Lessons from a gardener’s garage sale

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I know that some people frequent garage sales where they buy stuff they then flip for profit online. I’m not one of them, not yet. But this morning I made the forty-five minute drive into Vancouver to visit a garage sale put on by a retired professional gardener.

A few hours later flurries would come down so it was a cold morning but I had fun visiting another gardener and ISA certified arborist. This gentleman ran his own gardening company for over thirty years, servicing well-to-do residences in Vancouver. He never had more than four employees.

So now what, I asked him. It turns out he discovered his second act: he’s working as a tourist guide in Vancouver and sharing its history! That’s definitely less taxing physically; and he’s enjoying himself.

Greed and unaffordability

The current housing situation in British Columbia and the rest of Canada is horrendous. It turns that our retired gardener got a “renoviction” notice last fall to move out by February 2024. Thus the garage sale.

Having lived at the house for the past nine years means that his rent was probably very low and affordable. So the landlord is moving back in, allegedly. But I say they will eventually rent the place out at 35% more. And finding a new place to live for a seventy-plus retired gardener must be a nightmare.

Last year my own landlord openly, and illegally, emailed me with a 35% rent increase, saying I should be paying “market rates”. Oh, the beauty of greed! Laws only permit 3% annual rent raises. Yes, the market has gone nuts.

Here we go, 2024

So now I have to make more money to cover a huge rent increase, like the rest of Canada’s renters. That’s why I combed through the garage sale for items that would help my own one-man company. And I found some. Let’s see:

An 8′ landscape ladder in great condition for cheap was a huge score for me. I will eventually need bigger ladders like 10′ and 12′ but this baby will do for now.

Old tarps. Now I know that sounds a bit sketchy but new green waste tarps are fairly expensive. It was nice to score a few.

Used tarps are extremely useful.

I also scored a STIHL safety helmet with earmuffs and a shield. It’s nice to have a back-up unit; or I might sell it later. It has a nice ISA certified arborist sticker on it.

Five and ten litre jerry cans will also come in handy; and so will another hard rake in great condition. Wooden tools eventually break.

Afternoon flurries

By the time I got home the flurries were annoying so I changed my plans. I went home to compose blog posts like this. I still have Sunday and Monday to hustle.

It’s important to stay flexible and resilient. Careers end, rents go up, the weather turns ugly. Change is constant so get ready. I’m looking forward to 2024. Are you?

Why I loved UBC’s 2022 native plant seminars

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Lots to love

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.

The setting

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.

The teacher

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

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.

Carpinus fangiana


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.

New climate-change driven landscape requests

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New AC

The owners sacrificed a healthy Camellia for a new AC unit.

This winter I’ve been getting a lot of new requests involving shrub clearance around buildings. By itself, that’s nothing unusual but many owners are now installing air-conditioning units. Aha, that’s our twist.

To understand it, you’d have to know about the unprecedented, anywhere on Earth, heat dome we experienced in June 2021. For weeks we head super high summer temperatures and according to provincial reports, 595 people died as a result of the oppressive heat. Seniors are especially vulnerable so they’re getting ready by installing air-conditioning units. If there are boxwood hedges or flowering shrubs in perfect health in the way, so what. Summer safety comes first.

The actual physical work was easy. I had to prune away sections of boxwood which looked ridiculous until the AC unit got installed. And the elderly owner was super happy. If we get another summer heat dome, he’ll ride it out inside.

And the workers?

And what about the workers? I’m currently working on a second edition of my e-book “How to become a landscape professional” and now I wonder if it’s right to recommend landscaping as a career. It could be a mess with global warming driven changes.

The heat dome was oppressive, to put it mildly. One complex provided us with water coolers and a misting station but that was a rarity. For weeks, we suffered and went home early. Most of the professionals on staff managed; most of the hypochondriacs on staff bailed early and this time they didn’t need any elaborate excuses.

People were actually dying from the heat in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia; mostly seniors, sick people and the homeless. Five-hundred and ninety five heat-related deaths is 595 too many. Welcome to climate change. It’s very real.

