Category Archives: Xeroscape Landscaping

Transforming a Front Yard

We were hired by Beryl to transform her front yard in Ladysmith.  After several discussions we came up with an initial plan so I could design the area.  She wanted raised garden boxes in front of the house and smaller raised garden boxes on each side of her trellis.  There will be no grass in the front yard.  The grass is non-existent anyway, with only the weeds growing.  She wants a low maintenance design, with a large curving patio.  We incorporated a dry river bed to run along the perimeter of the patio.  This will add visual appeal as well as natural drainage from the yard.

The fence and arbor were installed last year.  The shrubs in front of the house had to come out and the garden boxes installed.

Then the yard had to be taken down in height.  In some areas it had to be taken down 14 inches so that it would be level.  This design is an ongoing project.  I will update with the design pics next.

Xeriscaping a low maintenance front yard!

We were hired by our garden owner Gail in the spring to re-do her front lawn.  The lawn is approximately 1000 square feet of poor soil and very poor lawn.  Gail had struggled with the lawn since she had moved there.  After years of trying to get the grass to grow she decided she needed a low maintenance xeriscaped area.  When I went to meet her, I agreed.  My motto has always been, when you are trying to grow something, you want it to thrive not just survive.  Her lawn was barely surviving…although the weeds were prolific, nothing else seemed to thrive.  As a retired farmer Gail realizes the importance of water conservation and thought it best to get rid of the lawn and conserve the water for better uses.

Gail said as each year went by the lawn became more unhealthy then the previous year.  The lawn is patchy at best and really required a new design.  Gail had already decided she wanted all of the sod removed and disposed of.  She wanted a rock wall across the front and a path to her side garden for her to be able to water with her garden hose.  She also wanted as much of the front lawn mulched as possible.  she wanted a design that would compliment her beautiful home and create curb appeal.

I suggested we frame the entire front yard with a perimeter of river rock.  It would not only add a new layer to the design, but more importantly it would allow good drainage of rains and help to keep the mulch in its place.  The last thing I wanted to happen was for a heavy rainfall to wash all of the mulch to the sidewalk and the road.  Without the perimeter of rock it was a likely problem as the lawn is on a gradient towards the sidewalk and the road.

The work began on Monday taking out all of the sod and disposing of it. A sod cutter works great for such a big job.  The perimeter of the lawn had to be cut out with an edger as the sod cutter cannot get close enough to cut it out.

Once we went over the lawn with the sod cutter we realized that although the grass was not growing above ground the roots were a solid mass with some as deep as 6 inches.  We had to run the sod cutter over it twice to rid the area of roots and start with a clean slate.  It was labour intensive but a necessary requirement to ensure a long lasting low maintenance design.  We did need to take the lawn down by a minimum of 2 inches to make room for the mulch but it ended up coming down 5 to 6 inches which actually worked out better in the long run.

Once the lawn and roots were taken out and disposed of (7truck loads of waste), it was time to prep the entire bare area.  We used a landscape rake to level the entire area. Then we built a stone wall across Gail’s front lawn to add depth and beauty as well as hold the mulch in place.   We dug out the entire perimeter lower then the rest of the lawn and put garden edging in to keep the river rock separate from the mulch.  We also added  layers of wet newspaper and landscape fabric underneath the river rocks.

Then we used recycled newspapers….8 to 10 layers deep on the entire yard.  We wet the newspaper first so it sticks to the ground.  This creates a barrier so that weed seeds in the soil cannot sprout or grow.  We were not willing to lay landscape fabric down on bare soil.  The landscape fabric does what it is supposed to…it has tiny perforated holes to allow rain water to flow through it but cannot hold the weeds back.  Many fabrics have a 5 year or 20 year guarantee on the package. That is not for the duration that it will keep weeds out…that is for the duration of its life before it completely breaks down.  There is a big difference.  For anyone who has ever used the fabric in their garden they know that is only a matter of time before a tiny weed seed sprouts and pokes through one of these perforated holes in the fabric and begins a weed trend that does not stop.  Once the weeds begin to poke through the fabric, the only way to get them out is to pull all of the fabric up and weed it from underneath.  It is not the current seeds that are sprouting but rather the old weed seeds trapped under the fabric and they do sprout and grow.

We purchased commercial landscape fabric and yes there is a big difference.  It is a strong mesh material that allows the water to seep through rather then the cheaper fabric with perforated holes.  Commercial fabric is 25% more but it is the only fabric to use when I am covering bare ground to impede weeds growing.  We layered the fabric and overlapped to ensure there were no bare areas that weeds could sprout.  Then we covered it with a medium dark mulch.  The dark mulch is larger chunks and less likely to blow away or move around in a rain storm.  We covered the entire remaining yard with 4 to 6 inches of mulch.  We raked it all out and then we watered it down.  We knew a storm was coming the next day and rather then take a chance on the mulch being so dry and light it would migrate, we watered it down to weigh it down.  The re-design turned out beautiful and Gail is very happy with it and so are we!



