Plant Species Information

Why botany rules!

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Botany can be super fun and I will prove it with this blog post. The star of this post is a structure called an involucre. The best definition I could find online is:

“a highly conspicuous bract or bract pair or ring of bracts at the base of an inflorescence.”

Don’t worry, it will makes sense right away. I have examples coming below.

Carpinus betulus

Carpinus betulus

This is a branch from a Hornbeam tree and right away you’ll notice the three-pronged involucre that partially covers the seeds at the base. That’s the point of involucres: they partially cover the seeds. Now, as for the leaves, they look like birch leaves so it explains the specific epithet “betulus”.

Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam) is an attractive landscape tree with good fall colours and its signature involucres give away its name.

Davidia involucrata

So, now after reading the headline above you should know what’s coming.

Ghost tree

The ghost tree (Davidia involucrata) has massive involucres, so conspicuous that they make the flowers, which are partially covered, look like ghosts. This is why it’s one of my favourite trees and why it populates my list of easy to identify trees.

Once you know it you will never forget it.

I took this picture inside a rooftop daycare centre in Vancouver so you can see that landscape architects have a good sense of humour. They planted these trees inside raised cement, bench-like boxes, which guarantees that the little kids must look up at the ghosts. I wonder what the kids think. Perhaps to them the flowers look like handkerchiefs, another common name for this tree.

Eventually, the bracts fall off and all you have left is a large nut.


An involucre refers to a bract or bracts that partially cover a flower. As a structure it makes the trees fun to observe and easy to identify. How many others do you know? Don’t forget to share with a comment and picture.

Hydrangea deadheading

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Do you cut off dead flowers from Hydrangeas? This is another burning question online so let’s examine it.

Bad habit

In commercial landscape maintenance workers tend to rush deadheading Hydrangeas and it’s a hard habit to break. There is absolutely no need to rush this task. Why?

The spent flowers can protect the new buds below from low temperatures and, when frost hits, the old flowers look brilliant. Once you cut them off, the show is over until summer. All you get to see is canes.

Recently, I had a client tell me to leave her spent Hydrangea flowers alone because birds like to hide in them. Ok. Done!

I think landscapers enjoy this deadheading task because it’s easy. It’s much easier than weeding and cultivating beds or worse, re-establishing deep-edges. I prefer to have something to look at in winter.


If you must deadhead your Hydrangeas, do it carefully. Don’t cut lower than 2 to 3 buds. Since most Hydrangea plants flower on old wood, cutting too low risks removing flowers for next season.

This is where training comes in. It’s important to train all workers on proper pruning techniques. It happens every year. One unhappy client asks me to remove her Hydrangea because it never flowers. It just produces green canes. What a disappointment.

So, yet again, I have to beg her to stop pruning it. Green canes without flowers means that the pruning was too severe. Now all we can do is wait for next year because the flowers appear on last season’s wood.

I used to deadhead everything on my patio and in the landscape but not this past winter. I let the birds enjoy my perennials and I made some of my co-workers angry by insisting that we leave ornamental grasses standing. And the world didn’t end. So try it. Maybe you’ll form a new habit that will help birds in winter.

On the difference between annual and perennial flowers

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Someone asked this question online: what’s the difference between annual and perennial flowers? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look.


Annual plants complete their life cycle in one season. Once they’re spent they get tossed in our green waste. They’re usually showy. When you go to garden centres in late spring, you will see lots of home gardeners filling their shopping carts with brightly colored annuals.

The retailers love it but, personally, I rarely buy annuals because of the associated cost. In strata maintenance work, it’s a great idea to install annual plants in high-profile areas like entrances and walkways. It gives the site an instant lift and the clients notice it.

I don’t recommend it but some people even install annuals in tree circles.

One advantage of having brightly colored annuals in summer is the fun you can have. Change your bed designs every year. Try new plants and see what you can create.

Dahlias are technically perennials but here we treat them as annuals.


Perennials last for more than one season; they keep on coming back. They might be a bit more expensive but you don’t have to toss them at the end of the season. All you have to do is cut them back at ground level and wait for next season. It’s simple and cost-effective.

Most of the plants on my patio are perennials. For example, Sedums are succulents and their flowers can stay upright all the way through winter. When you flush cut them at ground level, you will see new growth getting ready for the new season.


In landscape maintenance we normally cut back the spent flowers in the fall. I find that it’s a good idea to leave them standing into early winter. This is just in case it’s frosty and you need easy work to do.

In residential gardens it makes sense to let the flower stalks stand and let birds enjoy them. Sometimes when frost covers them, they look awesome. This winter I was too busy to attend to my pots and then I noticed more birds on my patio!

That’s it. That’s the beauty of perennials. Cut them back once a year and enjoy them all year. There’s no need to spend more money. But if you must have bright colors in summer, run down to your nearest garden centre and buy some.

