Monthly Archives: January 2016

Pampass Grass in the Garden

Growing Pampas Grass on Vancouver Island is easy since we live in a rain forest and have hot dry summers for the Grass to thrive.  What is difficult is the size.  The Grass needs room, lots of room to grow and expand!

Living on Vancouver Island and gardening definitely has its challenges.  There is no other place like the West coast in all of Canada.  We live in a rain forest and it brings its own benefits and challenges to the gardener.  In fact, living on Vancouver Island has different growing challenges depending on where you live.  I live and work in the mid island region.  Here the weather is temperate all year long.  On occasion we get snow (usually once or twice a year) but it melts within a day or two because we are right on the Pacific Ocean.  We also do not have the ground freeze beyond a depth of about 1 1/2 inches and it also never stays frozen.  This allows gardeners to grow many plants that will not grow anywhere else in Canada.  Plants such as palm trees, lemons and even olives not only survive but in some cases depending on the type of plant and the location, thrive here.

Such is the case of the Pampas Grass and although it grows in other regions of Canada…here it thrives…often becoming invasive!  As I mentioned it needs plenty of room and I mean lots of room…I cannot stress it enough.  We live in a rain forest and often I tell garden owners when they are designing or re-designing their gardens to remember that living in a rain forest means many many plants grow all year long…albeit the winter may slow growth to a snail’s pace but it does continue to grow and it grows larger then in other regions because it is a rain forest with plenty of rain and hot dry summers…often mirroring a Mediterranean climate.

This was the challenge of a job in July 2015.  The Garden Owners loved the Pampas Grass but it had been planted many years before they purchased the property and had grown to an enormous invasive size overtaking the hedge growing behind it and almost completely enveloping the garage also.  Although it was beautiful and majestic it had outgrown the area it was growing in.  It had to come out in order for the hedge and other area plants to survive.   Most garden books, garden centres and websites will tell you that Pampas Grass will grow 5 to 10 feet high and wide which is true in some regions.  However…here on the east side of Vancouver Island it can and does grow much larger as was the case here.  It was over 15 feet wide and over 13 feet high and still growing.  It is difficult to trim and to clean which should be done a couple times a year.

Taking out Pampas Grass is difficult to say the least…especially when it is this large.  The Grass is still growing and at this size it means the root ball is over size.  The Grass blades are large and sharp…sharp enough to cut.  Wear long pants and long sleeves and long garden gloves because you will need to protect yourself from cuts.    Wear tight fitting pants at the ankle because the Pampas can go up your pant leg and cut your legs…it did me…and its like a paper cut…it stings and bleeds.  Wear safety glasses or at the very least sunglasses to protect your eyes from blades and dirt.  It is a dirty job and a labour intensive job.  The root will be imbedded deep in the ground…often 3 feet or more.  I used sharp garden sheers to cut the blades down as much I could.  Then I used an electric chain saw (I did not use gas because of the dry summer and the risk of fire from a spark)  to cut the rest to ground level.   I tried to lift the root ball with a pitch fork and several different shovels but it was over 5 feet across and over 3 feet deep.  The root ball would not budge.  So I used a pick axe to break the root ball out in chunks.  Nothing else would take it out.  Trust me…I tried.  It took over 6 hours and 1 and 1/2 truck loads to take it away when I was done.   Keep in mind also that because of the hot dry summers here, Pampas Grass that has been left unattended also becomes a fire hazard…the dead grass and plumes are tinder dry and only take one spark to catch fire.  As you can see in the photo it almost looks like wood chips at ground level and it is like wood chips only thinner…paper thin.

In place of it I planted a rhododendron.  I did not purchase a large rhododendron to replace it because it was the heat of the summer and there was a stage 3 watering ban on and the Owners wanted it planted right away.   The hedge and other plants will take time to recover…probably a couple of years but in the long run it is much better then the alternative of letting the Pampas Grass to continue on its invasive path.


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A Garden Challenge….Bonsai



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As I mentioned in an earlier post as a landscaper every garden has its challenges.  This tree (actually there were two in this garden ) was so mis-shaped with many dead branches and it was virtually impossible to just trim it into shape.  So I decided while my garden owners were away on holidays to Bonsai it.  It came out great and added a welcome visual addition to the garden.  After I had finished shaping it, then I realized that I had not ask the owners and I stressed and worried over it until they returned from holidays.  I knew if they didn’t like it I would have to cut it down.   There was no changing what I had done and the branches I had cut were dead so I knew it would never recover to a normal shape.

I was so relieved that both loved what I had done.  It has retained its shape and only needs a slight pruning twice a year.  It adds form and structure to the garden and fits very well.


Mansbridge Bonsai TreeBonsai 2

A Garden Challenge

After moving to Ladysmith BC from Comox Valley BC, I took on my first garden job in the area.  The gardens are considerably large and were overgrown tremendously.  That first season in the garden saw many challenges. In early summer the garden owners went on holidays.  I had met with them prior to their departure and discussed their garden plans.  They had purchased the property the year prior and were looking for someone to weed.   Not much had been done for a few years in the gardens!  The garden designs were there and at one time had been quite beautiful but had since overgrown to the point where much was overshadowed by weeds and overgrown plants.  This proved to be one such challenge.  I had walked and worked in the garden many times and had avoided this corner of the garden because I did not know what to do.  In this corner of the garden sits a dwarf tree…meant to be a focal point and now it was an eye sore!  I must have walked around that tree 20 times.  Always unsettled about what to cut or do with it…I even considered cutting it down!  However, I could not as it is not my garden and I would never make such a decision without the garden owner’s permission.  And here is the tree…come to think of it…there were two in the gardens…one on each end and each was very overgrown and mis-shaped…

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My garden….planting more bulbs!

