Sustainable perspectives

Strengthening relationship with place, ecosystem and community


By: Brenlee Brothers

Common milkweed seedlings from Sundaura's nursery. Sundaura Alford-Purvis photo
Common milkweed seedlings from Sundaura's nursery.
Sundaura Alford-Purvis photo


Sundaura Alford-Purvis has been hooked on gardening since she was around four or five, when she remembers planting squash seeds and watching them grow into humongous vines. It was the coolest thing in the universe, she recalls. “It was magic the first time and it has never stopped being magic.” 

After working in garden centres, studying architecture and trying that for a year, Alford-Purvis spent 24 years working in the horticulture industry as a professional garden and landscape designer. Overtime, she became more aware of the sheer environmental impact of hard materials used by the conventional horticulture industry. From the manufacturing and transportation of materials, to the use of gravel base that is mined somewhere else entirely. “It was bothering me more and more,” she said.

Eventually it became too hard to ignore the common practice of forcing ecosystems out of their natural state for the purpose of human aesthetic desires. She went from working with people and plants to change landscapes, to working with the land and plants to change people. “How do we actually adapt to an ecosystem and become a functioning part of it?” she asks. More people are starting to think about what plants they can use to support the ecosystem as opposed to what plants to use to create the garden look they want, she said. “There’s a lot of people starting from a different question now.” With ecosystem care at the forefront of people’s minds. 

Alford-Purvis is a strong believer that we should practice being in relationship with complex living systems instead of simplifying them. Currently, she is focused on ecosystem enhancement through the use of native plants in Ontario. Last year she started her own micro-nursery, growing over 100 native species from seed this spring to sell to people in the surrounding Ottawa area. “Selling lots of different species so people can actually get the diversity growing in the landscape that you really do need for healthy ecosystems,” she said.

Native plant nursery in the spring.Native plant nursery in the spring. Around 650 plants were sold in the first week.
Sundaura Alford-Purvis photo


“All you can do is work on healthy relationships with place, ecosystems and community,” she said. In an effort to create spaces and activities for others to work on these skill sets, Alford-Purvis created the Landcare Collective, an in person, hands on course, where participants work on garden projects outside and learn how to build up soil health instead of replacing it. The course asks questions like, what materials do we have to work with? What if we can figure out how to actually incorporate what’s here into what we’re trying to create? This looks like weaving together cuttings from invasive shrubs to make compost bins or protection from critters.

Most students are new to this and wondering how to do things differently, she said. “Everyone seems to be having a great deal of fun, which is always the best way to do things.” The course runs one evening, every two weeks from May to October. 

Last Winter, Alford-Purvis did a really neat project where she posted one Ontario native plant a day on facebook, in the order of bloom season, for the entire winter. She included a bio that described each plants’ personality and role in the ecosystem. “It builds up interest just by putting pictures of pretty plants in front of people who otherwise have not seen them,” she said.

Gathering Field Pussytoes seedheads in 2021. Sundaura Alford-Purvis photo
Gathering Field Pussytoes seedheads in 2021. 
Sundaura Alford-Purvis photo


At her house in urban Ottawa, over the past four to five years, Alford-Purvis has been converting her garden beds into native species spaces. “The pollinator population in the yard has just gone through the roof,” she said. “There’s at least three different species of bumblebee that basically complete their life cycle in my little urban yard… literally the yard just hums from spring to fall.”

“I’m trying to really look at what native species can extend the bloom season in a hot year, because last year it was so hot here from early on in the season, all the plants bloomed two weeks early.” By mid-september there were very few blooms left, she said. She plans to collect seeds from the last plants to bloom each season - even for something like common goldenrod - to try to extend the blooming season, she said. “What are the things we can do within an ecosystem that actually might increase our capacity to support life, including our own?” she asks. 

“I would love to see a transition from trying to force the spaces in our communities to be low maintenance and start shifting towards them being spaces that are high engagement, so that we can have lots of relationships with them.”

