Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stone use in the landscape

There are many ways to use natural stone in the landscape, below is a photo of how not to use natural stone...

Now I can appreciate the type of homeowner that will attempt to do their own landscape work and if they have a creative eye, they can achieve a well balanced look to the front yard landscape. But when I look at this front yard garden, it displays a valid point I try to make with many clients... make sure your contractor is not trying to sell landscape materials you don't need!!!

I know this home was landscaped by a landscape contractor and he is probably someone that knows his construction practice very well... but I give a failing grade for material choice and presentation. Wrong look and wrong use of material here. The stones are way too big and awkward to use in this application.

The attempt of using shims with smaller stones to level the larger ones just makes the wall feature look like junk. Over time, frost will start moving those stones and eventually soil will leak out through the large holes which will invite weeds to migrate into the gaps. In the first photo at the top of this article, on the far left, you will see another common mistake... use of a completely different type of stone (orange/pink coloured granite field stone) in a small garden area like this.

Rockery used in a landscape presentation should always be the same material! Otherwise it looks like a mish-mash of objects without flow.

When you use rustic looking stone like weathered limestone rock, it is best used in a natural looking fashion. Stand back and ask how Nature would do it?

Subtle hints of this type of rockery slightly buried into the earth and inter-mixed with planting would have enhanced the look of the front of this house. The idea is to achieve a look that compliments the front door in a well balanced manner that builds up your view towards the door to say; "This is where you enter!"

Instead, what you notice when you see this house is a pile of rocks on the front lawn...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Art in Architecture

A few months ago I was contacted by a very pleasant couple in the Etobicoke area for a landscape design. They were building their custom-dream home which became very apparent as I first pulled up to the site to meet with them.

We walked the property and talked about the various things they would like to see in this place. The conversation which is always more like an interview, allowed me to grasp a general direction in which to take this particular design.

After discussing some of the key elements they wanted in their space, they brought me to a problem area! The driveway....

The definition of Architecture can vary across many professionals... to me, Architecture is the use of building material to create aesthetically pleasing art for a functional living space. Landscape Architecture is the same process, only we use Nature's tools mixed with outdoor building materials.

The Architect for this home no doubt did the job as it is a very beautiful place. But the layout created a problem in the landscape! The garage was tucked under the home to save space on the property. A cleaver design detail but the ensuing grade change resulted in the need for retaining walls.

I won't go as far as to say the Architect left them hanging on that detail... the site plan does show some sort of grade change and armourstone retaining wall. But it was the tree at the top of the slope that threw a wrench in the plan.

I like trees and try to save them when I can... but when the damage is done, you cannot avoid the fact that saving a tree will cost more money then it would to just plant a new one.

The house was built around this tree and a lot of the soil was removed in the excavation of the driveway. We then had an extremely dry Summer which added even more stress. The architect proposed a set of stairs to go in between the home and the tree. A process that would have no doubt driven the last nail in the birch tree's coffin.

So I was asked by the client... "What are the options for a retaining wall here?" I suggested 3 choices, one was to build the wall with armourstone, the second was a precast retaining wall systems and the third was to build a wall with block foundations and use the same stone facing from the home on the retaining walls.

I was then asked, which of the three choices would I choose? Simple! The third one...the most expensive one, but also the most stable and beautiful looking option. Again, Art in Architecture is creating function following form. In Landscape Architecture we sometimes use the materials of the home to pull into the landscape and make the house/structure talk to the land.

They agreed with my choice, but I told them the tree could not stay... I would have to design a wall around that tree and it would look very odd because of the distance between the driveway edge and the spread of it's roots. The end result was to remove the tree according to City of Toronto bylaw and design the walls!

In both the above photo and the one below, we see the wall materials matching to the existing home (click on photos for larger images). It is a seamless flow from house wall to landscape wall which ties the dwelling into the landscape. The end result (although not completed yet) is an eye pleasing display of art in the landscape.

My new plan does call for a tree to sit at the top of the wall area along with shrubs and perennials to soften the stonework... I'll update this post with more to come when the project is completed next year.

I do like it when a plan comes together!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What were they thinking? part 1

Well it has been a while... been a busy summer season for me as well, so I have not had the time to sit and write any blog updates.

