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Plant Species Information

Groundcover surprise in Seattle

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When I was in Seattle, USA, recently for my son’s soccer tournament (they made it to the final!) I went hunting for coffee in the morning. My cheap Motel 6 didn’t have any coffee in the lobby, nor in the room. No problem.

So, I walked into the nearest gas station to get my dark roast which happened to come with a free banana. Even better; but no sign of the New York Times.

Surprise

On the way out I noticed a familiar looking groundcover with orange fruit. I recognized the foliage but had never seen the fruit. Imagine that, a new personal plant discovery at a gas station! I would later post my pictures in a Facebook group and some people laughed. Usually people post beautiful flowers from exotic, far away places. Not me; I get excited by gas station groundcovers.

I rushed to our cramped room to use the motel’s very wobbly and unsecured Wi-Fi to confirm that it was Rubus groundcover. I knew the evergreen foliage which is brownish on the underside.

There is lots to like about Rubus. It tolerates heat, the foliage is attractive and it’s evergreen; and it produces orange fruit which resembles Salmonberry. And it makes sense because the botanical name for Salmonberry is Rubus spectabilis. We know that Salmonberry is a native West Coast plant with edible berries.

I always buy travel insurance but just to be safe, I didn’t eat any of the groundcover berries. Back home when we go for a walk with the kids, we sample all ripe Salmonberries within reach.

The groundcover Rubus also shades out weeds which is important for gas station beds. In Canada, gas station owners have very limited landscaping budgets which is why most of gas stations look awful.

Awesome groundcover

I was really surprised to see a nice looking groundcover with fruit at a gas station. It works really well and it would work well in your garden as well. If you need groundcover plants, consider Rubus. It might even feed you.

On relaxed campsite landscaping

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I recently took my kids to Adams lake north of Chase, British Columbia. There they got to swim, ride in a motorboat and stay in a camper for the first time. And Daddy got a few days of rest which is critical for landscape professionals.

 

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Adams lake, British Columbia.

 

At the lake front is a collection of campers parked on leased lots. This makes everything safer and more fun. One feature of the community that delighted the kid’s mother was a nearby community washroom and shower building.

Of course, I didn’t stress about my kids showering because they swam in the clear lake every day. I also believe in not scrubbing away protective skin oils daily, unlike my wife, who is an expert on bacterial soaps.

All this leads us to the building mentioned above and its landscaping.

 

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What do you notice about the landscaping?

This bed is as relaxed as the setting. Just shooting the picture wasn’t relaxing because this was the women’s side and I didn’t want to arouse suspicion by taking too many pictures.

The plants look natural. They aren’t sheared into tight shapes they way their cousins are on strata title properties. It’s refreshing to see plants left to grow.

Also note that nobody is stressing about weeding. There are all sorts of wild grasses and weeds in this bed and nobody cares. It fits nicely into its natural setting.

The dwarf spruce and native Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) give us height; and there are small Hostas enjoying shade created by Euonymus alatus.

 

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Euonymus alatus

 

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Alchemilla

 

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Hosta

 

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Native Pacific ninebark

 

It was nice to spend Canada Day weekend with family at a lake and provide my kids with new experiences. But I also enjoyed seeing the relaxed landscaping which perfectly matched the relaxed setting. The plants were allowed to grow and look natural. It was nice to see.

Butterflies and cherry laurels: Why collecting new firsts is a lot of fun

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I really enjoy collecting new firsts. It makes my working life more exciting and, because I’m doing something for the first time, it becomes a good learning experience. Let’s examine two of my firsts from yesterday.

Butterflies

Yesterday, I was rushing my end of the day clean-up blow because my son had a soccer tournament to get to. Then I stopped to admire a Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). It flowers from June to September and clearly the flower panicles weren’t fully formed yet.

And then a butterfly showed up, attracted by the flowers and totally oblivious to my presence and the loud blower on my back. Finally I had my own picture of a Buddleia davidii with a butterfly, confirming the common name.

Now considered invasive, Buddleia davidii provides summer interest. Then when it starts to get out of control, we hack it up.

 

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Buddleia davidii (Butterfly bush) with a butterfly; my first photo confirming the common name.

 

Prunus hedges

I’ve seen and worked with English laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) before but the Genolia variety is new to me. This fastigiate cherry laurel (Prunus is in the cherry family) is perfect for privacy screens because it has a more upright habit (fastigiate). It also handles partial shade.

