Residents head to court to save Norway maple trees at UBC

University Endowment Lands homeowner Chris Wall stands beside one of the maple trees near his house on Wesbrook Crescent in January, 2020, not long after the decision to remove 15 a year was announced.

The battle over 79 maple trees next to University of B.C. is headed to to court.

The trees, most of them with big leafy canopies, line both sides of Wesbrook Crescent, a street on the University Endowment Lands which is located between the city of Vancouver and UBC.

The manager of the UEL has said 15 of the trees have to be removed annually because they’re dangerous to the public.

Residents disagree. They say the decision to remove the trees was made without any input from the community and without an independent arborist’s report.

The UEL was among the parties notified Friday of the Supreme Court of B.C. petition to set aside the tree removal decision.

Chris Wall, a resident of Wesbrook Crescent who is one of the petitioners and spokesman for the group of concerned residents, said he bought into the neighbourhood in part because of the greenery and privacy provided by the trees.

“The curtain goes up this time of year,” Wall said, about how the leafy tree canopies muffle noise and create a privacy screen every spring. “Tree-lined streets are beautiful.”

Since the UEL announced the tree removal last December , the residents organized and then hired an arborist to assess the trees.

In a 69-page inventory and management plan, Bartlett Tree Experts numbered and assessed each Norway maple tree. It said 32 of the maples are in good condition, 41 in fair and six, poor. The report recommended removing five trees.

Wall said that the UEL did not commission its own independent arborist to write a report and assess each tree for safety or long-term survivability.

He said there’s no documentation supporting the UEL’s decision, and the UEL didn’t consult with residents about the trees.

“The manager made an arbitrary decision to remove them,” Wall said.

Wesbrook Crescent runs north/south beside Wesbrook Mall, a busy thoroughfare on the university campus. Traffic includes buses such as the B-line.

A high hedge runs on the west side of the crescent, separating mall traffic from the quiet residential street; above the hedge are some of the canopies of the trees slated for removal.

The UEL is a unique administrative region in the Lower Mainland. Instead of an elected council, the unincorporated community of about 4,000 people is governed by the province and administered by a manager appointed by the minister of municipal affairs and housing.

The UEL did not respond by deadline about being taken to court over the trees.

In a previous story , UEL manager John Braman said he believes the trees are putting people at risk.

“Public safety is the priority,” he told Postmedia News in January.

Wall said in the 17 years he’s lived in the neighbourhood, three branches have fallen to the ground that he had observed.

“The manager’s reason for removing the trees is safety,” he said.

“He believes the trees on our street are dangerous. We have a difference of opinion on that.”

Wall thinks municipal affairs minister Selina Robinson will have to intervene.

“I would suggest that nothing is going to change until the minister gives the manager of the UEL a directive.”

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Stanley Park’s aquatic life on ‘red alert’: ecology report

Conservation projects manager Ariane Comeau in front of Lost Lagoon, where more invasive species of fish like carp and three-spined stickleback have been able to survive in warmer water.

Stanley Park’s tree cover is growing, but aquatic life in Beaver Lake isn’t doing very well at all, according to a new report on the park’s ecological health.

The report by the Stanley Park Ecology Society found that the park has 1,031 native species that include 239 birds, 27 mammals and two reptiles. The biggest group are invertebrates and zooplankton at 325.

The 46 native species at risk include western grebe, double crested cormorant and little brown (myotis) bats.

Ariane Comeau, conservation projects manager, said that between 2013 and 2015 the park’s tree cover increased by eight per cent because 15,000 trees and shrubs were replanted to replace more than 10,000 trees lost during the windstorm of 2006.

“It’s really great to see,” Comeau said in an interview. “The tree cover has significantly increased in the blow-down areas.”

The report, however, issued a “red alert” for fresh water ecosystems such as Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon.

“Water temperatures are high in Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon and oxygen levels are exceptionally low in Beaver Lake to the point they are reaching lethal levels for salmonids and amphibians,” the report summary says.

“Without proper intervention, the situation is expected to worsen.”

Comeau said what the SPES is seeing are more hardy species such as three-spined stickleback and invasive species such as carp.

“Both are known at being able to survive in harsh conditions,” she said.

