Monthly Archives

December 2022

When leaf blower isn’t the answer

By | machines, Seasonal, Tools | No Comments

Seniors raking

This past Saturday I was at Rocky Point in Port Moody, visiting a used car dealership because our family van started breaking down with alarming frequency. It was time to upgrade.

Just as I was getting back into my car, I noticed a lady next door vigorously raking up leaves under a mature tree. She was obviously a senior but I suspect she could easily pivot into a new landscaper position. She was moving and piling up the debris against the tree, presumably for later pick up.

No blowers for this senior.

Small jobs

Strata properties like the ones Proper Landscaping dudes maintain are too large to clean up with just rakes. Backpack blowers are mandatory evil. Yes, they’re loud and cause air pollution but they’re indispensable.

Now, smaller sites can easily be cleaned-up with rakes and some time. It’s a perfect job for seniors: they need to move to stay healthy and they have time. The lady I photographed -without permission!- was doing a great job. I thought it was really nice to not face a blower on the weekend after using one all week at work.

Globe article

The sweaty senior also reminded me of a Globe and Mail newspaper story. The author, facing leafy debris on his small back patio- somewhere in Toronto- rushed out to a big box store and purchased a blower. Like everyone else in his neighborhood.

It took him a few tries to assemble the machine properly and after a few leaf blowing sessions he realized something. Using a power blower on his small back patio didn’t make any sense. It was ridiculous. He could easily rake everything up in thirty minutes. There was absolutely no need to create noise and air pollution. He could save money by investing some of his own time and energy.

So, he returned the blower and life has been good ever since. He rakes up the leaves every fall and gets much-needed exercise. Just like our Port Moody senior.

Requiem for a clover lawn

By | Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

Love at first sight

When I saw this clover front lawn a few seasons ago, it was love at first sight. It’s fluffy, only requires occasional blade edging to keep it from spilling over, keeps the weeds down by shading them out, and bees love it when it’s in flower.

You don’t have to mow it or line trim it, it’s very low maintenance. I thought it was a brave statement from the owners. I never got to meet them. People are generally afraid of sticking out in the neighborhood.

New owners

Then, months later, I walked by again and the clover lawn was gone. People love green lawns. But if it were up to me, I wouldn’t go back. Now I miss the fluffy clover lawn when I walk by.

The new owners overseeded their new lawn and the grass was coming in.

Of course, now that you have a new lawn, you have to do some work. The previous owners must have been busy or away frequently.

Now you have to water and fertilize the lawn; and once it’s long enough, you have to cut it. But not too short. Edging is also required to keep the lawn nice and neat. Next spring, they will likely aerate the lawn to keep it healthy. The clover eliminated most of these extra steps that cost money and time.

Fall 2023

To each his own. If you want a lawn, by all means get a lawn. But when I saw this lawn recently, it didn’t inspire me. I missed the fluffy clover. Some people do a mix of the two, grass and clover. I believe this kind of mix discourages the European chafer beetles from attack.

To be fair, I didn’t get to see the clover lawn in winter. Perhaps it was a sad, muddy looking zone. I have no idea. I was just sad to see it go. It was my favorite lawn!

Why caretaker Jackie loves me!

By | Landscaping Equipment | No Comments

What leaf blower haters overlook

The one thing many leaf blower haters overlook is the struggle of building caretakers as they try to keep leaf debris out of their buildings every fall. Jackie is a caretaker, and she loves my leaf blower. No, it’s not a mistake, she loves my leaf blower because she has three buildings to maintain and keep clean. Whatever leaf debris tracks in with residents and wind must be removed. But not if I get to the leaves outside first.

By the way, Jackie is a real person but she’s a bit shy. I even offered her a free West Coast Landscape Pro mug for providing her picture, but it didn’t work. She’s a middle-aged lady with long blonde hair and a smoking habit. Occasionally, she freaks me out when she smokes in the shrubbery by the side exit.

I also use the word love in a professional, platonic sense. Don’t rush out to buy an expensive leaf blower because Vas promised you easy caretaker’s love. This is a family blog, not a hook-up site.

Use it or ban it?

Yes, leaf blowers are loud, and they create noise and air pollution. They also stir up unhealthy dust in summer.

