Category Archives: Homes

Trees and shrubs collected over a lifetime set to move to arboretum in Langley

Agrologist Les Clay with a euonymus plant on his Langley property on Oct. 28. This is one of dozens of trees that will be moved to an arboretum.

The way Les Clay explains it, the longtime Langley gardener and former nursery operator pretty much talked his way into starting the community’s arboretum.

It’s a good thing, too, because that is the ultimate destination for many of his prize azaleas, rhododendrons and Japanese maples collected over a lifetime.

Clay ran a 40-acre nursery in South Langley. With his wife Beverly, the couple developed a number of hybrid rhododendrons, including one called Langley Tranquility .

He said he was sitting and waiting for something to happen in the city park with officials that included the former mayors of both the City and Township of Langley.

Over the years, he told them, he had donated a number of plants to both the city and township.

“I was giving them a hard time because they weren’t looking after them properly,” he said.

Former Langley city mayor Marlene Grinnell said the city really didn’t have any facilities to handle plant material.

“After a few minutes, Marlene looked me in the eye and said: ‘Why don’t you do something about it?’

“So that’s how it all started.”

 Langley agrologist Les Clay with a Japanese maple tree on his Langley property on Oct. 28, 2020. This tree is one of dozens of trees that will be moved to an arboretum.

By 2010, the Township of Langley adopted a master plan for Derek Doubleday Arboretum . Last year, a two-storey log-post and beam interpretive centre opened in the park, located in the 21200 block of Fraser Highway. The arboretum is home for the Arboretum and Botanical Society of Langley and provides meeting space for other volunteer organizations.

At least 26 medium-sized trees and 22 mature shrubs will be moving from Clay’s home in Murrayville to the arboretum whose main purpose is to educate people about the cultural and environmental benefits of plants.

Clay said after downsizing his nursery in 2001 to one acre, he estimated that he moved about 500 rhododendrons and other plants onto his property.

He said his children are planning to build a house on the property where he can live with his daughter. Clay decided it was the right time to donate some of his plants to the arboretum.

“I’m donating a fair number of plants,” he said. “We’re in the process now of making arrangements to carry it out.”

Niall McGarvey, landscape design coordinator for the Township of Langley, said Clay is donating most of his yard to the arboretum.

“The idea is that it would be a legacy garden,” McGarvey said. “He has quite a few rare specimens that he grew basically from cuttings or seeds.”

McGarvey said Clay is donating a couple of fairly large Japanese maples that “are really spectacular.” If sold, he said, they could fetch as much as $15,000 each.

“He has quite a stunning collection,” McGarvey said. “They are all fairly rare plants and they’re all in really good condition.”

Brian Minter: Versatile boxwoods come in sizes to suit every purpose

Clipped boxwood hedges are an excellent way to feature formal garden beds.

We see them everywhere —  as low or tall hedges, topiary specimens or in stylish containers gracing the entrances to some of the world’s most elegant hotels.

For centuries boxwoods have played an important role in gardens and landscapes. Used in old European parterres, they divided and framed stunning flower beds and were also used to create huge, meticulously pruned hedges and uniquely shaped garden features.

Native to many parts of the world, including southern England, northern Africa and Asia, historically boxwoods were reputed to offer a cure for epilepsy and toothaches.

Today, pharmacologists and herbalists agree that they have little, if any, medicinal value.  Common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) contains alkaloids, making it toxic to horses, cattle and pigs if consumed in larger quantities.

The name boxwood comes from the fact that the wood was used to make decorative boxes. The wood has also been utilized to manufacture musical instruments like flutes, and chess pieces have been made from boxwood because it is relatively easy to carve.

Today, boxwoods are still widely used as low border plants to accent driveways, sidewalks and garden beds. Many different varieties are available, but it is a little challenging, even for nursery folks, to distinguish between them.

Because of their versatility, resilience and size range (depending on the type, they can grow from two to 20 feet, or 60 cm to 6 m), members of the boxwood family will always be important elements of many gardens. Buxus are tolerant of full hot sun to partial shade, and once established, they are quite drought tolerant.

The most widely planted boxwoods are the more compact varieties that stay reasonably low and require a minimum amount of pruning. The well-known dwarf English variety, Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ (zone 6), grows only two feet high by two feet wide (60 x 60 cm) and has been used for centuries for low borders and knot gardens. Its light green foliage matures to a glossy, deep green.

 Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ is popular for low borders. Photo credit: Minter Country Garden.