“The fact that these are the only ones we’re seeing recently is quite alarming.”

One of the native species that hasn’t been seen in fresh-water areas for decades is the northern red-legged frog.

Conditions are changing rapidly at Beaver Lake because of pink and white water lilies that were introduced in 1938 to celebrate the 40th anniversary jubilee of Dutch Queen Wilhelmina.

By summer, water lilies cover almost all of the water’s surface. Whey they die, they produce so much biomass they’re filling up the lake and making the water shallower. When that happens, the water can warm dramatically, especially during summer months.

In 1938, Beaver Lake was 6.7 hectares in size; today, it’s less than 3.9 ha.

Each spring, classes of students release salmonids into Beaver Lake as part of a Department of Fisheries and Oceans initiative. But warming conditions mean it’s not safe for the salmonids to survive.

 ‘It’s really great to see,’ Ariane Comeau says of the increased tree cover in Stanley Park in the last decade-plus since the devastating 2006 windstorm. ‘The tree cover has significantly increased in the blow-down areas.’

After the last report on the ecological health of the park in 2010, the park board developed an ecological action plan for Stanley Park that included dredging parts of Beaver Lake to create deeper, cooler areas. But as yet no dredging has taken place.

Comeau is releasing the full State of the Park Report for the Ecological Integrity of Stanley Park 2020 on Wednesday prior to the ecology society ’s virtual annual general meeting at 8 pm.

While the park’s seawall is a major tourist attraction, it also affects the park’s ecosystem by limiting nutrient exchange between the intertidal areas and the land.

The report says that the the future, the seawall will amplify negative affects of climate change by contributing to coastal squeeze: as ocean levels rise, the size of intertidal area will be reduced which will in turn lead to a reduction in food sources for mammals and birds.

Some of the park’s ecological restoration and habitat enhancement initiatives since 2010 have included building a boardwalk in Cathedral Trail, installing 23 nest boxes for swallows and wood ducks in Lost Lagoon and Beaver Lake, and removing more than 800 cubic metres of invasive plants.

“The main goal is really to have a better idea of what exists, how things are doing, how things are changing ecologically,” Comeau said about the report.

“Having this information helps stewardship or management plans to better protect ecosystems and species in the park.”

When the next report is released in 2030, the ecology society hopes to include traditional ecological knowledge of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. The new report says that “knowledge” would encompass “a more holistic picture of the park’s ecological integrity,” which would take into account the use of the land in pre-park times.

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Brian Minter: Container gardening is convenient and easy

Osteospermum offer great cool season colour, and they come in many shades including white, yellow, purple and orange.

Many of us are anxious to get fresh veggie greens or colour plants growing on our patios or balconies, but it has been an unseasonably late spring. Finally, as of a few days ago, we’re now getting some warmer day and nighttime temperatures.

Today, container gardening is so popular that it far surpasses traditional gardening. High-density living has been the driving force, but in many cases, containers are just a lot more convenient.

For successful container growing, size matters. Small containers dry out too quickly when the weather turns hot, and unless you water several times a day, your plants will become stressed and will not perform well. The minimum size for both square and round pots should be at least 16 to 18 inches in diameter and in depth. This size provides enough critical soil mass to handle a single daily watering, unless it’s extremely hot. Rectangular containers need similar sizing.

It really doesn’t matter if you use plastic, ceramic, resin or any other type of container as long as it has good drainage. Drain holes in the bottom of pots need to be a significant size so that when watered or after a heavy rainfall, excess water gets away quickly. Large drain holes should be covered with broken bits of ceramic or flat stones to prevent the soil spilling out.

Speaking of soil, never use cheap topsoil blends, and never use garden soil in containers because it is heavy, wet and poor draining. It’s best to use a professional blend. For moisture retention in summer, use Pro Mix BX or Sunshine #1, and for additional organic matter, work in some composted manure or Sea Soil.

 Osteospermum offer great cool season colour, and they come in many shades including white, yellow, purple and orange.

Do not put Styrofoam chips or other materials in the bottom of your pots because they will disrupt the flow of moisture and the growing dynamics of your soil. During hot summer weather, your plants will need a critical mass of soil, and their roots will need to find their way to the bottom of the pot.

