Water Wise Gardening On Vancouver Island


The supply of water is growing more and more valuable. Water conservation is very important and most communities are abiding by water restrictions throughout the summer.  Vancouver Island suburbs use a large percentage of outdoor water usage for aesthetic gardening with a majority of the water budget being used up by turf. This reality has many homeowners wanting to shift their usage.

But where to start? If you want to keep your Turf, then keep it healthy as it will ease into periods of drought gracefully….

Some good examples in creating healthy turf

– Allow turf to go into dormancy during the hot season.
– Healthy soil creates a healthy lawn. This leaves less room for weeds to grow.
– Always have sharp, clean blades on your mower, and raise the mowing heights whenever possible.
– Don’t bag your lawn clippings. Lawn clippings feed the lawn and spread grass seed.
– Add natural amendments such as compost to increase organic content in the soil.
– Alternate mowing angles to prevent rut damage by over compacting the soil.
– Over seeding with drought tolerant species eg; fescues and clover


Reducing the amount of lawn area is ultimately the best way to cut back on cosmetic water usage. Good design is essential for long term water wise gardening. Look at the property as a blank slate, and imagine all the access points and better usage of the space. Good Design looks at all facets of the landscape, and considers the immediate need and long term goals.

Ultimately water wisdom comes by prioritizing your needs and assessing your usage.. This helps to create balance in any landscape.

Too much of anything is a bad thing, and that goes for watering too!

When we over water, and over fertilize we create dependant plants that struggle to survive without us.

An example of this recently….

We have a client that has taken on a new responsibilities in her garden after her husband passed away. They both loved to garden, they just did things very differently. Watering was one of these issues, the years of over watering had left a Japanese Maple in a stressed state. It was diagnosed with a ‘wilt’ disease, most likely verticillium wilt. and it was suffering. As spring turned into summer the tree was getting worse, we had made many attempts the previous fall to increase the health of the area but this poor tree was unable to recover. When we discovered that the tree was over watered everyday for 7 years (as if it was an annual planter basket) I knew this was a red flag for stress. We ended up removing the maple after it was unable to recover. 

Ways of reducing your water bill in garden beds

– Keep the soil healthy, keep the microbes healthy!
– An established garden should be watered deeply and infrequently.
– Increase organic matter and keep it covered with mulch.
– Keep compaction to a minimum, stay out! on rainy days and use pavers for access paths.
– Only mulch that which you intend to protect! Mulch is like a warm blanket – its only useful when its covering something important! so add your compost/manure and then cover it!

– Select plants that are naturally drought tolerant.
– Place plants with wider spacing allowing them to grow into the garden.
– Purchase young plants as they are resilient to change and more willing to send new roots than older ‘container-established’ plants.
– Create shade; tree’s, large shrubs and pergolas are great at cooling gardens.

There are many more tips and suggestions, stay tuned!

Please post any of your own remedies for beating the heat in the garden and reducing your water usage!

For more information about Nature’s Choice Design Click Here

Only mulch that which you intend to protect! Mulch is like a warm blanket – its only useful when its covering something important!

Bark Nuggets; Xeriscaping

Douglas Fir Bark nuggets as the finished mulch product. Under the nuggets is fine fir mulch, and fish compost.


Growing food and sharing food, in our Coastal Communities.

Our local paper ‘The Ocean Star’ had a great article on the front page today! Jasmine McFarlen a fellow Errington dweller has started a great Facebook page for gathering food called ‘Hunters,Gatherers ,and Farmers, Food Trading’. It is a local group that can share their bounty and or trade for equal value! I saw it pop up some time ago on another local Facebook page, the comments were exciting and intriguing. After I joined, I was truly amazed at all the local goodies being exchanged!

I know many people who base a lot of there diet on forging-like habits, focused on seasonal plants. I also know people who have large productive gardens and small families.  Vancouver Island is a lush provider of flora and fauna, with too much being wasted or spoiled.

