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Bad news for people who enjoyed Garden Making magazine

By | Education, gardening, Magazines | No Comments

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

 

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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?

Garden Making magazine scaling back

By | gardening, Magazines | No Comments

Garden Making magazine is the best garden magazine in Canada. It’s beautifully designed and full of interesting articles. So it was a bit distressing to read that the magazine’s publishing schedule is changing. Welcome to our digital age.

The magazine will not be published this fall. The next issue will come out in February 2018. You almost have to ask what the point is of publishing a magazine just twice a year. I will still buy it because I find consuming electronic garden magazines difficult. My Horticulture subscription is electronic by necessity, not by choice. I find the foreign print subscription charges way too high. So I get it delivered to my iPad.

Market realities

According to a letter from the publisher fewer people are subscribing to magazines and advertisers are diverting their spending to digital media. Those are the market realities. So I am encouraged to visit gardenmaking.com. And maybe I will.

But I also make frequent visits to my local Chapter’s and it’s obvious that magazines aren’t dead yet. Fine Gardening is my favourite US-based magazine and highly recommended.

I think Garden Making can do quite well in the digital landscape. They have a nice list of subscribers. And they also follow others in offering free e-books and tips in exchange for people’s e-mails. Then comes the digital format magazine and plenty of upsell. I know it. Get ready for it.

Electronic magazine publishing must be a breeze compared to print. The publisher and editor both admit in their editorial that publishing the print magazine is more about labour of love than profits. I believe them.

Clippings

I love to save clippings of interesting articles and plants. And as the files accumulate my wife tells me frequently what she thinks of this habit. Now it looks as though I will have to start making new folders on my laptop. Perhaps some change is good.

Still, the magazine’s new reduced publishing schedule is not what I wanted to hear. I really looked forward to receiving my quarterly issues. I would have loved to see bi-monthly issues.

What do YOU read? Leave comments, if you can.

 

 

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

By | Books, Education, gardening | No Comments

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?

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.

Testing!

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.

Conclusion

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

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“Caring for plants” Korean short story

By | gardening, Magazines, Reviews | No Comments

As I was browsing through the magazine section of my local public library I noticed a short story in the New Yorker magazine (July 10 & 17, 2017). Caring for plants, by Hye-young Pyun, translated from Korean. Sure, why not.

It all starts with our protagonist in hospital, badly crippled. There was a car accident and, sadly, we learn that the wife didn’t make it. This is where gardening comes in. The wife loved her garden. She cared for her flowers and shrubs but now the garden looked rough and abandoned.

I have some experience with abandoned gardens. One of my earlier blogs deals with a true story from Japan. The wife commits suicide and her husband lasts barely a year or two. Their little front garden is still there but it no longer gives anyone pleasure. It is sad to see the weeds and over-grown plants.

Our protagonist eventually gets well enough to go home but he’s still in rough shape. His first caregiver is a riot and by far the best character in the story. Then she gets fired. And the mother-in-law enters the picture. We know she is sad and mad. She never liked the cripple.

When she isn’t helping her son-in-law, she is out in the garden. She knows that this was her daughter’s favourite spot so she does what she can to keep it up. Then she starts digging holes in the far corner of the garden.

Our protagonist is slowly recovering and still has to crawl to make it to the washroom. Then he mentions to his physiotherapist that she has been feeding him extra pills. Wasn’t that unusual? Perhaps. The physiotherapist, too, gets axed.

Now the mother-in-law starts talking about money and budgets. The son finds it odd and then discovers that his resignation at work had been submitted without his prior knowledge.

Then one day, he crawls to the window and sees his mother-in-law planting new plants in the holes she had dug. But wait. Is that an extra large hole in the far corner of the garden? Here we get to exercise our imagination. Perhaps tomorrow there will be a large tree delivered? Or is it meant for our crippled son-in-law. It’s up to you to decide how he ends up there. An overdose looks imminent. I think.

If you have some extra time at night or on the weekend, read this short story and let me know how you think the story ends.

