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Growing in the North

Three perspectives on the challenges and rewards to gardening in Northern Alberta

with Amicis Gardens, Notikewin, AB; Back Forty Blooms, Grimshaw, AB and Sunscape Gardens, High Level, AB

Growing bedding plants and cut flowers in Northern Alberta is quite the challenge. There are many variables to navigate, including consideration for Northern Alberta’s different growing zones.

Those eager to rise to the challenge, however, are rewarded with beautiful plants and flowers—and the joy they bring to so many.

Meet the owners of Amicis Gardens, Sunscape Gardens and Back Forty Blooms.

Each operating in a different growing zone, they are among some of the many businesses in the region that spread joy by offering northern-grown products to households locally.

Lori Asmussen, Amicis Gardens

Lori Asmussen, 60, Owner of Amicis Gardens in Notikewin in the County of Northern Lights, began her business in 2012. She grows in Zone 2b.

“Amicis started off big,” said Asmussen. “We purchased the whole operation of four greenhouses, moved it, then built a retail store on our property.”

Amicis Gardens kicked off a new venture for Asmussen, which quickly became the best and most fulfilling job she has ever had. Although this will be her last season in business, Asmussen is grateful for the loyal support of her customers.

“Amicis is Latin for friends, family and loved ones, which is exactly what I had with my loyal customers,” said Asmussen.

Alexandra Barreira, Sunscape Gardens

Sunscape Gardens is a family-owned small business located in the heart of Mackenzie County, just eight kilometres north of High Level. Owned by Alexandra Barreira, 51, and her husband Tony, Sunscape Gardens opened its doors in 2000. They boast a beautiful greenhouse, garden centre and market garden. The Barreiras grow in Zone 2a.

“It was always a dream to have my own greenhouse business, as I have a horticulture degree from Germany,” said Barreira. “Since opening, we have added more greenhouse space, a small garden shop and expanded our outdoor growing spaces.”

Kristen Wald, Back Forty Blooms

Run by Kristen Wald, 33, Back Forty Blooms is a seasonal fresh cut flower farm located north of Grimshaw in the Warrensville area. This is Wald’s second year in business, but her fourth year growing cut flowers. Wald grows in Zone 3a.

“I have always loved gardening, but I really fell in love with the process of growing flowers and the happiness they bring me, so I decided to dive in,” said Wald.

Tips and Tricks

Asmussen, Barreira and Wald all agree growing in the North can be difficult, mainly due to working with a shorter growing season and not knowing what kind of extreme weather to expect.

So, to combat the challenges of growing gorgeous plants and flowers in the North, these gardeners have offered some tried and true tips and advice for those who may be interested in doing the same.

“In our area it is best to look for the hardiest varieties of plants,” said Asmussen. “You can plant for a slightly milder zone, but you will need to put in extra care for those plants.”

When it comes to growing for longer periods of time and upping your chances of success, Barreira’s tip is to get a greenhouse.

“Using a greenhouse allows us to push the limits and try varieties that would not do so well otherwise,” said Barreira. “We always encourage our customers to have their own backyard greenhouse to extend their growing season. It really is a game changer for northern gardening.”

Being self-taught, Wald recognizes there is more than one path to success when it comes to cultivating flowers.

“There are no mistakes in the garden,” said Wald. “Every season teaches me something new, and I am always learning. Learn through experimentation.”

While it’s not possible to know what to expect, being aware of the local growing zone, the predicted frost dates and checking the zones on perennials are helpful ways to get the best results.

“You have to keep your plants watered, especially your annuals,” said Asmussen. “It’s also important to select proper shade and sun plants for your area.”

Getting a head start can be imperative, so Wald recommends starting indoors to ensure blooms come earlier in the year.

“A lot of flower seeds can be started indoors well before your frost dates,” said Wald. “When growing flowers for production, I want to be able to have blooms as soon as possible, so this helps me get a head start.”

Why gardening?

When discussing their reasons for gardening, each woman had a unique motivation.

Asmussen finds gardening is a great way to relieve stress and relax. Barreira loves being less dependent on grocery stores since she can naturally grow her own vegetables. Wald gardens for the joy it brings.

“Nurturing these tiny little seeds for months and watching them become something beautiful is my favourite part. You get to watch the garden transform throughout the season. It’s truly amazing,” said Wald. “Flowers have been proven to bring happiness, so I hope to spread that kind of love with my flowers.”

“It’s so rewarding to watch tiny seeds flourish into tall, lush plants and beautiful blooms,” said Asmussen.

Growing in the North takes dedication, planning, hard work and hope.

“Where we live doesn’t always allow us to grow and enjoy the plants we usually see featured in magazines or gardening shows, but there is still a huge selection of plants that do well here, and I just love it,” said Barreira.


By Siobhan Kennedy | Photography Submitted

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