Anyway, today I decided to write about something I drive by on a regular basis. The North-west corner of Islington Road and Eglington Road has been a bother to me ever since the City Of Toronto did what they did.One of the first things I learned while studying trees and shrubs of Ontario was that the Norway Maple is an invasive tree species in Canada. It was introduced to Toronto some time ago because of its ability to leaf out early in Spring and drop leaves later in fall. The idea was to bring this tree over from Europe to the North-Eastern part of North America so that urban landscapes could look a little greener for just a bit longer then what our Native trees could provide.

A good friend of mine, Peter Heyblom (fellow Landscape Designer) wrote an extensive article on the Norway Maple in Canada. His article elaborates on some of the concerns mentioned here in my post.

As time moves forward in our cities and populated places, the Norway Maple is now considered a very invasive tree to our natural ravine & forested areas. It is a very hardy and aggressive tree... so dominant in a forested environment that it would completely shade out, overtake and replace any native species of tree or shrub. There are countless ravine areas in Toronto that have about 80% Norway Maple growth versus a fading 20% native to Ontario plant species growth.

So what is on the corner of Islington and Eglington?

A tree advocacy program created by the city of Toronto...sponsored by the names displayed in the picture. Why is it an issue for me?..why would I possibly balk at a project that introduces native and natural vegetation to a once empty field???
If you look closely at the photo above... you will see Norway Maples!!!(outlined below)

So... what is the problem with this setup? If you plant a Norway maple in the middle of a grass field...and year after year, continually mow the area around the tree, the chance for seeds to spread is very minimal. The chance for this aggressive and dominating tree to do damage to natural areas is very minor.

Yet here we see a planting program that is destined to fail in a few years. Eventually as the native plant material grows and flourishes... it will pave the way for seedlings of the Norway Maple to spread and grow. Soon the trees will become larger, dominant trees and eventually crowd out the glorious efforts put forth to naturalize the field on the corner of Islington and Eglington.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

What inspires?... part 6

Nature's little gifts...

I live my life with a simple ethic...when you give to nature, it gives back to you 10-fold. It is a simple rule or law of Nature and one that I hold very close to my everyday practice.

(Photo: Honey Bee hard at work inside a Butternut Squash bloom)

I consider my design work and interaction with my clients as a way to teach people about Nature and when my drawing plans are followed, trees and shrubs get planted. In a way, I do a small part (one urban yard at a time) to help restore beauty to the land and help bring Nature back in balance through the trees I plant.

Anyway, it has been a busy Spring and early summer season for me, not much time to update my blog posts lately or do much gardening. But I thought I would share this one with you....

I was really hoping to get a chance to buy some Butternut Squash plants to place in the garden for this year... a favourite for making pies, breads, soups and just baking slices in olive oil with salt & pepper. But having been so busy, I did not have the time to follow through... I had Butternut Squash growing last year and one of them had rotted while resting on the soil. So, I left it in the garden for compost...

Somehow, someway, the seeds from that squash had matured and in this Spring season they sprouted in an almost perfect line to form 4 or 5 vines. It was almost like the garden heard my thoughts and followed through for me even though I could not get to it on my own. That is what I consider one of Nature's little gifts back to me.

(Photo on Left: The Butternut Squash Vines that seeded themselves.)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Concrete example

A while back, I had the pleasure to work in the business of concrete thanks to a good buddy of mine that needed a summer labourer for his construction company. The work is not fun and can be very hard on your body over many years. I developed a huge respect for the men I worked with that do this job for a living.

The picture above gives a great example of a concrete pad that was just poured and set in place. The forms have been pulled off and the saw cuts have been made to help control any cracks that will form. Cracks you ask? Yes! When you live in a climate that experiences cold winters that go below freezing, chances are your concrete will shift slightly and crack....

The saw cuts are important to a concrete pad. In our North Eastern climate, we experience frost! Sometimes the soils are poorly drained as well and that makes frost an even more important issue to deal with.

We see in these photos a gravel base under the concrete which allows for water to flow away from the pad but it is not always perfect! Water can pool under the pad once the soil is graded back to the top finish layer of the concrete pad.

