Ecole Pauline Johnson Elementary School - Saturday October 13th Plant List recommendations

Hello Parents and Staff of the sweet kids who attend Ecole Pauline Johnson :

It’s been a privilege to collaborate with your fearless leader, Kyra Smiljanic, on the finishing touches for the learning and community gardening area. I was invited by Benjamen Lumb, talented stone mason and artist. And I’m so glad he asked me. The garden I’ve designed provides a classic pacific northwest approach with emphasis on low maintenance, waterwise, and native plant choices - ferns, ornamental grasses, conifers, and foliage plantings. This will give you a solid basis from which to build over the years.


The day I came to source and place the design in situ was a beautiful fall day. The kids were let out around recess and were playing nearby as I worked. I observed how they run and enjoy the space that has been conserved and protected for their enjoyment. I listened in on the outdoor teacher’s class on the fall season as the kids sit outside in a beautiful space and breathe fresh air while they learn.


This space really is the learning hub for the Park. Kyra told me it’s been Blessed and named by the by the Squamish Nation Elders, this space is called  S7ílhen  (Sah-ai-thlen) for "Food & Gathering"   

It was a welcomed change of pace from my usual work rhythm just to simply ‘give’ and enjoy doing so. You are investing in the lives of your kids, the community you live in, and the future by incorporating a bit of wilderness in our busy tech saturated lives. Thank you for doing this!


Kyra asked me if I could put together a plant list of recommendations for Saturday’s planting event. Here are my thoughts for a pollinator / wildlife garden. Most importantly, I hope you enjoy the process and connection gardening brings with the great outdoors, your kids, and community.

All the best,




Bee Balm





Red flowering currant

Blackeyed Susan

Feather Reed Grass

Brazillian Verbena


Russian Sage

Pink Pussy Toes


Gayfeather or Liatris






You can find these and more recommendations at this monrovia link:

Squamish KAYU CANADA Deck Project

If you are a deck lover, this blog post is for you. I may digress ad nauseam on the game changer a proper deck brings to one's back yard game but I think this is a good story so I'm going to tell it. 


I reached out to KAYU CANADA via Instagram a few months back and inquired on their interest level in collaboration on a Squamish Deck Project. Their response was fast & friendly, and the ball got rolling. I'm a firm believer in first and last-ing impressions and from the initial point of contact to the finishing communications, Kayu Canada has been a real pleasure to work with. Professional, time sensitive, informative, efficient, and an attention to detail builds respect in their business presence which leverages just how awesome the product they're providing really is. And it IS. 


In the world of the Pacific North west, we live in a wet zone. We get a few (thank GOD) months to dry out, but we are a tropical rainforest climate, so moisture is a reality landscapes must accommodate for. When it comes to decking materials, the common choice I see in most of my projects is pressure treated lumber or Cedar (typically Western Red). For about twice the cost, you can bump up to Composite decking, such as Trex, or go with a natural material such as exotic hardwoods. Pressure treated lumber is the cheapest option but has a "green" appearance and therefore must be painted or stained. Cedar costs more but has a lovely natural aesthetic immediately, though it benefits from annual treatment to protect it's longevity. Trex, though maintenance free, is a composite made from essentially plastics and though I can appreciate it's usage in some scenarios, it retains heat like no body's business. If you think about when/where you want to enjoy a deck, the last thing you want is for it to be a HOT surface in the sun. So, if you're going with Trex, you want to factor in site orientation / sun / deck usage / and colour of Trex decking. 


But if you really want a high end natural and sustainable harvested decking option, the exotic hardwoods are the way to go. If you hold a sample of KAYU's products in your hands (IPE, BALAU BATAU, BANGKIRI BALAU, etc) you can feel the density of the hardwood compared to Cedar. The density of these exotic hardwood is what makes them essentially maintenance free. Exotic hardwoods are the most expensive decking material choice but they also last the longest and are best suited for applications where the deck is an extension of living space. Think, hardwood floors but outside. 