Sundaura Alford-Purvis
Sundaura Alford-Purvis photo

Sundaura has been working in the horticultural industry since 1998, and was an avid gardener for over a decade before that. In addition to her role as the executive director for the Society for Organic Urban Land Care, she worked for 18 years as a landscape designer and has recently turned her attention to growing native plants and leading hands-on courses to help restore care-based land and plant relationships, with a particular focus on native species, local ecosystems and sustainable food relationships in urban environments.

Climate Change and Victoria Gardens

by Christina Nikolic

Christina Nikolic Garden Late June 2022
Christina Nikolic's Garden Late June 2022. Photo Credit: Christina Nikolic

Hello there, Christina here from Victoria, BC in Canada’s Zone 9 “Banana Belt”. Situated within the moderate oceanic zone, Victoria enjoys warm dry summers with a long drought period, and mild wet winters reminiscent of Mediterranean climate. Snow is rare and usually doesn't last more than a week or two. Thunder or hail are almost unheard of, though we do get pummelled by wind storms.

Located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the Victoria area is significantly drier than Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, though not as dry (or as cold in the winter) as the Southern BC interior.

All that said, things are no longer what we expect them to be, and climate change became glaringly obvious last year when records were set for heat, drought, rain, and cold, all within six months between June and December.

Having just posted a general blog on the topic [https://www.gardenerspantry.ca/blog/gardening-in-a-changing-climate/], this is a good opportunity to be more specific.

It is pretty safe to assume not only an increase in average year round temperature, but also weather extremes becoming more frequent and fluctuating more rapidly. I have lived in my urban neighbourhood for 15 years and have been looking after this particular residential garden for 12 months now. My observations mirror recorded data:

Winters are getting wetter, and Arctic outflow patterns, when they do happen, last for longer. Part of the garden remained flooded for weeks last November through March. On the plus side, the grass is still lush and green there now, six months later and after weeks without rain. I had planned on converting this area to a vegetable garden next. In light of the flooding which will likely repeat every year, I will try and create low mounds for beds, and will not grow winter veggies or perennial food plants in this place.

Because of saturated soils throughout the garden, I held back planting garlic until January, which paid off with a bountiful harvest last month.

The basement water pipes froze for four days in December and a lot of tender perennials died back to the ground (most came back, phew!). My landlord’s citrus trees made it, but with a twist: The grafted part died, and the surviving rootstock sent up new shoots. Pretty, but they won’t flower or fruit. This will teach me to no longer bother with marginally hardy plants.

The spring was slow to come along, cold and wet, and pollination was spotty. To my surprise, the peach tree is bending low with fruit, but there are almost no apples at all, and maybe a dozen pears between two trees. That’s a tough one to adapt to. One of my strategies will be to improve wild pollinator habitat and forage options. Check out Pollinator Partnership Canada [https://pollinatorpartnership.ca/]! If fruit trees ever need to be replaced, I will pay attention to late blooming varieties.

On the other hand, when things go right, some plants might yield a sudden and unexpected bounty. I think it’s time to learn how to preserve the harvest... by fermenting, drying, canning, and freezing. Peach chutney!

Due to hotter drier summers, the ubiquitous ‘Emerald’ hedge cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd') seem to be having a harder time every year — and the future doesn’t look good for Western red cedar (Thuja plicata), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), and even something as seemingly indestructible as salal (Gaultheria shallon). This is pretty serious.

Looking at the large amounts of water needed by cedar hedges, I would no longer recommend them, opting instead for other barrier plants, or vine covered fences. I also think it’s time to reconsider Victoria staples like hydrangeas and (gasp!) rhododendrons. In the meantime, I care for the 30 or so cedars around my place through mulching, soil building, and water wise irrigation.

Speaking of mulch: Most of my time and energy this fall will go to collecting and spreading leaves on the many new garden beds I created. I will also set aside as many bags of dry leaves as I can so I have top-up material come next summer.

To reduce lawn watering needs, I continue to leave the grass to grow long and I mow in sections. I do water the lawn, moderately, and mainly to keep the soil ecosystem underneath alive. Thankfully my soil texture is a silty loam with great water holding capacity!

