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Surprises in December landscapes

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Plenty to see in December

I know it’s sad to see the warm seasons go but there is still plenty to see in the landscape as we hit winter. Come take a look with Red Seal Vas. How many of these plants do you know?

Fatsia japonica flowers in winter which makes it special and very welcome! The huge leaves are hard to miss. Just make sure you give this plant plenty of space to grow.

Like Fatsias, Hellebores also flower in winter. These flowers really pop in dormant winter landscapes. Interestingly, this specimen had up-turned flowers; normally the flowers point down which annoys some gardeners.

Viburnum bodnantense is one of my favorite shrubs. It’s fun to see its flowers on bare branches. I always stop and take photos.

Callicarpa looks awesome in fall. Planted in the middle of a round bed, it really popped with its purple berries. In summer, the flowers are tiny so be careful when you do mid-season pruning. You wouldn’t want to miss this show in your own garden.

I love this Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) holdout! Many people consider these trees “messy”, if that’s even possible. I know that all jam-makers would beg to differ.

Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) have tiny but beautiful flowers in summer. You have to get really close to see them. And in the fall, we get these dark berries.

Viburnum tinus looks great in fall when it’s not all chewed up by its enemy, the beetle Pyrrhalta vuburni. I love the metallic blue.

Arbutus unedo are easy to identify because they have spiked strawberries. This one, like the Cornelian cherry above, is holding on in a sheltered place.

When you stop to observe the plants in your landscape, you get nice surprises like these Escallonia flowers. I also like the waxy foliage.

Can you guess the tree species from these fruits? It’s a female Ginkgo biloba tree. When crushed, the fruits have an unpleasant odor but, again, I doesn’t bother me. I love trees!

It’s rare to see female Ginkgo trees so enjoy this photo. The tree is so ancient, it occupies its own tree family.

Conclusion

There is lots to see in our December West Coast landscapes. Slow down and take a good look. You could be pleasantly surprised.

Spring bulbs for beginners

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You can do it!

Planting spring bulbs in fall is easy and it doesn’t take much. Just get some bulbs, find a pot or planted bed, and find a garden trowel. Then you just need faith that the bulbs will come up in spring.

Let’s see how Red Seal Vas planted daffodils in his patio pot in minutes.

Shopping

First you need to buy bulbs you like. I love to shop online at West Coast Seeds. They have great products at great prices, and they’re local. Considering COVID-19 problems and the store’s distance from my home, online shopping was a no-brainer, even with shipping charges.

Buy whatever you like. I like daffodils because they last for several seasons and can even be naturalized in planted beds. For this blog, I purchased cupped narcissi because I liked the look. Deer resistance is a nice bonus but I’m not expecting to see deer on my second floor patio.

The beauty of planting spring bulbs is that you can experiment every season. Change things up.

My box from West Coast Seeds

Planting

Normally late November on the West Coast is ideal for planting spring bulbs. I planted my daffodils today (December 12, 2020) because I’ve been busy. But don’t worry: the rule is to plant before frost hits and your soil becomes unworkable. The soil in my pot was fine and I planted in beautiful afternoon sun.

Bonus: while I worked, I enjoyed the look of my Calamagrostis ornamental grass. Since I rule over my patio, nobody cuts back my ornamental grasses in late fall. Nobody!

Planting depth

The package gives you planting depth instructions so don’t stress. The rule is to plant at twice the height of your bulbs. Just make sure you plant at roughly the same level. That way your bulbs will pop-up together. For this reason it’s a good idea to plant one pot or bed yourself. Two or more people will inevitably plant at slightly different heights. Try to avoid this.

Since my pot is bare, I left the package envelope in the pot to mark it. Now all we need is faith that the bubs will come up in spring. Check your bulb flowering time to avoid any panic. Some are early, and some mid or late spring bloomers.

The bulbs I planted can be used as cut flowers but I won’t have too many. But I suppose I could surprise my wife next spring.

Ready for planting.

Conclusion

Spring bulbs are easy to plant in late fall and they give us a nice show in spring when gardens start to come alive. Daffodils can be left alone to bloom for several seasons. Just cut them back once they fade and the stalks turn brown.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Buy different bulbs every fall and try new arrangements. One idea I love is planting tulips with two different heights.

Have some fun with spring flowering bulbs!

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.

Conclusion

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

By | landscape maintenance, Plants, Pruning | No Comments

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.

Careful!

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.

Annuals

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

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.

Sedums.

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

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)

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Euonymus alatus

 

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Alchemilla

 

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Hosta

 

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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.

Butterflies

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.