For this Squamish deck project, we wanted to update a back yard area, which had previously been a 2'x2' concrete paver patio and garden beds. By implementing an on-grade deck, living space was extended and the landscape aesthetic was minimized and streamlined. The homeowners wanted the deck to serve as a gathering place with a fire pit as critical part of the deck. For this deck, we used Kayu's 1x6" boards in the Bangkirai Balau. The deck joists and framing were comprised of pressure treated lumber and we did not opt to skirt the deck in the Kayu product (though it could still be done post install). Nor did we skirt the inside of the fire pit feature. The 4'x4'x8" deep fire pit allows for safe burning and hopefully not too much hot sparks on the deck surface. We floored the fire pit with 2"concrete pavers and then laid river rock to complete the fire side zone. We were able to use existing natural stone boulders as flex seating adjacent to the fire pit providing that on-demand seating option without complicating the space with fixed furniture placement.


Kayu recommends treating each board with a product that seals and protects the wood so we treated all sides and edges before installing the boards. Kayu also recommends joist caps for low ventilation / high moisture / 1x6" board applications however finished grade was a concern on this project and every inch mattered so we opted to use a joist cap protection tape to manage moisture transfer. The sub grade below deck was excavated and landscape filter cloth was installed with gravel on top of that to prevent weed growth. We installed the deck using the Kreg hidden fastening system because it's a stronger hold, easy to use, and keeps the surface splinter and screw free for barefoot enjoyment, not to mention it looks amazing having the fastening system hidden from view. 


As a designer, my role is to recommend the best material choices for each projects unique traits -often this is guided by budget but also length of investment in the property as well as what each clients values in priority sequence.  I cannot rave highly enough about working with Kayu Canada on this project - from their customer service, to their installation guidelines and attention to detail, to the product itself, Kayu Canada and the products they provide are the best and would be my preferred supplier and material choice for decks in the Sea to Sky Corridor for projects with a budget to spend on exotic hardwood decking. 


Thank you Kayu Canada for the great experience! I can't wait to see more projects using these exotic hardwoods and elevating their deck game to the next level. Stay tuned for the video recap all well later this month. Happy Summer!

West Vancouver Full Landscape Reno

Does one attempt to improve upon THE Paul Sangha or Ron Rule? Perhaps so, perhaps not. One must respect their elders :) But this lucky designer got a chance to refresh & update a collab between these two circa 1980, back when they were working together. The before photos showcase an overgrown / outgrown / mature / tired / and in decline landscape in the Mathers Avenue / West Vancouver area, which I recently had the pleasure to visit and photograph. 


The client wanted to infuse her Asian heritage & Buddhist spirituality into an English Cottage / Pacific Northwest aesthetic. Together, we selected and agreed upon appropriate tree removal and thinning in the garden, repurposed existing stone materials, and created functional zones for various usages within the gardens, which include a meditation path. 

A new entry provides privacy from street passerby

A new entry provides privacy from street passerby


The 2015 re-design, eventually completed in 2016, is now 2.5 years old. The full before and after photo sequence is available at


I am brimming with excitement to return later this summer, when the garden is in full swing, and document the June show. Stay tuned! 


oh hello spring!


Refreshing Your Outdoor Space - also available at


Yes - winter is coming to an end! Some of us may be more excited about this than others - regardless, early spring provides us with a great opportunity to plan and prep for a variety of outdoor projects. Here are a few helpful tips on how to best utilize the spring months to make the most of your landscape enjoyment this season. 

