From manicured to messy: Embracing Mother Nature’s wisdom

Eric Vogan

many benefits. At Qualico Communities, we have learned a lot over the


past 20 years about the importance of wetlands and the positive impacts they have to the overall water quality in our urban and regional water cycles. We have come a long way from the original retention basins with a surrounding landscape of rocks and sod. Te current evolving practice of constructing wetlands

out of our storm water retention basins (SRBs) takes many cues from Mother Nature and her wisdom. Wetlands are very good at improving the water that enters into them. Te steps we take at the SRB level also improve the overall water quality and health of our rivers, lakes, and streams, where the water eventually ends up. At the same time, we have learned much about the role

that upland grasses and quality riparian areas play in this as well. Planting grasses around wetlands and creating passive parks filled with tall prairie grass and pollinating wildflowers not only improves water quality as it makes it way into the SRB, it attracts an influx of wildlife and brings people closer to the edge of nature. This is a relatively new method of designing public

spaces and SRBs. It requires a shift in thinking to maintain these green spaces and adjustments to practices, for both the municipalities that maintain them and the residents who live among them. Native grasses do not require frequent mowing or fer-

tilizers to thrive. Tey require minimal but timely care to ensure weeds are kept at bay and regrowth can blos- som. Tey are a lower maintenance alternative to sodded spaces but require maintenance departments to adopt a new mindset beyond just cutting grass. Weed pulling, spot spraying of herbicides and quinquennial burning are simple and infrequent methods to enable a native prairie landscape to flourish. Tis change in mindset also extends to public trails.

With regular upkeep, well-designed granular trails can be in place for decades without the need for significant

t is not surprising, given our prairie location, that we are pretty good at figuring out land drainage. However, doing it in an environmentally sensitive way provides

work, instead of maintaining and replacing an impervious asphalt trail every 20-25 years. Tere is much to appreciate in the naturalization of pas-

sive parks and constructed wetlands. Te sway of the tall grasses in the breeze, the change in colour throughout the seasons, sound of the crunching limestone underfoot and the array of birds that the habitat attracts. Tey are enjoy- able and calming and provide a special place to recreate. Communication is key in providing residents with the

knowledge to appreciate the purpose of native grasses and wetlands in order to do the right thing in caring for them. We have had great success in educating residents in our

communities on both the benefits and the best practices for maintaining native grasses on their property. It serves to influence a cultural transformation that recognizes and embraces the beauty of a landscape that does much more than what the eye can see. The benefits of naturalized public spaces and con-

structed wetlands are aplenty. As we continue to develop residential communities, we are moving away from mani- cured public spaces toward embracing Mother Nature’s messiness. However, we can’t get sloppy with Mother Nature’s work. Eric Vogan, Vice-President, Qualico Communities.

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10 Regional Times

Fall 2017

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