I planted my winter veg seedlings already to give them the longest possible time to develop, which is a tightrope act between the current summer heat and not knowing when the cool and wet autumn will arrive. The tomatoes are doing okay in their containers but for the first time ever I saw some blossom-end rot. A calcium deficiency, exacerbated by irregular watering. My bad — I need to come up with a more balanced water supply system especially during heat waves.

Overall, I think Victoria is so far getting off easy(-ish), so far, compared to other regions ravaged by climate change fuelled disasters. But in our complacency we are far from prepared to fend for ourselves, even for a week, and remember, we’re sitting right at the rising ocean’s edge.

I draw hope from noticing how a lot of the tips for developing climate resilient gardens (see the blog post above) are the same as those we are teaching in the Organic Land Care curriculum. Build soil. Mulch. Plant in layers, and densely. Save seeds. Use water wisely. Grow biodiversity. Share your knowledge.

After all, what else would we do?

 


 

Climate Change and Its Impact on Alberta Gardens

by Jennifer Burns-Robinson

Greetings from my Zone 3 garden, 50km west of Edmonton, AB! I garden on an acreage in a rural area, so unfortunately, I don’t get the benefit of Edmonton’s heat island, which bumps up their growing zone to 4a. Winters here tend to be cold (down to -42C, two years ago) with only moderate snowfall. Summers tend to be dry and warm, but that is changing. Climate change is driving more extreme weather variations, so very variable rainfalls, more extreme rain events, hail, winds, and droughts are in our forecast. An expert climatologist, David Phillips, recently predicted that by 2050, we will be bumping our zone up by 1.5 levels. So, my 3b garden will move to almost 4b. That is a lot of change in just a few years.

So, what can an Alberta gardener do to keep on gardening despite the weather? Thankfully, there are lots of things we can do to help manage our microclimate and buffer it against extreme weather. One thing we can do right now to protect our future gardens is plant trees. Trees not only act as a carbon sink, but they create shade to cool the soil, help block damaging winds and help hold water in the soil. Deforestation is a big contributor to climate change, so if we can each plant a few trees, we may be able to offset some of that damage in the long run. We plan to add some shade trees over the next few years, including some hardy maple that we will tap for maple syrup.

A storm rolls through my zone 3 Alberta garden - Photo by Jennifer Burns-Robinson
A storm rolls through my zone 3 Alberta garden - Photo by Jennifer Burns-Robinson 

What else can we do? Mulch, mulch, mulch! Leave no soil bare, and your plants will thank you. Mulching reduces water evaporation, and cools plant roots. Last summer, we had hot dry weather at the start of the season (no rain for almost 3 months!) and mulching helped to reduce stress on my fruit trees and reduce the amount of water I needed to use from my well - preserving my underground water. Hand-in-hand with mulching is collecting rainwater. With the looming possibility of alternating drought and extreme rainfall, collecting your rainwater for the dry times is a smart move. We are installing 2 more 1000L tanks this summer to catch rain, just in case we get another spring like last year.

My vegetable garden is already sloped to allow for drainage, and we have a small natural depression that collects runoff and creates habitat for frogs and birds. If you live in the city on a smaller lot, you can install a rain garden so that your heavy rain can collect temporarily and drain any excess from your beds.

We also plan to add some shade structures in the vegetable garden this year, to allow for a little relief from that intense prairie sun. My vegetable garden faces full south with no trees nearby, so the heat can be powerful. My brassicas did not appreciate the hot dry weather last year, and I lost all my Purple Lady Bok Choy to bolting. Shade cloth for my greens and cabbages, strung over a wooden arbour should reduce the temperatures by a few degrees.

I am also hoping to work with Mother Nature and add some more perennial vegetables to my plantings. Sorrel, dandelion, dock, asparagus, will hopefully have more resilience in the face of change and require less work on my part.

Thankfully, as an Alberta gardener I am used to adapting my practices to harsh weather. I hope these ideas can help you build a plan for your garden!


Suggested Viewing:
How Climate Change Impacts Gardening (18:08)  https://youtu.be/h_WcT3fj1bI
How to green the world's deserts and reverse climate change | Allan Savory  (22:19) https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI


 

Registration for AIBC Conference 2022 is Now Open!

