Stage 1 – Planning of Garry Oak Meadow + Native Plant Garden

There was a concern expressed by a visitor to the Commons in early Fall 2011 regarding the health of three Garry Oak Trees in the meadow and the feeling that over time, the five young Garry Oak trees on the site, when they grow to their full height, would create considerable shade over the garden.  Linda Chan met with  Dr. Val Schaffer,   Faculty Coordinator of the Restoration of Natural Systems Program at the University of Victoria at Spring Ridge Commons regarding this concern and Val  had proposed that Katherine Allen, a student with the Restoration of Natural Systems (RNS) Department at UVic be tasked with writing a restoration proposal as part of the Restoring Urban Nature RUN* project, an urban restoration project initiated by the University of Victoria’s Restoration of Natural Systems (RNS) Department.  Katherine completed a 29 page report  in January 2012 and in this report, Katherine felt that the majority of the young trees appeared to be relatively healthy and although these five trees show evidence of gall infestation, they were not likely at serious risk given the relatively low abundance of galls found on the trees.  Secondly,   Garry Oak trees are slow to grow and at their maturity in 70 or 80 years, Garry Oaks typically grow 12 to 35 meters tall, their main stem 60 to 270 centimeters in diameter (Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, 2012).  Katherine did feel that the Garry Oak Trees could, over time shade over the garden and she also was concerned about the close proximity of these trees.  In her report, she did recommend transplanting some of the Garry trees outlining the conditions in which this would be possible.   The Garry Oak trees would survive transplant only if the Garry Oak trees are small seedlings or saplings, as the taproot is not as developed and at this point in time (2014) these Garry Oak trees would have a more developed taproot and would not survive transplant.   In this report, Katherine also stated that  Garry oaks are considered an endangered species (Ministry of Forests and Range, 2011) and that Garry oaks are an integral part of our local landscape and must be preserved both in their native habitat and out.”  The Tree Preservation Bylaw (No. 05-106) of the City of Victoria (2005) states that the Garry oak is both a “protected tree” and “protected tree seedling”.    This means that a person must not cut down, alter or damage a Garry Oak tree without first obtaining a tree permit from the City (City of Victoria, 2005).  Later on in her report, Katherine stated that “Garry Oak ecosystems are greatly at risk and suggested that having a small piece of this ecosystem in Spring Ridge Commons would be one way of preserving local flora and fauna (birds and insects) species, while simultaneously educating the general public about the value of these ecosystems.”

In addition to making recommendations on the Garry Oak trees on site, Katherine also created a design for the proposed native edible garden and a sketch outlining a possible planting scheme.  For this garden, she had selected drought tolerant native plants which would be able to survive with little long-term maintenance.  The majority of plants selected for this garden would be edible with the exception of some herbaceous plants found in the Garry Oak meadow.   The purpose of planting native edible plants in Spring Ridge Commons is to provide food to the Commons (berries, nuts, bulbs, fiddleheads), while simultaneously preserving native plants and birds + insects and creating opportunities for learning about native plant species.  The native plants selected would be adapted to local soils and climate.  As such, they would require far less maintenance than do non-native plants.  A native edible garden in Spring Ridge Commons would have considerable education value.  Not only could local residents learn about native plants and ecosystems, but how to incorporate native foods into their diet.  Learning how to make jelly from salal berries, or how to pit cook camas bulbs is all part of the fun.  Indeed, ethnoecological knowledge can tell us a lot about how these plants were traditionally used from subsistance by local First Nations groups.

In Spring 2012, Katherine Allen and Linda Chan consulted with local agrologist Kendell Neilsen who also works for the City of Victoria Parks Dept. regarding the Garry Oaks and the Native Plant Garden.   Kendell did not recommend transplanting the Garry Oak trees – she felt the Garry Oak trees were sufficiently healthy and very slow growing so the garden was not at risk of being shaded plus it was not unusual for Garry Oak trees to grow close together.  However, at some future point, years down the road, if and when the Garry Oak trees did shade the garden, succession planning would dictate harvesting of the trees and re-purposing it into some alternative use (i.e. benches or mushroom logs).  On April 28th, 2012 Katherine Allen, Kendall Nielsen, Linda Chan  and a couple of members from the UVic Ecological Restoration Volunteer Network planted several native plants in the Native Plant Garden at Spring Ridge Commons.