That is why the saw cuts are made in the smooth surface. I like to call it stress cutting... these photos show an example of flat-walk sidewalks. The cuts are done about every 5 feet (shown as white dust in the picture below created by the saw as it cuts the material) The idea is to control where the cracks will occur and actually lay out a cut pattern with geometry so that it looks like a design was followed.

Another thing you will notice in these photos is that the pad has been poured with a consistent thickness. You want a uniform thickness in the concrete to ensure no weak points should the pad be subject to frost or vehicle weight.

Generally for a patio in a residential application, 4 inches of concrete is acceptable...if it is a driveway, you may need a thicker pad and deeper gravel base to handle vehicle loads.

If you intend to have concrete installed around your home, make sure you ask the crucial questions to your contractor...ask about proper drainage, frost & saw cuts, surface finishes and thickness. See that the sub-base is properly compacted and that the concrete is of good quality.

How to tell about quality?... It should have a thick consistency like a cake batter... workable enough to shape it, but not runny and loose to where it flows like water. Also, if having coloured patterned concrete installed...make sure the concrete colour dye is mixed into the entire load of concrete.

Nothing is worse then a surface application of colour and experiencing a crack that exposes the plain colour under the surface. If you use salt to control ice build up in winter, make sure you seal your concrete to help protect it's finish!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Backyard Attraction

Simply put, most homes are designed as wide as possible and placed on the property in such a way that you end up with a long narrow pathway to the rear yard.

In the above photo we see an example of the side entry into a backyard. Before Lawrence Winterburn and I got our hands on it, it was a plain and uninviting pathway. Lawrence designed a great looking fence and gate detail to draw your interest as you approach the backyard access.

Stepping through the gate, a visitor is immediately greeted by planting that draws their eyes towards the back. The scene is completed by a water feature bubbling away to create visual and audio interest which invites you to walk down the pathway.

As you arrive into the rear portion of the home, the water feature welcomes you to create an inviting space to use at your disposal. What lies beyond there is slated for another article post.

The idea with pathways is to give them just enough appeal that a visitor feels invited to walk through the passage. There is a lot happening at the end of the path which immediately sparks curiosity and a desire to go find out what else there is back there. A path should have textures and lines created by plants or paving materials that frame and direct you along your walk.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tree Protection in the GTA (Greater Toronto area) ???

As mentioned a few times in my blog articles... the issues of tree protection in the City of Toronto are very present. Through my work as a designer in the Greater Toronto Area, I often come across issues of trees on private property that have been 'planted in the wrong place'.

Knowing how strict Toronto's Urban Forestry is in regards to tree protection, I began to look into tree protection bylaws in the surrounding areas...

The Town of Richmond Hill

As of March 19th, 2007... The Town of Richmond Hill enacted a tree protection bylaw... trees greater than 20 cm in caliper diameter are protected!

20 cm!?!?! I thought to myself... In Toronto they regulate at 30 cm! Hmmmm.... Is Richmond Hill trying to one up their big neighbour to the south?? Whatever the case... it looks good on them! Makes my job a bit more difficult ... but I am happy to comply with regulations that save trees!

The City of Vaughan

... no protection set in place as of yet but a recent event in Klienburg has resulted in a stir of activity to push a tree protection by law into place... right now, what is protected in terms of trees in the Vaughan area is woodlots.

In the past, the population explosion of Urban development in the "Town" of Vaughan made it jump to city status almost overnight. (A town changes to City status once the population exceeds 50 000 people) One would conclude there are more residential properties in Vaughan then there are old growth woodlots... All I can say regarding that is...Get to it Vaughan!!!

The Town of Newmarket

... No mention of tree protection ... What happened? I think there is something pending but nothing I can find just yet...

The Township of King

... or more popularly known as King City ... no mention of tree protection ... although they are a smaller group in the GTA, they still have some headwaters of the Humber River Basin to think about! Maybe coordinate with the Seneca College Campus in King and get some conservation programs in place? How about linking up with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and setting a bylaw in place with them?

The City of Mississauga and the Town of Aurora

I grouped these two areas because of similar bylaws...

In Mississauga... No tree greater than 15 cm!!! Shall be cut without a permit ... the best size yet, but there is a snag here...

In Aurora... a 20 cm bylaw ... from what I can tell on their website, protects trees greater then 20 cm in caliper diameter... Toronto??? Still 30 cm!