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From May 2 to 4, the Architectural Institute of British Columbia will be virtually hosting AIBC Conference 2022, an online professional development event that explores the theme “View to the Future”. Architectural professionals from across the province, country and world will be able to participate and connect at the event.

AIBC Conference 2022 features an inspiring lineup of four keynote speakers. Participants will also be able to virtually attend more than 25 sessions, which explore topics highly relevant to today’s architectural practice – such as Truth and Reconciliation; sustainability; equity, diversity and inclusion; and innovative technologies. 

Early bird pricing for full packages is available for the event until March 21, 2022. All package prices, including the conference schedule and speaker bios, can be found on the AIBC Conference 2022 website.

Those who are interested in attending AIBC Confab 2021 can register online at bit.ly/3pCcbpj. If you have any questions about the event, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 


 

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SOUL is excited to have launched ‘2022 Year of the Ecological Garden’, a year-long series promoting ecological land care and the expertise of SOUL members. The first session was held on January 11, 2022 and they are hosting weekly sessions that are free or by donation.

Sessions take place on Tuesdays at 3:00pm Eastern, noon Pacific and run for 45 minutes, including an introduction or short presentation followed by a 30-minute Q&A. 

Here is a list of the upcoming monthly discussion topics for the rest of the year:

April: Urban Agriculture and Food Sovereignty
May: Soil Care and Composting
June: Ecological Turf Care – and turf alternatives
July: Greener Greenspaces – Virtual tours of some of the 2021 recognition recipients
August: Greener Greenspaces – Virtual tours of some of the 2021 recognition recipients
September: Urban Biodiversity – Pollinators and Habitat
October: Urban Biodiversity – Native Plants, Seed Saving, Stratification and Winter Sowing
November: The Right to Garden – Land Access, Bylaws and other Barriers to Practicing Land Care
December: Livelihoods in Ecological Land Care

For more information about the series, to register and to view videos of prior sessions, please visit: 2022 Year of the Ecological Garden

 


 

The Ripple Effect of Regeneration

Permaculture principles in business, lifestyle and community

By: Brenlee Brothers
 

f1477a5c-1f8f-6e10-9583-ef697f9f0f64.jpegHatchet & Seed owners Solara Goldwynn and Tayler Krawczyk. Hatchet & Seed photo

As Spring approaches, it’s a time for preparing garden beds with compost, starting seeds and patiently waiting for the soil to warm. The folks at Hatchet and Seed are busy translating their winter design consultations into reality for their clients. Raised beds, custom greenhouses, drip irrigation, multi-species orchard establishment and rain garden installations are some of the projects lined up this spring.

Co-owner Tayler Krawczyk’s passion for edible landscaping began as a curiosity about the principles, ethics and lifestyle habits of the ‘permaculture movement’. During his twenties, he spent half a decade working in forestry and acquired a BA in International Development Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. “I was left with many critical questions about how we might practically address some of the structural problems facing our societies and ecosystems. Wealth inequality, food systems vulnerability, ecosystem stress and climate change - how are they related?” he wondered.

Those questions led him to the field of permaculture design, which asks: what does regenerative human habitat on earth look like? “How can we fulfill our human needs for shelter, food, water, energy and community while not degrading the planet we depend on for future generations? Better yet, how do we regenerate the planet so there are more forests, cleaner water, and healthier soils for our descendants?” he asks. “We feel strongly that it is our job to heal the earth, not for its own sake, but for our descendants. The earth can repair itself or at least find a new equilibrium over millennia, but if we care about the future of our descendants and other animals on this planet, we need to change our consumption patterns.”

From this curiosity, Krawczyk completed a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), followed by Gaia College’s ‘Organic Master Gardener’ and ‘Ecological Landscape Design’ Certificates. These programs helped solidify an understanding of the best practices for organic landcare, Tayler said. “It also helped to systematize our design process in a way that puts earth care front and center. I would highly recommend the program to any budding landscape designers.”

