Tag Archives: island 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.

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! 🙂

Cleaning a vacant lot!

This lot is in Ladysmith and has a million dollar view!  It has been overgrown for some time and of course the black berries and scottish broom had invaded the vacant space.  It took quite a while and 4 dump loads but it is now clean and beautiful once again.  Four of us tackled it with weed eaters, loppers, trimmers and a pole pruner not to mention blades on our weed eaters for efficiency.  So very happy with the end result.  It took 23 hours to clear and it rained the entire time.  A nice soft rain…in mild temperatures…just enough to thoroughly soak everything including us! 🙂


lot-before-2-625x351 lot-before-1-625x351

In Progress

lot-in-progress-1-625x351 in-progress-2-625x351 in-progress-4-625x351 in-progress-5-625x351 in-progress-6-625x351


lot-complete-2-625x351 lot-complete-1-625x351




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




Cleaning a Gravel Driveway

This driveway has been overgrown for a few years and needed a facelift.  I explained to the garden owners (who inherited this driveway when they purchased the property) that nature continues to condense…as with this driveway.  Year after year it becomes more compressed and there are always weed seeds floating around in the air just waiting to make landfall and sprout.  Since we live in a rainforest there always seems to be enough moisture to make things sprout.

The driveway needed to be lifted with a pitch fork and all weeds pulled out by the roots to ensure they would not come back any time soon.  Then, more gravel needed to be added to build up the driveway again.  It is similar to the garden beds…at some point you have to add compost, bark mulch, leaves, organic matter etc…  because it will continue to mulch down.  And although the gravel doesn’t mulch down, it does conpact allowing sand and small grains to be compacted enough for the weeds floating around to land and sprout.  It was a tedious labour intensive job.  There were no short cuts to be taken here.  Time and effort were required!  But, it was so worth it…when completed…it didn’t even look like the same driveway! 🙂  I worked the soil and weeded along the fence so I could lay down landscape fabric and then 6 inches of mulch to give it a finished look and maintain the weeds.  Many of the weeds were going to seed and sprouting in the driveway, compounding the problem.  It took 3 loads of gravel to amend the driveway, but it was so worth the time and effort & gravel put into it!

driveway 1driveway 10

driveway 4driveway 3driveway 5driveway 7

driveway 1adriveway 8

driveway 9driveway 10

Designing a Xeriscape Boulevard

The garden owners would like a simple garden of trees planted in their boulevard.   After discussing with them what they would like, we came up with a list.

Please check Xeriscaping

  •  The trees must be dwarf trees so as not to overpower the area or block their ocean view.  Preferably under 15 feet maximum height at maturity & no more then 4 feet across in order to fit permanently on the boulevard.
  •  The trees must be able to survive our hot dry summers as they are too far from the    house to have a soaker hose reach.
  • They would prefer evergreen trees of some sort to minimize maintenance. (No leaf clean up) And no junipers as it would be more difficult to cut grass around low lying shrubs.
  • The trees must fit with the existing landscape and gardens.
  • A simple design is preferred.

I researched several dwarf trees:

Dwarf Alberta spruce, Mugo pines, Japanese white pines, Hinoki cypress

After some research I have decided on the “Alberta Dwarf Spruce”  it is a perfect combination of beauty and height for the location.  As I reserached the other choices, I eliminated each of the others due to height or width sizes.

The Dwarf Alberta Spruce is a perfect match here as it will only grow to a maximum of 10 to 12 feet high and 3 to 4 feet across, which is perfect for this location.  I designed the gardens and will create them this week.  Hopefully having it done by next Sunday.

Boulevard 3 -800x600Boulevard 2 800x584Mansbridge boulevardBefore design!

Copy of Mansbridge boulevard design 1Copy of Mansbridge boulevard design 3Copy of Mansbridge boulevard design 4This is the design that I will create.

There will be three Dwarf Alberta Spruces evenly spaced apart with rocks & boulders in between.  There will be a solid bed of wood chips and mulch straight across to ensure ease of grass cutting & less problems with weeds will make it less labour intensive.  By planting now during the spring rains and adding a deep layer of mulch and wood chips will help ensure the trees get plenty of moisture as they go through transplant shock and help for the tree to root properly before it is too hot and too dry.  The mulch and wood chips will be approximately 6 to 8 inches deep.  This also helps to keep the weeds down and adds curb appeal to the property.

Trimming Syringa or Lilac Bush


The Syringa or better known name Lilac are one of the spring beauties in the garden that will continue to bloom for centuries if pruned regularly.  Proper pruning will mean endless blooms year after year.  When a lilac bush is left unattended it can grow to a height of 15 or 20 feet and will only have blooms on the top branches.  The best time to prune is right after the blooms die off.  This ensures that your pruning will not affect the blooms for the following season.  When taming an overgrown lilac through pruning remember new shoots left to grow will not all have blooms the following year.  Some will take two to three years to bloom.  A healthy lilac will have blooms throughout the shrub rather then just on top.  Never ever prune more then one third of the shrub as it can stress the plant.

The healthiest lilac will have a balance of new and old shoots.  Lilacs continue to throw up new shoots and many suckers every year…just be sure not to prune all of the new ones.  Always start with pruning the dead and woody stalks first.  Follow this by trimming the larger stalks all the way to the ground.    An overgrown shrub will mean that many of the stalks can and will be as big around as a small tree.  The goal is to have most of the branches no larger then 2 to 3 inches.  Remember if it is extremely overgrown and you must prune much of it away…don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t have many blooms the following year.  As long as there is plenty of leaf cover it will recover…sometimes it takes a couple of years.  As with this one I trimmed last summer will.  It had reached a height of 12 to 15 feet and had very few blooms.  It was misshaped and very overgrown.

I pruned both from the bottom and the top to ensure it would have a better shape, be more manageable and would recover with lots of blooms within a couple of years.  I also pruned the inward buds off of the plant and left the outward facing buds to ensure it would fill out better.  Lilac continue to regenerate every year by throwing out new shoots.  Finding the right balance is the answer.  Simple maintenance pruning will only be required now on an annual basis…usually in the spring.  Just cut out the pencil thin or twiggy new growth leaving the best new growth to replace the old.  Then after it blooms, keep its height in check by trimming any leggy growth on top.

Remember, the best time to trim is right after blooming because the lilac sets the next seasons buds almost immediately.  It doesn’t mean you cannot trim at any other time, it just means you will be sacrificing some of the flowers if you trim before or after they bloom.

Use your discretion, sometimes an overgrown lilac will not need to have 1/3 taken out.  It is always better to trim less then more.  Once trimmed you cannot fix but with less trimmed can always do another trim later on.

Remember, next year’s blooms are dependent on this year’s weather.  Some years you will have an abundance of beautiful blooms and other years not so much.  If the plant is stressed due to weather conditions it will show it the following year.  Lilacs are hardy so don’t worry it will recover.

See you in the garden or the garden centre! 🙂

Lilac area 1Lilac area 2Lilac area 3Lilac area complete

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



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.


Pampas Grass Overgrown1 800x600Pampas Grass 2 750x1000Pampass Grass 3 progresspampus grass root 800x452

Pampass Grass 4

Pampass Grass 5Pampass Grass 6Pampas Grass Complete800x600