Island Garden Scapes-a family business!

To all of our clients…thank you for giving us the opportunity to show you what we can do for you!  Cheers!

Call us for all your lawn and landscape needs… thank you from Tim, Trevor, Mike, Miss Ryla, Kathleen and baby Ashlyn.

Video Link

Good Morning All!

Recently I was interviewed by the Take5 team in regards to my business.  Here is a link if you would like to check it out!  Thanks for watching!  🙂 See you in the garden or the garden centre!

Creating a Xeroscape Desert Garden

It has been a busy busy couple of months with multiple projects on the go!  Here is one that I thoroughly enjoyed knowing the client will never ever have to mow their lawn again.  They wanted a no-maintenance space that would look beautiful all year long without work.  So here is what we did!

  1.  I killed the grass one week before the initial work began.
  2. Laid a minimum of 10 sheets of wet newspaper overlapping on the entire area.
  3. Laid landscape fabric down on sheets and stapled each together to create one solid piece of cover over the entire area.  The fabric was overlapped by about 4 inches and stapled together to ensure that it would not move when we were laying the stones.  This helps to minimize the risk of weeds growing.  Each outside seam was tucked down into the ground a minimum of 5 inches…most places 6 inches or more to ensure the grass and weeds would not grow in crevices.
  4. Brought in 3 yards of 1 1/4 inch drain rock ( all the rock is round so the clients can still walk across it without worrying about tripping, falling or stubbing toes.)
  5. Laid the drain rock by the wheel barrow full, a minimum of 3 inches deep on top of the landscape fabric.
  6. Created a walking path across the entire area to allow access to their side yard and back yard.  The clients had several buckets of smaller pebble rock which worked great and added a nice touch across the area.  It also added a nice visual effect and gave the garden a more balanced and natural look.
  7. Brought in several large rocks (white) to add a new element to the front yard.    The garden owner tells me that the deer are now using the walkng path which leads them away from her rose bushes.  Who knew that the path would be for the deer and save her rose bushes too!  🙂
  8. The total amount of labour was 21 hours and the materials were under $200.  Now that is a bargain….knowing that the lawn will never have to be mowed, weeded or fed!  It also flows with the neighbours front area as they added rock and stone last season.

Total cost of the project was less then $1000!  Cheers…see you in the garden or the garden centre!

desert 2 desert 3 desert 4 desert 5 desert 7 desert 8

Designing an Xeriscape Boulevard Part 2

In an earlier post I designed a Boulevard and have now completed the job.  Earlier this week I posted Part 1 with a list of requirements for the job.

Creating this Boulevard had its challenges, one of which were the large rocks and boulders encased in clay.  I used the steel bar to leverage out the rocks and then re-added them to the boulevard after planting.  The rocks add minerals to the soil and are an important part of the health of the trees.  The boulevard was designed from the concepts of Paul Gautschi’s “Back to Eden” videos on youtube. I chose this method because the boulevard is too far from the house to be watered. Nature must ensure their survival.

Why Wood Chips Work – Back to Eden Garden – L2Survive with Thatnub  

I chose to use wood chips because there is no access to water for these trees.  They are too far from the house for a hose to reach and there is other access to water other then nature.

Why wood chips….they will slowly break down and add nutrients to the trees, they will keep the sun out and the moisture in the ground.  When it rains they will hold water and in extreme temperature fluctuations they will maintain a good soil temperature.

I measured the space to make sure the trees were spaced equally apart.  I marked each hole to be dug with a rock.

Boulevard Measuring

Next was to dig the holes.  Digging them 3 x as wide and 3 x as deep as the size of the pot (ususally it is sufficient to dig it 2 x as deep as the pot) because the clay was so hard I opted to dig it deeper and I broke up the bottom of the hole to ensure the roots would have an easier time growing through the soil.  I also broke up the sides of the hole to ensure it was uneven so it will not become solid and smooth like the inside of a clay pot does.  This can and does happen in  clay soil.

Planting sprucePlanting spruce 1Planting spruce 2boulevard 10

Once the holes were dug I added layers of wet newspaper between the trees and made sure that it covered the insides of the holes 8 inches down.  This will stop grass and weeds from growing through the top layers.  I placed about 2 inches of sand and 2 inches of fine gravel to the bottom of the holes for good drainage.   Then I added the organic soil mix I had made.  I used 2/3 soil (made from the native soil dug from the holes and the organic soil I purchased of equal parts) and 1/3 peat moss (to retain moisture).  Then I added 2 bags of mushroom compost and 2 bags of steer manure. I placed approximately 4 inches of organic soil  and a handful of bone meal in each hole before I set the tree in.  Then I add water to the root ball in the hole.  You cannot over water at this point.  The trees are going to go through transplant shock and will recover faster and healthier with the proper nutrients and water…just like people!