For the past decade, Krawczyk and his wife (and business partner) Solara Goldwynn, have worked with hundreds of clients through their ‘foodscaping’ business Hatchet & Seed on Southern Vancouver Island, ultimately transforming underused landscapes into abundant, beautiful, food-producing landscapes. “My wife is amazing,” Krawczyk said. “She’s recently begun a one-year contract with Royal Roads University as a project manager to kickstart the revival of the walled kitchen garden… and she’s also completing a Master’s Degree in Environmental Education and Communication at Royal Roads.”

Through watching some of their youtube videos, one can get a taste of Solara’s sweetness and her extensive knowledge in permaculture design and food growing that comes with a decade of experience under her belt. Their youtube channel is an incredible aspect of their online presence, with resources available to clients and the general public about fermenting, ergonomics and raised beds, composting, fruit tree pruning and the list goes on.

With projects that range from backyard food gardens and orchards, to City Parks, to schools, businesses, farms, and everything in between, the unique and complementary skill sets of their staff get the field work done, while Krawczyk and Goldwynn focus on design consulting and project management.

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Close up of a raised garden bed. Hatchet & Seed photo

 
A garden area featuring a ferro-cement raised bed. Hatchet & Seed photo


An aerial view of Tayler and Solara's backyard garden featuring no-dig raised beds. Hatchet & Seed photo

5e399831-2562-b54b-6be3-36497af06a24.pngA beautiful wildlife pond. Hatchet & Seed photo

Since the pandemic began, many people have been spending more time looking out their windows at spaces that could become food growing areas, Krawczyk said. “Other more experienced hobby gardeners are looking to elevate their game and become more efficient. We can help with both, but we do make it clear to prospective clients that you need to be serious about making a lifestyle change if you are serious about growing food.”  Through maintenance visits, the staff help clients become accustomed to these necessary changes that come along with being a food grower.

The weather conditions on Southern Vancouver Island are unlike any other place in Canada. Classified as a modern mediterranean climate, it’s considered the mildest-growing climate in Canada, where citrus and avocados can be grown with protection while olives and figs do well out in the open. 

From May to September the summers are increasingly dry, while October through April tends to bring a lot of rain, making water tables rise to the surface. This makes the balancing act between drainage and water retention as challenging as it is important, Krawczyk said. “Our water retention strategies start with softer approaches like improving soil organic matter, mulching and cover cropping. We also employ well-designed earthworks to manage stormwater in rain gardens and farm-scale irrigation ponds.”

From 2017 to 2019, Hatchet and Seed led a “Keyline Water Management Project” through the Farm Adaptation Innovator Program (FAIP) that piloted keyline subsoiling in their region. By leveraging detailed contour maps and the use of specialized subsoilers (a plow feature that penetrates the soil without disturbing soil biology), water can be spread across the landscape more evenly from wetter areas to drier areas on farms that have varied topography, Tayler explained. “All of this experience puts water front-and-center in our minds when designing or implementing a new land-based project.”

“Our goal moving forward is to work increasingly on public edible landscape / foodscape  projects – community gardens, orchards and farms – where the positive impacts of the work can ripple even farther.” To that end, we have some very exciting public projects coming up in 2022, he said. “Having said that, we still love helping families and households transform their backyards into efficient and productive foodscapes.”

“Increasingly the most fulfilling part of our work has become the client and staff relationships that Solara and I have created over the last 10 years in Victoria, BC. While both of us started this work to be closer to dynamic, functional ecosystems, we've found ourselves as part of an amazing community of growers who are investing time and energy into small-scale agroecology,” he said. 

While working in alignment with permaculture principles, Hatchet and Seed translates these practices into a regenerative approach to their business. They strive to be exceptional employers with health and dental benefits for full-time staff and competitive wages while working on projects the staff can feel good about and learn from, Krawczyk said. “These positive relationships with both clients and our staff, centered around edible landscaping, are an important part of the business for us.” 

“Oh, and eating a ripe fig, or a handful of mulberries.”

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The crew. Hatchet & Seed photo

For more information about Hatchet & Seed, please visit: Hatchet & Seed


 

Rainwater Update

A Resource and Alternate Source 

By: Brenlee Brothers

When Ken Nentwig was growing up, he remembers his grandparents had a cistern in their house to store rainwater. An age-old practice has become a modern necessity as we learn how to adapt to changes in climate. 

