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Victoria considers switch to lower-maintenance native plants for its gardens

Goodbye roses. Hello kinnikinnick.
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VICTORIA, B.C.: DECEMBER 19, 2018-Plant beds in Stadacona Park in Victoria, B.C. December 19, 2018. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST). For City story by Bill Cleverley.

Goodbye roses. Hello kinnikinnick.

Victoria, the City of Gardens, which for years has boasted of its blossoms while the rest of the country shivers, could soon be ripping out its marigolds and geraniums and instead planting sword ferns, nodding onion and tall Oregon grape.

The idea is to “re-naturalize all beds” and it’s identified as an ongoing action item in city council’s draft strategic plan.

Any cost, time or water savings from re-naturalization are to be used “to further nurture the tree canopy and urban forest and natural areas,” the draft plan says.

“We don’t have limitless water. We don’t have limitless staff to be driving trucks around the city watering annuals,” Mayor Lisa Helps said of the initiative.

The move, part of climate leadership and environmental stewardship objectives, would exempt hanging baskets and Beacon Hill Park.

All other plantings are to be transitioned over the next four years.

“Our job as leaders of the city, as governors of the city, isn’t to maintain the status quo. We were elected to prepare for the future,” Helps said.

Bold action is needed amid warnings about climate change, she said.

City director of parks Thomas Soulliere is confident the change can be made without turning the City of Gardens into That Town With Salal.

“We have been the City of Gardens for many, many years and what I hear from folks on our team is that there are ways to acknowledge that still and move in this direction in responding to climate change,” Soulliere said.

Soulliere said staff are analyzing the proposal and will prepare a report to council on its implications. Some of the work has already begun through replanting of annual beds on road medians.

“Something that’s a little more resistant to drought, requires less ongoing maintenance and trips into those spaces. That was an area that stuck out to us in terms of worker safety,” he said.

Doing all the beds will be no small task. The city manages 851 shrub beds which include perennials, about 100 annual beds and another 75 planter displays.

“So that’s just over 1,000 we’d be looking at and that’s not including some of the spaces in Beacon Hill Park that are excluded,” he said.

The city also puts out about 1,300 flower baskets every year.

Meanwhile, changes for Beacon Hill Park are being eyed to help meet council’s reconciliation and Indigenous relations objectives.

The draft plan refers to Beacon Hill Park by its Indigenous name Meegan — Beacon Hill Park appears in brackets. It recommends that in 2020 the city begin exploration of the park’s co-governance with Lekwungen-speaking people.

Asked if the city is planning to rename Beacon Hill Park, Helps said: “Not necessarily.”

“But if we are exploring co-governance of that area we might want to talk about what the Lekwungen name for it is,” she said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com