Bad news for people who enjoyed Garden Making magazine

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All good things must come to an end. Sadly. One example is the Canadian garden magazine Garden Making. I received the bad news from Garden Making magazine last year. Because of declining advertising revenues, lack of subscribers, and the high cost of hiring good writers and photographers, the magazine didn’t make sense financially. So the beautifully produced print edition had to go. Great! Not what I wanted to hear.


The last No. 32


IMG_5007 (1)

The last print edition of Garden Making magazine.



So imagine my surprise in late March when I discovered Garden Making magazine issue no.32 in my mailbox. Yay! Did they find new money to continue? No. This was just one last issue called Garden Solutions. Which made me wonder if there was a solution to problems with publishing print copies of a garden magazine in the internet age.

The editors called their magazine a labour of love. And it really was. They hired good writers and photographers and every issue was a learning experience. Now all that remains is the online version. And I’m back to buying copies of Fine Gardening (USA) and Horticulture (USA). Sadly, there is nothing in printed form left in Canada.

Digital format

Maybe I’m overreacting because I subscribe to Horticulture magazine in digital format. Not because digital is better necessarily but because it is much, much cheaper. Viewed on my iPad, it’s totally acceptable and there is nothing to recycle. I just have to print any interesting articles for my files instead of cutting them out like I used to.

So now if you want to enjoy the Garden Making magazine you have to go online. I have to get used to it. It was just hard to let go of a beautifully designed garden magazine full of helpful information.

What publications do you read?

‘Common strata plants’ e-book for new landscapers released

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Common Strata Plants: A Guide for West Coast Landscapers

I finally realized one of my dream projects: to self-publish an e-book for new landscapers. Since the internet has revolutionized publishing this is a great time to put your stuff out into the world. Are you not convinced yet? Then read James Altucher’s blog on self-publishing.


Why publish an e-book with common strata plants? Because it’s part of my job to train new landscapers in the field. And plant identification skills are one big part of that training. After answering the same plant questions over and over, I had an idea. I realized that we could tweak it by putting the most common plant species we see on our strata complexes into one picture file. And then publishing it in electronic e-book format and making it available for download online.

Two key ideas

  1. Repetition: Plants on our strata complexes tend to repeat and that works in our favour. Once the new worker learns to recognize shrubs like Viburnum davidii he will see them on other sites.
  2. The list: The plant list I put together comes from strata sites and represents, what I believe, is a good starting point. So just take the list and learn it. There’s no need to consult thick reference manuals or spend time making your own list.


This was an important first run test because I have other projects in mind. So stay tuned by checking this blog. To read how I self-published the e-book, click here. Of course, the trick is to get new landscapers to download and flip through the e-book. I think employer incentives might help.

New workers are usually busy enough with machines and bedwork.  Plant knowledge comes later with experience. But let’s consider why plant ID is important.

a) Bedwork or finesse work can be completed faster when you can easily distinguish between plants and unwanted weeds. I’ve seen many new landscapers paralyzed in gardens because they weren’t sure what was what. If you’re not sure, don’t pull it. Don’t panic, just get better.

b) Landscape design requires exceptional plant knowledge. One day the new landscape worker might move up and pursue design work.

c) Nurseries only use botanical names so if you know your plants you can easily place orders and check them for accuracy. Always keep plant tags and study them.

d) Gardening, like design, depends on exceptional plant ID skills. I found this out when I apprenticed under my city gardener boss. Her plant ID knowledge was unbelievable. Eventually I found out where city gardeners make their money: in annual bed displays. The kicker is that when they meet they order new plants for next year by grouping their plant orders. You need knowledge and experience for this task. I respect all city gardeners for this.

e) Clients will stop you to ask questions and if you’re ready, you will impress them with your knowledge. As Red Seal journeyman on site I inevitable get called over by workers who are happy to deflect client questions to me. Great! I always take the heat.

f) One day your boss or client will take you for a site walk and ask for ideas. There won’t be time for Google searches. You have to suggest plants right there, on the spot. That can be stressful but not if you know some plants.


The plant picture book can be used by new landscapers as a starting point; and also by strata managers and strata unit owners who may wonder what’s growing on their sites. Knowing plant names makes communication with landscapers easier.


Common strata plants: A guide for West Coast Landscapers by Vas Sladek


Landscape horticulture apprentice Branden Dallas

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Since I challenged the Red Seal Journeyman Horticulturist exam, I missed out on the four winter school sessions all apprentices are required to go through. (I didn’t miss out on the hard work but I did avoid EI collection.)

