Alberta snapshot: Nose Hill.

A flashback to a very frosty, foggy, and spectacularly quiet November morning here in Calgary, before the snow arrived to stay.

Hope you’re enjoying your holiday preparations!  If you’re setting up your Christmas tree this weekend or putting up some lights (or if you already have), have fun watching this completely over-the-top way to do the job. Have a wonderful weekend!

Happy Monday!


What a fabulous start to the week!  We’ve had such a marvellous break in the weather in southern Alberta these past couple of days – a far cry from the wind and snowstorms of last week.  Although we’re not technically under the influence of a Chinook, the bright sunshine and balmy temperatures have gobbled up the snow and I came back from my walk on Nose Hill this afternoon with my boots caked in mud.  It felt positively spring-like!

I just wish I could somehow store this warmth for those upcoming days when it’s minus forty and blowing snow!  Surely someone can create an app for that?  😉

What have you got going on this week?  Any fun plans or new projects?   

Snow…a deer….



My hubby and I headed out for a walk before sunset yesterday, to a part of Nose Hill that we hadn’t been to before.  This handsome buck and his four does (not photographed) were so camouflaged by the landscape that we didn’t initially notice them below us in the deep ravine.

You can see how much snow we have already.  Another skiff of the white stuff fell this afternoon, and more is forecast for tomorrow.  I wouldn’t say I’m exactly gleeful about it, but I am looking forward to upcoming snowshoeing treks.  (And all the hot chocolate that is necessary to fortify myself for such outings!).   😉

Because I know I’ve put the song in your head…. 

Have a wonderful weekend!  Do you have plans for a nature walk or to spend some time in the garden? 

A gift of warmth.

Warm summer weather is FINALLY here…now if only I could figure out how to preserve it for winter!  Is that recipe on Pinterest somewhere?


Honeysuckle flowers up against a big blue Alberta sky, Nose Hill Park, Calgary. 

I hope you’re having a wonderful day full of sunshine!  What are your favourite “sunny day” things to do?

Wolf willow.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend wolf willow as a worthy addition to most* gardens, you can’t deny its good looks. Especially against a stormy sky:



Elaeagnus commutata (also known as silverberry) isn’t actually a willow at all – it’s a member of the Oleaster family and is related to buffaloberry (Shepherdia). While a beauty, it’s not an ideal ornamental in small gardens due to its invasive spreading root system, but if you have a large area with poor, infertile soil or a need for erosion control*, wolf willow may be very useful.  Proper siting is key!

You’ll find wolf willow all over southern Alberta, often in open prairie. There are quite a few of them on the hillsides high above the riverbanks in Bowmont Natural Area here in Calgary‘s northwest, and several “groves” of them in Nose Hill Park.  Bloomtime is mid-June, and boy, are they ever making a show (and smell) of it this year!  (Might have something to do with the extra rainwater).  Wolf willow flowers have a sweet scent that can be rather overpowering in large doses.


While rooting around the ‘net for some historical info about wolf willow, I came across several references to the shrub being used as decoration, food, and medicine by Native Americans.  Apparently, the berries were collected in the fall, boiled, and peeled to reveal the beautiful nutlets inside, dark brown seeds striped with bright yellow bands.  The seeds were pierced and used to make pretty necklaces often used as trade items, and they were often sewn onto garments.   (I will have to do some foraging later in the season and get my craft on!).  The berries were also mixed with animal fat and stored in a cool place to congeal, later enjoyed as a sweet.  Alternatively, the berries were cooked together with animal blood and eaten, which leads me to wonder what the berries taste like without the unappetizing additions.  (Apparently, my palate is picky).  Wolf willow bark was used to fashion baskets for transport and storage, and it was also made into a tonic to combat the symptoms of frostbite.¹

Wolf willow

Does wolf willow grow in your part of the world? Have you planted it in your garden?


Could it really be here?

It rained here last night, actual RAIN, not that frozen white stuff which made yet another appearance on Monday and Tuesday.  When I stepped outside this morning to head over to Nose Hill, I could smell it in the air.


This time, I suspect it’s for real.  The birds definitely think so.

And, apparently, so do the crocuses on Nose Hill.  It may be a bit cheesy to say so, but it made my heart absolutely sing to see the furry little guys.




I stopped off at Whispering Woods (recall my winter post here) on my way home to see if the crocuses had sprung up there, but none were to be found.  The aspens were putting on quite a show, though.


We’ve just pulled through EIGHT snow-filled months here in Alberta – boy, is it time to celebrate!  I’m eager to get out and begin that long-awaited clean up in my perennial beds.  What are your plans (gardening or otherwise) for this wonderful weekend?

Snow and shrikes.