But wait!!! There is a snag here to the bylaw in both of these areas!!!

The By-law states that property owners require a permit to remove 5 or more trees that are within regulated diameters or larger from their private property in a calendar year.

That means, you can remove 4 trees of any size within January to December of each year. ????????? But cut a 5th tree in that time period and you need a permit?????

Who the heck made that bylaw up??? Maybe someone in the city council had 4 trees on their property that they wanted gone and wanted to fly under the radar the day the bylaw was drafted up???

Based on my interpretation of this bylaw, you can cut 4 trees on your property each year and if you have a lot of trees on your property, divide the total number by 4 to get how many years it will take you to have a completely cleared lot without ever contacting anyone for permission! That seems like a joke to me....

The City of Brampton

I found this by-law in place since 2006 I believe... Brampton Tree Preservation By-Law I believe it states that you need a permit to remove most trees over 40 cm DBH. Not that impressive but at least there is some sort of preservation for the larger trees. Also noted is that one can remove a tree at any size if it is considered invasive according to the City of Brampton. There are many exemptions to needing a permit so it is best to read through the by-law and see where your situation fits in.

The Town of Oakville

From what I can tell on their website, enacted back in 2004 was a bylaw to preserve trees greater than 30 cm in diameter... same as Toronto's standards... I think Toronto should change their bylaw to 20 cm in diameter!

Durham Region

At the moment Durham Region has a bylaw enacted to protect woodlots ... With the Urban sprawl going on in this region, hopefully the local communities act and set bylaw protections in place for private properties as well...

Pickering ...has a limited bylaw for conservation lands

Ajax ... when I looked it up I got an error page with the following text at the top "The system cannot find the file specified"... good luck with that one.... Hopefully it is in error due to updates on changing tree protection bylaws???

Whitby ... similar to Pickering, has protection in place for designated conservation lands and woodlots but not much for private property unless your property falls under the protected land areas.

Oshawa ... all I could find was a protection bylaw for City owned trees and it was enacted in 1983!! Time for an update???

Anyway, I hope to update this post for any changes to the bylaws in some of these communities. I may have missed some bylaws that are in place, if I did, they are hard to find on their websites!!! (Note to the webmasters)

Anyone with further information regarding tree bylaws in these areas... feel free to contact me and I will look into them so I can update this article...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tree Damage

Can you spot it?

To a trained eye, a person that knows trees would spot it in an instant! The above photo is taken from a front yard I had designed about 4 years ago. The property looks well maintained by professionals from far away...

But upon closer inspection I noticed some tragic details that were never tended to! The orange arrows say it all!

The tree stakes were left in 4 years after they were planted!!!

When I first drew out the landscape plan and imagined these trees in my mind's eye, I never would have imagined this... Was it my fault for not informing the home owners? Or was it the contractor's fault for not informing them that something they did once they were planted, needed to come out after the second year of growth!

What you can't see is the wires still looped around the trunk... the tree has now grown into the wires and is causing it to girdle itself. The mass of branches that have developed along the base of the trunk is a survival tactic!

The roots are thriving! Yet the nutrients have no place to go! The tree knows if it is not corrected soon, the top portion above the wires will soon die off and it is ready to start new from the base... any one of those small branches growing from below the wire will take the lead as a "leader branch".

This stands to reason that I should probably visit my landscapes more often... but when you do so many, how can one possibly keep an eye on them all?

I give the landscape maintenance crew an 'A' for effort to make the grounds look good...

but a failing grade is given for not recognizing the need to remove the tree-stakes!!!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

What inspires...part 5

Inspirational words....

"The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man's heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew the lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to a lack of respect for humans too. So he kept his youth close to its softening influence."

Luther Standing Bear, OGLALA SIOUX

(Picture: taken during one of my many walks in the woods in Northern Ontario)

" When we live in nature it's like constantly being in school. We are in an environment that is always teaching. We are constantly being reminded that there are laws, Natural Laws, which are running the universe. Once we know these laws and we drift from them, we start to live our lives in a different way. Soon we become discontent, selfish and disrespectful. Then, we get in trouble. If our lives have become this way, it can be reversed by going back to nature to be among our teachers."

