Tag Archives: island garden xeroscapes

We are Landscaper Gardeners in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island on the Pacific West Coast of Canada. Our motto is…”when you do what you love and you love what you do…you are one with the landscape. Creating a perfect garden paradise. We will create a landscape (an area) or garden space in a style which requires little or no irrigation.

Protecting your garden from deer, rabbits, voles & small critters

One of the biggest challenges of gardening is how to protect our precious plants and trees from being eaten.  On Vancouver Island, (a temperate rainforest) it is one of our greatest challenges.  We do not get the cold snowy winters with inches of frozen ground and plants dying back until spring.  Rather, we have greenery all year and can garden year round most years.  This creates a greater challenge as the deer and other rodents too are active and seeking sustenance all year long.  The deer have a natural mechanism built into their DNA that allows them to remember where they found food and to pass this information on to their off spring, as do other creatures.  The deer population on Vancouver Island is at an all time high due to the increased human population pushing the boundaries of nature and with less predators lurking in their midst, the deer have thrived.  Our gardens represent a bounty of unlimited greens all year long!

There are many ways to minimize the damage done by deer and other plant eating critters.  I would strongly recommend using as many as possible to manage if not eliminate the problems or at the very least to successfully protect your garden gems.   Yes, the deer are beautiful and are protected so minimizing the appetite of these gracious creatures is a must to protect your gardens and create harmony for all.  Keeping deer at bay from the garden is important for many reasons, not only to protect your plants, but to minimize the risk of Lyme’s Disease from the dreaded ticks that deer can carry.  I have compiled a list of how to control deer and other rodents in the gardens to help keep you, your pets and your plants safe!

  1. Do your due diligence and choose as many plants as possible that deer and other rodents do not like to dine on.  Ask your local garden centre for advice or down load a list here.
  2.  Fence your garden area to keep deer out.  Although this can be costly and extreme,  it will solve the problem completely.  Remember, deer can jump a fence 6 feet high or more.  If you choose to put a fence up, try to fit it with your garden design to add to the landscape rather then making it unsightly.   If you do not want or cannot afford to fence in the entire garden area, then adding a fence around each fruit tree or rose bush is also an option…one that also works…although it too can be unsightly in your garden.
  3. Choose plants with strong scents that deer do not like and use them as companion plants with plants that deer do love to dine on…often the strong scented plants will deter the deer or confuse their sense of smell so they will miss dining on their favourites.  Remember though, they will return to your garden again and again will probably find and feast on the plants they love so much.
  4. Use a product call “Plant Skydd” to deter the deer and with continued use many garden owners have stated the deer no longer come to their garden.   The product is all natural, will not harm plants, pets or people and does not need to be applied after every rain fall.  This is great news for gardeners and it really works!
  5. Plant the perimeter of your entire garden space with plants that deer do not eat.  Choose different types of plants with strong scents to deter the deer from crossing the line into your garden.  Deer have very sensitive noses and will often decide not to cross the line into the garden if there is a wide perimeter of smelly plants that offends their sense of smell.

This summer we did a small pruning and clean up at a property and saw the full extent of the damage deer can do in a short span of time.  This cedar hedge is obviously to the deers liking.  Planting cedrus or true cedars will help minimize the damage done by deer.  Often deer will taste fresh new shoots on trees and plants…even the ones they are not supposed to eat but will not eat much more then a taste.

Good luck in your garden…see you in the garden or the garden centre!


A Front Garden Oasis

The work continues on the new front garden design with a large patio…actually two patios of poured and stamped cement of different colours.   We brought in a small excavator and took out approximately 9 yards to level the ground and prepare it for the bender board to pour the patio.  The yard is almost ready for the cement and then the dry river bed.  We will have to take out another 2 to 3 yards of soil to level the ground beyond the patio for the dry river bed but it is slowly coming together.

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!



The cost of a landscape gardener

Recently, someone ask me about a garden clean up.  She has been on my website and loved the work I do.    I explained to her, I charge an hourly rate which includes one person and one truck.  I do not charge for taking garden waste away and do not charge for truck time for picking up materials or supplies.  I only charge for the hourly labour.   I provide the tools, lawn mowers, fuel and anything else required for the job at no extra fee or cost.

She said her concern was the length of time it would take.  She had been on my website and saw that some gardens seem to take months.  Then I realized that she thought the garden jobs on my site had taken months to complete and she thought I had been working full-time at them.    I said yes, some of them have taken months..but it is only part-time I work at them.  Depending on the garden owner and their budget, the weather and my time constraints, some of them I work at part-time.  If the garden owner has a large job and wants it done immediately, then I do try and accommodate that but usually a very large job is part-time and does take months.

I have regular clients that have me set days in their garden and I also take on what I call “one off” jobs where I am hired to plant or prune a hedge or re-design a small garden or do a one day clean up.

That being said I thought I should clarify for everyone on my site how my business operates.

Cheers!  See you in the garden or the garden centre! 🙂

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!

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


Re-Planting a Palm Tree

After planting a windmill ( Trachycarpus fortunei) palm tree in a new garden design last year, a new home was built next door.  The new home now blocks the sun for the better part of the day limiting the sunlight hours for the palm tree.  Although it was very happy in its location, the minimal sunlight hours would change that.  The palm tree had to be relocated to a sunny part of the yard where it will get at least 8  hours of sunlight, have protection from the North and West wind and maintain a minimum temperature of -15C or higher.  Which isn’t a problem here on Vancouver Island where the temperature rarely drops below -5C.

