The latest book from Margaret Renkl

By | Books, Nature | No Comments

Bad start

Renkl and I got off to a bad start after she destroyed backpack blowers in her writing. When I read her work I dismissed her as cranky southern USA witch. My landscaping work relies on blowers, especially in the fall. But more on blowers later: yes, you guessed it, she mentions them in her latest book, “The Comfort of Crows“.

I listened to this book on Audible while working in the landscape and it runs for 7 hours and 47 minutes. One bonus was hearing Renkl’s southern voice for the first time.

I stand corrected

I stand corrected. Renkl is a good writer worth following, especially if you like nature; and I found out that we even have some things in common. Who knew? Renkl doesn’t like foraging in the woods and I share her reluctance to try new berries, fruits and mushrooms without proper identification. I’ve read “Into the wild” so I know what can happen when you eat the wrong thing.

The Comfort of Crows

Renkl writes about what happened in her backyard in one year. She covers plants and animals and also people. You will learn new things if you listen or read carefully. She knows how to pay attention.

And she’s right about blowers: there is no reason for homeowners to own one. You can rake and sweep things in your garden. And the technology is getting better. Soon we’ll have quiet blowers with power that don’t idle or pollute. Just hold on Mrs. Renkl.

Stolen summary

Now, I’m not a professional reviewer, obviously. I read a green book and tell you how it was. So allow me to borrow a professional reviewer’s quote: pay attention! That’s Renkl’s message. We can’t individually do much about global warming and the disappearance of plant and animal species. But we can pay attention to what happens in our backyard.

If you enjoy reading about nature, you will like Renkl’s new book. I enjoyed the audiobook.

Mistake revisited!

By | Mistakes, Pruning | No Comments


Today, when I dropped off my wife at her friend’s place, I couldn’t help myself. I opened up the back gate and checked on her rhododendrons, making steps in the snow like a criminal. Three seasons ago the lady had asked me to prune her rhododendrons. No problem. They were getting out of hand.

I reduced three of her rhododendrons gently and they came back nicely. They are covered in buds, set for next year’s bloom time. I can’t complain because everything worked out well.

Giant spider

Unfortunately, there was a fourth rhododendron where there weren’t any obvious cuts to make. It was a huge, spider-like specimen. Here’s where I made two mistakes. One mistake was reducing this shrub too hard. I should have accepted a spider-like look and left it at that. Alas, I went harder.

Now, the cuts I made were good. Rhododendron shrub reduction relies on dormant buds hiding under the bark. After pruning they push out and develop into new growth. However, you need patience. Your rhododendron should come back with time. I have seen some branches without any buds on them; and I’ve seen some branches covered in brown, desiccated buds.

Mistake number two was not warning the owner about the size reduction. She was used to seeing this specimen cover a huge portion of the bed. When she came home that was no longer the case and she wasn’t happy about it.

I found this out from her husband months later. Right after pruning she thanked me and paid me well. She was too polite to tell me how she really felt. Now every time I visit her neighbourhood, I peak in to see if the rhododendron is recovering.

Sadly, this one specimen is slow, just when I need it to perk up. See my picture below from today, January 12, 2024. Still, it looks better than last year.

It’s slowly coming back. The two bare branches on the left will have to go.


We can learn a few lessons from this blog post. Things will go wrong, whatever you do but it’s important to let the client know about the after look. This especially applies to trees and shrubs. I failed to tell my client because I wasn’t completely sure what would happen.

While the client’s disappointment bothers me-haunts me, even!- it’s a good lesson for me and others. I learned from it and moved on.

How micro-management affects your landscape crew

By | Management, Training | No Comments

A nice example

Micro-management sucks in all industries but my example comes straight from the landscape. And I’ll be honest, I’ve had my own run-ins with the micro-manager who will not be identified in any way. Not even a fake name. I don’t need extra headaches.

Now, picture two landscapers sent to a high-profile entrance area to kill some time. This isn’t unusual; sometimes you have to get ahead of the crew so they have clippings to pick up. I had no idea what they were told to do.

Triggered by a weed

I know it will sound crazy but my trigger was a weed. Once I arrived at the entrance I could see evidence of raking and cultivation but the weeds remained. That’s backwards, one hundred percent. Weeds come first, then cultivation.

Grab the weed before you rake and cultivate. Trust me.

I brought this up with the micro-manager and the workers. I needed to know what was happening. They were told not to weed, just rake. And this shows the effects of micro-management.