It’s still early in the season, so now is a good time to develop a strategy to achieve a professional look in your containers. The key is to choose a great focal point and work around it. For years dracaena palms played this role to the point of being a bit overdone. Fortunately, today we have new varieties and new, interesting colours. Phormiums, in all their vibrant colours, add a touch of class. Tender grasses, if properly hardened off, can go in now, and they will last well into fall. Purple fountain grass is a great accent plant and with its plumes later in the season, it looks even more dramatic. Tall, narrow broadleaf plants, like Japanese ‘Sky Pencil’ holly and ‘Green Spire’ euonymus, also look very impressive anchoring any container.

Once the focal point is in place, build around it. Until we get consistent warm weather in late May or June, the go-to early colour plants are trailing Wave pansies, daisy-like osteospermums, fragrant carnations, colourful ranunculus and well-acclimatized petunias. For spillover plants, the favourites

for early spring containers are bacopa in all its colours, trailing alyssum, vibrant yellow lysimachia (golden jenny), variegated ivies and trailing carex grasses, especially the yellow C. ‘Everillo’. These plants will provide colour and add life to your balcony or patio.

 Spanish lavender is a lovely choice as a focal point in containers.

It doesn’t take much to create attractive, edible, cold-hardy food containers for early spring produce. As a focal point, I simply tie three tall bamboo stakes in a pyramid form and trail up vines of sugar snap peas. Around them I plant hot lime, fiery red and vibrant green leaf lettuce. The Simply Salad Blend ‘City Garden’ is a great way of getting a mix of lettuces in all these great colours.

Kale is ‘hot’ right now and comes in so many colourful varieties, like ‘Red Bor and ‘Scarlet Bor’. Swiss chard, especially ‘Bright Lights’ with its vibrant stems, also creates stunning displays of yellow, red and pink.

Beets, too, have colourful and delicious foliage, as does red cabbage.

Many herbs can go out now and can be used in containers to create beautiful, artistically designed plantings. Bay or larger rosemary and lavender plants make great focal points. Surround them with curled and Italian parsley, purple or variegated sage and golden rosemary; the tuck in a few everbearing strawberries so they trail over the edge.

Yes, it’s early in the season, but containers brimming with cold-hardy plants will add vibrancy and fresh food to our patios. They will lift our spirits — something we all need right now at this challenging time.

COVID-19: B.C. garden centres gear up for busiest months of the year under pandemic conditions

A Townhall pub employee works at a popup garden centre outside a closed restaurant in Coquitlam.

COVID-19 appeared to deliver crushing blow to Davronda Nurseries in Langley when wholesale orders for spring seedlings filling its greenhouses were suddenly cancelled.

“We couldn’t absorb those losses,” said the owner, Lawrence Jansen. He said he was worried about losing his business when the coronavirus hit.

Milner Gardens, the company’s small retail store, last year accounted for only three per cent of Davronda sales. Most of its stock — vegetable and flower bedding plants and hanging baskets — was earmarked for garden centres at big box retailers, the bulk of Davronda’s wholesale business.

He hired extra staff, mostly high school students, to fill online delivery and pickup orders, but that would have still accounted for only between 20 to 50 per cent of the stock.

“We had to find a way to get it to our customers,” said Jansen.

Jansen talked to Ryan Moreno, CEO of Joseph Richard Group, who operates a number of restaurants, including the Townhall pub restaurants, businesses that had been closed by the pandemic.

The two, who had previously collaborated on the Glow Garden events at the nursery, came up with an idea of selling plants at pop-up shops in about 10 of Moreno’s restaurants’ empty parking lots.

“For us, it’s great,” said Moreno, who said he was able to offer some of his restaurant staff jobs. “And it’s great to see some of our customers back.”

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said. “If you would have told me two weeks ago that I would be selling plants, I would have said you’re crazy. It’s awesome that the community is coming together” to adapt to the pandemic realities.

Jansen said he’s selling the plants at wholesale prices and demand’s been great, although he said it was too early to predict how much of his usual business could be salvaged.

Garden centres, deemed essential services, are adapting to a changing retail landscape in the industry’s three busiest months of their year, the revenue from which carries it for the rest of the year.

