Making this smoking area was a bit little like putting extra springs in the back end of a Chevy for rum running.  That was part of the fun.  The other amazing aspect about this commission was that it was a perfect opportunity to help bring people into nature; whether they were smokers or not.  

It may not look like much, it is a bit scraggy even as it needs a trimming, but it does fulfill everything asked of it.  In fact I call it a commission as it makes it sound more like a work of art I feel it is.  Proposal and quote do not reflect the same thing.

I show you here pictures of the finished product.  It has taken some years for the space and the atmosphere to mature to what it is today.  When doing art work with plants the canvas takes some time to dry and for the mood to set.

In the attached pictures there are some things to note that were designed into this project.

  • it is not square.  It was designed to fit the space
  • the cedar windbreaks work against the prevailing winds (except opinions)
  • the simplicity of the design lasted and has aged well.
  • It does not smell of smoke like some tin shed or bus shelter.
  • the spaciousness of it
  • the shade
  • the hiding spots

Note the hidden bench and the “Buttercup” Ashtrays.  It does need some pruning but the “long drapes” made it cool and private.


On this visit to the project I ventured in. I parted the Mulberry and found the sweetest world you can imagine.  It is a gem and it is a pity non smokers have not discovered it and scheduled themselves for a quiet time in this sanctuary instead of having to sit in full sun on concrete.

The cedar shrubs are almost ready for their first pruning. As they age they will cover the back completely.

You should note the easy to maintain “buttercup” ash trays we installed.  A smoker can remove it and have it beside them while they imbibe.  (yes we still have some in stock)

Please note.  The commission was to make a smoking area to fit this space.  It would be the same if we designed a reading area or a “let’s discuss this outside” board room.  

Please note.  Budget was important.  

Please note the bike parking area that got thrown in for no charge.

Please note.  I am bragging.  Sometimes I am that good.  


Recycled stone hand excavated. Note companion of fox in rear

Recycled stone hand excavated. Note companion of fox in rear

This wall will last longer than prefab. All the cracks a garden to plant

This wall will last longer than prefab. All the cracks a garden to plant


We have all seen them. Those retaining walls that have cracks forming in them after only one year. Just try driving by and NOT seeing that flaw. It does not happen. That crack is always there. Now, if you travel overseas and see those natural dry stone walls they have built you will never notice the cracks.

There is a reason why on the one hand those cracks in the new “perfect” wall are ugly scars and why the beauty in the many many cracks in the dry stone wall are character. Perfection has failed in one while in the other ingenuity and resourcefulness has triumphed.

To many it is inconceivable that our garden should be a story. One would never ask perfection of a forest or a walk through a meadow and, though a garden is neither of those, it should achieve some of the goals of that forest and meadow. Soft slippered moss on rocks hold a story, create a mood. So also that fern relaxing in a sun beam at the base of a tree or that Trillium surprising you as you round a corner. The Queen Anne when seen up close reveals a beautiful the pattern of her lace that is imperfect. In nature we walk down steps made into the roots of a Cedar, not quite made to code, to get to something that draws us. There is even the intrigue of a broken twig with Coyote hair caught in it or the scat from a bear that needs to be considered in our plans. Intrigue is good.

This post uses retaining walls to get across a different way of thinking because they are a great example of how we tend to want our world square and level. Bringing the element of depth is very difficult because most of our minds fall apart as we work through the three dimensional, let alone entering into the elusive fourth dimension of plants and nature. A garden plan should include what we will call depth and when you do this it becomes far simpler than one would think. Retaining walls will not have to be square after all. This seems very poetic, and I suppose it is, but actually it is a thought process that can save people money.

To me one of the biggest problems with retaining wall is how limited they are to different curves, the unsquareness of a garden. Trying to accomplish a radius other than the one engineered into the wall system will mean it will fail. This means the wall holds all the cards and other sight lines are sacrificed. When space is limited and when a design screams for a custom solution it often cannot be found in pre fabricated concrete.

Prefabricated retaining wall systems demand that the base for the wall is properly put down and compacted correctly. A pre fabricated wall demands that the water behind the wall is well drained; it WILL freeze and heave the wall if not. You will need the right size blocks. You will need the right fill placed behind the wall. NONE of these are negative, they are just fact. No effort is made here to try to better inform the DIYer with trips and ticks, this is simply to say DO IT AS THE MANUFACTURER says. It is to suggest strongly to the DIYer or someone getting a cheap wall done that the greatest cost to these walls is in designing the space, the material costs like drains and fill, the labour to prepare the site properly and/or in the cost of redoing it in the future.

Please note that for all that these walls are perfect along walks, in limited space and for larger grade differences like between houses; especially if they are to rise more than 3-4 feet above grade. Just make sure you do them right.

What we do best are ‘breathable living walls” ; unique old school garden walls. These last and last and look great, especially when planted out and matured with gardening. We are always on the lookout for projects that demand a properly installed wall, whether pre fab, natural stone or concrete. Schepers Property Maintenance brings an expertise to these projects that comes out 30 years experience building them and gardening around them. If the project is to big for us we work closely with people who can.