Late winter plants that lift your spirit

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Last Friday the sun came out and I could finally feel spring approaching. So let’s look at some landscape plants that got me excited. I’m so looking forward to warmer temperatures and more color in the landscape.

Hamamelis mollis

I never get tired of looking at Hamamelis. Some people describe the flowers as spider-like but, since I hate spiders, I ignore that description. I just pretend it’s confetti. This shrub really stands out when nothing is happening in the landscape.

Forsythia x intermedia

It’s a bit early to get excited about Forsythia color but I love this picture because I can see buds. I reduced this shrub by half and took out the biggest canes. It was still winter so I worried a little bit. I need not have. Soon this Forsythia will explode in a yellow riot. Yes, you’ve seen these shrubs erupt in yellow before.


Galanthus works well in municipal pots.

It also works well mass-planted.

Galanthus works really well mass-planted under trees. I’ve seen examples from English gardens and they look awesome. You can see masses of Galanthus under mature trees; so many plants, they look like ground cover. If I had a large garden, I would do the same.

Viburnum bodnantense

This is a surprising Viburnum species because it flowers in winter. It definitely brightens up the Port Moody public park where I took this photo today.

Cryptomaria japonica

This is my favorite evergreen tree. Cryptomaria japonica has beautiful bright green foliage and very cute round cones. I often pick the cones for no obvious reason.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea’

This is another beautiful evergreen. It’s potted and sports the original tag so I use it for pronunciation practice. Chamae-cy-paris obtusa. Say that quickly a few times. I dare you.

I’m heading out to do a side-job now that this blog post in finished. That’s what professional landscape bloggers do. They hustle.

House plants for beginners

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When our house cats died we were all sad, especially the kids. But for me it was a chance to finally purchase some house plants. So, when I walked through Home Depot last fall, I couldn’t resist picking up a few house plants. Cheap, small house plants.

Today, after absentmindedly watering my three house plants for months, I discovered a flower and thorns on one of my plants. Surprised, I finally pulled out the plastic tag and read it. Aha!

Euphorbia milii

Right away I recognized the Spurge family because we have Euphorbias in the landscape and they produce the same poisonous white sap (latex). Now you know why house plants and cats don’t always mix.

Use gloves when handling and pruning the plant. The white latex is a skin irritant and doesn’t belong in your eyes. I’ve pruned Euphorbias in the landscape and the sticky sap was annoying. My skin was fine.

The common name Crown of Thorns makes sense because right below the flower are brown thorns. I tested them gently and it looks like a tight squeeze would hurt. Light touch was fine. I actually like the look. I can see how people would make the association with Jesus.

The flower appears at the end of a stalk and has gentle lobes. I like small, unassuming flowers. Not every flower in your house has to be in your face big. If you re-pot the plant you can expect it to reach 10-50cm. This is my next step, re-potting.

Euphorbia milii is a succulent which, I suspect, is why it’s a perfect house plant for beginners. You can forget to water it and it will still plug away until you remember you owned house plants. I know, life is busy. I’ve tried to get my kids to water our house plants, without success.

Fun, fun, fun

It was fun to learn something new today from a cheap house plant I picked up on the way to the cash register at Home Depot. And while I prefer outdoor plants, it’s still a lot of fun to get some house plants. Try it!

Euphorbia milii (Crown of Thorns)

Groundcover surprise in Seattle

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When I was in Seattle, USA, recently for my son’s soccer tournament (they made it to the final!) I went hunting for coffee in the morning. My cheap Motel 6 didn’t have any coffee in the lobby, nor in the room. No problem.

So, I walked into the nearest gas station to get my dark roast which happened to come with a free banana. Even better; but no sign of the New York Times.


On the way out I noticed a familiar looking groundcover with orange fruit. I recognized the foliage but had never seen the fruit. Imagine that, a new personal plant discovery at a gas station! I would later post my pictures in a Facebook group and some people laughed. Usually people post beautiful flowers from exotic, far away places. Not me; I get excited by gas station groundcovers.

I rushed to our cramped room to use the motel’s very wobbly and unsecured Wi-Fi to confirm that it was Rubus groundcover. I knew the evergreen foliage which is brownish on the underside.

There is lots to like about Rubus. It tolerates heat, the foliage is attractive and it’s evergreen; and it produces orange fruit which resembles Salmonberry. And it makes sense because the botanical name for Salmonberry is Rubus spectabilis. We know that Salmonberry is a native West Coast plant with edible berries.

I always buy travel insurance but just to be safe, I didn’t eat any of the groundcover berries. Back home when we go for a walk with the kids, we sample all ripe Salmonberries within reach.

The groundcover Rubus also shades out weeds which is important for gas station beds. In Canada, gas station owners have very limited landscaping budgets which is why most of gas stations look awful.

Awesome groundcover

I was really surprised to see a nice looking groundcover with fruit at a gas station. It works really well and it would work well in your garden as well. If you need groundcover plants, consider Rubus. It might even feed you.

