Garry Oak Ecosystem Project

With permission, I swiped the following post from the blog of Mike Kearns, Superintendent at Crown Isle Resort and Golf Community in Courtenay BC. I've been following Mikes blog closely in anticipation for more info of his Garry Oak project. Mike goes in to excellent detail of the project in his Case Study, as part of his Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program Certification. Thanks Mike and Judy for allowing us to spread the word of your efforts, find the whole case study after the jump!

Garry Oak meadow with camas lilies, Uplands Park (photo by Chris Junck)
Garry oaks are native to our region.  They grow 50 to 90 feet tall and possibly wider, and can live for hundreds of years.  Because of human development, these oaks and their associated ecosystems are disappearing.
From the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) website (
“Collectively, Garry oak and associated ecosystems are among the most endangered in Canada.  Once common in coastal areas of southwest British Columbia, less than 5% of these ecosystems remain in near-natural condition.  Most of the remnants are in isolated, fragmented communities that have no connection to other Garry oak communities, thereby reducing migration of populations or mixing of genetic material of species from one area to another. At this time, because so much habitat has been lost or degraded, 116 species of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, butterflies and other insects are officially listed as “at risk” in these ecosystems.”
Of the 690 hectares of Garry oak ecosystem recorded around Comox/Denman Island/Hornby Island in 1800, only 75 hectares remained in 2003.  (
We felt that the installation of a Garry Oak meadow would make for a meaningful project because:
  • It increases the amount of Garry oak ecosystem.
  • It provides another “island” of ecosystem for associated species to utilize.
  • The Garry oak and the plants associated with it are perfectly adapted to conditions in our area.  Once established, they will require little or no supplemental water, and no fertilizer.
  • The tree and the associated ecosystems are visually stunning.  (Check, and other pages on the GOERT website.)
  • The average golfer/homeowner can relate to this project in a way that they would not relate to a Greens management project.  If they experience the beauty of this ecosystem and understand that every plant in it is perfectly adapted to our growing conditions, they might choose to incorporate plants from this ecosystem into their home landscape – creating more little patches of Garry oak ecosystems.
  • In documenting this project, we hope to encourage other golf courses to create patches of ecosystem that are at risk in their area.
  • Since Garry oaks are such large trees, space is crucial in growing one or more of these trees. Crown Isle has an asset that many homeowners do not — a very large property.
All in all, we felt this project had the potential for greater reach than anything else we could think of.
Site Selection
We chose our site carefully.  Even at a golf course, it is not easy to fit in such large trees.  In addition, Garry oaks are somewhat “untidy” – they hang onto their leaves for a long time, and they drop acorns.  To be a successful ecosystem rather than just a planting, those leaves and acorns need to be allowed to stay where they land.
Considering the prevailing winter winds, and our neighbours (as we are a residential course), it was decided that the left side of our 2nd hole was the best starting point.  In this area, the prevailing winter winds blow the leaves off the fairway, in the direction of our perimeter service road (rather than into someone’s yard).  This area also has the advantage of being a place where we can continue to expand the meadow.
From a wildlife standpoint, the proximity of the pond at the second hole is a plus.  The pond is 140 feet from the nearest tip of the Garry oak site.  The Garry oak ecosystem can expand right up to the pond in that direction, to cover about ¼ of the area outside the pond margin eventually.
Logistically, the site was close to our shop, soil compost area, and nursery.  Having materials close to the site made it more economical to create the new planting.
Prior to Planting
  • There are several existing trees at the site, including native Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and alder (Alnus spp.), and non-native oak (Quercus palustris) and birch (Betula spp.) The birches at this dry site are struggling and are quite unattractive aesthetically.
  • The site has good sun exposure and no apparent serious drainage issues.
  • The existing soil is likely somewhat sandy and gravelly, like much of our soil, but it has supported broom, various grasses and weeds.
  • Invasive broom was predominant, more so toward the service road.
  • The area was not irrigated.
The following plant material was used in the establishment of this meadow:
Qty                         Species
4                             Quercus garryana (Garry Oak)
7                              Ribes Sanguineum (Red Flowering Currant)
12                            Mahonia aquifolium (Tall Oregon Grape)
1                              Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon Berry)
45 pots                 Allium cernuum (Nodding Onion)
800                        Camassia quamash (Common Camas)
6                             Cornus canadensis (Bunchberry)
5                              Delphinium menziesii (Menzies Larkspur)
5                              Solidago canadensis (Goldenrod)
5                              Sedum spathulifolium (Broadleaf Stonecrop)
80                           Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
35                           Fragaria spp.  (Wild Strawberry)
10                            Antennaria dioica (Pussytoes)
1                              Philadelphus lewisii  (Mock Orange)
Map of Area

Goals and Results
As this is a project which will take many years to fully mature, the results will be measured over time.  However, we feel that there are already some measurable successes and benefits.
  • 4,700 square feet of Garry oak meadow/woodland is on its way into existence, to replace 4,700 square feet of broom and turf.  Broom has little or no wildlife value, and the Garry oak ecosystem will provide habitat for native species, including species at risk.
  • The communication of our project with Audubon International, so that it can be shared with other golf courses and interested parties. If there is an ecosystem at risk in their area, perhaps they will consider plantings that restore that ecosystem.
  • Encouraging Golf Course patrons to include plants from Garry Oak ecosystems in their home landscapes.  Again, this would create islands of plantings that help plant and animal species at risk.
  • Positive response from staff working on the project and from pedestrians using the service road as a walkway.  Even if all we did was remove broom, it would make people happy
In time, we expect that our ecosystem will:
  • Create visually stunning meadows and woodlands to replace our current broom-infested sites. When the meadow is in bloom from March to May, it will be a living advertisement for ecosystem restoration.
  • Once established, require little in the way of labour and materials to maintain it.  The plants included are perfectly suited to our growing conditions.
  • Increase the existing area of an endangered ecosystem.  We plan this to be a sustained effort, expanding our Garry oak ecosystem where future development and space allow
  • Establish our own Garry Oak “island” at Crown Isle, 0.8 miles from the “island” recently planted at the 150 Year Grove (Malahat Dr.), together we can provide connecting habitat for species at risk.
Garry oak ecosystems have a beauty and integrity that comes across clearly even in photographs.  They belong here, and seeing a living Garry oak ecosystem evolve on a golf course should be a very gratifying accomplishment.
Lorraine Waring for your donation of the Nodding Onion
The Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, and your very informative website
Our hardworking staff for all their work in helping us pull this project together.
Head Gardener Judy Stoutenburg for  her incredible effort  planning, organizing and documenting this project!!!
Mike Kearns, Superintendent, for allowing Turfhugger to re-post your case study.