The seasonal harvest is often too much for the average family, with many people having too much of a good thing.

Parksville B.C. Food saving

Jasmine’s Facebook page is great! Thank you for helping to prevent food wasting!

Jasmine has created a venue for people to share there bounty, trade the harvest, and offer tips in storing all the good food!

– A link to the article HERE

I love this page and its so addictive! I check it constantly looking for gems that I have eaten from the garden before. I love all of the variety you can have by sharing food with the community. Food sharing is not a new cultural endeavour but a tradition that many communities have lost. Jasmine touches on connecting with a local farmer in the article;

“They have beautiful food. To them, growing a garden is a habit…they plant one every year.”

Many people desire to connect our food with our community and Jasmine found a way to do it!

I think fruit trees are a great way to give to our community and to our family. They produce freely, increase bio activity in any garden and create shade to those below!

I crave large fruit bearing trees, from almonds to figs, the apples and pears – oh my! Trees offer so much bounty and with a little TLC every year, they will continue to bear food for years to come.

Running a business has left me little time this year to have the veggie garden I had hoped for.. and I plan on continuing to live a dynamic life that won’t always be able to have an active veggie plot. That is why fruit trees are a great addition to any property.

No matter what is going on in life, your fruit tree will continue to provide year after year…


Cornus mas flowers in the winter/early spring. Fruit is edible in August/September

Cornus mas flowers in the winter/early spring. Fruit is edible in August/September

My favourite edible tree right now is Cornus mas. The Cornelian Cherry is its common name, and the preserves you can make from this tree are delicious! Cornus mas flowers in the winter, and bears fruit in August.  It has beautiful dogwood leaves and is a very hardy tree upon establishment. If you don’t use the fruit, the birds quickly clean up the

A great introduction to Cornelian Cherries HERE

 An older blog entry on the Cornelian Cherry HERE

Trees are easy to maintain provided they have guidance in early development. If pruned carefully, seasonal maintenance is a reasonable cost in comparison to the yield received.

So plant your trees and enjoy the bounty! 

Growing Trees 101

  • The first 3 years after planting are imperative to any tree! It takes time for any plant to adjust, but the first few years establish the tree and set the tone for a healthy life.

The first year they sleep

The 2nd year they creep

The 3rd year they leap!

  • Purchase young trees, bare root if you can! You can check for girdling roots, root damage and disease. A young tree is eager to start growing  and get healthy!
  • “Right plant, Right place” is our motto! Discover your property for what it is worth and buy trees that will do well in that location.
  • Water deep and thoroughly, but, infrequently! Over watering will harm any tree, so checking the soil temperature and moisture to gage the amount of water needed. Soil is different everywhere you go, so study your soil before you plant.
  • Mulch is key! Mulching keeps weeds at bay, protects the nutrients, and keeps the moisture in the soil.
  • Pruning a young tree properly guides into a long healthy fulfilling life. Having a Tree Specialist (International Society of Arboriculture abiding professional) guide a tree for the first few years saves money. This service is worth every penny, as it prevents long term issues that can cost hundreds of dollars.
The Arbutus our coastal beauty with edible qualities

Photo By: Amy Robson on Hornby Island. 2010 The Arbutus our coastal beauty with edible qualities

Click here for more information on Tree Care from OUR WEBSITE


Our newest Installation!

We had the pleasure of working in Columbia Beach B.C. (French Creek area) for the past three weeks. The Herring Spawn takes place this time every year, it adorns us with life around the oceanside communities on Vancouver Island BC. This year we had the pleasure of having a very active wildlife around us, some times it was hard to stay focused, and other times it was exactly what we needed to keep us motivated!
For us, wildlife/sea life has a way of keeping us in a healthy perspective, and we wanted to honor that by creating a landscape that would offer birds food, reptiles sanctuary, and rabbits….. a place to hop on by 🙂
We had many design contraints; we had the oceanic issues, the slope of the landscape, no irrigation, privacy issues, and no soil to work with!
So! We worked through the design process and we continued to have a dynamic approach to rising issues throughout the installation. At the end of the three weeks this is what we accomplished….