Some clients care about their landscapers.


With the pandemic continuing, I fully expect another eventful summer. If we get hit with another heat dome, we’ll get through it. And so will the seniors who invested into new AC units, sacrificing perfectly good shrubs to stay safe. Here we go. Bring on summer.

Foreshore Equipment location opening soon on the North Shore

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There to help you

Here’s some great news for 2022: Foreshore Equipment is opening a new location in North Vancouver soon. That’s great news for professional landscapers, company owners, municipalities and homeowners. Especially homeowners because they’re busy.

Homeowners like Monica, who found me online this past fall. Her lawn desperately needed a final cut but her mower wouldn’t start. Could I help?

Now, I’m always ready to help but when you ask me to help with your machines, it’s clear you don’t know me well. I struggle with small engines which is why it’s great news to have a new sales and service location open in the Lower Mainland.


As it turned out, Monica’s old mower worked fine. The gas was turned off! But, the mower blades were original and, most likely, never sharpened. Dull mower blades is a common problem. Also, her plastic filter cover was missing. There is a reason manufacturers put it on there. One call to Foreshore Equipment and your problem is solved.

Red Seal Vas can tell you why it’s a bad idea to mow for 7 years with the original blades still on but he can’t sharpen them for you. For that you have to visit one of the Foreshore Equipment locations. Sharp blades make clean cuts through your grass blades and force the clippings into the bag nicely. Once the blades get dull, the mower starts to clog up and the shredded grass blades suffer. I would suggest buying brand new blades.

You will need replacement blades. Call Foreshore Equipment.

Why Foreshore Equipment?

So, what’s so special about Foreshore Equipment? Well, the mechanics are top-notch, which means you will get your fixed machines back in great time.

The mechanics are also experts at answering my questions. Like, why won’t my edger start after refueling? Answer: there’s air in the line so just hit the primer a few times.

Pro tip: Recycle the antique mower that came with your house and buy something new. The cost of repair labor makes this a no-brainer.

Professionals also constantly need new parts and tools. That’s why I am personally a happy customer at Foreshore Equipment. Even my small, side-hustle operation needs supplies and tools. It would be hard to succeed without good support from your local, trusted dealer.

Foreshore Equipment offers a great selection of machines and tools; and they will help you get set up. Visit one of their locations and tell them Red Seal Vas sent you.

Make a KIVA loan, change a life!

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Helping to change a life

I scheduled this post for Christmas Eve because right now, even during a pandemic, life is pretty good in Canada. My family is healthy, the fridge is full of food and there are presents under the tree. As of today, I’m happy to report that I also have plenty of work, both regular and side-gigs. (Knock on wood!)

But there are many people in the world who need help. This is where KIVA comes in. The organization facilitates loans to people who are unable to secure loans from local sources. This is a beautiful idea: donors lend money which is then repaid. So my $25 “donation” will eventually return to me.

As a landscape professional, I have a soft spot for farmers who need money for their projects. Some years ago I lent $25 each to two farmers and their loans were 100% repaid! So, this is better than straight donations. You allow people access to money so they can run their projects. And the loans are to be repaid.

To be honest, $25 isn’t a big deal. Even if I didn’t get it back, it would be fine. All three people I lent money to in the past repaid their loans.

How to change someone’s life

Step one involves registering with KIVA. Once you register, you can search for loans that interest you. Personally, I check out agriculture. That’s how I learned about Karina from San Gabriel, Ecuador.


Karina is a single 21-year-old student who works in agriculture to finance her education and help her parents. Sounds good to me.

Karina is asking for a $1,000 loan for the purchase of organic agriculture supplies so she can grow broad beans. I think she is at 65% of the loan amount. I hope she makes it.

Kiva loan projects come with expiry dates. So, when some people log in at KIVA they automatically go to loans that expire soon. You can do that, too.

Change a life

If you have $25 available to lend out through KIVA, try it out. You could change a life! And count your blessings if you live in the Pacific Northwest where life is pretty good.