The above quoted paragraphs are inspirational words taken from the website:

Nature will always be my greatest teacher... as I walked through the forest the day that I snapped the above photo, the words came to me in my mind, that I was to walk tall, but with respect in the forests of the Elders ...

Friday, March 23, 2007

What inspires?... part 4

Upon reflecting back to my years in school studying Architecture... I think back to a design class in which a professor once said to us.... "When you guys get out of school...and can afford it... Travel! Go see Europe! Otherwise your designs will end up looking like Markham shopping malls..."

We all laughed... but later on in life, I did get that chance to travel to Europe... I did get to see what some of the true Masters of design were about. In every historic corner of Europe, you find hidden gems of architecture...

This picture was taking in Tallinn, Estonia, I once spent 3 months there during another chapter in my life...

The Great Coastal Gate!

Imagine if you will a medieval town founded in the year 1154. Sailing ships travelling from various Scandinavian and Germanic communities in the Baltic Sea area... coming to the main gate (built in the early 14th century) of an important hub for trade in those days...

The archway crowned with the town's emblem flanked by fortified walls protecting the market and citizens of the area. The stone walls served a purpose for defense, but included design detail that people could marvel at for centuries!

The defense wall blocks your view of what lays beyond it and the winding cobblestone pathway leads your eye in as it prompts you to explore this 850 year old city...(Tallinn)

Still in Estonia, just to the left and down the road a bit from the gate is the Rottermann's Salt Storage, which was renovated recently and is now fittingly converted into The Museum of Estonian Architecture.

Originally designed by a Baltic/German Engineer named Ernst Boustedt and completed in 1908.

When I first saw this building, I could not take my eyes off it. It's shape is so pleasing to the eye as there are hidden geometric ratios in it's form and layout of the facade. The extreme craftsmanship of the Masonry work that went into this structure is a work of art.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Cherry Trees in High Park....

It's getting close to that time of year again...

It's usually in the next few weeks of May or so that the Japanese Cherry Trees explode into bloom along the slopes of the Grenadier Pond area. If memory serves me right, they come into full bloom just as the Forsythia shrubs are starting their show of yellow flowers.

Be sure to keep your eye on the trees in the next few weeks... When you see the Crab Apple trees and other Cherry trees starting to bloom, make your plans to get into High Park. A word of caution, weekends can be hard to find parking and the park has a 20 km/h speed limit! You might find a radar trap set up in the park on occasion!

(Prunus serrulata - Japanese Cherry (Sakura))

If you plan to visit on a weekend, take the Bloor Subway line to High Park Station and walk south (15 to 20 mins) till you get to the restaurant...then head towards the hillside gardens...down the hill and you will see what looks like pink clouds of cotton candy.

They only stay in peak bloom for about a week... I had the fortune of working there a few years ago. It was like a dream to walk around the gardens and grounds and to look down a hill at a view of blooming trees lined up along the path that follows the pond area.

There were a number of trees dedicated back in the 1959... by Japan to the City of Toronto. A few years back when I was working there in 2001 or 2002, there was another ceremony in which new Japanese Cherry trees were planted.

It's a beautiful site when in bloom...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tree Protection Zones

Tree Hording? Tree Protection Zones? City By-laws? Arborist reports?

(Picture: A big old healthy White Spruce in Northern Ontario. Estimated 40 feet in diameter and to be 80 to 100 years old)

In relation to my "Gone are the days" post a few weeks ago, I write this post as a brief follow up on the topic. In the Urban Landscapes, City forestry is doing their best to protect the older and mature trees that are over 30 cm in caliper size.

Tree Hording is a protective barrier that is built with plywood and 2 x 4 frames... set up to prevent construction materials, equipment, excavation activity and any other vehicles from entering a tree protection zone.

Tree protection zones are designated areas of protection for the root system of a tree. What determines how big that protection area will be? The caliper (diameter) of the tree trunk size. For instance, a 35 cm caliper tree will have a 2.4 meter radius set up around it as a protection zone.

Why protect the tree so far out? Roots are delicate! The tree acclimatizes the soil around it and adjusts the conditions in its favour for optimal growing. Imagine a 2 ton bundle of house bricks being stored on top of its roots? Or a 4 ton machine parked or driving over the root zone? Essentially the soil structure gets compacted and air spaces below the surface around the roots will be crushed.