 Leanne Johnson, president of the Lougheed Gardenworks store. Gardenworks have instituted physical distancing restrictions and are limiting the number of shoppers in stores at any one time.

The Gardenworks chain closed down for a couple of weeks and switched to online orders for delivery and pick up. Its website was hit with hundreds of orders a day.

“That was really so successful, it overwhelmed us,” said president Leanne Johnson. “It’s really demanding, labour-wise. It’s very slow.”

Still, the company projected the online model would have only produced 10 per cent of sales compared to previous years.

The chain is now limiting its online order system to seniors and front-line workers and has reopened its retail outlets. It is capping the number of shoppers and has widened aisles and added signs, arrows and monitors to ensure shoppers observe physical distancing.

On Thursday at the Lougheed Highway store, customers lined up for an hour to get into the store.

“People are really responding well and they are so grateful that we’re open,” she said.

“Our projections look more optimistic,” she said. “Demand over the last week has been encouraging.”

She predicts enough supply to meet demand, though shoppers may not be able to find the same variety of plants they are used to because “growers were a little spooked” and altered their stock.

 Shoppers at a popup garden centre at Townhall pub restaurant in Coquitlam.

Farmer Ron Hung of Bob’s Garden in Richmond said he was uncertain a month ago if he would be able to open his small retail store.

He planted only two-thirds of what he normally grows, but he’s feeling a bit more optimistic now because he has been getting lots of calls from customers. He is reopening soon with reduced hours, wholesale prices and more space in the store.

“Making money this year isn’t too much of a concern,” said Hung. “We are hoping just to be able to sell what we have.”

The demand is there and Johnson said there has been an increased interest in vegetable bedding plants as people choose to grow their own food.

“People have reconnected with their gardens and pace of life has slowed and they’re finding joy again,” she said

Community gardener starts seed-sharing bank, encourages urban gardeners to start their own

Marie-Pierre Bilodeau from Refarmers.org with the seed sharing bank she set-up near her home on Wall Street in Vancouver.

With gardeners unable to access their usual seed exchanges at local libraries and community centres closed by the COVID-19 pandemic, one community gardener wants her idea to start seed swaps at a grassroots level to grow.

Marie-Pierre Bilodeau has placed a box full of sorted and labelled seeds in the traffic circle she cultivates as a garden outside her apartment building in the Grandview area of East Vancouver.

“On the box it says, ‘Free Seeds. Grow a Garden,’ ” said Bilodeau.

“I want everybody to start gardening, even those who haven’t gardened before,” she said of the idea of “borrowing” seeds and replacing them at harvest time with others.

She said there has been much talk about food security and people choosing to plant their own vegetables during the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

“People should start being self-reliant during the pandemic,” she said. “There is so much on social media right now on how to grow your garden. It’s another thing to actually give them the seeds to do it. I am encouraging people to grow their own food.”

She said she was “definitely inspired” by the pandemic to start the seed exchange.

“Living in our affluent countries, you think, ‘I’m going to buy more seeds when I need them,’ ” said Bilodeau. “We can’t just go out and buy what we want anymore.”

She said she’s heard of waits of up to over a month for online deliveries from seed companies.

“I wanted to do something helpful, to make an impact, at least in my neighbourhood,” she said.

Using opened, half-used seed packets that she said every gardener will have because there are too many seeds in each packet for most home gardeners to plant in their gardens, she put small quantities in labelled baggies.

There’s kale, arugula, beans, lettuce, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, beets, fava beans, herbs, including dill, parsley, fennel and lavender, and some flowers that encourage pollinating insects.

Some people who have helped themselves to the seeds have left behind others, including bok choy, lettuce and kale, she said.

Bilodeau said the seed exchange can be visited safely during orders to refrain from non-essential activities and keeping your distance from others to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s physically distant but not socially distant,” said Bilodeau. “You can still trade seeds with neighbours by setting up a box in front of your house.”

Growing your own food is environmentally friendly, allows people to get in touch with nature and contributes to food security.

“It’s like the Victory Gardens during wartime,” she said referring to the Second World War.