 

How to change your lawn mower oil in the field

By | Lawn Care, Tips | No Comments

Spring is here and weekly lawn care is part of our routine. Our commercial machines see daily use and work extremely hard for us as we deliver great looking lawn care.  On some days the mowers will run all day. Five days a week all the way to November.

Key changes

To keep the machines running well all year there are a few key things we can do them. We have to change oil, air filter, blades and pull cords. Luckily most of these tasks can be done in the field on the fly. Some landscape companies employ small engine mechanics, some take the machines back to their shops for maintenance. But to save time, it makes sense to make easy adjustments in the field.

 

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I love this light, simple commercial Honda mower.

 

I openly confess to struggling with machines. I prefer handling plant material. But again, my advice to all landscapers is to become total professionals by knowing everything. That includes machines. So I took notes today when our guys were changing oil in the field.

Oil change in the field

Let’s take a look at a simple commercial Honda push mower.

  1. Locate the oil tank.

 

 

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2. Now we need to extract the used oil. It might help to run the mower briefly so the oil flows better. We used a fluid evacuator. Simply stick the hose into your oil tank and start pumping until the oil is out.  Never pollute. Put the used oil into your empty oil container and recycle it at a proper facility.

 

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3. Replenish your oil with the proper formulation. Check the owner’s manual. We used 10W-30 Lucas oil. The Honda push mower requires 250mL of new oil. The exact amount will depend on the model of your lawn mower.

Frequency of oil changes will depend on actual use. Our machines work hard all season so we change the oil every two weeks. One oil change for every twenty to fifty hours of use is a general guide.

My old Honda mower sees limited action so I change the oil once a year. However, that might be a mistake. I think seasonal oil changes would be better: spring, summer and fall.

 

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A funnel and measuring cup

 

In conclusion, it’s obvious that your mower will run better and last longer with regular oil changes. It definitely pays to stop during your busy week to do this quick change. Schedule it into your week and do it.

 

 

 

When landscapers decorate their house walls

By | Species, Tips | No Comments

You can easily decorate your house walls on a budget. I like to decorate my apartment walls with pressed plants put into cheap wooden frames. I started this when I collected samples of my favorite tree, Albizia julibrissin (silk tree). I wanted to keep it but I didn’t have the money for nice picture frames. It was the same with pressed tree leaves I collected in Western Japan.

Pressing plants

It is unlikely that you have proper plant presses at home. Not to worry. You can use older, heavier books. Put your collected leaf and flower parts into the pages of your book. Do it gently. Also make sure they aren’t wet. Do your collecting on sunny days. Once it’s all in, stack other books on top and leave it for a few days.

While you wait, visit your nearest Dollarama store and pick up cheap wooden frames. Mine cost $2-3 each.

After a few days, check on your pressed samples. Install them in your wooden frames. I like to label mine but it’s optional. I also find it useful to tape the samples into place so they don’t move when I put the glass on top. That’s it. You’re done. You can decorate your study, your hallway or your garage. All on a budget.

Past collections

This project reminds me of my undergraduate years at the University of Saskatchewan. My plant systematics professor issued proper plant presses to all of his students. He gave us the task of collecting plants and bringing them to class in September. Great! Now what? I had visions of Charles Darwin hopping on a ship expedition and disappearing for years. My story is much, much humbler.

Since I also needed cash, I took a low-paying motel job in a southern Saskatchewan town called Eastend. Town is a flattering description. I remember the people as friendly if slightly freaked out by my East European accent. Years later, someone would discover dinosaur bones in the area and tourism would improve. I have no desire to ever return there.

The collecting didn’t go well at first. The landscape was dry, sporting only grasses and cactuses. Pressing succulent cactuses is a bad idea. I was so inexperienced, I actually tried it.

Then I got a lucky break when I met a local teacher. He was very happy to take me to a nearby coulee. The place was predictably nice and green and my presses filled up fast. Thanks to this kind teacher, several of my samples were accepted into the university’s herbarium collection. They bear my name for future plant students to see.

Cruising

While my samples were drying I hung out with my employer’s kids. That’s when I experienced small town cruising where young people drive up and down the main street in town. This is what happens when you travel properly. Not like a tourist but like an embedded person. It was a bizarre way to spend an evening. But it was authentic. Sadly that was my first and last cruising experience.