Bitched out

Because the workers are constantly corrected harshly, they’re afraid to deviate from the script. When the manager says rake, they rake. Period. Seeing a large weeds doesn’t bother them because it’s not written in the script. They could get yelled at for not raking.

This, then, is the problem with micro-management: the workers have zero autonomy and don’t think for themselves. And they don’t take initiative.

If you look at the big picture, you have a company trying to provide world-class service with well-trained staff. This isn’t about one micro-manager. At all.

How I do it

Now, I publish lots of stuff all year and lots of it is the opposite of humble, but I rarely blow my own horn. In this case I would have sent the workers to the entrance with clear instructions to beautify it for thirty minutes. This allows them to do it their way, inside a set time parameter. Then I would go do my own work, trusting them enough to do their own.

I would also insist on using a wheelbarrow with tarps and tools. I shake my head every time a worker drags a full tarp down the block. I’m slowly realizing that I have a lot of triggers!

Also, remember that it’s 2024. People are more sensitive and workplace relationships are evolving. Raising your voice, for example, is no longer acceptable, unless you’re in imminent danger.

I took the workers aside and told them I didn’t care about what they were told. When they see big weeds by the entrance they have to remove them. That’s it. They have to ignore the micro-managers script and use their own heads. Always.

Why micro-management sucks

By | Education, Management | No Comments

No fun

When you’re the leader you have to trust your team to complete their work properly. For example, I took out a wheelbarrow from the truck so I could use to transport full green waste tarps. Hauling them over my shoulder all day is exhausting. As soon as the wheelbarrow came out, the manager told I didn’t need it unless I was going out to the boulevard to collect tarps.

What’s this? I need permission to use a wheelbarrow? Unbelievable.

Later on it got even worse. We had to do bedwork on a sloping bank which required good maneuvering with small rakes. Then we happened to reach one opening and as soon as we did, my co-worker got a speech on using proper tools. Big piles require bigger rakes. No way. Who knew?

It wasn’t practical to switch tools for one section. I simply kicked my larger piles onto my tarp and moved on. This is my 25th season in the field, I think I can handle rakes. But micro-managers are loud and always right.

This worker is learning on the job with servant leader Red Seal Vas

3 requirements for workplace happiness

To feel good at work, you must:

Be competent and skilled enough to complete your work-technical skills,

Be sold on your company’s mission- believe!

and Have some autonomy! This is what micro-managers don’t understand.

Problems with micro-management

Here’s a list of problems with micro-management.

  1. Reduced Employee Morale:
    • Constant scrutiny and interference can lead to a significant decline in employee morale. When employees feel that their work is not trusted, it can result in decreased job satisfaction and motivation. (We went home shaking our heads.)
  2. Decreased Productivity:
    • Micromanaging often leads to a slower decision-making process and stifles creativity and innovation. Employees may become hesitant to take initiative or make decisions, resulting in a decrease in overall productivity.
  3. Lack of Employee Empowerment:
    • Micromanagers typically have a hard time delegating tasks and responsibilities. This lack of empowerment can hinder employee development and growth, as they are not given the opportunity to take on new challenges and responsibilities.
  4. High Turnover Rates:
    • Employees who feel micromanaged are more likely to become dissatisfied with their jobs and may seek employment elsewhere. This can lead to high turnover rates, which can be costly and disruptive for the organization.
  5. Impaired Creativity and Innovation:
    • Micromanagement tends to stifle creativity and innovation. When employees are not given the freedom to explore new ideas or approaches, the organization may miss out on valuable opportunities for improvement and growth.
  6. Increased Stress and Burnout:
    • The constant pressure and scrutiny from a micromanager can lead to increased stress and burnout among employees. This can negatively impact both their mental and physical well-being, as well as their ability to perform effectively.
  7. Wasted Time and Resources:
    • Micromanagers often spend excessive time overseeing minute details, which can result in wasted time and resources. This time could be better utilized in strategic planning, problem-solving, and other high-impact activities.
  8. Poor Team Dynamics:
    • Micromanagement can create a toxic work environment, leading to poor team dynamics. Trust is eroded, and team members may become resentful of each other and their manager, hindering collaboration and cooperation.
  9. Inhibited Employee Development:
    • Micromanagers may not provide opportunities for skill development or professional growth. This lack of support can hinder employees’ long-term career advancement and overall job satisfaction.
  10. Ineffective Communication:
    • Constant micromanagement can disrupt open and effective communication. Employees may become hesitant to share information, feedback, or concerns, fearing unnecessary scrutiny.
  11. Missed Opportunities for Learning:
    • Mistakes and failures are part of the learning process. Micromanagers who intervene excessively may prevent employees from learning valuable lessons that come from overcoming challenges and making decisions independently.
  12. Undermined Trust:
    • Micromanagement erodes trust between managers and employees. When employees feel that their every move is being monitored and questioned, it creates an atmosphere of suspicion rather than collaboration.