The roots can be damaged and cause the tree to go into stress as it can no longer take up nutrients like it has always done.

(Picture: This roadway was widened and paved... causing the giant sugar maple on the right of the road to fall under stress and it eventually had to be cut down.)

So... by-laws are now in place to preserve the giants of our urban landscapes. In some places those by-laws are a slap on the wrist and in others they are a deep and hurtful pinch to the wallet.

Arborist reports are made to advise the general state or conditions of trees on a site slated for construction. The report covers how big a tree protection zone needs to be and what if any special needs or protective measures that particular tree may need to continue a long and healthy life. The report may also explain reasons for removal of a specific tree deemed hazardous or unsafe... or just simply in the way of construction progress. City forestry has the ultimate say on removal issues.

Get to know your city's by-laws regarding tree protection before you start digging or chopping!

Monday, March 05, 2007


The origin of the pergola structure can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. During the Italian Renaissance period, the use of the pergola was very popular in many of the gardens designed for the rich and the noble classes of Europe.

It's widespread use in today's landscape has not trailed too far off from what it was originally designed to do and that was a structure to grow grapevines from. The pergola structure is defined as a set of columns or posts that support a roof of open framed joists, beams or trelliswork. The modern function of the design is to create a shaded space below for either a walkway or a seating area.

Architecturally, what a structure like this adds to the landscape is a set of vertical and horizontal lines that leads the eyes around the garden. If placed near your home, it can draw your eyes from the built form of the house structure to the Pergola's shape as it draws the lines of the home out into the garden area. It can essentially create an outdoor garden room, which becomes another extension of your home.

The structure itself is full of these lines and as the sun angles change throughout the day, the shadows below the structure take on different shapes. The dark lines of shadows or sun lighting contrast within the structure to almost seemingly transform the look and feel of that pergola's space as the sun changes positions in the sky.

A pergola can stand alone or be accompanied by plant material in the form of climbing vines that may either produce fruits or just colourful flowers. The plant material serves as a way to soften the structure, to give it a sense of belonging to the garden by tying it into the landscape. The built form of structure becomes cladded with a loose flowing design of vine stems and leaves. Accented by brightly coloured flowers, it can really serve as a great focal point for any garden.

Add to that the intricate carpentry work built into the architecture of the overall design and you can create a truly elegant feature for your garden.

What else can a structure like this be used for? The Latin term 'Pergula' means extended eave, so taking this definition into consideration...

Lawrence Winterburn of decided to clad the wall with a pergola style eave that shades the windows and doors of this home. It allowed for the client to train Wisteria vines along the structure and create a dual functioning feature that adds to the beauty of the home. The above photograph was taken 10 years after the structure was added to the home. Garden Structure's quality of workmanship and education for the client on materials is what keeps it looking great.

(All photos in this article are courtesy of

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gone are the days....

Gone are the days in the City of Toronto when you could simply rip down an existing home and with only the building permits in place, build what ever you wanted!!! It is February of 2007 and my phone is ringing with calls for help!

Someone doing a property flip is faced with a possible stop work order because they failed to adhere to the City of Toronto's by-laws set in place by Urban Forestry. Trees over 30 cm in caliper are protected from removal unless a permit application is made for cutting the tree down! This measurement is taken along the trunk of the tree... 4 feet (1.2 m) off the ground... at that height you measure the diameter at the tree's thickest point of the trunk.

So why is my phone ringing? Rules are not being followed by people that should know they are in place. I just came from a site visit where a residential construction project using heavy haul equipment is in the works on an older lot in the Scarborough Bluffs area... there are several large trees on the site and the construction is interfering with the root systems of these trees.

All the trees are over the 30 cm diameter and none of them are properly protected according to the city's requirements! Now what??? A 70 foot tall Colorado Blue Spruce has had 1 major anchor root severed and 3 main feeder/anchor roots severed on the south side. I need to make a tree protection plan for the city and the contractor... and I need to make a report on the tree damage...

Again, now what??? That tree will begin to show visible signs of stress in the next year or two... I expect about 10% to 20% of the branch structure on that side will be lost over the next 2 to 3 years and this once majestic looking Spruce tree will not look so hot anymore.