Happy holidays!!

Risking arrest to see California’s Eucalypts

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This past August I found myself in Lake Forest, California because of my son’s soccer tournament. It was yet another sunny morning and it was getting hot. It was too hot for the boys to have a serious soccer practice. So I left the team at the tennis courts and walked across the street.




Private property!

My target was a nearby line of beautiful and huge Eucalyptus trees. It was like Christmas for this arborist. The trees looked awesome and as I took more pictures I drifted onto a church parking lot. There I shot many other landscape plants. I was having a fantastic California morning until a voice woke me up from my plant trance.



I love these Eucalyptus trees.


“Can I help you? This is private property!” Immediately I thought oh, shit, was this an open carry state? Then I mumbled something about visiting California and loving their church landscaping. “We get all kinds here!” was his reply. So I apologized and told the dude I was leaving. No need to call the police. He then wished me a pleasant visit and I wondered what the Sunday sermons were like.



Note the security camera.


Trees in Paradise

I have since learned that Lake Forest used to be an Eucalyptus plantation. Now it’s a master-planned community with beautiful landscaping. I was blown away by the landscaping so much, I walked into the nearest bookstore desperate for some sort of plant guide. And I found a door stopper gem there called Trees in Paradise by Jared Farmer. (I will review this excellent book in a future blog.)

Farmer devotes a one hundred page chapter to Eucalypts and it’s a wild ride. The trees were imported from Australia and became very popular in California. And then it all swung the other way. Eucalyptus plantations in San Francisco were abandoned and the trees were allowed to go wild.

One glitch stands out from this book chapter. Californians wanted to reproduce the success Aussies had with their fast-growing Eucalypts. But what they didn’t notice was that the Aussies were processing old growth Eucalypts.

The new growth Eucalypts in California were extremely difficult to process because the young trees behave badly when they’re run through saw mills. Farmer does a great job of explaining this. Basically the trees break apart at the saw mill so it’s hard to get the nice straight lumber saw mills wanted. Bummer.

I think the Eucalypts I saw in Los Angeles looked great. I can’t wait to see them again in August 2020 but I will be more mindful of private property lines. “Canadian pro blogger dead in California” would be an unfortunate headline.



Take this step before challenging the Red Seal exam

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Hort Education BC is putting on a preparation course on Saturday, November 23, 2019 at the UBC Botanical Gardens. If you have 7, 920 documented hours in the horticulture industry (roughly four seasons) you can challenge the Red Seal exam. This preparation course is an excellent way to increase your chances of passing. Here is why.

Egan Davis

Egan Davis, the instructor, teaches at the UBC Botanical Gardens and he is super experienced and knowledgeable. He is a plant geek. You can ask him lots of questions but not about actual exam questions. Those are kept secret. You have to earn the Red Seal qualification; there are no short-cuts. The exam tests your knowledge and experience.

Egan sports a booming voice and excellent delivery. I doubt you will forget spending a day with him. He helped me pass in 2014 and I will forever be grateful to him.


When I took this course in 2014 I was in a rush because up-coming municipal jobs required Red Seal papers. And the preparation course was very new and evolving which is why it was free. Now it will cost you $90 but trust me, it is money well spent.

I took the full day course, studied for a few weeks and took comfort in the words of my municipal gardener boss. She told me I would do well based on listening to my comments in the field. This definitely encouraged me. The rest was all work experience from fifteen seasons in the field and landscape industry certified studies.

I did not smash the test but I passed! Now the ITA Red Seal diploma hangs on my wall and I am proud of it.

The key

All attendees received a thick manual which focused on areas where people struggle most. See, I told you, money well spent. I have no idea if attendees still receive manuals or what is in them but I bet it is something similar.

If you have any questions, call or e-mail Bill Hardy, he will help you: or 604-430-0422.

Red Seal Landscape Horticulturist qualification is a nice trade paper to have. It identifies you as an experienced professional and should, in theory, lead to better pay. It also allows you to take on new apprentices.