In Spring 2013, two groups of  UVic Environmental Studies, ES 341 Ecological Restoration students worked on Restoration Projects at Spring Ridge Commons.  One group was tasked with the Design and Planning  of the Native Plant Garden and the other group was tasked with the Design and Planning of the  Garry Oak Meadow.  Each group produced a lengthly 30+ page report.   Assisting the students with their projects were Linda Chan, site coordinator, who answered questions and connected the students with other helpful contacts;  Todd Carnahan from Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) for helping to identify many of the plants in the garden and suggesting ideas for restoring the site including invaluable information on mulch; Thomas Munson and Michelle Gorman from the City of Victoria Parks for their extensive plant identification knowledge and suggestions of plant species to add to the garden plus information on mulching.   Sean Newton for his helpful suggestions in regard to the garden and fence.

In their Native Plant Garden Restoration Report, Ecological Restoration students Hannah Galloway, Nicole Goldring, Michael Li, Roleen Sevillena and Julia Warren stated that their restoration plan has been created with the hopes of increasing the biodiversity of the Native Plant Garden, in addition to increasing the garden’s cultural and educational values.

The goals that they set out were:

1.  Engage the community at large as well as reach out specifically to some of the numerous nearby schools and childcare centres, such as Victoria High School.  In reaching out to schools, the hope is to get children excited about the garden and nature in general.

2.  Manage the extent of non-native invasive species and minimize the extent of native invasive species.  Non-native invasive species are something that should not be in the Native Plant Garden; as far as native invasive species such as Snowberry, these need to be cut back and closely monitored so that they do not take over.  This can be achieved in part by putting a layer of mulch on the Native Plant Garden in late September.  Todd Carnahan from HAT suggested during a site walk, that putting a layer of mulch down would help suppress invasive species in the ground cover, and still allow native plants such as lilies, to grow through.  Doing this annually would be helpful in managing the garden.  Continued management is imperative to the well-being of this garden.  A plan should be created with a core volunteer group to ensure that specific tasks are met, such as mulching, weeding, and cutting back native invasive plants.

3.  Reduce the impact on the garden from recreational uses – The Native Plant Garden is a sensitive ecosystem that can be harmed when people and animals walk or run through it.  Constructing a small 1.5 feet fence of sticks and wood (keep the natural feel of garden)   around this garden area would encourage people to stay on the walking paths and putting up signs to inform the public about why it is bad for the Native Plant garden when people or dogs walk through it is advised.   Many people are likely unaware of the full impacts of letting their children or dogs run through the garden.  Putting up a few informative signs about the sensitivity of the ecosystem and the importance of not walking on it should help the situation.

4.  Establish a more diverse ecosystem with more pollinator, berry and drought resistant plants which are all important types of plants for natural systems. Diversity is important and especially in a garden of this size adding different native plants would be beneficial to keeping the ecosystem healthy.  Adding pollinator plants would attract insects that are good for the garden and increase its aesthetic value.  During a visit  to the site on February 8th, 2013, Todd Carnahan from HAT suggested removing some of the fennel that has shown up in the garden and replacing it with another plant such as red current or oregon grape, which are seen elsewhere in the garden.  He also suggested incorporating some more vibrant plants to add some color and increase appeal in order to make the garden more aesthetically pleasing.  It is also very important to include more plants that can flourish without human management and which work coherently together.  Given that this is a garden, it will always require quite a bit of management; however, adding species that work with each other and can thrive without much human management would help the garden be slightly more self-sufficient and allow more time for volunteers to focus on managing other things that require their attention.

The new design of the garden would be organized by the light requirements of the plants. The students recommended that the pollinator plants be on the south side of the garden to allow for maximum insolation exposure and that plants that prefer shade would be planted in the northeast corner of the garden.