Ladysmith British Columbia is in a micro climate, which means we have slightly warmer weather then the basic hardiness zone map shows which for us is zone 8.    Soil, moisture, humidity, heat, wind, and other conditions also affect the viability of individual plants from one area to another.  It is important that your plants can thrive year-round, surviving extreme temperatures.  Often you will find that your own gardens are slightly different then the basic hardiness zone map.  The location of your property, buildings and even trees on your property will change the demographics of what you can grow.  For a list of hardiest palms to grow research this link.   

Island Garden Scapes purchased this windmill palm from Island Passion’s nursery.

How to plant:

Dig the hole twice as wide and one and a half times as big as the root mass.  Work in several shovelfuls of organic matter (peat moss and/or manure) and bone meal and ensure there is loose soil at the bottom to allow for easy root growth.  After planting, pack the soil firmly to avoid air pockets and water well.

Where to Plant:

Choose any part of your garden in a sunny location.  In cooler winter locations such as at the higher elevations avoid a windy exposure.  Absolutely never plant this palm close to the house if you have an overhang because the plant can reach 30 feet.


Neutral to slightly acidic (which is typical in this area).  Although these palms tolerate our high rainfall they will thrive in well draining soil.  The garden where I planted this palm is comprised of mostly clay soil, so I dug the hole 3 X as deep as the palm required, broke up the soil with a steel bar and added a wheel barrow of sand and small pebbles for added drainage.  Then I added a layer of mulch in the bottom about 4 inches deep.  Bone meal and peat moss are also great to help your palm perform better.

Watering and Fertilizing:

Watering frequently during dry spells is crucial especially when newly planted.  Fertilizing is necessary for lush palms.  Any one of these three different methods will get you good results:

1.)  A 6 or 9 month slow release, high nitrogen fertilizer (like osmocote) applied once during the growing season.

2.)  Water soluble 20-20-20 and fish fertilizer mixed according to package directions and watered in every 10 days to 2 weeks.

3.)  A slow release granular fertilizer designed for evergreens applied every two months during the growing season form April to November.

Winter Protection:

In ideal conditions, those close to the moderating influences of the ocean, protection is usually not necessary except for a good ground mulch.  If your palm is in one of the more cold sensitive palms,  a burlap wrapping of the top 18” of the trunk and the newly emerging spear should suffice.  The younger the palm the more protection it should have.

Other hardy palms that are worthy of experimenting with are European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis), Wine Palm (Jubaea chilensis), Pindo Palm (Butia capitata), Date Palm (Pheonix canariensis) and the Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta).

Original Location of the Palm:

Palm Tree original location 1Original Palm 2

Franks Garden 026Original location  Original location of palm   Original location of palm tree

New Location of Palm:  The palm tree was moved to sit adjacent to the top pond.  There will be two ponds on the sloping property at the bottom of the original palm location.  The new location will provide the garden owner with a better view of the palm from his balcony and his window views.

Tools Tools requiredTools used to lift &  re-plant the palm. palm tree palm tree root ball palm tree roots

new locatinn palm

I added several inches of mulch on top of the palm and will also add about 4 to 6 inches of wood chips once the plant and soil have settled in their new location.  This will ensure that the plant roots are protected from extreme temperature changes, will hold the moisture and will provide a compost tea to feed the plant every time it rains or is watered.


A Garden Clean Up

This beautiful outdoor foyer needed a clean up and trim.  As did the rest of the property which is located between Ladysmith and Duncan.  What a beautiful property to work on.  With over one acre of mature gardens it had been overgrown for quite some time, but is a stunner when it is complete.

Before Photos

Len's Garden1Len's Garden 1aa

Len's Garden 1aaaLen's Garden2Len's Garden3


After Photos

Len's Garden2aLen's Garden 3aLen's Garden 2cLen's Garden 1aLen's Garden 2d

Spring Clean up in the Garden 2016

I love landscaping on Vancouver Island because it allows me to work every season in the garden.  Each season has its challenges of weather, soil,  weeds and plants and spring is no exception.  Spring clean up has begun here on Vancouver Island in the garden already.

After working two seasons in this garden the care and maintenance is much less labour intensive.  Some of the shrubs did not need trimming.  They have retained their shape from last fall and will now only need to be trimmed every fall.  But there are many that do need care and attention in order for them to be spectacular for the coming season.

As I work through the gardens I lift the soil with a pitch fork aerating the soil and pull any weeds growing…making sure to get the entire root.  These garden owners allow the leaves to stay in their garden over fall and winter and much has composted down feeding the soil precious nutrients and minerals.   Half of the remainder of the leaves and garden waste I clean up and take to Peerless Road Recycling in Ladysmith (at no charge) where they will finish the composting process.  The other half I work into the mulch and soil for them to continue to feed the ecosystem.  Now is a good time to amend the soil with organic compost, fresh organic soil, bark mulch, etc…  to feed the garden all year long.  Garden Clean up before upper 1st gardenGarden Clean up 1st Garden afterBefore and After Clean up

Garden Clean up 10 AGarden Clean up Tiered Garden afterBefore and After clean Up

Below Pictures after Clean up

Garden Clean up 10Garden Clean up Tiered Garden After 2Garden Clean up Pond afterGarden Clean up Tiered Garden After 1


Below Pictures: Shrub Garden Before Clean Up

Garden Clean up before shrubsGarden Clean up shrubs beforeGarden Clean up before shrub gardenBefore and After Garden Clean up shrubs after


Garden Clean up after shrubsGarden Clean up upper garden

Garden Clean up junipers



A Garden Challenge….Bonsai



overgrown shrub2overgrown shrub1

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