Article originally printed in Vacationland News July 3rd 2019 Issue.

As Janet and Grant Gibson locked up their McPhail Cove cabin last Fall, they knew when they next saw it, things were going to look drastically different. They had lost seven of their huge, old spruce trees in last year’s windstorm, and after paying to have the stumps removed, their yard had been left bare. “It looked quite unsightly,” says Grant. In August, the Gibsons consulted with the North Saskatchewan River Basin Council (NSRBC) to be participants in their Natural Edge program, and were soon visited by two of the program staff. The staff assessed the site and soil conditions, then drew up a design and planting plan, and the Gibsons approved it. “It seemed like such a marvellous opportunity, because we are not gardeners, and we don’t live here permanently,” says Grant, “and we liked the fact that they were going to make use of the natural environment … we had a lot of open space when the trees went down.”

“Two of the program people came back and did the planting after the Labour Day weekend,” says Janet. “We had closed up for the season, for the winter, because we only come up in the spring and summer.” Given that the brand new plants were unattended for a full nine months, the Gibsons weren’t sure what shape they would be in by the time they returned. “We were certainly concerned because it’s been so dry,” says Janet. “I thought how are these poor little plants going to survive with no water! But I thought, well if they can’t survive when it’s dry, they’re not the right plants for this environment … and my goodness, they did!” The Gibsons arrived in early June of this year, and for the first time saw their new yard. “We were really pleased, really pleased,” says Janet. “Thrilled! It looks as though we hired a fancy landscaper gardener,” she laughs.

Five different sections around the yard – in the front, back and sides – now have a variety of attractive perennials, shrubs, and trees (including tree guards), amidst a ground cover of red mulch. The Natural Edge program is the follow-up to the Shoreline Property Reports which were conducted by the NSRBC in 2016 and sent out to lakefront ratepayers at Emma, Christopher, and Anglin lakes. Those reports assessed each individual property – shoreline, beach, soil erosion, drainage – providing information and advice to make them healthier. Both of these programs are part of a national initiative by Watersheds Canada to revitalize lakes.

In general, the idea is to filter any runoff water before it enters the lake, to prevent soils from washing away, and to provide food and protection for wildlife (aquatic and terrestrial). From the Watersheds Canada website: Natural buffers of shrubs and trees can help filter water, reducing excess nutrients and particles from entering the lake. Excess nutrients can contribute to unwanted growth of aquatic vegetation or algae. Particles and eroding soils can reduce water clarity; and, over time, the settling particles can increase the rate of sedimentation, causing the lake to become shallower and changing the overall lake environment. Of course, healthy shrubs and trees, with various heights, leaves, berries, fruits, and flowers, provide essential sources of food and shelter for so many species of wildlife.

Thanks to funding by several organizations and branches of government, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, waterfront property owners are invited to participate in the Natural Edge program at only 25% of the total cost to naturalize their shorelines. Blossom Branger is the Special Projects Manager for the NSRBC, and was the designer/planter for the Gibsons. She said it took a day for her and her colleague to do all the planting at Janet and Grant’s cottage. “We reintroduced natural species that would grow in that area,” she explains, “plus introduced some species that would do well in those conditions. We try to cover as much area as we can, in order to hold the soil together.” To that end, they put in 19 Saskatoon bushes, 10 prickly rose, 10 blue fescue, 5 common juniper, 9 red-osier dogwood, and 5 black spruce.

The tab for everything came to $2153.00. The Gibsons paid $500.75. “You can’t even get all those plants for five hundred dollars, let alone the labour and the design and the mulch,” marvels Janet. “We’re really excited, it’s wonderful!” This year, says Blossom, the NSRBC will be planting at least four more property sites at Emma Lake, and one demonstration site. For more information on the Natural Edge program, email Blossom at

Jacquie Moore is a Carwin Park resident, and is on the Environmental Advisory Committee for the Lakeland District.