The saving my honest opinion is that this tree will recover from the damage... but not without scars... it will take about a good solid 3 growing seasons to redirect it's root structure for that was the south side damaged and so in those 2 to 3 years... I just hope we do not get a major windstorm that will carry heavy winds off Lake Ontario and blow to the north... that may cause the tree to lean towards 3 neighbouring properties.


Anyway, the point of my rant??? Thinking about a property flip? A tear-down and rebuild... all in the City of Toronto boundaries?? If you have mature trees (30 cm or greater in caliper) and also if you live in a ravine protected area......... Call Urban Forestry before you even start work!!! As I was on that particular site today, my phone rang...someone else from another project is in the same situation with the City of Toronto over a tree needing protection during construction.

There is only so much that can be done once construction happens... If nothing was done before construction started... The inspectors for the City will be majorly annoyed! Destruction of trees and ravine property is viewed as criminal action and will be treated accordingly with fines and lawsuits by the City of Toronto.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What Inspires... part 3

In nature, there is a system of checks and balances, which keeps things in proportion. Each plant and each animal have a natural predator or control measure to keep it from over burdening it's area of existence.

It is when we humans step in and start to change the functions of Nature that the balance in place goes out of sink. If a continuous disruption of the natural process to a natural landscape persists, the land can become so damaged that all traces of the wild disappear.

In the above photo, we see a field of lupines growing in Northern Ontario. This area was once part of a 400 acre farm bordered by 2 other farms. Today the land has been divided up and sold off to various cottagers who now enjoy a forested landscape and this lupine meadow.

A few years back, the municipality stepped up some services for fire route access and widened the roadway. The meadow was somewhat disturbed but has since recovered gracefully. Looking at these photos, a trained eye can see young tree growth... indicating a revitalization occurring in the once open fields of farming activity from over a century ago.

Nature has stepped back in to a land once cleared. The trees have slowly crept back in where they rightfully belong and Nature has begun to heal itself. Wildlife now has great cover and space to forage. The seed bank of grasses and flowers feed the local bird populations and the ground is cooler, holding in more moisture along the forest floor.

The lupines create an acidic soil balance that helps other plant species move into the sandy soils where nutrients may be hard to obtain. The flowers are paving the way for another 20 years of land recovery. Eventually this field of beautiful flowers will be a maturing forest again and Nature will once again be in Balance thanks to little guys like these working away at the job Nature gave them....

The way that Nature works is a lifetime of learning for us to study. It is what will always inspire me in my work to push further and learn what I can from my greatest teacher.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Garden Fresh Tomatoes

For those of us that know the difference between a garden fresh tomato and a store bought gas ripened tomato, we all crave the day that we can pluck one off our nurtured vines!

Through the years of digging deep into my Italian roots, I have learnt a thing or two in vegetable gardening. I find it relaxing and satisfying to work at a garden, tend to it, weed it and nurture until you can finally harvest its rewards. I believe that for any Landscape Designer or Landscape Architect, it is a must to be an avid gardener! It will increase your understanding of site soil conditions for various clients.

Anyway, I figured I'd share some tips I have learnt along the way... but not all the secrets!!!

Soil: The Key ingredient to healthy soil is organic matter. Potassium, Nitrogen and Phosphorus must all be present in a good balance...followed by a well drained soil structure and good sunlight exposure.

Watering: Watering tomatoes can be tricky, too much water and the tomatoes can actually swell up and split before ripening. Here's the trick, water only with warm water (let water sit in a pail over night) and make sure the water reaches deep in the soil! Cold tap water can actually hinder the growth of tomatoes for up to 8 hours....they love heat and warm soil but never let the soil dry out.

Spacing: Ensure your tomatoes have proper spacing between vines. (about 18" to 24" inches between each plant should do) This spacing will allow proper light to reach all aspects of the plant, keep the soil warm by allowing sunlight to hit the ground and keep good air circulation around the plants...helping to prevent mold and fungus from developing.