Click Here for before and after photos with a brief description of the site.

photo 1 photo 3

Salt in the Water

” …the amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in…”

Moving Into Light

Via Occupy Love

An ageing master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints. One morning, he sent him to get some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and then drink it.

“How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter,” said the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”

“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.

“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.

“No,” said the young man. At this the master sat beside this serious young man…

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Cornelian Cherry – Cornus mas


Cornus mas

Cornus mas – 03/07/14 Photo taken  Amy Robson

This lovely little tree or large shrub is not a Canadian native but it sure does work well in our climate! Cornus mas  flowers from late February to mid March (in the  Pacific Northwest).  Cornus mas flowers abundantly providing nourishment for pollinating insects.  With a mature height of 5 metres,  birds will find shelter in the branches.

It also has other adoring features such as, silver bark that at maturity reveals hues of peach and orange as it peels. Its habit or form varies as it can grow as an understory tree or stand alone as a specimen.  Hardy to zone 4 ( -34 C) Cornus mas can be cultivated in a variety of places.

Named after a semi precious gemstone, the Cornelian Cherry ripens in late August/September with cornelian coloured fruits. There are a few cultivars of Cornus mas such as,  ‘Golden Glory’ which has more flowers and a longer bloom time. If  you desire to eat the fruit choosing a cultivar can effect nutrition.

Cornus mas can grow in a variety of soils, but exposure should be orientated around ripening of fruit which requires some morning and afternoon sun.

I like this tree in small gardens because of its mature size and it tolerates understory planting. It also has seasonal interest from the flowers and fruit.  Cornus mas is also more resistant to Discula spp. an Anthracnose that is killing many ornamental dogwoods. Cornus mas is a low maintenance tree that offers edible fruit to people and birds, this tree would be a great addition in many gardens.


Kwantlen Polytechnic University

University of Connecticut plant database 

Plants for a better future

Cornus anthracnose

Trusting the process..


I am working hard to create a presentation for two wonderful people tomorrow. I struggle with feeling prepared enough because I want to present the best possible product to my clients.
This mindset offers me at least two actions. This can mobilize me with energy to create greatness, to truly let creativity flow.
The second action for me is a feeling of being immobilized by fear and perception of my capabilities. This poor form of ego robs me of staying in the moment. It can take over almost like an imposter deciding my fate. ” I can’t do it” ” they won’t like my work” etc…
This madness is a vail of delusion! I work hard and do the best I can every day!
So when I sit at my desk and look at my computer screen I try to sympathize with my human blunders. That this is just a moment and I will try to have compassion for my insecure self. When I do this, suddenly I remember all the success and happiness our work has brought to peoples lives. That all of our clients are happy with our services.

So in the end “fear” is really just an acronym…
F – False
E- Evidence
A- Appearing
R- Real


Spring will come..

Outside my door, March is creeping out of the snow mound uncertain if it is too early…
With spring right around the corner , we begin to ready ourselves for the first installation of the season.
This particular site is on a Vancouver Island, Columbia Beach.

Located between Parksville and Qualicum, Columbia Beach hosts a small ferry terminal and has a salt water marshes full of life.  The area has older residences and newer developments.  Local feedback indicates that many people are concerned about the erosion in the area, so much so that it has effected development standards within the region.  The community is moderate density with standard suburban lot sizes. Beach access is easy and many homes are water front.

The soil is a mixture of native parent material and imported material of silt, clay, and sand – depending on where you reside. The stages of development have left some sites with good natural soil, and others have a lot of imported material from the housing development. The site we are working on has a lot of waste material of sand, silt, with little organic matter.  It is a severe site due to location, exposure and local ecology.

Our task is too turn an unused berm into an usable space that can will increase biodiversity.

Look for photos soon!

We will start this project March 10 2014!