As I mentioned in an earlier post…it is still not too late to plant spring bulbs.  I planted these a couple weeks ago before the snow came and went.  The instructions are easy.  The biggest risk is critters and not planting the bulbs deep enough.  They will still sprout if they are too shallow but you run the risk of them being damaged by frost.  I have many more to plant and also must replace the ones the squirrels took. I took pictures both before and after planting.  I weeded the area first and then worked up the soil about six inches deep.  Then I added organic matter from my composter and worked it in too.  I didn’t add much because it is so rich.  Also, the location being under a tree where years of leaves have composted down gives me a solid soil base to start with.  As I said earlier in a post, I like mass planting so I planted many tulips and crocus…some I planted 3 to a hole.  This will give me masses of spring flowers just as the earth is waking up for the season and should be very showy for several weeks.

My garden is a work in progress and I am excited to watch it unfold.  Happy planting…see you in the garden or the garden centre! 🙂

crocus planting instructions 800x731 tulips planting instructions 800x871 bulbs 565x1000before bulb planting 565x1000planting bulbs 565x1000 planting bulbs 1 800x452 organic compost 800x452  bulb planting complete 800x452

Which Garden Tools will get the job done!

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Landscaping or Gardening is a labour intensive job that many people are not fond of.  I am one of those people who loves the physical work out as much as the end result.  I love working with the earth and seeing a finished landscape evolve through my own hard work.

The tools used are of utmost importance, saving you frustration, time and yes money at the end of your work day.  My favourite and most used tools are a pitch fork, a good pair (or two) of trimmers, loppers, a rake and an edger as well as a garden bag for trimmings and clippings.  As a landscape gardener I need tools that I can depend on day after day.  After many dollars spent on tools that did not stand up to the test of time, I discovered “Fiskars” brand.  The company, which was founded almost 400 years ago, offers a life time guarantee on their products.

My work takes me to every corner of an outdoor space and the job changes often by the minute.  I needed tools that would stand up to the intense workout of multiple demands hour after hour.  So I bought my first pair of Fiskars hand trimmers and was so satisfied with them, I bought another pair.  My first pair is now many years old and I still use them.   Since my first purchase, I have replaced most of my tools with Fiskars.  I have not found another brand that stands up as well.   So at the end of my work day when I am cleaning up my tools and the garden area, I am grateful that I found a product that stands up to the labour intensive job of garden work and landscaping  Many other tools I have purchased, became dull almost immediately, often bending or warping after little use and many others rusted from the moisture.    But not Fiskars…they just keep going and going.  And I love the orange coloured handles…easy to find in the garden.  I have lost  many hand tools in the garden because they are black and difficult to see against the black soil.

So the next time you are thinking of purchasing or replacing some or all of your garden tools…consider Fiskars…you will be glad you did.  They are available in every hardware store and have a website loaded with tool and garden information.  Best of all…they come with a lifetime guarantee!  See you in the garden…or the garden centre!  Cheers!


A Gardener’s Paradise…cleaning a pond and water fall

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Pond Cleanuppond garden 3

Before clean up


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After Clean up!


I often call myself the extreme landscaper.  I love taking on BIG landscape or garden clean up jobs!  Not only because I love the challenge but because I am a visual person and love the garden restoration after it is complete!  The work is often tedious and painstaking and often times at the end of a work period it seems I have made no headway!  But then almost magically, the garden comes to life and is revitalized.  Many,  many times after a garden is complete and I download the final photos and compare them with the before photos…I am amazed and energized by the garden work I have completed!  This clean up was one such challenge.  The pond and walkway had been overgrown for some years and it often times seems endless as it was a very detailed labour intensive job.  I worked it that garden yesterday and walked the steps up past the pond and it has held up to the test of time.  I completed this job a few seasons ago and still it is clean and beautiful!  So very happy with the end result…and MOST importantly so are the Garden Owners! 🙂

My garden progress

Squirrel stealing bulbs

One of the culprits in my garden stealing bulbs!  Squirrels have to eat too…just not my bulbs! 🙂



In total now, we have spent 20 hours doing clean up and planting some spring bulbs.  I still have over 100 bulbs to plant which I will get done this week.  The snow last week put a temporary hold on planting but I will go forward this week and continue on the clean up and the planting.  As I mentioned earlier in a post when you plant bulbs (especially tulips) cover with chicken wire to protect from the critters….squirrels, deer,  raccoon, etc…  I did not heed my own advice and the robbers came in the night and helped themselves.  🙁  Note to myself to take my own advice.  My gardens are up high surrounded by a retaining wall but that did not stop the thieves from coming.  So be aware that barriers such as mine are not thief proof!