On relaxed campsite landscaping

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I recently took my kids to Adams lake north of Chase, British Columbia. There they got to swim, ride in a motorboat and stay in a camper for the first time. And Daddy got a few days of rest which is critical for landscape professionals.



Adams lake, British Columbia.


At the lake front is a collection of campers parked on leased lots. This makes everything safer and more fun. One feature of the community that delighted the kid’s mother was a nearby community washroom and shower building.

Of course, I didn’t stress about my kids showering because they swam in the clear lake every day. I also believe in not scrubbing away protective skin oils daily, unlike my wife, who is an expert on bacterial soaps.

All this leads us to the building mentioned above and its landscaping.




What do you notice about the landscaping?

This bed is as relaxed as the setting. Just shooting the picture wasn’t relaxing because this was the women’s side and I didn’t want to arouse suspicion by taking too many pictures.

The plants look natural. They aren’t sheared into tight shapes they way their cousins are on strata title properties. It’s refreshing to see plants left to grow.

Also note that nobody is stressing about weeding. There are all sorts of wild grasses and weeds in this bed and nobody cares. It fits nicely into its natural setting.

The dwarf spruce and native Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) give us height; and there are small Hostas enjoying shade created by Euonymus alatus.



Euonymus alatus









Native Pacific ninebark


It was nice to spend Canada Day weekend with family at a lake and provide my kids with new experiences. But I also enjoyed seeing the relaxed landscaping which perfectly matched the relaxed setting. The plants were allowed to grow and look natural. It was nice to see.

Butterflies and cherry laurels: Why collecting new firsts is a lot of fun

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I really enjoy collecting new firsts. It makes my working life more exciting and, because I’m doing something for the first time, it becomes a good learning experience. Let’s examine two of my firsts from yesterday.


Yesterday, I was rushing my end of the day clean-up blow because my son had a soccer tournament to get to. Then I stopped to admire a Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). It flowers from June to September and clearly the flower panicles weren’t fully formed yet.

And then a butterfly showed up, attracted by the flowers and totally oblivious to my presence and the loud blower on my back. Finally I had my own picture of a Buddleia davidii with a butterfly, confirming the common name.

Now considered invasive, Buddleia davidii provides summer interest. Then when it starts to get out of control, we hack it up.



Buddleia davidii (Butterfly bush) with a butterfly; my first photo confirming the common name.


Prunus hedges

I’ve seen and worked with English laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) before but the Genolia variety is new to me. This fastigiate cherry laurel (Prunus is in the cherry family) is perfect for privacy screens because it has a more upright habit (fastigiate). It also handles partial shade.

The upright habit and shade tolerance were critical factors in my project area.




I had just taken out four dead cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd‘) from under a Styrax japonica tree. Obviously, replanting with the same cedars would be suspicious so in went the fastigiate cherry laurel. It can handle full sun, partial sun and shade; in this location it will get some sun and lots of shade.

The upright habit will help the homeowner create a privacy screen between his unit and the walkway. Plus the glossy green leaves are very attractive. The cherry laurel will also flower.

I watered the laurels in nicely and checked the planting depth afterwards. I got my first ever Prunus laurocerasus Genolia planting done; and the owner was extremely happy to get his dead cedars replaced. I can’t wait to check on the hedge later in the season.


Can your beds have too much colour?

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Before we get to the title question, let me set this up. Some weeks ago I walked into a local store looking for summer fertilizer. No luck. But I did find several specimens of Orange New Zealand sedge (Carex testacea) marked for clearance at $2. Two dollars? That’s right, just two dollars for a sedge with attractive foliage. And you don’t have to touch it all year. I bought one for each hand and walked out with a smile.

Now, why wouldn’t a sedge fly off the shelves? Because it doesn’t sport any bright colours!

Beauty or chaos?




Can your beds have too much colour? When I see beds like the one pictured above I feel chaos because my eyes don’t know where to focus. I need calm and tranquility. And of course, this is all super subjective. I’m sure the owner is super happy about her garden.

I’m not judging anybody. I’m happy people have time to garden because it’s good for them, both physically and mentally.

Also, I’m not a garden designer. If I was, I would know the technical terms for too much colour. I just know my feeling of unease. So I had to write a blog post about it so I can let it go.




Once again, this is too much colour for me. When I walk by, this bed does nothing for me because my eyes can’t rest.






This is what I like. And you had to expect it from a dude who considers a $2 sedge a bargain. The flowering Thyme attracts lots of bees and it’s nicely bordered by Corral bells (Heuchera). Heucheras produce nice white flowers but they’re not super showy. It’s their deep purple foliage that rocks.

The yuccas add more white colour and height to the presentation. Best of all, my eyes aren’t pulled in many different directions. I can enjoy the view in peace. There, I said it, and now I can let it go.

Enjoy your garden this summer!