Results

 

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Allright ladder fun

By | gardening, Landscaping Equipment, Strata Maintenance, Tips | No Comments

Tripod ladders rule

Japanese-style tripod ladders are excellent landscape and garden tools! Out in the field helping one of our strata maintenance crews with pruning, I took my lunch and opened up the Vancouver Sun. There, on page B3 was an article on ladders by Steve Whysall. Happy coincidence!

Let’s get to the best part right away. The single peg on the ladder is brilliant because you can position it almost anywhere. It will fit through hedges and you can punch it into your soil for stability. The most common size is ten feet. Since I was pruning small hedges in tight entrances, the small six foot ladder was perfect. It’s light to carry and maneuver and it got me just high enough to perform my cedar shearing. Lifting the extendable shears above my shoulders is tiring and leads to needless exhaust sucking. Why do that? Always position yourself for maximum output and comfort.

 

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6 ft ladder is easy to maneuver in tight entrances and gets you just high enough to shear the cedars nicely

 

Safety

Obviously, the bigger the ladder and the higher you are, the bigger the dangers. Always think about safety. Don’t rush. My only serious injury in seventeen seasons of landscaping happened while I was descending one of the bigger ladders. It was a 12 or 14 foot “widow-maker”. I started descending before my power shears were completely stopped. Yeah, I know, this was early in my career. Then my thumb met the steel blades. If it hadn’t been for my nail, the top of my thumb would have been missing. I still recall my helper down below, horrified by my blood dripping on her.

Incidentally, this was also the first- and I hope only- time when I jumped the line at a walk-in medical clinic. I remember an older gentleman probably waiting for his cough syrup, objecting to my line jump. I couldn’t care less.

The Allright Ladder Company is based in Vancouver and it is the oldest ladder company in Canada. They’ve been making them since 1921. Visit their website for safety information or read the Vancouver Sun article sidebar.

As the fall and winter pruning seasons come, I will use these Japanese-style tripod pruning ladders often. Consider getting one for your garden. Most landscape companies have them on their trucks.

 

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6 ft is the smallest available ladder from Allright

Perfect lawn: “American Green” book review

By | Books, Landscape Industry, Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

This is a true story about green lawns and how they came to dominate in the United States. Ted Steinberg’s “American Green: the obsessive quest for the perfect lawn” is an excellent book.

 

Steinberg is an environmental historian and it shows. Landscapers, gardeners, and people who love or hate lawns should definitely read it. As a landscape professional I found it fascinating on my second reading.

The book isn’t new. It was published in 2006. I read it and my copy ended up in storage until now. My second reading was better. I recommend buying the softcover edition for your own library.

Steinberg takes you from the Origins, through the Dark Side and into the Future. With global warming and severe droughts in California, the Future chapters would look different if the second edition were to be published now in 2016.

Some things haven’t changed. People still die in ride-on mower accidents and Latinos still dominate the workforce in places like California. The excerpts from Spanish Phrases for Landscaping Professionals alone are worth the book cost. For example, Nosostros no ofrecemos seguro de salud (we don’t offer health insurance.)

In the Origins you will meet the key characters that shaped the landscape industry and made the lawn a key feature. It really is a fascinating question: why should the lawn dominate so much? A huge industry developed around it as landscape turned into landscaping. A father and son would share the lawn care work around their home but eventually a new industry rose up to do the work for them. Fertilizer and pesticide use went up and soon a debate started. Lawn lovers versus detractors.

 

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This client loves his lawns….

 

The case for brown lawns now makes a lot of sense. With water restrictions in the US and Canada, it makes sense to let  lawns go dormant in summer. Unless you are rich and living in a place where brown can’t happen. But that will be the subject of a future blog post based on a recent Harper’s magazine story from California.

You can dive deep into this subject if you follow Steinberg’s notes. I looked up an interesting story from 1983. It was a case where a wife in Massachusetts wanted to surprise her husband with a beautiful lawn. She hired a company but managed to catch a worker urinating on her property. When she confronted him, he assaulted her, choked and strangled her and eventually crushed her skull with pieces from a retaining wall.