Back for more!

Since I’m stuck working with this micro-manager in winter, I will see how it develops. I might be able to offer hints now that I’ve penned this blog post but I’m not hopeful.

How do you celebrate 25 years in the landscape industry?

By | Company News | No Comments


This year marks my 25th season in the landscape industry! And I’ve been trying to generate ideas on how to best celebrate this milestone since late 2023.

One idea is to publish and share more original content in the form of blog posts, new and edited e-books, one new online course and more YouTube videos. Another idea is to create T-shirts and other stuff to give away to clients, supporters and friends.

More ideas

If you happen to be in the same situation or will soon be, consider some of the points below for your own celebration.

  1. Reflect on Achievements:
    • Take some time to reflect on your journey in the landscape industry. Consider the projects you’ve worked on, challenges you’ve overcome, and the personal and professional growth you’ve experienced.
  2. Host a Personal Retreat:
    • Treat yourself to a personal retreat or getaway to recharge and reflect. Choose a location that brings you peace and inspiration, whether it’s a nature retreat, spa weekend, or a visit to a scenic location. For example, I’m planning a trip to California to see the state’s big trees.
  3. Professional Development:
    • Invest in your continued professional development. Attend a conference, workshop, or training program related to landscaping or a skill you’ve been wanting to enhance.
  4. Create a Personal Garden Project:
    • Design and implement a special garden project at your home or a meaningful location. This could be a space that reflects your personal style and passion for landscaping.
  5. Network and Connect:
    • Reach out to colleagues, mentors, and individuals who have been part of your journey. Arrange a casual gathering or coffee meet-up to share stories, insights, and celebrate together.
  6. Document Your Journey:
    • Create a personal portfolio or scrapbook that highlights key moments, projects, and achievements throughout your 25-year career. Include photographs, project plans, and any press coverage you’ve received.
  7. Host a Celebration Dinner:
    • Invite close friends, family, and colleagues to a celebratory dinner at your favorite restaurant or a special venue. Share your experiences and express gratitude for the support you’ve received.
  8. Personal Branding Update:
    • Update your personal branding materials, such as your resume, LinkedIn profile, and portfolio. Showcase your 25 years of experience and the skills you’ve acquired along the way.
  9. Give Back:
    • Contribute to a community project or volunteer your landscaping skills for a local cause. This is a meaningful way to celebrate your expertise while making a positive impact.
  10. Professional Photoshoot:
    • Arrange for a professional photoshoot to capture your personality and expertise. Use these photos for your professional profiles, website, or promotional materials.
  11. Educational Event:
    • Share your knowledge and experience by hosting a small educational event or workshop for aspiring landscapers. This could be a way to give back to the industry and inspire the next generation.
  12. Celebrate with Nature:
    • Plan a day outdoors to reconnect with nature. Whether it’s hiking, camping, or simply spending time in a botanical garden, immerse yourself in the beauty that inspired your career.

2024, here we go

It’s still early in 2024 and with colder temperatures coming in a few days, I expect to have time to plan out my celebrations. It’s been quite a ride from 2000 to 2024. Stay tuned! And message me if you think of a great way to celebrate.

When ornamental grasses are allowed to ornament

By | gardening, Grasses, landscape maintenance | No Comments


If you know me well or if you read this blog regularly, you will know that I love to leave ornamental grasses standing in the fall. As long as they are upright and beautiful I let them ornament the landscape until late winter.

Why the rush to turn the grasses into low mounds of nothing? Once they’re gone, there’s no more drama, nothing swaying in the breeze, no resting place for the frost that would have made the flowers stand out.

And yet, I’m happy to report some signs of progress. I’ve seen some landscapes recently where the grasses are still standing, ornamenting the landscape the way they were supposed to. Let’s take a look.

This is a high-profile entrance to an upscale community in White Rock; and look how good everything looks. The grasses move in the wind and when it really cools off later this week, they will look awesome frosty.