  1. PLAN : Consider how you want to use your landscape - whether it’s a large front and back yard, a small town-home green space, or an apartment balcony. Each setting provides an opportunity for retreat and there are ways to maximize it’s inherent potential. Think about how long you plan to live in your home, as that often guides goals and budgets for landscape projects, as well as material preferences. Consider how you want the space to function - what kinds of activities happen in this area or areas? What sight lines and views do you want to emphasize or minimize? Function guides design and good design is built on a solid understanding of how the space will be used. The winter and early spring months provide a great time to connect with a Landscape Designer to assist you in planning your goals and project, ensuring it’s tailored to your specific needs and vision. I often tell my clients the planning process can average a few weeks to a month as does the installation so if you want to maximize enjoying your outdoor space during the summer months, the early bird gets the worm! March and April rev up the busy months and by May/June many installers, designers, and landscapers are in full swing and busy. 
  2. PHASE : Often it’s  difficult to do it all and everyone’s living on a budget. Consider what elements in your exterior space are urgent (in decline or need repair), important (to you personally or for investment in your asset), and what elements are on your ‘Want to have but not Need to have’ list. This will help guide how you phase these items in over time. Spring is a great time of year to have your exterior siding / roof / windows / and gutters cleaned. Depending on what your hard surfaces are comprised of, spring is also the time for power washing concrete pathways / paver driveways / decks, and other wood features such as fences and exterior carpentry. Cleaning your outdoor surfaces sets you up for a season of enjoyment and is a great way to prep for any additional work such as exterior painting and treatment of wood surfaces. Given that we live in such a wet area, any exposed Cedar or wood features generally require annual or bi-annual staining / painting / treatments to protect them. If you know you want to paint or stain outdoor areas this summer, make sure they are cleaned this spring. 
  3. BUDGET : Everyone has constraints so be realistic. Whatever your budget is, there are ways to work within it and phase your goals in over time. Working with a designer helps give you a framework to help project manage your vision, ensuring that each phase is working towards that overall goal. Some projects need to be implemented over time, broken up into two or more phases. I often recommend as a great starting point to my potential clients that  meeting for a landscape design consultation & assessment goes a long way in helping them make sense of what they have, what they want, and how to get from A to B. Having an overarching plan in place will help consolidate and organize information, manage the project over time, and provide you with a blue print to follow as well as quantifiable information which enables effective costing and quoting. 
  4. GOALS : Give some thought to how you want to interact with your outdoor space - do you just need a simply balcony area with containerized planters and a destination to relax and unwind from the day or entertain guests? Do you have a tired back yard you don’t want to be in and you can’t figure out why? Identifying what you do and don’t like will help you determine the direction you want your landscape to go in. I work through a list of consult questions with my clients that speaks to the season of life they’re in, kids/pets, when they are home/time of day, how they want the landscape to function - do they love to cook and want a thriving herb garden off the kitchen? Do they have young children and need a safe and friendly play are but also an adult lounge zone? Outlining your goals goes a long way in defining and designing the landscape. Good design connects interior life and exterior life - and brings about an overall theme, vibe, and cohesion between these areas. Spend some time identifying your style, design aesthetic, interest level in maintaining your garden, times of year you travel or are home and how this informs the landscape design, etc. 
  5. GET OUTSIDE! : The best part about spring - is getting outside! It’s time to clean off those outdoor areas, raking up leaves and debris from the winter. It’s also a good time for transplanting trees and shrubs (or installing them). Get a head start on weeding and pruning. Hard prune any large hedges. Plan your vegetable plot and start your seeds. Cultivate your beds and turn the soil to encourage nutrition breakdown from the surface. The very best and most basic DIY landscape priority I encourage all my clients to do - add fresh soil to your landscape. Considering that plants “eat” soil - and that in turn is what supports their growth, health, foliage and flowering capacity - it makes sense that this is a fundamental annual gardening objective. You can hire a landscaper to do this for you or you can order your own soil / composted bark mulch from a local supplier, have it delivered to your driveway, and wheelbarrow it into place. Getting involved in your own yard is a fantastic antithesis to our busy modern tech & screen saturated world and I encourage everyone to do it, no matter how black your thumb may be. 





Project Play Squamish


This was a treasure of a project to be involved with and I was so excited to see the finished (almost finished!) space, I hauled the kids over to site today to snap a few shots of them enjoying Squamish's newest outdoor daycare, Project Play Squamish. Earlier in the spring, the clients contacted me with their vision for creating a naturalistic outdoor play space, comprised of various vignettes, to provide an outside experience for their upcoming home based daycare. They had a clear vision of the design and together, we created this space. We were able to source most of the logs locally right from the Nexen log sort, as well as driftwood pieces from Nexen beach. We wanted to utilize native plant species to, in effect, mirror the forest and bring that plant palette into the fore ground. Building a berm of lawn area provides a playful mound for exploration, while a nearby grove of Black Stem Bamboo create a cozy reading nook. Stumps serve as stepping stones or seats in an outdoor classroom. A covered sandbox provides endless opportunities for play, which is the basic tenant of this daycare - we learn through play. There are still a few finishing touches to be done before this daycare opens this fall but I am so thankful and excited to have been a part of this project and I couldn't be happier for the clients who are realizing a life long dream in their new dream home and investing richly into the Squamish community.