It was interesting to catch up with Branden Dallas who was putting in his first work day after completing level two of the four year apprenticeship program. I asked him a few questions. His answers are edited but they follow the notes I took during our talk. This might be of interest to workers interested in taking the four year horticulture apprenticeship program. The program is win-win for all parties. The apprentice gains work experience and Red Seal status, the employer gets a decent worker for four years and, hopefully, beyond. Canada gains trained trades people.



Branden Dallas


V: Can you tell us about the program set-up?

B: The winter session at Burnaby Continuing Education goes for six weeks starting in early November. My employer sponsored me by employing me during the season, by completing all paperwork and by covering the $1250 school fee. While I’m in school, EI covers 55% of my regular pay. EI application is done by the student. There is a final exam to sit, three hours long. Course passing mark is 75%. Final grades are sent through e-mail.


V: What was your typical school day like?

B: The school days are Monday to Friday, 9 to 3:30 pm with one hour for lunch. We had four different instructors. Field trips happened at least once a week and I enjoyed all of them. In class we followed a printed manual and books like “Botany for gardeners“. [ By Brian Capon]




V: What was the best part of the school session?

B: Definitely machines. Machines like backhoes. I wasn’t the best in class at it but it was a fun challenge. We built up soil in a bed close to the school.


V: What was the worst part of the school session?

B: Soils! The instructor was a Ph.D. candidate and he crammed a lot of soil science into a few classes. My head was spinning at the end. It was dry.


V: What are your future plans?

B: I will work for my employer all year to gain important landscape work experience. Then I will register for level three of the program this winter.

If you are interested in landscape horticulture this is a great program for you and your employer.



Rhododendron pruning 101: rejuvenation

By | Education, gardening, Landscaping, Tips | One Comment

Three pruning actions on rhododendrons

There are three pruning actions associated with rhododendrons. One is the removal of spent flowers (trusses) and any diseased or dead wood. Most rhodos produce seeds and you can get your rhodo to concentrate on growth by removing the spent flowers. Do this soon after flowering before the new buds get big and set. I prefer hand pinching. Just be careful so you don’t injure the buds below. Use hand snips if you are worried.



Trusses still on



Trusses pinched off


The second pruning action is for shape. Just follow the branch down to the last whorl of leaves you want to keep and cut just above those leaves. This is what I recommend to clients who wish to keep their rhododendrons from getting too big.

But what if your rhodo is too big? Now what? In this case we employ pruning action three: rejuvenation, which sounds better than renovation. This involves bravely making large cuts and significantly reducing the plant size. This works because rhodos are special. Examine their bark and look for tiny pink dots. Those are latent buds. Always aim to cut above these buds. Best case: cut above a cluster of latent buds. Then watch.

One example

Here is one example from my work site. This rejuvenation pruning was done at a corner unit where there was a problem with vehicle sight lines. Drivers couldn’t see properly when turning. So out came the saw as soon as the request was made. This was the result.



Not much to look at right after pruning. Reduced to 30%.


A few weeks later…..



Latent buds popping



Latent buds in action, a cluster of four buds below the cut



Much better after a few weeks







September 2016



September 2016



Rhododendrons are forgiving plants. Pinch off flower clusters (trusses) soon after flowering and prune for size. Bravely make big cuts if rejuvenation is required.


References: Fine Gardening, issue 86.

The Hidden Life of Trees

By | Arborist Insights, Education | No Comments

The Hidden Life of Trees .

German author Peter Wohlleben will appear at the Writer’s Fest in Vancouver this coming October. This sounds very interesting. The Writer’s Fest run from October 17-23. The book will be published in English this September! I can’t wait. Greystone Books.


The Hidden Life of Trees



Tuesday October 18, 2016 10-11:30 a.m. Waterfront Theatre.

Peter Wohlleben spent more than 20 years working for the forestry commission in Germany before leaving to put his ideas of ecology into practice. He now runs an environmentally-friendly woodland in Huemmel, Germany, and also teaches and writes about woodlands and nature conservancy. His latest book, and English-language debut, is the international bestseller The Hidden Life of Trees, a collection of fascinating stories, supported by the latest scientific research, that reveal the extraordinary world of forests and illustrate how trees communicate and care for each other.