In their Garry Oak Meadow Restoration Report,  Ecological Restoration students Riley Scott, Emma Graham, Adam Klein, Andrew Sylvester and Alec Young stated that their goal is to develop a restoration plan that would encourage community involvement as well as to maximize the ecological health of the site.

The goals they set out were:

1.  Increasing community involvement – The Spring Ridge Commons is a valuable piece of land that can be of benefit to many citizens located within its proximity.  Teaching each demographic, both young and old, that community gardens are a sustainable way to create and gather food is an essential strategy for food security.  The more involved a community gets with implementing gardens, benefits will be seen not only through food production but through an increase in biodiversity as well.  This goal can be met by visiting local schools to encourage use and maintenance of Spring Ridge Commons.  The involvement of local schools is a long term investment in human capital.  Not only will the connection to local schools allow for a substantial source of volunteers but it also can lead to community partners who have a vested interest in the welfare of Spring Ridge Commons.  Increased signage describing the plants and information boards that contain relevant contact info would also be helpful.  Increased community involvement will help Spring Ridge Commons stay clean, well groomed and will decrease the spread of invasive and unwanted species.

2.   Planting native species to strengthen biodiversity within Spring Ridge Commons.

3.  Remove invasive species – Pruning the branches of trees and plants as well as extracting invasives from Spring Ridge Commons is vital. Otherwise, one species growth that overflows onto another plot might hinder the growth of the plant that is being invaded (i.e.  Mustard (Brassica nigra):  Suppress with mulch,  Morning Glory (Ipomoea nil):  Extract physically and Couch Grass (Elymus repens):  Extract physically.

4.  Protect Garry Oak Ecosystem – The garry oak trees that are present within the Garry Oak meadow are important species within Spring Ridge Commons.  Garry oak trees can act as a habitat for many animals (i.e. birds + insects) as well as producing acorns, which can be harvested by both human and animals.  To ensure good health of the Garry Oak Meadow, it is essential that invasive species (i.e. couch grass)  be removed and  suppressed by using mulch with 1/2 cm layer of newspaper which would serve as a protective layer against regrowth.  While there are many positive aspects to mulch (helps moderate soil temperatures by keeping the soil warmer in winter and colder in summer), there are things to be weary of, especially when using mulch in a Garry Oak Ecosystem.  There is a need to stay at least 10 cm away from the base of the Garry Oak trees and to not cover an entire area in mulch as this would create an area which is over-saturated in nutrients.  Mulch can be applied in  a rough and irregular way which would create micro-habitats and will further decrease erosion. (Garry Oak Recovery Team, 2013).  Mulch can prevent the germination of native seeds that fall to the ground and may facilitate in the survival of invasive species that are in the process of being eradicated.  It can also contain non-native seeds, weeds and plant fragments that could grow once the mulching has been completed.

 

5.  Protect trees and plants in the Garry Oak Meadow – Many people that visit the garden would bring children or pets, mainly dogs to Spring Ridge Commons.  If they are allowed to roam freely throughout the garden then negative effects may occur. The students made the following recommendations:  Specify an area in the garden where parents with their children can sit and where dogs can be tied up;  Design a willow fence or have log barriers to safeguard the meadow so that people and animals do not trample across the plants; and Have signage that explains the sensitivity of the ecosystem and educates people on how they can help out.

The Design:   The Garry Oak Meadow would be a representation of the Southern Vancouver Island Garry Oak Meadow which would include the trees and Camus bulbs.  In addition, there would be inclusion of certain species of drought resistant shrubs that characterize Garry Oak Meadows as well as native plant species that have aestheically pleasing properties (ie. Shooting Star, Chocolate Lily, White Fawn Lily, Satin Flower, Nodding Onion, Sea Blush, Yellow Montane Violet, Red Columbine.)

 

* The primary goal of RUN is to “enhance an interconnected network of natural habitat and green space, restore the functionality of ecosystems and foster the connections between people and the environment in Greater Victoria.”

 

 

 

 

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