This Rocky Point bed in Port Moody has Chinese Windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) and beautiful Calamagrostis Karl Foerster grasses. As far as I’m concerned, it looks awesome!

You might have seen this Miscanthus a few times already. It was a rescue and it’s doing fine on my commercial site. I won’t cut it back until later winter.

More Miscanthus from White Rock, BC. Wait for a light breeze and see them come alive.

Now, if you do cut them back, don’t leave a foot long stub like the one above. Cut it back low to the ground in a mound shape. Then wait for next year’s growth.


Ornamental grasses add drama to your garden so leave them standing until late winter. Then cut them back before they start to grow again in spring. When you do cut them, make it a low mound. Don’t leave a foot long stub.

Weeding with Christopher Lloyd

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What a treat

Christopher Lloyd was a famous English gardener and I love his book “The well-tempered garden“. It’s by my bed and I’m constantly running out of highlighters and pencils because there is so much to underline.

When I reached the section on weeding I was super happy because here was a famous gardener telling me how he weeds.

A nightmare from years ago

Picture a large planted bed with big open spots where weeds thrive. There was maybe seven of us weeding what were essentially mats of weeds. Not big trophies or the occasional clump of weeds: I’m talking about a mat of green weeds.

Now, the foreman in charge expected us to hand weed with our fingers. No tools. I was stunned: where do I begin? Does this all end with my fingers bleeding? It was insane. I laughed but I wanted to cry. I always use tools like a cultivator or a small tomahawk. Fingers only? What the ….?

Lloyd settles it!

First, he sets the tone by saying that complaints about weeding are exaggerated. Weeding isn’t that bad.

Now, I quote “Efficient hand-weeding requires that you should get down to the task on your knees: as comfortably as possible, with a soft rubber mat and a good sharp-pointed, sharp-edged, stainless steel trowel.”

Many municipalities hand out small weeding mats but I prefer cheap knee pads because they’re attached to my knees and therefore harder to misplace. I like to use a two-sided tomahawk instead of a trowel but it’s still a hand tool.

What about the foreman we mentioned earlier with her finger weeding? Lloyd rips her up, I quote:

“You will observe that professional gardeners do all hand-weeding from a standing stooping position. They pull the weeds out (or break them off) by the hair and do not use a trowel. Their standards of weeding are mediocre….“.

And that’s proper English fit for print. Privately I could tell you exactly what their standards are. Because they break off the weeds, many of them come back quickly.

Previously hand-weeded without hand-tools.

Extra notes on weeding

Use gloves if you like. It doesn’t matter because gloves don’t slow you down. I wear gloves on rainy days.

Here’s on more quote: ” I never like to weed out anything that I can’t identify. Not all seedlings are weeds.” One example from my work is Acanthus. As a baby plant without its signature flower spike, it looks like a weed because its leaf edges are spiky. When we didn’t know, we left it and later identified it. Whew. That was close.

Finally I’m happy

Now I can finally relax and laugh at the landscapers who insist that I hand-weed with my fingers. Their standards of weeding are mediocre. Amen.

Why I love & hate memorial trees

By | Trees | No Comments

A great idea!

Memorial trees are a great idea. When I die, I’d love to get a tree planted somewhere with my name on it. But sometimes the technical aspect can be troubling, which explains my love and hate relationship with memorial trees.

Scott’s tree

I have no idea who Scott was. I discovered this memorial tree while installing twenty yards of soil amender in the same courtyard. It took me four days to complete the project and every time I wheeled my wheelbarrow by Scott’s tree I counted my blessings. I’m older than Scott and I’m celebrating twenty-five seasons in the landscape industry this year.

I have no idea how much time I have left so I’m counting my blessings.

Scott’s tree is technically a shrub. Prunus lusitanica is a Portuguese laurel from the cherry family. Given its location in a sheltered courtyard, I expect Scott’s tree to do fine. Also, laurels are easier to plant and establish than trees; and they’re also cheaper and.

Eventually the laurel will need some pruning but for now it’s working really well. Note that it’s sitting in a large tree circle where lawn machines can’t injure the bark.

Thea’s tree

Now, when my sister and her partner tragically lost their daughter in a car accident they also planted a memorial tree. But this project was stressful.

I believe they picked a hawthorn because they are on a ranch outside Kamloops where it’s cold in winter and very hot in summer. The soils are also poor and there is limited water in summer.