And people not working or working less during the slowdown gives them more time to plant, weed and water, said Bilodeau, who works with a group that encourages agriculture in eastern Africa.

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Brian Minter: Plant small berries for a tasty treat

Strawberries in the process of ripening.

COVID-19 has created a shift in our thinking and priorities, and more people have become focused on planting their own gardens this spring. In terms of food security, what can we plant in our gardens now, apart from traditional vegetables, and expect a crop this year? Not a two-year-old fruit tree — it would still need a couple more years before it could provide a crop. However, many small fruits, especially larger-sized plants, can give you something tasty to enjoy this season.

Everbearing strawberries, for example, planted now will produce a reasonably good crop this year. I love their versatility to perform well in containers, hanging baskets and gardens. Varieties, like “Albion”, “Quinault”, “Eversweet” and “Seascape” are among the best. Day-neutral varieties, like “Tristar”, are also excellent and produce over a very long period. Most strawberries are started from “runners”, but many growers today are using seed varieties which, when started very early, will also produce nice crops all season long. Varieties, such as “Berri Basket” and “Berries Galore”, will have beautiful pink or red flowers for some added colour.

Everbearing raspberry production has surged in the past few years. While main season varieties, planted now, will produce sucker growth for next season’s harvest, everbearing varieties produce fruit on this year’s shoots that come out of the root system below. Older varieties, like “Heritage”, are now being replaced by newer, more productive varieties with larger berries, such as “Autumn Bliss” and the new hottie “Cascade Delight”. “Fall Gold”, an older yellow variety, remains very popular because of its mild but sweet flavour. These varieties can be planted in the ground or in larger containers. “Raspberry Shortcake” is an attractive container variety that is very compact and produces tasty berries, but it is not as productive as everbearing varieties.

Well-draining soil is a must for raspberries as they hate wet feet. Planting four or five canes in a larger container will get you a fairly good crop this year. Be sure to cut your canes back to about 10 cm (four inches) to encourage new shoots to develop. Adding composted manures to your soil and using slow-release fertilizer will help achieve a more continuous production. In colder areas, mulch them heavily for winter protection.

 Blueberries in the process of ripening.

Blueberries round out the top three favourite small fruits, and there have been some positive changes here as well. I always suggest planting early, mid-season and late varieties together for a more constant supply of berries. Vaccinium “Early Blue” is one of the earliest to produce. The mid-season favourites are “Blue Crop”, “Duke”, “Reka” and “Chandler”, which has the largest berries of all. “Elliot” is the last variety to ripen, giving you fruit well into September. Although the berries are smaller, a newer variety, called “Perpetua”, is amazing. One of the earliest to produce, it keeps going well into fall. For very cold areas, “North Blue” and “North Country” are hardy to Zone 3.

In terms of space, some innovative growers are planting three varieties together, both for good pollination and for extended production times. It’s a great idea and one you can do yourself by picking the varieties you want and growing them together as one plant.

Blueberries grow nicely in containers if they have well-draining soils and have fine fir or hemlock bark mulch worked into the mix. To maintain good health and steady fruit bearing, make sure your blueberries are well fed by applying a slow-release fertilizer, like 14-14-14.

Even though the Lower Mainland, the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island have an abundance of “thorny” blackberries growing wild, “thornless” blackberries are the fourth most popular garden fruit. They are not as invasive as their prickly cousins and when grown espaliered on a fence or trellis, they will give you a considerable quantity of fruit the first year, especially if the plants are larger in size. Over the years to come, they will provide a profusion of large, sweet, delicious fruits. “Black Satin” is one of the favourite varieties and for colder areas of the province, “Chester” is the hardiest. If size matters, the “Prime-Ark Traveler” has huge, eye-popping fruits.

A whole range of novelty fruits, such as jostaberries (a black currant and gooseberry cross), tayberries (a blackberry and raspberry cross), “Munger” black raspberries and haskap berries, will produce fruit this year. Elderberries, with their high antioxidant content, will provide berries for preserves and wine. Today, vastly improved varieties of most small fruits are readily available, and they will perform exceedingly well. In these challenging times, if you have a garden or a sunny patio pot, all of these fruits are not only a great food investment, but you’ll also love harvesting your own home-grown bounty.