I was planning to write a quick blog post about color finally showing in our landscape in late January and this morning it snowed!? Now the landscape is all white but trust me, there is color out there. Let’s see what will emerge once the snow melts.
Snowdrops look awesome, especially when mass-planted. Every time I open my UK gardening magazines and see masses of snowdrops under trees, I freeze and stare. What a show! I wish I had a huge garden to do the same thing.
Sweetbox adds white flowers and fragrance to our winter landscapes. When it’s planted along walkways, the fragrance will hit your senses before you even notice the small white flowers. With the winter landscape quiet, it’s nice to have sweetbox. Like Galanthus, it’s best to mass-plant Sarcococcas.
When I see obvious spikes pop-up, I snip them off by hand. Larger sections can be lightly power sheared.
Hellebores are also flowering now and bringing some welcome color to our landscapes. Once the new flowers and foliage start popping up, I snip off the old leaves hugging the soil. Some of them can look a bit beat up anyway so snip them off and enjoy the new growth. This is the only action you have to take.
I love these purple berries on shrubby honeysuckles (Lonicera nitida). They pop right out when I cultivate the soil around them. Shrubby honeysuckle is a perfect plant for low level hedging. This specimen is planted just behind a parking curb where it creates a nice border but never grows too high as to interfere with site lines.
This honeysuckle will get power sheared periodically to keep it inside the bed.
By next week these spider-looking flowers will be fully extended and they will brighten up the entrance area of this residential high-rise tower in Burnaby’s MetroTown area. They will also improve my mood as I work around them.
If the shrub is getting out of hand, feel free to clip it lightly after its done flowering.
Today, January 31, 2023, we have snow on the ground but spring is coming. Once today’s snowfall melts away, look for the plants above in our landscapes. They might lift your spirits.
Landscaping work in the private sector is driven by profit, and it’s very difficult to generate profits if your workers stop to notice details in the landscape. It’s go, go, go all the time.
This past summer I was helping at an older site, predictably populated by mature trees. And right at the entrance to an inside planted courtyard stand three mature small-leaved linden trees (Tilia cordata).
Now, as I made passes through the entrance, I noticed something different in the air, but I pressed on with my regular lawn care duties. Lawn care is always done first.
Just as I passed under the lindens, a lovely Asian mommy walked up with a baby stroller, and she had a huge grin on her face. I also noticed, in passing, that she could have been a model for Lululemon tights. That’s all can say in a family blog.
So, why the grin? The fragrance, of course! The lindens easily overpowered the smell of my gas-powered machines. Then the lady stopped her baby-stroller and asked me if I had noticed the smell. Of course, I had. Vaccinated against COVID, my sense of smell was totally fine. I just couldn’t describe the smell.
The small Tilia cordata yellow-green flowers come out in early summer. You can easily identify the tree species because under the flowers is a bract. The flower scent is rich and heavy, says Wikipedia. And it really is. It can put a smile on your face.
The fruit is a dry, nut-like drupe.
Lindens are native to Europe, and they’re deciduous trees growing to 20-40m. The specific epithet “cordata” means heart-shaped and refers to the leaves.
Lindens are disease-resistant trees and they’re used as ornamental trees. Thus, their placement inside a high-profile corridor. I wonder how many more residents had noticed the fragrance.
Watch out for linden trees in your neighborhood early this summer. See if you notice their amazing fragrance. If you’re lucky, your neighbors will alert you.
The new year is here and the garden is very quiet. But if you look closely, there is some fine-tuning you can do now. Assuming you feel motivated to go out into your garden in January. Let’s take a look at some of my work.
Black eyed Susans
I’m not a fan of stubs. On trees they die and create a pathway for diseases to enter. On perennials like Rudbeckias, they create homes for bugs to move into and sharp sticks for gardeners to get stabbed with.
I hate this look. If you must cutback your Rudbeckias early, use hand snips and enjoy the work. Remove the entire flower stalk so only the basal leaves remain. It will look much better. These long stubs look weird.
Clean up tree damage
If you don’t manage to knock off snow from your trees before damage occurs, then just make sure the break points are cleaned up. I found one small evergreen with a broken top so I cut it to make it look decent. Always use sharp hand saws.
Rubbing branches on trees should also be eliminated. See the white arrow.
January is a good time for perennial cutback but it’s not critical. Just get it done before spring hits. Personally, when I see the bed below, I don’t want to wait any longer.
Once Hellebores start pushing out new foliage, you can clip back the old leaves. Flowers follow. I don’t like to rush this. The old leaves at least give us something green to look at.