The upright habit and shade tolerance were critical factors in my project area.

 

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I had just taken out four dead cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd‘) from under a Styrax japonica tree. Obviously, replanting with the same cedars would be suspicious so in went the fastigiate cherry laurel. It can handle full sun, partial sun and shade; in this location it will get some sun and lots of shade.

The upright habit will help the homeowner create a privacy screen between his unit and the walkway. Plus the glossy green leaves are very attractive. The cherry laurel will also flower.

I watered the laurels in nicely and checked the planting depth afterwards. I got my first ever Prunus laurocerasus Genolia planting done; and the owner was extremely happy to get his dead cedars replaced. I can’t wait to check on the hedge later in the season.

 

Can your beds have too much colour?

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Before we get to the title question, let me set this up. Some weeks ago I walked into a local store looking for summer fertilizer. No luck. But I did find several specimens of Orange New Zealand sedge (Carex testacea) marked for clearance at $2. Two dollars? That’s right, just two dollars for a sedge with attractive foliage. And you don’t have to touch it all year. I bought one for each hand and walked out with a smile.

Now, why wouldn’t a sedge fly off the shelves? Because it doesn’t sport any bright colours!

Beauty or chaos?

 

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Can your beds have too much colour? When I see beds like the one pictured above I feel chaos because my eyes don’t know where to focus. I need calm and tranquility. And of course, this is all super subjective. I’m sure the owner is super happy about her garden.

I’m not judging anybody. I’m happy people have time to garden because it’s good for them, both physically and mentally.

Also, I’m not a garden designer. If I was, I would know the technical terms for too much colour. I just know my feeling of unease. So I had to write a blog post about it so I can let it go.

 

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Once again, this is too much colour for me. When I walk by, this bed does nothing for me because my eyes can’t rest.

 

Tranquility

 

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This is what I like. And you had to expect it from a dude who considers a $2 sedge a bargain. The flowering Thyme attracts lots of bees and it’s nicely bordered by Corral bells (Heuchera). Heucheras produce nice white flowers but they’re not super showy. It’s their deep purple foliage that rocks.

The yuccas add more white colour and height to the presentation. Best of all, my eyes aren’t pulled in many different directions. I can enjoy the view in peace. There, I said it, and now I can let it go.

Enjoy your garden this summer!

Learn to love your new Oakleaf Hydrangea

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This blog post is about oakleaf hydrangeas but I have to set it up a bit. It will make sense shortly.

Professional landscapers are more likely to hear a complaint than “thank you”. Sadly, that’s how it is. But there are exceptions. For example, one beautiful and large site treats its landscapers to a monthly lunch. Nice! In July it was a barbecue.

Smoke and fire!

Walking back to refuel my power shears, I noticed smoke between shrubs and assumed the barbecue was already on. I was wrong. A rebel worker was breaking WCB regulations by smoking on the job so I explained it to him in stronger language that doesn’t belong on this blog.

At lunch both crews assembled for the barbecue and minutes later one owner burst through the gate yelling “fire”. That would have been strange: ten people sitting around a table making small talk while a fire rages on.

What? No flowers?

The barbecue hosts eventually ran out of small talk and asked me why their new Oak leaf hydrangea wasn’t flowering. Well, like most hydrangeas they flower on the prior year’s wood. Since this was a new plant without flowers I told them to stay patient and wait for next season.

The owner replied that at 66 years of age, she didn’t have much time to wait for flowers. She has no choice.

 

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Brand new Oakleaf hydrangea. It will flower next season on the wood from this season, assuming the owners don’t prune it.

 

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This specimen was planted last year so the flowers are growing on last year’s wood. This is a common hydrangea habit.

 

LOVE IT!

 

Oak leaf hydrangeas are beautiful. I find the oak shaped leaves a nice break from regular hydrangea leaves. If you want some change, get one Oak leaf hydrangea for your garden. And if it doesn’t have any flowers, stay patient and don’t prune it.

Bonsai response in plants

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Bonsai” response is a term I learned from my mentor Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott. It happens when plants are under stress. In this blog post the stressor is lack of water but it could be something else.

The plant sends out new shoots from the base, trying to bonsai itself in response to the stress.  I learned this while going through Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott‘s new Great Courses course “The Science of Gardening“. You can read my blog post review of the course. All I will say here is that it’s highly recommended, if you can get it on sale. The regular price is brutal so forget it, unless you have deep pockets.