Buxus ‘Green Gem’ (zone 4) is a much hardier, low-growing (two feet by two feet, or 60 cm x 60 cm) variety.  It has smaller, glossy leaves and grows into a nicely rounded form. Low-growing and mounding (two feet by two feet, or 60 cm x 60 cm), B. ‘Calgary’ (cold rated as zone 3) is perhaps one of the hardiest varieties.

A little taller at three feet by four feet wide, ‘Green Velvet’ (zone 5), with its bright, glossy leaves, is a great choice for two reasons: it has a broad mounding habit, and it takes well to shearing.

A lesser known variety in B.C., slow growing ‘Buxus koreana’ (zone 3), has quite small leaves, making it far more resilient in very cold temperatures.  It can grow in areas where other varieties freeze.

A particularly attractive boxwood, ‘Green Beauty’ (zone 3) is very cold tolerant, and I love the fact that it holds its rich deep colour even in cold winters.  It grows about three feet tall and three feet wide (90 cm x 90 cm).

 ‘Green Beauty’ is a very cold tolerant boxwood. Photo credit: Minter Country Garden.

A taller, narrower variety (five feet by three feet, or 152 cm x 90 cm), ‘Green Mountain’ (zone 4) is ideal for slightly higher hedges, and it takes well to pruning.

With lustrous, rich, deep green foliage, Buxus sempervirens (zone 4) is one of the oldest and best-known boxwoods. Growing rather quickly, it can reach 20 feet (6 m) in height.  It is ideal for beautifully clipped garden specimens and is frequently topiaried into globes, pyramids and other enchanting shapes.  It prefers moist growing conditions and does poorly in dry, alkaline soils.

 Boxwoods are ideal for sculpting unique topiary forms. Picture credit: Minter Country Gardens

There are many variegated forms of boxwood, mostly in a soft creamy yellow/green blend.  Buxus sempervirens ‘Variegata’ (zone 5) is an excellent example of this coloration.  Growing up to six feet (1.8 m) and often seen shaped into a narrow cone, it will add vibrancy to any garden.

 Buxus sempervirens ‘Variegata’ adds vibrancy to any garden. Photo credit: Minter Country Garden.

Since small space gardens are today’s reality, more narrow forms of boxwood are becoming very popular.  One of my favourites is B. ‘Graham Blandy’ (zone 6).  Reaching up to 10 feet (3 m), its slender shape creates a stunning accent feature in both ground beds and containers.  It also works well as a privacy barrier on a patio.

In terms of modern design, small, rounded varieties set atop tall, narrow containers is very much today’s ‘in’ look.

The unfortunate downside of boxwood is its susceptibility to boxwood blight (the fungus Cylindrocladium buxicola).

Although relatively rare in B.C., it can cause rapid defoliation and the ultimate death of the plant. It spreads rather quickly and can destroy whole hedges. Warm, wet conditions with temperatures between 18 deg. C and 24 deg. C (65 F to 75 F) create the optimal situation for spreading this fungus.

It can also be transmitted by water and by moving hedging shears from one infected plant to others.  Use only a soaker hose when watering boxwoods and shear them on dry days when the temperature is below 18 deg. C (65 F).

One of the most at-risk varieties seems to be Buxus ‘Suffruticosa’, but others can be affected. The good news is that blight resistant varieties are currently in development and should be widely available within three to five years.

As trends and garden sizes change, boxwoods will continue to be one of the most versatile garden plants.

 Clipped boxwood hedges are an excellent way to feature formal garden beds. Photo credit: Minter Country Garden.


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Brian Minter: Stunning sedums change with the seasons

Sedums are some of the best pollinator-friendly plants.

Are you tired of fighting the weather and bugs, dealing with constant watering and struggling with a plethora of diseases? Would you love to have displays of easy colour in pots and in those difficult corners of your garden?  May I suggest some rather quiet, unassuming beauties: sedums.

As a species, they are as old as the hills, but many newly developed varieties are revolutionizing their popularity and their role in today’s gardens.

Coming in many forms, from creeping evergreens to deciduous ground covers, sedums look fantastic mounding over landscape stones or standing upright as focal points in beds or containers. Sedums are the mainstays of rooftop gardens, and are used to create beautiful living picture frames.

When it comes to coping with weather and drought tolerance issues, they rule.  Most are very hardy — some even survive prairie winters — and they are among the best pollinator-friendly plants.