Harvesting rainwater allows for the water to be kept on site and used as a resource, rather than letting it runoff into the storm system. “Rainwater harvesting is almost like a new industry and yet it’s an age-old method of capturing the rain and using it from cisterns,” Nentwig said.  It reduces the demand on municipal or well water - aquifers- when it is available, instead of using treated water which is brought in from far away, we are able to capture the water and put it back on site. As an example, he said “We don't have to use treated water for flushing toilets, we can use rainwater for that.”


A concept schematic for a private residence in Hornby Island, B.C. Ken Nentwig photo

 

As a retired landscape architect, with four decades of landscape related experience, and sixteen years as a college professor at Ridgetown College in Ontario, Nentwig has shifted his work into independent consulting and education. 

Based in Victoria, B.C., Nentwig specializes in conceptual design and feasibility to help people determine how a rainwater system will work on their property and what parts will be needed.

With longer and heavier bouts of rainfall, we continue to see excess stormwater runoff from roads and buildings, especially in urban areas where the dated infrastructure is unable to keep up with climate changes. That’s why we have flooding, Nentwig said. “As storms become heavier and less predictable and as droughts become longer and deeper, we’re finding that rain water harvesting is one of the tools we can use to help mitigate the extremes that we’re witnessing and solve some of the problems of old infrastructure that does not handle the new way things are happening around us.”


A downspout-to-pipe connection in a community garden at the University of Victoria. Ken Nentwig photo

 

Most municipalities have a treatment plant that brings in water from wells, lakes or the ocean. After treatment, the water is sent off to buildings, Nentwig explained. “If we don’t have to do that, we don’t have to spend all the energy and we don’t need to have that infrastructure if we can keep the water that lands there, on site and use it.”

The City of Victoria has a rebate program for those who practice sustainable rainwater management on their property through the use of rain gardens, green roofs, bioswales and other systems. When harvested in a sustainable way, rainwater becomes a resource and helps the man-made watersheds in urban landscapes mimic the function of natural systems, which allows water to be diffused back into the water table naturally.

 


This is an in-basement tank array at a private residence in Victoria, B.C. Ken Nentwig photo

 

“People are starting to realize that rain water is an alternate source that is now being dumped into the sewers,” Nentwig said. “So interrupt that and make use of it.”

Nentwig has developed and facilitated online courses in Rainwater Management and  Landscape Design Basics with Sketchup Pro through Gaia College since 2011. He is also the Lead Trainer for CANARM (Canadian Association for Rainwater Management), where he developed a Canadian-based certification course, and is involved in the training programs of  the U.S. based group,  ARCSA (American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association). 

 


Ken Nentwig is an educator and concept design specialist for rainwater harvesting systems. Ken Nentwig photo

 

The Rainwater Harvesting and Management course at Gaia College can be an important asset to many tradespeople and areas of work including landscape architects and garden designers,  engineers, educators and decision makers within government. The next semester begins January 10, 2022.
 

To learn even more about Ken, some of his illustrations and conceptual design projects can be found here: https://www.behance.net/KenNentwig 


 

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SOUL (Society for Organic Urban Land Care) is excited to announce ‘Greener Greenspaces’, a recognition program for urban land care. This new program awards sites from across Canada that exemplify greener greenspace stewardship. The aim of the program is to showcase examples of ecologically-focused land care as a means to inspire others and to further the movement across Canada.

Online applications are accepted until October 15.

For more information, please visit the SOUL website: Greener Greenspaces.

 

Growing Integrally

Environmentally conscious landscaping in Vancouver

 

By: Brenlee Brothers

Che Nolan started his landscaping business as a bicycle company while taking the Organic Master Gardeners course at Gaia College. He had a bicycle with a trailer on the back that kept a rake, broom and other tools inside. He’d ride around Vancouver, knock on doors and hand out flyers to initiate business for himself. “I just had a few customers and a bike,” he said.

During this time he was working toward his Diploma in Organic Landcare. Before starting the program, Nolan’s knowledge stemmed from his curiosity in past work experiences with a horticulturist, landscaping and gardening at home. “My own interest was in growing food and then everything just kind of happened over time,” he said.