Site example

As soon as finished the course, I ran into a perfect example from one of my work sites. I normally float around amongst our work crews, helping and training. But, in 2018, we needed someone to take care of a small site so I did it once a week.

In spring we installed new beds on opposite corners. We planted Berberis thunbergii, Sedums, Pennisetums, Carex, Spireas and Japanese willows (Salix integra); and everything got mulched with river rock.

All of the plants developed nicely and the river rock kept weeds in check. But then summer hit and the differences were clearly visible. On the left corner lives a home gardener who waters regularly. On the right corner lives a busy family. Both have garden hoses close by. Let’s talk about the right side.

The tips of the Japanese willow shoots were turning brown so I watered the bed every week. My boss doesn’t normally like to do this but, hey, he wasn’t there and I have research to do for my blog posts.

Then I started noticing new shoots developing lower on the main stem. This was clearly the plant’s bonsai response to water stress. The left bed specimen didn’t do this because the home gardener watered regularly

I didn’t prune off the bonsai shoots until winter 2019. We will see what happens in spring.

 

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Salix integra watered by home owner. Stem and crown look normal.

 

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Salix integra ignored by home owner. Note the stem growth in response to water stress.

Plant ID eBook dream

By | Education, Plant Species Information | No Comments

One of my earlier blogs showcased my plant ID picture book specifically targeting strata landscape plants. New workers would come on and they would ask me the same plant identification questions over and over. Now, as a landscape supervisor, I’m paid well to help out as much as I can. But it does get repetitive. So I self-published an eBook on Amazon’s KDP with 100+ of the most common strata landscape plants.

Practice

It took a while but the whole thing finally clicked with a new worker last week. She stared at a Viburnum davidii shrub and asked me if it was a Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica). No, it wasn’t. Then she sighed and expressed her frustration with plant identification.

And I was ready! Why get frustrated when I put together an eBook for people like her. It’s nothing special. It’s just a simple picture collection of the most common plants we see on our strata (multi-family) sites. For the price of one regular Starbucks coffee you get a list of plants you’re guaranteed to see on your work sites. No tropical plants or vegetables, no fluff to waste your time.

Once you cover the basic 100+ plants, you should be good to go. Yes, the plants don’t repeat completely but I can handle questions about beautiful Ligularias. Viburnum davidii are fairly common.

 

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Viburnum davidii

Amazon

So the girl went home and bought a copy of my eBook. It’s a simple process and it’s extremely cheap. And every sale boosts my Amazon ranking, which is updated hourly. That’s why my Facebook post was called “#1 for an hour”.

 

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Why plant ID?

Plant ID is a critical skill for landscapers. Knowing plants speeds things up on site and avoids many embarrassing mistakes. It’s also something bosses expect you to have. After all, this worker wants to be in a foreman position next year which will lead to better pay. I will help her as much as I can, now that she’s my “client”.

I’m really happy that this whole thing worked out the way I envisioned it.

Plant photo essay: spring sun edition

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I love sunny spring mornings. The plants look great in the sun and the mornings are still cool enough for me to thoroughly enjoy. Yes, the landscape is finally alive. I dream of these days when I work outside in the winter landscape. So let’s take a look at a few common plants I shot with my iPhone in the sun.

 

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Tulips don’t come back reliably every year so try to change them. Have some fun and experiment with different color combinations. I love this yellow red variety.

 

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It’s a riot when Rhododendrons are in full bloom. I don’t see too many yellow flowered Rhodos.

 

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Bergenia cordifolia is a fantastic perennial. I even devoted a short blog post to it. Enjoy the flowers and then just clip off the flower stalk when the show is over.

 

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Ribes sangiuneum has attractive early spring flowers.

 

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Mahonia aquifolium is a common landscape plant with prickles on its leaves. I like the warm yellow flowers on this landscape workhorse.

 

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Vinca minor is now considered an invasive groundcover plant but the purple flowers are attractive. I have salvaged Vinca in pots on my patio and they work well there. Garden centres still sell them.

 

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Euphorbia hybrid cvs. is hard to miss in the landscape because of its prominent flowers. If you have to prune them you will discover the sticky white sap that courses through the plant.

 

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Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are landscape all-stars. I love the reddish leaf margins.

 

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Katsura trees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) are stunning in full bloom.

 

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Magnolia trees are also flower champions but sadly the flowers don’t last very long. In full bloom the trees are stunning.