Take a good look at your winter garden to see if you can fine-tune it a little bit before spring. There is always something to do.
I really enjoyed the two native plant seminars I attended last summer at the University of British Columbia (UBC) botanical garden. Sadly, I missed the first one because I had side-hustle clients to keep happy.
Everything came together nicely for me. First, I stumbled upon the seminar ads online purely by chance and at $40 per session it was a steal. I signed up online right away. Keep reading if you want to know why. Second, my wife and kids were away visiting the in-laws in Western Japan. This meant that I could drive over to UBC after work without having to make special soccer and sleepover arrangements; or think about chores.
As a landscape pro I love most gardens, especially botanical gardens. If you’ve never been to UBC’s botanical garden, correct your oversight in 2023. When our native plant walk started, the gardens were officially closed to the public. Yeah! It was all for us to enjoy.
With the garden closing to the public, I didn’t pay the parking fee. I’m not great at math but I knew that closed gates would make it hard for by-law to show up. Twice I didn’t pay and it worked out fine; but I did get long looks from the other well-heeled attendees. Your choice.
It was sunny and warm on both days and the plants looked awesome.
Allison Luke, the instructor, is extremely likeable. When she first walked over to meet me, smiling, I had assumed she was one of the attendees. I was wrong.
Whoever hired Allison to run the horticulture program at UBC is an HR professional. She knows her plants and obviously enjoys talking about them. Incidentally, she replaced my mentor Egan Davis, who moved on to work for the City of Surrey. Egan was also the guy who taught my one day Red Seal challenge preparation course. Without him I wouldn’t be the high-priced Red Seal journeyman I am today and I will be forever grateful to him.
I was impressed with the seminar logistics, too. Like washrooms being open, insect repellant patches and sunscreen ready for the attendees to use. We were also promised a full plant list at the end of the seminar series and it did arrive in my inbox. I don’t recall receiving any junk mail so don’t be afraid to leave your email address in future seminars.
A nice touch
Some time into my first walk (seminar number 2) we sat down under a massive Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) and proceeded to read passages from the excellent bestseller “Braiding sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I thought this was a nice, unexpected touch. Then, out of nowhere, one of the male attendees ruined the vibe by informing the group that any contact with Western Red Cedars can leave his skin looking worse than a leper’s. Why he picked this moment to disclose his medical history I will never understand.
The plants at the UBC botanical garden are beautiful. I won’t reveal too much here but I will give you a hint in a future blog. Come see for yourself. And if UBC offers these summer seminars again in 2023, jump right in. I really enjoyed the sessions and I’m sure you will, too. Bring a notebook and make sure your iPhone is charged.
Speaking of plants, eat before you come over to UBC. I never sample wild plants because I’ve read “Into the wild“, the story of Christopher McCandless. Christopher gave away his money and possessions and walked alone into Alaska’s wilderness. Eventually he camped out in an old school bus and he died in it after eating the wrong wild plants. Thus my own reluctance to sample wild plants.
Of course, at UBC I watched Allison and the other attendees sample the wild plants first, before joining them. Facing your fears can be fun.
My favorite tree at UBC
Barely a minute into your botanical garden walk, there is a spectacular tree tucked away on the left, slightly off the main walk. It’s called the monkey tail hornbeam (Carpinus fangiana). Our streets are populated by the smaller Carpinus betulus, which nicely hint at its birch family, Betulaceae. The leaves look like birch leaves.
The long catkins or flower clusters give the Fang hornbeam its monkey tail name. If you look carefully, both tree species have seeds partially covered by bracts which form what botanists call involucres.
I really enjoyed UBC’s summer native plant seminars in 2022. If you get a chance to attend one in 2023, do it. I will. Even if it’s a bit of a drive after work and I arrive hungry, desperate to try any wild plants on offer.
It’s good value at $40 per session, the instructor is extremely knowledgeable and so are many of the attendees. Just bring your notebook and be ready to learn. But, please, keep your health problems to yourself.
I love going back to sites and seeing how my plant installs are doing. We know it’s not always good news, like the case of my yew screen. I always feel responsible for the plants, as if they were my dependents.
The line of Portuguese laurels (Prunus lusitanica) shown below is doing well. We didn’t lose a single specimen, which is fantastic. We’re finding that Portuguese laurels do much better in heat than cedars (Thuja occidentalis). Also, note that the heights are mostly uniform because the light levels are fairly even.
Now let’s walk away from the Portuguese laurels, around the corner to the back, and see a line of English laurels (Prunus laurocerasus).