His partner was the one who suggested Nolan try landscaping. “I’m a very physical person, so I really loved being outside doing something physical with my days and learning as much as I possibly could,“ he said. He was so keen to learn; he took books out of the library and constantly asked questions to his landscape bosses. “Learning was the biggest drive for me,” he said.

Irrigated raised beds by Peace Garden. Che Nolan photo
Irrigated raised beds by Peace Garden. Che Nolan photo

 

“By the time I got to Gaia, I had a reasonable handle on things,” he said. With several years work experience in the field prior to that, he kept absorbing as much information as he could.

“I started with that [Gaia College] and I loved it,” he said. “So I just kept going with it.” 

Gaia College opened up a lot of vistas that Nolan wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise. His skill, knowledge and confidence as a landcare practitioner grew. “I used to go knocking on doors looking for work,” he said. “But then after I took that course, I felt good because I was now offering something, I had knowledge and I was able to help people.” The diploma is a valued asset when working in this industry, he said. “Customers expect you to know what you’re talking about and you deliver.”

Nolan also obtained his Residential Landscape Technician Diploma from Douglas College.

About a decade later, Nolan runs a successful Vancouver-based landscaping company called Peace Garden. It focuses on organic, quiet practices which ensure health and peace of mind for customers and their communities. His crew includes himself, two full-time workers and one part-time hand. 

“It’s a real honour to have the knowledge and I just love sharing it with people,” Nolan said. 

Peace Garden offers some unique business methods that set it apart from other landscaping companies, such as re-using plants from work-sites.

 

A vibrant front yard design by Peace Garden. Che Nolan photo
A vibrant front yard design by Peace Garden. Che Nolan photo


Whenever people ask to have certain plants removed from their yard, most companies will take the plant out and dispose of it. But if Nolan can save a plant, he will. Instead of throwing the plants away, he brings them home and puts them on Craigslist for free. Sometimes he will transplant them in his garden for a while until he finds another home for them. Some people are so deeply appreciative, he said. “My favourite thing is when I take a plant from someone’s house and they’re happy that I took it, and then a few hours later I make someone else happy by giving them that plant.” 

 

This yard used to be a sloping green lawn. Peace Garden installed stonework to create two levels and moved in lots of plants. Che Nolan photo
This yard used to be a sloping green lawn.
Peace Garden installed stonework to create two levels and moved in lots of plants.
Che Nolan photo


Peace Garden uses silent, gas-free gardening practices, which is an uncommon, yet interesting approach to landcare, especially in a densely populated place like Vancouver.

Nolan recalls working as a landscaper before starting his own business. It would be 8 a.m. on a job site, and he’d start up a blower in someone’s lawn. Knowing the noise disturbed people in their own homes made Nolan feel uneasy. “I actually quit my job over it,” he said. 

When he realized he didn’t want to be upsetting people in the morning as part of his job, he came up with the idea of silent gardening. The battery-powered tools not only allow Nolan to be conscious of noise-pollution but simultaneously they are far better for the environment. Gas powered tools get the job done faster, but they create more air pollution in one hour than a car does driving for about half a day, Nolan said. “All of this means that if you want to walk lighter on the planet, it’s more important to choose a gas-free gardening company than to drive less. It’s something we often don’t think about.”

“I actually really appreciate that I've been on the other side of it, because I have that experience and I feel that it really enriches why I do what I do,” he said.

Next year Nolan envisions Peace Garden with a second crew and another truck. People can get really focused on growth just for the sake of growth, he said. “I do think it’s important that money serves us; rather than we serve money.”

It’s very easy to lose the integrity of a company by focusing too much on growing the company, he said. He wants to maintain a good work atmosphere for his staff. “We have a really awesome crew right now and as far as growth goes, that's the most important thing,” he said. 

“Basically just keeping that heart and soul in the company.”

 

Che Nolan from Peace Garden. Che Nolan Photo
Che Nolan from Peace Garden. Che Nolan Photo

 

For more information about Peace Garden, please visit: https://peacegardendesigns.com

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