Someday soon, the technology will improve, and we’ll be able to use battery-operated leaf blowers. Then there won’t be any need to write blog posts like this.

If you’re a landscaper, you know that your leaf blowers are indispensable. If you’re a homeowner, you can afford to quietly rake up your leaves.

So far, only a few places have successfully banned leaf blowers. The only place I know of in British Columbia is Vancouver’s neighborhood around Denman Street. Built up with residential towers, the noise tends to echo throughout the neighborhood. I worked there before the ban and I’m not sure how the landscape contractors are managing every fall.

When you hear a leaf blower in your neighborhood, remember caretaker Jackie before complaining. She loves me. You should, too.

Aha, leafy debris on second floor.

Why I love Japanese Stewartia trees

By | Trees | No Comments

Multi-season interest

There you have it in the headline, I love Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) trees because they offer multi-season interest. But I didn’t really put it all together until one of my Facebook friends posted pictures of the tree in all of its fall glory. Because I float around as a working manager at my day-job, I don’t always get to see the same landscape in every season. And my friend was absolutely right: Stewartia pseudocammellia is a beautiful, smaller tree with multi-season interest. Take a look first and see if you agree.

Cup-shaped flowers, like Camellias

Fall colors

Beautiful peeling bark


Stewartia pseudocamellia is native to Japan and Korea where it lives in mountain forests. Sadly, when I lived in Japan, I didn’t know the tree by name.

The cup-shaped Camellia-like flowers are fine to look at and show up in summer. The seeds are hidden in hard capsules, and I would always pick and open a few. I never did try to germinate the seeds. Usually, I forget them in my pockets for my wife to discover at the bottom of the washing machine.

You can expect it to grow anywhere from 12-40 feet high. I know it from strata complexes where it fits in lawns shared by two units. Since it’s a slow-growing tree species, this location is totally fine. I don’t even recall pruning it, other than taking off some out-of-control shoots to keep it shaped properly but not harshly.

Stewartia pseudocamellia is also drought-tolerant which is a big deal as our West Coast summers heat up. This year we experienced a fall drought as the rains didn’t return in early fall. It was bizarre seeing people watering their pots but not their trees. I think that’s backward because your trees are way more valuable.

My Facebook friend was clearly blown-away by the fall colors and rightly so. I like the look myself. The bright, peeling bark is a bonus feature. I always have to resist the urge to peel the bark off, which is strange because I have immediate use for it.

Want one?

If you want a multi-season interest beautiful tree that won’t get too big, the slow-growing and drought tolerant Stewartia pseudocamellia might be a good choice.

So help me Vas: pollarding

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Why pollarding?

There are three mature London plane (Platanus x acerifolia) trees at a multi-family site (called strata in British Columbia) I know. One of those trees is fairly close to the building so it’s pollarded annually to keep it from getting too big. When people lose their views, they get upset; when gutters get full of leaves, it costs money to clean them up. It’s much easier to pollard the trees every winter.

Pollarding means removing all of the branches and letting the tree resprout. My 2018 blog post on this topic mentioned my distaste for the look of pollarded trees. I naively thought people pollarded trees because they couldn’t prune them properly. How wrong I was.

Vas was wrong

Then, in 2019, William Bryant Logan released his amazing book “Sprout lands: Tending the endless gift of trees“. It turns out that our civilization was able to thrive thanks to pollarding.

Done correctly, the pollarded wood was used for ships, baskets, wood to heat homes, and food for animals. Pruned trees resprouted new wood and kept on giving, thus the endless gift of trees book subtitle.

I had no idea.

London planes

Now back to our London planes. The three specimens are mature but not as mature as the trees on the boulevard. One, you will recall, is close to the building and the other two are not too far from a pool.

Pollarding involves removing all branches, leaving the funny-looking “knuckles”. It doesn’t look great after it’s done but the tree will never get bigger than this. Assuming you pollard it every year.

The green waste is hauled away but ages ago, it would have been used for firewood or to make baskets.

If your tree is mature, hire an arborist. If it’s smaller, you can easily do it yourself. Just pollard at a height you like. But, always, always, use sharp hand saws and proper safety gear. Tree work can be dangerous.

