Monthly Archives

December 2016

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.



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.



Vas now understands how landscape turned into landscaping

A note on landscape bathroom breaks

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

Landscape bathroom breaks

At first glance, this may seem like an off-putting blog post topic. You’re right. But read on because it gets better. Landscapers spend long seasons in the field dealing with rain, extreme heat, machine noise, and sometimes unkind clients and harsh bosses. Lack of proper bathrooms on work sites is the final indignity.

If you’re lucky, your strata complex has a fob key and you have access to proper bathrooms. This is especially important for female workers. Driving off-site to use proper bathrooms is an unfortunate loss of time. Guys have it easier. Sometimes you can find a pee break site with benefits. In one case, it was ready access to ripe native salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis).



One of the best pee break spots with ripe salmon berries


David Garabedian


Now consider the bizarre March 29, 1983 case of Dave Garabedian, a 23-year-old lawn care worker. Dave was a recent college graduate and worked for the Old Fox Lawn Company in Chelmsford, MA, USA. One day he URINATED on his client’s lawn. The client, 34-year-old Eileen Muldoon confronted Dave about his indiscretion. An argument ensued and it turned into assault as Dave used his hand to choke and strangle the woman. He then removed a drawstring from his uniform and strangled the woman a second time. Skull-crushing rocks followed at the end, taken from a retaining wall.

The prosecution said “it began with an argument, it escalated into an assault and it ended with an execution.” And what about the defense? The defense built a case around the chemical dursban. It argued that Dave’s repeated exposure to dursban in the two weeks prior to the incident made him unable to distinguish between right or wrong. The six man jury deliberated and disagreed. First-degree murder convictions in Massachusetts carry automatic life sentences.

All the woman wanted was to give her husband a gift of a beautiful lawn. Sad. And bizarre.


Sources: archives; “American Green: the obsessive quest for the perfect lawn” by Ted Steinberg



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.



New and pocket-sized, 100 trees



Information on 470 trees, now out of print


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.






Crushing frosty lawns!

By | Landscaping, Lawn Care, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

In November 2015, as I arrived at a small Burnaby commercial site on a cool Saturday morning, my task was very simple. All I had to do was collect leaves from the base of a cherry tree. But, the lawn was very frosty and I had to be at another site in a few hours.

As I took my first step onto the frosty lawn, I recalled an article from the New York Times I had read several years ago. Let us see what is happening under my big foot.



Big frosty steps


During the growing season as we walk on our properly maintained lush green lawns the individual grass plants are in active growth. The cells that make up their leaves are full of water, food and gases that help them hold their shape and bounce back when stepped on.

When the grass is dormant, the intricate  biological processes that happen in the leaf slow to a near stand still. As temperatures dip in winter, the nights are cold enough to begin to freeze the soil below. Now as you walk over the frosty lawn the ground below has little give because it is frozen and the cells in the dormant leaves can not rebound. This is the key point: The grass plant can get crushed under your foot. It is best to limit traffic until a blanket of snow provides cushioning. Aside from cushioning, plants also use snow as insulation, moderating temperatures around their buds and shoots when the temperatures drop.

Hoping that any damage to the lawn was minimal or better yet, imagined, I quickly collected my leaves from the site into a tarp and left. Still feeling a bit guilty. The winter rains would come soon enough. Snow, as good as it is for plant insulation, is bad for business.


photo 1

It is best to stay off frosty lawns


photo 3

Guilty steps!