 Sedums are some of the best pollinator-friendly plants. Picture credit: Minter Country Garden.

Many of us are aware of the low-growing golden oldies, with names like Dragon’s Blood, Cape Blanco, Voodoo, Gold Carpet and Coral Reef. There are dozens of others that not only stay green all year but also flower at various times over the spring and summer.

One of the greatest new introductions, Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (zone 4) has lovely golden foliage all year and spreads quickly, making it a fabulous ground cover. When the weather gets cold, it takes on a reddish hue and looks even more spectacular.  In small space gardens, it may be just a little too aggressive.

 ‘Angelina’ is a vigorous sedum and makes a great ground cover plant. Picture credit: Minter Country Garden.

Sedum ‘Angelina’s Teacup’ (zone 4) is better behaved, growing much more slowly into a shapely mound.  Both have brilliant gold foliage which accents all their garden companions.  Another more compact yellow sedum is S. ‘Sunsplash’ (zone 2)

An herbaceous vibrant green mounding variety, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ has a conveniently tidy habit and blooms with attractive yellow flowers from early to mid summer, and it is a pollinator magnet.

Perhaps one of the greatest innovations has come from the breeding work of Chris Hansen and his appropriately named ‘SunSparkler’ series.

SunSparkler ‘Cherry Tart’ (zone 4) has deep cherry red foliage with pink flowers.  ‘Dazzleberry’ sports raspberry red flowers with cool smoky blue foliage that ages to a rich purple blue.  ‘Firecracker’ has vibrant red-burgundy foliage with contrasting pink flowers.  ‘Lime Twister’ has red foliage in early spring that turns creamy yellow in summer and back to red in fall.  The lime green leaves of ‘Lime Zinger’ feature a unique red edging. All these very vigorous mounding varieties make great ground covers.

I have chosen to highlight these sedum selections because of their stunning foliage that changes with the temperature and the various seasons.  They can all be easily pruned back for planting in containers, and they all look spectacular spilling over the edge of a tall pot.

 Green and white variegated ‘Atlantis’ created quite a stir at a recent Chelsea Flower Show. Picture credit: Minter Country Garden.

In 2019 in England at the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show, one of the new plant hits was a beautifully variegated green and white sedum called ‘Atlantis’ (zone 4). Its white edged, serrated leaves become tinged with pink as the weather cools in late autumn. Its unique colouring demands attention in any landscape, and it’s not hard to understand why it created such a stir at this top international flower show.

When I mentioned this plant to a couple colleagues who work for a North American perennial supplier, they agreed that it was nice, but they liked ‘Boogie Woogie’ (zone 4) better.  It has similar variegated foliage but with a much lower and tighter growing habit.  I think both are remarkable.

 ‘Boogie Woogie’ is a stunning, more compact, variegated sedum. Picture credit: Minter Country Garden.

For years, ‘Autumn Joy’ (zone 3), with its huge deep rose blossoms and light green foliage, has been the standard in upright, summer blooming sedums. Always a great source for long-lasting cut flowers, it grows about 24 inches (60 cm) tall, mounds nicely and as its pink colour fades, the seed heads remain attractive throughout the winter.

There have been dozens of new introductions over the past few years, many featuring new flower colours and striking foliage from almost pure black or grey to several variegations. If you love grey foliage, S. ‘Matrona’ (zone 3), with its contrasting rose-pink flowers, will quickly become a favourite.

There are many other varieties that share similarities with ‘Autumn Joy’, such as S. ‘Autumn Fire’, S. ‘Brilliant’, S. ‘Neon’ and S. ‘Autumn Charm’.  Sedum ‘Frosted Fire’, with its beautiful creamy yellow and green variegated foliage, is a sport (genetic mutation) of ‘Autumn Fire’.

Sedum ‘Mr. Goodbud’ from Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon is a good compact variety with deep purply-pink flowers and strong purple-red stems.  ‘Night Embers’ (zone 3) is a narrower grower with blackish-purple leaves and contrasting mauve-pink flowers.

The true test of any new sedum is the ability of its stems to support the flower heads, its disease and weather tolerance and its capacity to produce robust show-off blooms.

 Sedum stems are a wonderful source for long-lasting cut flower bouquets. Picture credit: Minter Country Garden.

These great sedum varieties pass that test with flying colours and are well worth a try out in your garden. In hot weather, the whole family of sedums will be the glue that holds your summer garden together, and they can be enjoyed without a great deal of care or attention.


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