If you are thinking about challenging the Red Seal exam in landscape horticulture take the preparation course first. Ninety dollars is a steal. Trust me.

Good luck!


Remembrance Day

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Today is Remembrance Day, a day to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom today. Unfortunately, I had to work today but I did stop at 11 a.m. to remember those who made their ultimate sacrifice.

A new bed

In 2014, while working for the City of Coquitlam as a park labourer, we created a new bed for Remembrance Day at Blue Mountain Park. And now I drive by the park weekly so I remember fallen soldiers all year.

In subsequent years the municipality redesigned the front planted bed but the plants in the back remain. And I’m glad they do because I planted them with my city gardener boss. We planted yews (Taxus), Astilbes, maples (Acer) and one dogwood (Cornus).



I planted all of the back plants in 2014 with my city gardener boss. They all look fine.


First bare-root planting

The dogwood planting was very special because it was my first bare-root planting. Bare-root planting is recommended because when you wash off the root ball you can clearly see the tree roots. This then allows you to arrange them so they look like spokes on a wheel before planting. We want all roots to run out and get established, not keep running in circles. Feel free to prune out any rebel roots.

When you wash off the root ball, hold on to the mud you create. You will use it to plant the tree after your roots are nicely arranged like spokes on a wheel. The mud anchors the bare-root tree in the hole. At the time I didn’t know this. Keeping mud in the back of the truck seemed crazy.

The procedure is to install the muddy soil in phases: soil and water go in and then you wait for it to settle, and repeat the procedure until the hole is filled. The mud cements the tree in the hole.

When we did the planting in 2014 the lawn and soil were wet so I got very muddy but it didn’t bother me. I loved the new experience of bare-root planting.


Now, five years later in 2019, I finally stopped by to take a picture of the dogwood and it looks healthy. I gave it a quick wiggle test by moving the trunk back and forth. The base felt solid which means the tree is established. Yay! Success. The other plants look fine as well.



The dogwood in the middle was planted bare-root in 2014.


It feels good to know that my work will be on display for many years to come. I have since done one solo bare-root planting project and I hope to do many more. You should try it next time, too.

I hope you had a great Remembrance Day!




Don’t miss CanWest 2019

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Don’t miss CanWest 2019 Horticulture Expo, Western Canada’s Premiere Horticulture Trade Show. If you read this blog frequently-and I hope you do!-you will know that I harp on this every year. The show runs from September 25-26, 2019.


Why I attend



Landscape pro Vas planning his CanWest lecture line-up.


Yes, thanks to the generous support of my company, I get two paid days off to hang out at a trade show. But it’s not about escaping from work. It’s about learning and collecting education credits. And this year looks very promising.

As an ISA certified arborist I attend the full day Urban Foresters Symposium on Wednesday; and this year two lectures look interesting: tree planting and installation; and tree diseases affecting Pacific Northwest trees. There is usually enough time after the symposium to take the plant ID test on the trade floor.

Then, on Thursday, there are short courses available. This is my proposed list.

  1. Renovation pruning of an Old Garden, 8:30-10am
  2. Garden zombies: horticultural myths, 10:30-12:00, Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott
  3. Pruning fruit trees, 1:15-2:45

CanWest rock star!

Note that the second course is taught by my online mentor Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott from the University of Washington. I have most of her books and I bought her Great Course. All of them are great resources. Not only is there science behind Linda’s work, she’s also local. If you’re not familiar with Linda, now is your chance to correct that frightening omission. Thank me later.



Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, don’t miss her lectures and learn from her work.


Lots happening

There is lots more happening at CanWest than lectures. The trade floor is covered by booths, there is a job board, arborist demo zone, bug zone and pest ID challenge, and truck and trailer safety.

You can also reconnect with old co-workers and meet new people to build your network. This trade show is awesome for a professional landscape blogger like me. And some of my work will appear on this Proper Landscaping blog.

Don’t miss this year’s CanWest. If you see me there, please say Hello and give me feedback on this blog.

Learn. Connect. Grow.