Well…another day, another heavy snowfall warning:  this time we’re not at all fondly anticipating 25 cm (almost 10 inches) of the white stuff.  My flowerbeds are still covered in snow from the storm we had on Thursday!  Grrrrr….!   Caught between bouts of precipitation (and my struggle to learn patience), I took the time to head out for a long walk in Nose Hill Park yesterday.  I kept thinking back to last year around this time, when a similar trek uncovered hundreds of wild crocuses peeking out from the grasses…sigh.

IMG_5539(1) cropped

No wildflowers here….


(I have to apologize for the blurry photo – this was a handheld shot).  I’m uncertain whether this is a northern shrike (Lanius excubitor) or a loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) – if anyone can assist, I’d be grateful.  I’m horrible with bird ID, and I’ve actually never seen a shrike before.  According to the Alberta Birds Facebook page, a great many shrikes have been sighted all over northwest Calgary, Cochrane, and the recreational area of Big Hill Springs in recent days.  My bird book tells me that the northern shrike tends to stick to habitat in the far northern reaches of the province, and I don’t know if it is common behaviour for them to head south at this time of year.   I didn’t realize that these birds were so vicious – an entry in John Acorn et al’s Compact Guide to Alberta Birds states:

…the Northern Shrike relies on its sharp, hooked bill to catch and kill small birds or rodents.  Its tendency to impale its prey on thorns and barbs for later consumption has earned it the name ‘Butcher Bird’…Northern Shrikes have also been documented to kill other birds without any intention of eating them.

Yikes!  And there it was, looking so innocent and cute!


There are crocuses under there somewhere, I just know it….  🙂

I hope your weekend is full of sunshine!  Will you be able to get in some gardening?

Whispering Woods.

Just a few blocks from where I live, the students of a small elementary school called Dr. E.W. Coffin have adopted a park called Whispering Woods.  What makes Whispering Woods so special is that it is an outdoor learning facility, directly tied in to the students’ classroom curriculum. Through interpretive signs and nature walks (there’s even a seating area built for lectures), the children learn science and language skills, and explore concepts such as the stewardship of nature and the interconnectivity of ecosystems.

Whispering Woods is a small gully filled with aspen trees and native prairie grasses, a piece of land calved off of nearby Nose Hill (which you’ll recognize from my many mentions on this blog). The area was long ago isolated by the construction of a major road and it is surrounded by houses, the school, and a baseball diamond. Yet, when you get right down into the heart of this tiny copse of trees, you can actually forget about the rest of the city – you can’t see the buildings or fences, and the noise of the traffic seems to completely disappear.

I love heading over to Whispering Woods in late June, when the wild roses are still blooming – you can find a ton of them there. Apparently, it’s also a good location to spot crocuses, so I’ll have to make a trip in early April to see for myself. I took a walk into the woods early this morning, when everything was quiet (extra-nice-quiet due to the Family Day holiday here in Alberta). It was a chilly, grey morning and the only sounds were a couple of magpies chattering softly at each other in the trees (I think they were half-asleep) and the sizzling of the nearby power lines in the cold humid air. So beautiful!



Entrance sign (John Laurie Boulevard side, southwest of Nose Hill).



The interpretive signs incorporate the letters of the alphabet.



I’m thinking these belonged to a magpie….



And here I thought I was alone!  🙂

Where are your favourite places to go walking?

Find out more about Whispering Woods at NatureGround.

Wild for bergamot.

Taking advantage of a day off of work and some fabulously sunny weather, my hubby and I took a short jaunt up to Nose Hill Park yesterday. (As an aside, did you know that Calgary has the “most sunny days year-’round” of any place in Canada? Of course, there is also snow on the ground during most of those sunny days…we’re not exactly a beach community here. Still, if you’re looking for the clincher reason to live in Calgary, the sun has got to be it!). We didn’t see the deer and coyotes that frequent the Hill (although tracks were everywhere!), but we still found a ton of interesting things to look at and photograph.

One of my subjects was a dried clump of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). They grow everywhere on the Hill, and I especially enjoy watching the bees go absolutely mad for them in the summertime. A quick check in Linda Kershaw‘s guide to Alberta Wayside Wildflowers (2003, Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton) gives a bit of insight into the plant’s historical uses:

European settlers and Native peoples gathered this aromatic plant for flavouring salads, cooked vegetables and stews and for making a pleasant minty tea. Dried, powdered leaves were sprinkled on food to keep flies and other insects away and were rubbed onto hair, skin, clothing and even favourite horses as perfume.

Have you ever used bergamot (bee balm) leaves in cooking or for tea? And do you grow cultivated varieties of Monarda in your garden? They’re definitely on my list of plants to try in my own garden this year!