Peter Wohlleben’s appearance is made possible by the Goethe-Institut.
For tickets visit or call 604-681-6330

TreeFest 2016 in Coquitlam, BC

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TreeFest 2016 is a great family event. When I worked for the parks department at the City of Coquitlam, I got a chance to drive through the Riverview Hospital grounds briefly. I got to see the awesome trees that live on the grounds. Now, finally, it looks as though my Sunday September 11, 2016 will be free of any commitments and I will be able to attend one of the free tree walks. In the past there was always some interference in my schedule.

The tree tours start every hour from 11am until 3 pm. Usually they are led by local arborists. That should be fun. I can learn about trees and, as an arborist myself, enlarge my network. You should do the same this coming weekend. The tree tours promise to introduce you to significant and unusual trees. I can’t wait.

The TreeFest 2016 is a free event. There is also plenty of free parking on the grounds at 2601 Lougheed Highway, Coquitlam. There are plenty of other activities aside from the tree tours. Check out the event website for more details.

Speaking of significant and unusual trees, this is a good chance to mention my Japan 2016 trip from which I returned this week. I managed to run into many interesting trees on the West Coast of the big Honshu island. One I won’t soon forget is the Japanese chestnut Castanea crenata. It sports huge spiky cupules which develop from female flowers. Inside are 3-7 sweet, edible chestnuts. I love the way the cupules dominate the tree look. I became an instant fan.



Another interesting specimen is Lagerstroemia indica. Normally, I avoid the hot humid Japan summers by travelling in spring. That means I miss the flowers of this tree. Not this year. I had to take my pictures in 35 degree heat and it was worth it. The tree shows up in public parks and private residences.

The bark is smooth which explains why the Japanese common name is saru suberidai, or monkey slide. See for yourself.




Visit the TreeFest 2016 event in Coquitlam and make your own tree discoveries. See you there.



How to easily score education credits (CEUs)

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Hunting for education credits (CEUs) is one of my favorite activities. The idea is to force you to upgrade your skills by continually learning through reading, attending seminars, symposiums and taking quizzes. ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) requires me to collect 30 CEUs in one three year re-certification period. The re-certification renews on the date of your certification. June in my case.

The Landscape Industry Certified program in North America requires 24 CEUs every two years. Certification expires on December 31, every two years. In Canada, the CNLA will send a friendly reminder. There is a form to fill out and mail back.

To re-certify:

a) will cost you money but it’s cash well-spent. If you ask your employer nicely, it won’t cost you anything. The cost of not re-certifying is much higher. Re-certify!

b) normally one hour spent in class or reading equals one credit. By completing my eleven hour audiobook “Lab girl”, I will be eligible to claim eleven hours; a one-page book report is required.

So what does a West Coast landscape pro do to stay certified and up-to-date? Take a look at the picture for clues.




Arborist News

Arborist News magazine is published bi-monthly by the ISA and every issue has one CEU article for you to complete. You can fill in your answers and mail the form in or complete it online. The ISA will automatically add the credits to your file.

The magazine also advertises various books and manuals you can complete for CEUs. Get whatever interests you or where your knowledge is the weakest. There are tons of choices.

Can-West Hort Show

This is the premier horticulture show in British Columbia. I will attend the Urban Forester’s Symposium. Five hours of lectures equals five ISA CEUs. Lunch is included. ISA sign up form will be provided. Bring your certification number.

The CNLA will also credit me with five CEUs for this symposium. Then I have two more seminars on the following day. 1.5 hours x 2= 3 CEUs for a total of 8 towards my CLT.

The best part of this event is the plant ID contest booth. No CEUs are given here but you can win a prize and outscore your friends.

Also, it’s a great event for creating new contacts and maintaining existing ones. Some people I will only see once a year at this horticulture show!


As mentioned above, the CNLA will credit you for every hour spent reading green industry related books. Trees: their natural history by Peter A. Thomas was the one tree book recommended by Dr. Hope Jahren in her book “Lab girl”.I can’t think of a better way to collect CEUs.

Collecting CEUs for re-certification is not a pain. It’s a fun investment of your time and money. Stay current in your field and deliver great value to your company and clients.



Common landscape maintenance mistakes, vol. 2

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To Continue with our examination of common landscape maintenance mistakes we consider volume 2. Learning from other people’s mistakes is much better than on your own. The hard way. It’s time to work like pros.


A) Lawn hazards

Check your assigned mow areas for hazards like rocks, garbage and toys. Collisions with foreign objects can cause damage and injury. Get familiar with lawns you are about to cut for the first time. It’s time well spent.