Defence lawyers argued that repeated exposure to chemicals made the 23 year old worker unable to decide between right and wrong. The jury disagreed. First degree murder charge carried an automatic life sentence for the recent college graduate. A sad and bizarre story.

If you work in the green industry, this is one must-read book. Likewise if you love or hate lawns. Five stars out of five.

 

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Vas now understands how landscape turned into landscaping

Vancouver Tree Book

By | Arborist Insights, Books, Reviews | No Comments

Vancouver Tree Book by David Tracey is now available in bookstores. Normally I would wait for Amazon to ship the book but I didn’t want to wait. Not for a new tree book. I picked it up from Chapter’s for $21, tax included. Not bad.

It’s pocket-sized and features 100 trees. It will easily slip into your backpack. One nice touch is that we are given actual City of Vancouver spots where the trees can be seen. There is also a list of 10 treasured trees in the city.

The illustrations are very nice. Since this is a pocket guide, only basic information is presented. After scanning the guide, it’s clear I still have some work left to do on my tree identification skills. Not to worry. I will get there. I’m an arborist just like Tracey.

Having discovered Acer campestre in Langley and nowhere else, I was relieved to find out that there are plenty of specimens in Vancouver. My favorite tree, Albizia julibrissin is also in the guide, which means the guide automatically gets a passing grade.

The guide makes references to an earlier book on Vancouver Trees. Trees of Vancouver by Gerald B. Straley we learn is now out of print (I have a copy!) . Sadly, the author has passed away. That makes my copy that much more precious.

Unlike Tracey’s pocket guide, this is a bigger book that covers over 470 trees and includes leaf drawings. In the middle are 86 beautiful color photographs. Location information is also given which makes it easy for you to locate your favorite species. Tracey obviously copied this handy approach.

 

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New and pocket-sized, 100 trees

 

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Information on 470 trees, now out of print

Summary

This is a handy guide for all green professionals. It’s well worth $21. I will now go through it and scan it for the species I don’t yet know well. I hope you do the same.

 

Crazy about gardening: Des Kennedy

By | Books, Company News, gardening, Reviews | No Comments

Crazy about gardening

Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes. Walking back to my car after returning bottles for deposit, I noticed a used bookshop sign. Closing, Final day, 70% off all used books. Aha. A very pleasant detour on my way to discovering Des Kennedy.

Half an hour later I walked out with the BC garden writer’s book. At $1.30 it was a steal. Kennedy is an award-winning writer and it shows. “Crazy about gardening” is a funny book. It’s subtitled “Reflections on the sweet seductions of a garden“. So we know this isn’t a technical manual. The lessons are subtle, mixed in with jokes and stories. If you let him, Kennedy has plenty to teach you.

There were also many spots where I almost reached for my dictionary. I also enjoyed the odd poem:

Life’s a short summer, man a flower.

He dies-alas! how soon he dies.

Obviously, just like stand-up comedy, your enjoyment is directly related to your age and experience. If you are an experienced gardener, you will definitely be entertained. If you are new to gardening, read and learn. Your vocabulary will also improve.

Some highlights

Kennedy hires a water diviner to find water on his property. A water witch. I find this fascinating because my own grandfather did this with outrageous accuracy just outside Prague. As a little city kid, visiting the country, I found it amazing. Grandpa would pick a branch, slice one end in half, grab one end with each hand and walk. Once he hit water, the top uncut end of the branch would dip down towards the ground. Success. Grandpa also made money by digging wells. The hard way.

Dog days droop. Kennedy makes fun of the late summer period when what was beautiful is all of a sudden dreary and desiccated. Pests multiply. April energy is long gone. The gardener temporarily loses grip.

Lawns. We know they use water, fertilizers, herbicides, and require time and effort to maintain. It’s a bizarre fetish. Once the lawn is nicely cut Kennedy admits to feeling a “bizarre little thrill of satisfaction, of emotional well-being.” I concur. There is something to this.

At $1.30 this book was a steal. Des Kennedy is worth whatever Amazon charges for his books. Give him a try.

 

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