What do you notice here? The plants are doing fine; they’re clearly receiving water from nearby sprinklers. However, you will notice how slanted they are. The left side is doing extremely well, while the right side looks like the youngest sibling. I planted them all at the same time. The big difference is the nearby Japanese snowbell tree (Styrax japonicus). It clearly shades out the laurels on the right and competes with them for resources.
That’s basic plant biology. Plants need access to light so they can produce food in their leaves through photosynthesis. Less light means less food. The effect of shading is nicely visible here. Not as obvious is plant competition where the roots compete for resources.
You can leave it as is, or, you can prune the laurel hedge to even it out. Another option is pruning the trees around the hedge, mainly the Japanese snowbell nearby. If the unit owners are worried about privacy, you can just thin out the trees by removing selected branches. Raising the crown by eliminating the lowest branches is more obvious. Both pruning procedures would allow more light in.
Always check with the owners before making significant changes.
I have a weakness for ornamental grasses. They look awesome when the wind sets them in motion, they flower in the fall, and they look fantastic when frost covers them. We cut them back in early spring and then leave them on autopilot for the rest of the season.
If the clumps get too big, you can dig them up and divide them in late spring.
This past Friday, one of my co-workers kept referring to Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) all day when, I was hundred percent sure, we were looking at Chinese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis). I quietly ignored the directions to cut them back because it’s too early. Miscanthus holds its structure nicely and looks great all winter. I say let it be and come back in early spring.
I found other work nearby.
I still had Pampas grass on my mind after work, when I picked up the November copy of Gardens Illustrated. (It comes from the UK so it’s slightly behind). And there it was on pages 70-75, saying that Pampas grasses were back in style. I’m not sure why people stopped loving them but fans of dried flowers are partly responsible for its comeback. They look good to me. I just don’t see them that much.
Early spring is the only time you have to touch them. Cutback the old stems and remove one third of the foliage. Just remember that the foliage can cut your fingers, so use gloves. That’s it, you’re done for another year. Low-maintenance and great look!
If you like Pampas grasses but hate waiting until September to see the flowers, there is a ‘Patagonia’ variety available, according to the article in Gardens Illustrated. It flowers in June. Check with your local nursery.
Ornamental grasses look fantastic in the landscape because, unlike shrubs, they move with the wind. They flower in the fall and, if you don’t cut them back too early, they look beautiful covered with frost.
Cut them back in early spring.
If you like the look of Pampas grass, get some for your garden. It’s now back in style.
I have written about Quora.com before: “A place to share knowledge and better understand the world”. It’s a great website if you have a burning question to ask; or, if you have expertise you can share with the world. I obviously answer questions about lawn care, gardening, landscaping, trees, blogging and side-hustles.
Once, I blitzed the site with lots of answers just to get to a top 10 ranking in certain categories, like landscaping. Then I realized it was a lot of free labor and time that could have been spent on better things. Like an actual side-gig for real clients.
One day I checked the site and found out, to my great surprise, that Quora was now allowing users to monetize their answers. Now, all of a sudden, it made sense to spend some time on the site, answering questions and sharing my expertise.
And the bonus is that some of the questions people ask can be developed into blog posts. Especially when many people ask the same question. One example was a question about mowing in the rain. Many people worried about mowing their lawns in the rain.
Today I got an email reminder from Quora to check my account, so I did. And I’m glad I did because there was exactly 78 cents in my account! Yay. Now Quora officially became another income stream. I won’t be retiring anytime soon, but I will be scanning people’s questions and answering the best ones. I’m hoping to earn more money and find new blog post topics. Some ideas can be nicely developed into 500 word blog posts.
Sure, I usually log on as an expert landscape horticulturist and fire away with my brilliant answers. But I’m also open minded and willing to learn. It’s nice to read other people’s answers to the same question. That’s one way to learn new things and approaches. Think of it as a gold mine of ideas.
Sometimes I like someone so much, I follow them. You can’t stop learning.
Chances are, you too have some special knowledge you could share with the world. Visit Quora.com and check it out. You might learn something and create a new income stream for yourself. I did and I like it.
One landscape contractor mentioned on LinkedIn this week how all emergency, oil rig workers, and others are, correctly, called heroes. Through their hard work under difficult winter storm conditions they make society function properly. But what about his landscape workers? Good question.
His dudes were out there in serious cold, blowing away snow powder in a group of five. Which also means they were sucking a lot of exhaust but, at the moment, there aren’t any other blowers that can handle -35 C temperatures. We’ll leave that for another blog post.
