Garden Scene

The Scarboro Garden Scene

Our rural relatives

This summer was great for hiking and “flower spotting” in the mountains. Many of our garden plants have their distant relatives there, thriving without attention from us, without fertilizers or extra watering or man-produced mulches. They are survivors. They live alongside competitors, sometimes sheltered by them, sometimes providing shelter, and all eventually providing compost/mulch/natural fertilizer (returning nutrients to the soil); some of them, for example the paintbrushes, are parasites. Without being finely attuned to their microclimates – exposed hill tops, sheltered, moist valleys, both north and south sides of broad valleys like the Bow – they would not survive. One of the wonders for me is the realization that the natural community takes care of its needs as established over the millennia, in terms of providing food for its co-dependent partners in their reproductive cycles – pollinators normally arrive or come to life just at the time “their” plants need the pollen.

Some plants we are very familiar with but others preferentially or only grow at those higher elevations. I would love to grow bear grass, but it only grows in the mountains south of us: maybe our winters are too cold. Thinking of Waterton, the hot exposed slopes of Alberta’s southwest are home to mullein, a nuisance weed according to the Alberta government. Mullein’s relatives are sold as Verbascum in our garden centres, in a broad variety of colours and forms. Several of us grow Blazing Star (Liatris spicata), sometimes called Gayfeather, but our commercial varieties are much more robust than the native species.

One example of different varieties of plants inhabiting the high mountains compared to “down town” is the larch. The native Alpine or Lyall’s Larch grows at higher elevations in our local Rocky Mountains and is botanically Larix lyallii: it supplies our appealing golden colours in md-September. In Calgary we can buy the Siberian Larch (Larix siberica) and weeping larches such as L. Decidua ‘Pendula’ and ‘Puli’ … these weeping varieties take little room, so perhaps put them on your list for next spring?

Glynn Wright – with thanks to Scarboro residents    


Glynn Wright 



White Globe Flower

White Dryad, Cox Hill

Silky Scorpionweed, Phacelia sericea

Shooting Star, D. pulchellum


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