**Note: Please be sure to soak the trees…pot and all in a bucket of water before planting.  I usally leave them overnight. 

Once the tree is in the hole,  then I continue to add organic soil around the root ball, tamping down as I go.  Once the soil is flush with ground, I tamp down once more and then I water thoroughly to make sure there are no air pockets and to help the soil settle around the root.

Next I added 2 to 3 inches of mulch and finally I added 3 to 4 inches of living or green wood chips.  Which are fresh chipped from felled trees or branches.  I chose cedar wood chips because it will add acidic nutrients to the trees and will slowly compost down and feed the tree.  Coniferous trees thrive in an acidic soil which most of Vancouver Island is.  However, using bone meal to help the tree through the initial transplant shock and encouraging a healthy root system form is a must…however…bone meal creates an alkaline environment.  So I off set one with the other.

Dwarf Alberta Spruceboulevard

It is important when using different soils, mulches and wood chips to layer them.  Never, ever mix them.  If mulch and wood chips are  mixed with soil they rob the soil of nitrogen and other nutrients in order for them to continue to break down.  If they are layered one on top of the other then they break down as a much slower pace and will not cause a soil imbalance.

boulevardShades in the top layer represent the mulch & wood chips

Boulevard completed 2The finished boulevardBoulevard completed 4

Cheers!  See you in the garden or the Garden Centre




Designing an Xeriscape Boulevard Part 1

In an earlier post I designed on paper a Xeriscape boulevard with Dwarf Alberta Spruce trees.  Recently, I completed the design and must say it looks better then the design on paper.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce

Choosing a Planting location
This slow-growing dwarf spruce requires full sun to part shade and  well drained soil. Because of it’s small size and slow growth, it works well in foundation plantings.  Plant 4 to 5 feet away from any structure to ensure the spruce is not crowded.

Planting Instructions
Take note of the depth of the soil the tree is potted in and the size of the pot.  The size and depth of the pot are the approximate size of the prepared hole required to plant your tree.  Dig a hole 2 x as deep and 3 times as wide as the size of the pot.   Set the excavated soil to one side of the hole.  I use a tarp for more efficiency and less mess.  I use several different shovels depending on the type of soil.  I also use a steel bar to break up the very bottom of the hole and I use a pitch fork along the inside of the hole to help the roots penetrate into the soil.

Soil Preparation                                                                                                                                                                 In a garden with heavy clay or poor drainage,  I often add a mix of sand and small pebbles to the bottom of the hole.  This will help ensure that it will have better drainage and that the roots will not be sitting in water during heavy rains or rainy seasons.

Add approximately 1/3 to 1/4 organic compost (should be well composted) to the excavated soil.  If it is not well composted then do not mix it with the native soil but rather layer it about 4 to 6 inches deep as the second layer in the hole if you have added sand and pebble mix first. This will ensure that the plants will have a continuous supply of nutrients slowly breaking down to feed the tree.   If the compost is new and fresh then it will still be composting down.  Composting requires a considerable amount of nitrogen to break down.  And although eventually it may be great soil, while it is stilling working itself down, it can and will take a large amount of nitrogen and any other nutrients required  from the native soil to produce a finished compost.  Which means that your trees are at risk of vital nutrients necessary in the health of your plants.  So it is always better to use well composted material to minimize this.

When preparing the soil, I add a combination of excavated top soil mixed with peat moss and well composted manure mixed at about  2/3 excavated soil and 1/3 each of the peat moss, and composted manure.  I also add Bone Meal to help the tree  root in its new home.  Mulch your newly planted spruce with 2 to 4 inches of shredded bark to conserve moisture and prevent weeds.

The Dwarf Alberta spruce will maintain their original pyramid shape with very minimal pruning or trimming. Sometimes spider mites can be a problem, so watch out for these pests and treat before a heavy infestation seriously injures your tree. When watering, provide a gentle soaking with a slow, steady stream of water or use a soaker hose to wet the entire depth of the root ball. Continue watering newly planted spruces, if nature doesn’t provide soaking rains. Established plants are relatively drought tolerant.

Landscaping on Vancouver Island has its challenges as the soil is often rock encased in clay…which is what this boulevard was.  The soil was dense and compacted so the most difficult part of the job was digging the holes for the trees, which is usually the case.  Making a list of everything I require is the most efficient way to organize the job.


Clean Organic amended soilOrganic soil  ToolsShovelsTools requiredSteel Bar & Pitch Fork

Designing a Xeriscape BoulevardNewspapercost of trees and amendments Cost $280.00Peat moss

manure  mushroom compostBonemealmulchliving wood chips

Steer Manure, Mushroom Compost, Bone Meal, Mulch & Living or Green Wood Chips