Now, our temperatures during the recent winter storm didn’t go past -15 C but it was still unpleasant. I can’t imagine working in – 35 C. Of course the crew deserves praise. They made money and kept the residents safe.
Also, I’m sure the owner made good coin for the work they did. He can get all the contracts he wants but somebody has to show up to fulfill the terms of his contracts. In BC, people are responsible for clearing their sidewalks. They could be liable for any accidental falls.
I know for a fact that some BC landscape companies need snow work to generate good annual profits and stay in business.
I find snow in town extremely tiresome. It prevents me from doing side-work on winter weekends. Now, I used to stay at home and cry into my pillow. Then I found companies that move snow and solved my problem. I still find snow tiresome but now I go out and make money as a sub-contractor. I get paid a straight hourly amount without any deductions. So I get paid and the employer saves money because I’m not a regular employee.
Unlike the dudes above, I used small snow blowers. They’re not self-propelled but they would have moved the powder snow easily. Even in – 35 degrees Celsius.
To be fair, some passersby did thank me for my work as they struggled home from the bus stop. Still, snow removal can be brutal. Some people start very early in the morning so Mrs. Albert can drive out and get her latte; and the long snow days can pile up and leave you exhausted.
When it snows next, be sure to thank anyone outside clearing snow.
While spending some time on LinkedIn recently, I came across a post asking a simple question: what was your favorite moment of 2022? It didn’t take me long to think of my favorite moment. What about you?
Early in the season, I picked up what would quickly become my best-paying client. It’s a logistics company and business is good because goods have to move. The business is based at the back of a residence and both employees and clients pass through the gardens on their way in and out. Therefore, everything has to look presentable.
When I first took on the work, there was a lot of weeding and pruning to do. By summer I had everything under control. Then, when I showed up for my weekly service session, the owner informed me that she had received a note from the city.
Immediately I assumed it was about me over-stuffing the green waste bin and causing headaches for the truck driver. Not so. The note was asking her to take photos of her garden and submit them to their municipal website! That was funny, and it made me looked good. It also made my client feel like she was getting her money’s worth by hiring Red Seal Vas.
Yes, my maintenance work was brilliant as always, but it would be wrong to take credit for the garden design. The tall lupins, Columbines and bright Calendulas must have looked awesome in the summer sunshine as the city people drove by- slowly I’m sure. So they dropped off their door-hanger note and left.
Now you see why this was my favorite moment of the year. I was trying hard to impress my well-paying clients and the garden looked really good in summer. To have the city stop by and say it looked good was a huge bonus. And by inviting my clients to submit photos of their garden, they made them feel good. Everything came together well, which, sadly, isn’t always the case.
I had a huge grin on my face when I drove away with my weekly service cheque in my pocket.
The text message came through exactly one week from Christmas; and flurries in the forecast. Looking at the weekend forecast, I was totally prepared to shut down my side-hustle operation. It’s been a good, long season. But I’m a well-known landscape slut. I can’t say no.
Plus, this was a serious request. My client was having a karaoke party and the garden looked like hell after the recent snow melted away. Could I clean it all up and also give the back pool area a blow? Absolutely!
This is exactly why my side-hustle business exists: you enjoy your party and sing karaoke, I make sure your guests aren’t horrified when they arrive and see your gardens. Some of my clients do yoga by the pool while I garden nearby. And many of my clients are, sadly, too invalid to do the work themselves. I work for elderly couples where both the husband and wife have serious health issues. So my work saves them from having to look out on a weedy, wild-looking garden.
Some of my clients are in their nineties and living alone. They barely make it up and down the stairs, never mind lawn mowing and weeding. Vas can handle that.
Proper Landscaping provides the same great service but on a larger, strata scale.
I had to do a lot of raking to do because the cherry tree on the boulevard finished dropping its leaves. Weed weren’t a big issue because in spring we installed several yards of mulch to keep them down. The mulch worked well, except along the fence line where it was too thin.
As I raked, I noticed a beautiful Callicarpa shrub, now completely bare and showing its purple berries. Deep into December, it was the only thing putting on a show.
Another important task was removing spent hostas and daylilies. But the key final task was a clean up blow, only hours before guests would start arriving for the karaoke party. I blew the property thoroughly, including the back pool area.
As soon as I got home, I sent my fat invoice to the owner, knowing full well she’s already busy drinking and singing, and very unlikely to question the dollar amount.
This then is the reward. Not just the money and profits but the satisfaction of delivering good service, on time, so the client can relax and concentrate on whatever they’re doing.