What’s growing in your garden? What are your favourite plants? Feel free to post a comment and share your favourites. I’m looking forward to working in more spring sun this week.

 

 

 

What’s so special about Heavenly bamboo?

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First visits on new contract sites are exciting because you never know what you will find. Chances are only the big boss has seen them. But as far as plants go, you shouldn’t expect too much because strata complex plants in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland tend to repeat.

So when I recently worked on a new site I was surprised to find many heavenly bamboos (Nandina domestica). And I mean many. I almost feel like the shrubs were on sale when the site was built. Which bring me to a question. What’s so special about Nandinas?

 

Red Berries

Nandina domestica is an upright, suckering evergreen shrub for moist, free-draining soil and full sun in a sheltered position. On strata sites there is definitely sheltering. Except I guess for boulevard corner beds.

Now for the obvious ornamental features: summer white flowers turn into red berries. The plant is grown for its red berries. Also, note the pinnate leaves.

 

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Summer flowers

 

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Red berries

 

Bushiness

Vigorous growth is produced from the base. This explains the suckering that goes on. Newly planted shrubs branch freely and this bushiness should be encouraged.

 

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Freshly planted baby Nandina.

 

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Note the suckering that’s going on to the right of this Nandina.

 

Pruning

Pruning can be done after a harsh winter and for shape. I gently snip the tops to bring the height down and cut out any stems that go side-ways.

Sometimes, long, unbranched stems are also thrown up through the plant. The correct procedure is to cut them down at ground level. If you prune them down they won’t break from your pruning points.

 

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Note the growth at ground level. Cut down the stems there and start over.

 

 

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This pruning doesn’t work. Nandina won’t re-grow from the cut points. I cut these stumps right at ground level hoping they will re-grow from there. We will see in spring.

Nandinas are fairly common shrubs on strata sites. I think the pinnate leaf and red berry combination is nice. But on this particular site the planting was a bit overdone.

Common strata plants

If you’re curious about what grows on your strata site you can purchase my pictorial guide on Amazon.

Common strata plants.

 

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References: “Essential Pruning Techniques” by George E. Brown, Timber Press, 2017, p.231

 

Winter plant identification

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January is the slow season in West Coast landscape maintenance but you can still have some fun by noticing landscape plants around you. They may not look their best but it’s great to examine them in winter. I still remember the shock of noticing the black berries on Black Mondo grass. I knew the plant but I never stopped to notice the berries. And that was just last winter, after many seasons of landscaping.

So let’s take a look at some of the plants I noticed on my strata sites.

 

Lonicera nitida sports nice purple berries but they can be hidden so stop and take a longer look. It’s a neat, evergreen shrub. It’s commonly sheared in tight spaces. My task was to remove ivy that was growing through it.

 

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Lonicera nitida

 

Acer griseum. This is one of my favourite trees because of its cinnamon coloured peeling bark. I never get tired of looking at the bark.

 

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Acer griseum

 

Viburnum bodnantense. This Viburnum is a treat in winter. The white and pink flowers are hard to miss on its bare branches.

 

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Viburnum bodnantense

 

Hamamelis mollis. Like the Viburnum above, these yellow flowers are a treat to see in winter. I normally hate spiders but the five spidery-looking petals look awesome.

 

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Hamamelis mollis

 

Cornus mas. If you can identify this tree from the picture below you are doing really well. It’s Cornelian cherry. The edible summer cherries can be turned into jam. I usually just buy jam at Superstore. At this particular site, the residents consider the trees “messy” because people and pets step on the ripe cherries. I would never call a tree “messy”.

 

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Cornus mas

 

Nandina domestica.

 

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Nandina domestica

It’s obviously planted for its ornamental berries (pictured above). The summer white flowers are also nice. This common landscape plant will be featured in the next blog.

 

Ophiopogon planiscapus.

 

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Black plants make me laugh and I’m glad they exist. Black Mondo grass is one of them. It’s a nice clumping border plant with ornamental berries. One fun project is seeing what plant combinations work with it.

 

January isn’t exactly my favourite time of the year to be in the landscape but if you stop to look carefully, you can find some colour. Take pictures and identify the plants you don’t know. Then think of spring.

E-book

To help strata owners and new landscape workers with basic plant identification, I’ve put together an e-book picture guide: Common Strata Plants. The point of the guide is that the plant list comes straight from strata sites. Once you learn the plants, they will repeat over and over on your other strata sites. I’ve done the basic listing for you. You can see my e-book details here.

 

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