I must admit that in summer the trees look totally fine. You can’t really see the ugly “knuckles” and we know that the tree will stay roughly this size.

Now I just wish we had some use for the wood we remove.

Fall drought decimates yew hedge

By | Pruning | No Comments

Last summer visit

It’s a lot of fun checking in on old projects to see how they are evolving. At one site we have a long yew hedge to provide privacy for windows.

Originally, the line was planted with cedars (Thuja occidentalis), but they kept on dying and had to be replaced. And as often happens, people get tired of planting the same cedars over and over, only to see them die.

Yew switch

So, we switched to yews (Taxus) because they do better than cedars, especially in hot summers. They also produce red cones (not berries!) which give us something to look at.

I did the switch personally, so I know how much labor was involved.

First, I had to dig up and remove the cedars. Then I had to go pick up the yews and install them. I believe the project cost something like $1,600.

We lost one or two specimens over the last few seasons, which is manageable. When I visited this past summer- remember, I float around as a working manager at my day job- the yew hedge looked great. It was green, healthy, and did the job of providing privacy for a row of windows directly behind it.

When I walked by, I told myself that Red Seal Vas does great work. (Never blow your own horn out loud.)

Fall drought

Fall drought: the lawn will recover, the yews won’t.

When I went over to help out this past fall, I nearly cried. Most of the yew hedge was brown and dead! What happened?

This fall we had drought conditions on the West Coast. There was so little rain, many dormant lawns didn’t fully recover before cold temperatures hit and mowing stopped. I had never seen that before.

Now, people are busy working and paying for their overpriced housing. Since they’re used to automatic fall rains, nobody bothered to water the plants. Including my prized yew hedge. Sadly.

And it gets worse. The manager had asked our foreman to clip the top of the hedge even though power shearing in drought conditions is a bad idea; you’re just adding stress. Instead, water the hedge frequently and prune it in fall, when it’s cooler and wetter.


I have no idea what will happen to this yew hedge next year. Now that this blog post is finished, I fully intend to push this hedge out of my mind. The waste of labor and money is stunning. It might be time for people to start getting used to changes brought on by the Global Climate Emergency.

How to make the most of your first snow workday

By | Seasonal | No Comments


I hate snow but there’s no point crying about it because I can’t control the weather. You just have to make the most of it, like I did today. It’s still November and regular landscape maintenance work got obliterated by snow. So, I made a few phone calls and got ready for work.

I got picked up by snow mercenaries like me at 8 am and we pushed snow off sidewalks and mailbox areas. Since we didn’t have a snowblower, we just shoveled the useless white stuff out of the way. Yes, it can be tiring, especially when people compact the snow. But, hey, it’s good exercise and we’re making money. We’re also making sure kids and the elderly are safe.

One of my crew members dropped her shovel at 9:30 and declared, ” I need a drink”. She meant juice, not alcohol, so we drove to a nearby mall for Starbucks and a washroom break. Always stay hydrated.

Once the snow was gone, we put down ice-melter which will make it easier the next day should more snow fall.

Observe and enjoy

You can also take in the snowy landscape and enjoy it. It was a nice sunny day and I got to see the bright berries on a Pyracantha shrub.


I also got to see winter annuals I planted in fall, covered in snow. Hidden a few inches below the surface are spring bulbs, patiently waiting for spring temperatures to signal a new season. The bulbs need to feel the cold.

Snow covering ornamental kale.

If you look closely, you can also find stuff that doesn’t work well. Like the water bag (not cheap!) covering a tree stump on a municipal boulevard. I mean, it’s winter, so the water bag is useless. Considering how much it retails for, it should be removed and re-deployed next year.

This isn’t working well.

This picture also shows how tough life can be for city trees. If it’s not drought that kills them, it’s bad drivers.


Just as much fun, if not more, is observing the people on your crew. Some are snow mercenaries like me, ready to shovel snow for cash. Some work for other landscape companies and are now laid-off. One mother of three kept talking about her kids ad nauseam; and the driver showed up on very little sleep because she got stuck in last night’s snow fall.