B) Don’t mow around piles

I know this is a pain. Owner-generated piles on our lawns delay our progress but it’s horrible to ignore them. Don’t mow around them. Stop the mower and tarp the piles. Then continue. The owner will be happy and the grass will thank you for it.




C) No tree stubs

ISA certification is optional but good cuts are not. Never leave stubs. The tree can’t cover up the wound, the stub dies and could serve as an entry point for diseases. Look for the branch collar and make a nice cut. Don’t cut into the collar. That’s where protective cells live.








D) Tree bondage

Discourage tree owners from hanging things on their trees. Wires and ropes are forgotten until it’s too late. The ropes get embedded in the tree and can’t be extracted. Two problems: 1)  girdling eventually starves the upper portion of water and nutrients and leads to death; and 2) breakage occurs at the point of constriction.



A good illustration: everything above the point of constriction is dead, deprived of water and nutrients; life below the point of constriction; This tree owner loves bird feeders.



Clearly there is life below the constriction point; death above it



A dead Pinus contorta, strangled with arbor tie; this was clearly an attempt at staking a leaning tree

Keep these points in mind as you maintain your landscapes. Your boss and clients will thank you for it.

Garden freestyle

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As reported in the CNLA Newsbrief  (spring 2016, vol.25 issue 2, page 4) Garden Days are Canada’s Annual Celebration of Gardens and Gardening. It all starts with National Garden Day, always the Friday before Father’s Day. June 17-19 this year. That’s easy to remember for fathers.

This is basically a three-day freestyle celebration of gardens. People can visit their favourite gardens, work in their own gardens or stop by a garden centre for some inspiration. Some businesses organize barbecues, fundraisers, festivals or special sales. Lovers can enjoy a walk through botanical gardens.

This is what I did with my kids.

  1. We watered and checked our patio plants, a mix of annuals, perennials and plants that are being “parked” for the time being. The most interesting pot is a mix of wildflowers I received as a gift from my kids. I simply dumped the seeds out into a new pot and waited.
  2. When my son showed me his Minecraft house creation, I helped him improve the landscaping by adding more flowers. Virtual gardening. I said this was freestyle.
  3. On the way to soccer we walked by the Port Moody recreation centre and identified local trees, like cottonwoods which have a tendency to self-prune by dropping branches.
  4. Instead of my usual “fake” bedtime story, I told the kids about my audiobook “Lab girl” by Dr. Hope Jahren. In it she mentions resurrection plants; plants so brown and dead it’s hard to believe that with moisture they come back to life. They are the only plants that have figured out how to grow without being green!



Wildflower mix, a gift from my kids.



Extras from work: Begonias and Geraniums



A salvaged Bergenia



I always wanted to have my own Rudbeckias



We added more flowers to my son’s Minecraft creation


Did you get a chance to celebrate Garden Days?


European chafer beetle battles: more lawn, really?

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So your lawn has been damaged by animals looking for European chafer beetle grubs. Now what? Do nothing and look at the mess? Get more grass? Or give up and go for alternatives?

I have clients on the Westwood Plateau who last year witnessed black bears digging through their back yard lawn looking for chafer grubs. Their lawn was weak: areas covered by trampoline were mossy, there was no regular irrigation or fertilization. Chafer beetles laid eggs in it the previous June.



Heavy animal damage as they look for tasty grubs


I came to install mulch and prune their evergreens. Could I fix the damage? Yes, of course. Do regular lawn maintenance? With pleasure.

Client wants more grass

There are home owners who love, LOVE, their green grass. This particular home owner wanted more grass. He installed a new irrigation system, paid for my fix and ordered nematodes. The lawn will be cut bi-weekly and higher than in previous seasons.

Step 1: cut the lawn short and remove lawn chunks




Step 2: power rake the lawn, rake up the debris and mow it again

Step 3: install good lawn and garden soil and rake it in

Step 4: overseed, gently rake in seeds, add starter fertilizer, roll it with a pin to level any bumps and to ensure soil-seed contact; and water

Step 5: check for germination after 7+ days and overseed any obvious open spots

Step 6: order nematodes in June and apply them to the lawn in late summer/fall

Step 7: cut higher, irrigate and fertilize as required



Mid-July 2016 lawn fixed, regularly irrigated, nematode application pending


Clients who love their grass can repair their lawns, maintain them well, and apply beneficial nematodes in the third week of  July. There are no guarantees with nematodes but this home will be a good test site. More on nematodes in a future blog.