Staking: There are a variety of ways to stake a tomato plant. A straight stick or a tomato cage seem to be the popular choice. My Grandfather taught me to use welded-wire-mesh... welded in about a 6 inch grid pattern, available at most building supply stores. (See picture on right for example)

What is shown in the pictures above and on the left is the stakes tied back at an angle and resting against each other. This allows for a greater walking space between the rows as the plants grow and expand. It also allows for sunlight to keep penetrating the lower reaches of the vines... yes those are the same plants on the left as the ones above. About 3 months later the tomato vines are over 6 feet tall.

As the plant goes from a seedling to about 3 feet in height, it is important to prune the suckers that come up between the leaf shoots. The new leader that sprouts in those spaces will divide the plant's focus and cause it to put more development in it's growth rather then in fruit production. A shorter growing season demands more focus on fruit production!

The "crude" sketch shows the areas that the suckers tend to come out from and the red lines indicate where to cut them...leaving the leaf in place. Pruning should take place until the plant reaches about 2.5 to 3 feet or begins to produce multiple blossom stems. Careful not to mistake blossom shoots for leader shoots!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What inspires?... part 2

As I sit here looking out my window at a snowy city, listening to a truck plowing the parking lot near by, I look at this photo and think back to that beautiful spring day when I stumbled upon these red trilliums and snapped a shot of them.

In Nature, everything is simple yet so complex! Looking at these red trilliums you may think they are a nice little bunch of flowers growing in the wild....would look nice in my backyard garden! The underlying fact is that in order for those flowers to grow in that spot, a big tree first had to grow in the space and probably lived for about 70 years...

After many years of enjoying its life in the forest, the tree died and eventually a few years later, it toppled over. The stump that was left behind began to do what is natural, break down into basic nutrients and return to the soil.

The end result... moss now covers the rotted wood, the surrounding soil is in an acidic state due to the wood's decomposition in the wet humus of the forest. With the conditions of the soil being just right, the Red trilliums decided to grow... aiding further in the decomposition of the stump.

Understanding the delicate construction and composition of soil will help anyone to become an excellent gardener. Knowing how Nature does it is part of what inspires me to design....

Monday, January 22, 2007

Natural Stone: Credit Valley Sandstone

Credit Valley Sandstone: This is a widely popular Natural Stone used throughout the GTA and Southern Ontario. It was made popular in the 1900's by it's widespread use for building facades and patio/walkway materials.

(Photo courtesy of

Origins: Sandstone is known as Sedimentary Rock and is formed from layers of sand-grain like material being compressed together over time. Credit Valley stone would have had some help in being compressed from the glaciers of the last ice age. Through pressure and heat, the minerals in the sand grains bond together and form the hard material we see today as sandstone.

Character: Credit Valley stone is usually quarried out as a chalk-white colour with a sandpaper-like texture. It is a soft stone that is easy to shape and work with for masons. As it ages, it can change colour according to sun exposure. Most often the aged stone is seen in various shades of grey with a slightly weathered texture.

Common uses in landscaping:

  • Random Flagstone (loose fit): When taken from the ground in the raw format, Credit Valley stone breaks off in sheets of various sizes and irregular shapes. This type of stone is commonly used for an informal path such as in the picture below. This layout allows for planting groundcover perennials between the stones. (i.e. creeping tyme)

  • Random Flagstone (motared): A more formal and clean look for the random pattern. This application provides a more stable pavement surface in which the stones have been shaped by hand tools or a saw and then mortard by a mason.
  • Steps: As seen in the picture above, this is an example of Credit Valley stone being used for steps. This application shows the stone mortared in place with a riser and tread arrangement.

  • Square Cut Flagstone (dry-laid or mortared): In this application, the stones have been cut and shaped into square or rectangular patterns. It can be used for a very formal look in either a mortared application or a dry-laid (no mortar) application. (Photo courtesy of

  • Wall Stone Facing: This application is very commonly seen on older buildings such as the Eaton Hall located in King City. It gives a very formal and traditional look to wall faces for both buildings and retaining walls.

  • Coping Stone: Much like the square-cut stone, Credit Valley stone was also widely used for capping walls or framing pool edges.
(Photo courtesy of

Due to the expensive nature of this stone, it is not so widely used in today's landscape construction. It is often requested in first considerations for materials until budget comes into play and the thought is to look for a cheaper stone alternative.

For small job applications or for jobs where the budget allows... it is one of the nicest natural stone materials you can use.