Once I got home, I texted the office lady with my hours so I could get paid by e-transfer. It was a good day, and we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Put your garden to bed with these late season tasks

By | gardening, Lawn Care, Pruning | No Comments

Steps to take

I have a great residential client in Port Coquitlam, BC, and his main concern is tidiness. So, when the pin oaks (Quercus palustris) from a neighboring high school drop leaves on his property, he usually calls me in a panic.

Let’s see what I did at this house to put it to bed for the winter.


Mowing in late November isn’t ideal but it had to be done. So, I pre-blew the oak leaf drop onto the lawn, raked up the bulk of it and then mowed over the rest. Done! Now we leave the lawns alone until spring.

The front lawn also got a final blade edge which should keep it nice and sharp until spring.


Obviously, annuals are toast by late November. I took out the petunias from the curb pot; and I removed annuals from the front bed. I will most likely plant bulbs in the pot so we can surprise the wife: she loves pretty flowers!

The show is over.


I have never winterized blueberries, so I Googled it and did it anyway. I pruned back most of the canes and moved the pots into a sheltered spot between the fence and shed. Then I put a tarp over the pots.

It might be better to park the pots in the garden shed but that’s not what the owners wanted. And it makes sense. They have two spotless Lexus cars in the garage, and when I forget to blow off their front door seat cushions, they text me about it!


Again, it’s all about the look. The hydrangea was fine; just the leaves were still hanging on and the owners were creeped out every time they used the front entrance. So, I pruned the hydrangea back by a few bud sections and manually removed the spent leaves. If I cut it back too much, into old wood, you won’t get any flowers next year.

Eventually I will remove the canes that are close to the ground but for now it will do.

New planted bed

The new planted bed in the back got a quick cultivate to freshen it up a bit and to uproot any weeds. I deadheaded lavenders and cutback Liatris spicatas. Note that I left the Rudbeckia stems alone. The birds can enjoy the seeds and I can cutback the stems later, closer to spring. When you do this, cut the stem off close to the ground so you don’t leave a stub.

Final blow

As always, everything ends with one final blow, so the property is nice and clean. Since the front lawn is shared with the neighbors, I’m not ashamed to admit that I blasted some of the remaining leaves on the lawn into their groundcover.

There you have it. One last service in late November seals the deal. The garden should hold nicely into spring. I might stop by to blow the stubborn pin oak leaves; and to install the bulbs, secretly.

When I got home, it was dark. So, I made some coffee and sent off my hefty invoice.

Nice and clean.

Great install memories from Blue Mountain

By | Landscaping | No Comments

8 years ago

It’s always nice to visit old project sites and see how the plants are doing. One such site is at Blue Mountain Park in Coquitlam and when I drove by recently, I pulled over and snapped some pictures. And those pictures took me back eight years.

Back then, I was close to finishing my season as a temporary full-time parks worker with the City of Coquitlam. Our task was to create a brand-new bed for Remembrance Day, which was fast approaching.

City gardener Tracey Mallinson did the initial design, and I did a lot of the labor while she watched me as a hawk. We knew that city managers would bring the mayor over for a visit. Everything had to go smoothly.


The first step was to measure out the bed dimensions and spray paint the border. Then came the heavy labor part: removing the grass chunks and amending the new bed with fresh soil.

Then we brought in plants and quickly installed them. This is what it looked like.

Fast forward to 2022

Now let’s fast forward to 2022 and see what we have.

2022: 8 years later

Not bad at all! After Tracey Mallinson and I moved on, the raised “poppy” bed was added to make it more visible from the road. It’s planted with red flowers every year to make it look like a poppy.

What I really like is how the yews (Taxus) grew to form a solid hedge. The dogwood tree (Cornus) in the middle is also very special because we planted it bare root. It was my first time planting a tree bare root and I paid attention. It was a lot of fun.

Why bare root?

Bare root planting allows you to see the roots and make some editing cuts, if necessary. We kept the original root ball soil and mixed it with water before backfilling the planting hole. This way the “mud” solidifies and cements the tree in the planting hole.

Years later I would use the lessons I learned here to plant my very first bare root tree solo. You can read about it here. And I’m happy to report that the tree is doing well.


Not every visit to an old planting project site is a happy one. We’ll cover that in up-coming blog posts. But this Blue Mountain project went well. We created a nice new bed for Remembrance Day celebrations, and I took away several important lessons.