combinations of sun and shade.

Callandra Caulfield of Backyard Harvest in Cochrane says the challenges of gardening in the town vary.

“We’re on the edge of a hail belt,” she said. “And if you’re a little bit outside of town or up here on the hill (Sunset Ridge) you might be in a Zone 3.

“If you’re right in downtown Cochrane, you might be approaching a Zone 4 if you’re lucky. But it’s still a pretty low growing zone.”

Caulfield said it’s hard to believe, but Cochrane actually experiences fewer frost-free growing days than Yellowknife.

A hardiness zone refers to a geographic area that encompasses a range of climatic conditions relevant to a plant’s growth and survival. The zones provide a guide for people to determine which plants may be a good choice for their area. Hardier plants can survive in a wide range of zones, whereas some picky plants will only grow in one or two zones.

If you live in one of Cochrane's newer outlying communities, such as Sunset Ridge, Riversong, Fireside, or Heartland, you may be facing an uphill battle where developers scraped away the topsoil before building your house and yard.

First-time green thumbs looking to try their hand at some of these skills may not know where to start.

Fear not, intrepid gardeners – help is on the way.

Caulfield outlined a three-part process at a recent presentation in Cochrane. The presentation was specifically targeted at local green thumbs looking to take on the tough growing conditions and realize their backyard dream.

Starting out in yard design may be intimidating for some, but if you follow a step-by-step process it doesn’t have to be.

The first step in the design process is to consider what you mean by your “dream” garden. There are numerous websites and magazines dedicated to beautiful designs from around the world that may provide inspiration. The library is also a good source.

This is the stage where you imagine your dream space, Caulfield says, and she encourages first-timers to let their imaginations run wild.

“Probably none of us is going to have Versailles in our backyard, but if that’s what you love, then that needs to go on your dreamscape board,” she said. “It’s about exploring what you love.”

She said you first need to explore what appeals to you as a starting point, then look at reality.

Caulfield offers an in-depth look at gardening here in Cochrane, and an opportunity to share experiences and ask questions about what might make your yard pop, in her upcoming classes on gardening design. The three-part Zoom course runs May 5, 12 and 19. For more information, visit backyardharvestproject.com.

Next week: Step Two in the design process: Values, Lifestyle and Priorities.