As soon as the tree was planted, the girl’s grandma planted up the heart-shaped tree well with annuals. Personally, I don’t like the idea this early. We need the tree to establish and annuals can deflect rain drops away from the tree; and they also compete with surface roots. Alas, grandma is an avid gardener.

Then we get to watering. Newly installed trees should be flooded but this isn’t practical on a ranch with limited water resources. I also suspect there might be ashes in the planting hole: I didn’t have the balls to ask. When I poked my finger in the tree well to check on moisture levels I got raised eyebrow looks which more or less answered my question.

Last year the tree had to be moved and I believe it’s doing ok at the moment. Still, every time my sister mentions it I feel a bit of stress.

There is tons of pressure on memorial trees to thrive.

Seeing red in the garden

By | Plants, Seasonal | No Comments

Desperate for colour

Every winter I find myself longing for spring and for some colour in the garden. January seems to drag on and on. And today, with the first real cold and snow hitting the entire province, it was easy to notice the colour red. Let’s take a look.


This prickly firethorn shrub (Pyracantha) is a great choice if you’re trying to keep pedophiles from your backyard. But I noticed it because it was full of birds helping themselves to berries. And those berries were more and more noticeable as light snow fell.

Look closely and you will notice the sharp thorns.


Berberis is also prickly but not as harsh as Pyracanthas. It has nice fall colours and when the leaves drop we really notice the red berries. Especially when the ground is covered with a bit of snow.


Cotoneasters are very popular shrubs. And like the Pyracantha, birds enjoy their fruits. Cotoneasters are cool because they have two kinds of shoots: long ones for structure and short one for flower clusters.


My eyes automatically shifted to Nandinas because of their red berries. Planted in a group, they made an island of red.

Red twig dogwoods

Red-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea) have attractive red twigs and as snow fell they stood out even more. Just remember that it’s the new canes that look red. If you allow your shrub to mature, it will lose this red color except for the very top where new growth pushes out. See the picture below.

You can correct it by taking out the old wood. Don’t be shy.

Mature Cornus sericea

Winter blues?

I’m trying to enjoy winters more, now that I’ve accepted that I can’t do anything about them. Today, for example, was a beautiful January day but with -13C temperatures I couldn’t really work outside. But the cold didn’t stop me from taking winter photos and video shorts for YouTube. Spring will come, I know. And until then, try to find some colour in your neighbourhood.

Add stuff for success!

By | gardening, Installations, Landscaping | No Comments

Winter additions

Winter is a great time to add stuff to your landscape because everything is quiet. There is no lawn care and plants aren’t growing actively; weeds included. You can add soil to weak areas and plants to open spots before weeds move. And since trees are dormant, it’s a good time to add a few as well.

Soil amender

I love adding soil to the landscape. Dark soil amender gives your place an instant upgrade, it will help the plants and, if you’re behind on weeding, it will definitely smother weeds. Just make sure you don’t go cheap. I wouldn’t install anything below two to three inches.

If you don’t have a truck, fear not. They deliver for a fee.

It’s not even expensive: $35 per cubic yard maybe.

Much sharper look with new soil amender.

New plants

This is frightening because in nature plants move into open spaces. I personally finessed this bed and it was a lot of labour. Why not add some plants? They’re not expensive and they will save you from weeding because they compete with weeds. New plants will also beautify the bed. So why not go shopping for something you like?

If there is no budget, then consider asking your friends and visiting garden clubs. But whatever you do, don’t leave so much open space in your beds. Weeds will move in and they will produce lots of seeds.


I love planting trees! Winter is a great time to plant trees because they’re dormant. Unless, of course, the soil is frozen. Then you have to wait.

Pick something appropriate for your garden and make sure you consider your tree’s mature size. Your baby tree looks cute at the nursery but a giant red maple will soon tower over your house; and clog your gutters with leaves.

Last December I planted two dogwoods that will stay fairly small and flower nicely for the owners. Both came wrapped in burlap and nestled in metal cages. The ISA says it’s up to you if you want to keep or remove the burlap and cage.

Normally, I remove both but since I was by myself it made more sense to keep the cage. I simply cut away the strings, bent the cage top downwards and cut off the burlap from the top. You can my videos here: root flare and backfilling.


Winter is nice and slow so consider adding some stuff to your garden. Adding soil and mulch is a great project. And assuming the ground isn’t frozen, you can also add new trees. Have some fun before spring hits.