Cesar Cala and Marichu Antonio

We came to Canada from the Philippines in 1996 and bought our house in Dalhousie in 1997. We weren’t sure how to look after our front yard and back yard lawns, especially during four different seasons. In the Philippines, we only had the sunny and the rainy seasons and people grew fruit trees and flowers in their yards, not lawns. During our first year in our house, a friend suggested that we use fertilizers and pesticides on our lawn. We stopped because our children got itchy after playing in the yard and my husband and I got migraine headaches.

We were very aware that any chemical we used on our lawn would end up contaminating our water supply and our air. We also did not want to support companies that spread poisons in our environment. The chemicals damage things that are healthy for us.  Besides, lawns also consume a lot of water. We felt there were much better uses for our money.

While we were clear about what could damage our health, our water and our environment, we were not quite knowledgeable and skilled about how we could deal with the problem of the soil quickly turning dry, and the weeds taking over the grass that is turning brown. No amount of mowing, aerating, or watering could remedy our fast deteriorating front yard. I was a bit worried about neighbours thinking that we were simply neglecting our front yard, yet my husband Cesar insisted that the use of chemicals is not a solution to having a healthy yard. We tried phoning the yellow pages but we could not find a genuinely chemical-free landscaper.

Work Crew - Summer 2006

After a few years of searching, in the summer of 2006, the local Sierra Club connected us to Laureen Rama, a landscaper with whom we shared a common vision for an alternative yard that is pesticide-free and chemical-free. She sat down with us and helped us re-design our front yard. We finally got rid of our lawn. Instead our front yard has some low pine trees, a cherry tree, a small flagstone patio, an arched trellis for climbing flowers, and many perennial flowers with wood chip mulch underneath. We are so delighted to see more birds and butterflies visiting and enjoying our yard. We got most of the perennial flowers from friend’s yards. Our landscaper hired a bobcat and dump truck to dig up and haul away
the lawn and the top eight inches of old soil. The trucker also brought a load of composted soil and a load of wood chip mulch. We had a work party of six newcomer friends spread the soil, prepare the base and lay the flagstone patio, plant the trees and flowers, and spread the wood chip mulch. That summer project was indeed an educational experience for us, our family and friends.

Work Crew - Summer 2006

Being quite unique in the neighborhood, our front yard has become a conversation piece. We have now met our neighbours who came to ask about our plants and tell us they appreciate what we’ve done, while a few have warned us about the challenges of maintaining such a yard. Our yard has also become a medium for increasing environmental awareness among our friends and family. For example, our children and parents now understand that the wood chips keep in moisture and add organic matter to the soil. As we walk through parks or visit gardens around the city, we could now identify perennial plants, native flowers, and trees that we used to overlook.

Summer 2007 - One Year Later!

Having a pesticide bylaw in Calgary may mean redefining what is beautiful in our landscaping. We want to appreciate and promote what grows naturally in the Calgary area, the diversity of plants and the richness of the interactions between the insects, plants, birds, and animals.