  1. Plan the landscaping around a wall first and consider different wall options
    1. if the wall is designed to be part of a garden and will disappear behind plants
    2. if the wall demands varied curves to work
    3. if the wall is less than three feet tall
    4. if the area to be worked on is landlocked and not easily excavated
  2. In situations where a larger wall is necessary and where space is limited
    1. resolve to excavate and prepare site properly
      1. ensure contractor has the capacity and experience

      2. INSPECT the preparation work before the stones are to be laid
    2. Make sure you clearly understand where the wall will be drained to and maintain this drain. (nothing jammed in it, do not alter grade)
    3. Ensure the right fill/ aggregate is used for various stages.
  3. When gardening around the wall be aware of limitations.
    1. Shrubs planted too close? Roots can damage walls
    2. do not dig deep and disturb drain immediately along back of wall
natural stone wall repair

Repairing an existing wall


Today we are preparing a quote for a potential customer. The call came in at 9:00am this Sunday morning. If you remember the morning of Sunday September 21st, 2014 you will know it RAINED. In fact the post on Facebook was “If it snows this winter like it rained this summer….” It is not surprising then that our initial contact with this person was to do with water control. (we received several calls actually. It was bad)

These odd requests are what we are here for. It is not possible for us to solve all of them. In fact more often then not problems are dealt with by giving referrals to other businesses in Guelph. Excavating, electrical, plumbing, eaves troughs and countless other jobs are all referred on where it is cost effective to do so. In some cases (well in many cases) jobs are done better by other contractors and or they have the licenses and insurance to perform. Where we can help is by introducing you to these people and can let you know what to expect. We can also help define the jobs so that you get the most bang for your buck.

In the case of the customer who phoned on Sunday we can solve his problem. In fact we can solve numerous problems for him. Following are some of the many minor repairs that need to be done before winter. I have included a rough estimate of on site time ( OST) to repair. These times to not include supplying materials, gathering tools and preparing for the work. The latter can be the most difficult part of the jobs we do.

  1. Parge the stone entrance steps
    1. 45 minutes OST
    2. supply Portland and sand
  2. Cold patch (detail) the damaged driveway. Holes were made to install gates but detail work not done
    1. 20 minutes OST
    2. supply cold patch mix
  3. Repair a 3 foot section of eaves trough (low roof)
    1. 45 minutes OST
    2. supply AND MATCH eaves trough section and hangers
    3. (suggest washing down eaves and siding, not included)
  4. Repair the stairs from the deck to the rear yard
    1. 1 hour OST
    2. supply wood and screws
  5. Reattach and properly prune the Hydrangea Vine against house.
    1. 1.5 hours OST
    2. supply proper anchors
  6. Remove vine from eaves and windows
    1. 10 hours OST (and haulage, there is a lot)
    2. no supplies but will need proper ladders and etc.

There are windows that can be cleaned, siding to wash, decks to stain and numerous repairs to the garden. Schepers Property Maintenance is the best at this type of work and would love to show you how we can handle these types of jobs. We of course are also quoting the lawn and regular garden maintenance AND….snow removal. (519 820 6507)

Yes we do have an easy solution for the water problem.

Oh, and an update. We have scheduled for this week an extra yard cleanup for a customer. The seasonal rate quoted was too high based on actual work soooo while she is gone we are sprucing things up even more.  (pruning and weeding which she usually does herself)

Damaged Eaves

Damaged Eaves

Wooden Stairs to Repair

Wooden Stairs to Repair

Quote a better drain system for Runoff

Quote a better drain system for Runoff

Detail work around new fence posts

Detail work around new fence posts

Parge stone steps to prevent further damage

Parge stone steps to prevent further damage




Sod has its place. Sod is a wonder of our modern society and the ability to be able to cut 18″ wide swaths of sod, deliver and install it on another property is incredible. Instant grass placed on hills is better for erosion control and its use in developments is very important. There is even benefits for weed control by using sod. For all this I never promote sodding as a cure for a problem and will likely advise you against going this route.

IMG_20140818_091628  IMG_20140818_090620IMG_20140818_090634

This year so far we have traded $6500.00 of potential revenue for $3000.00. Likely we have lost another $6500.00 from contracts given over to other companies. This is OK. Schepers Property Maintenance will quote on your sod job but we will always provide the alternative.
Let us take a look at the “loss” from one customer. The start will be the reason why they wanted to sod. Dogs had made a mess of their lawn. By letting the neighbour’s dog into their yard to play their frolicking tore up sections of lawn. This practice had stopped. There was a path in the lawn created by their own dog. Though the lawn did indeed look a mess their was an awful lot of grass that had survived. Some other important facts were that this lawn was under moderate shade, the area along the fence never grew grass and there was neither an infestation of weeds nor damage caused by grubs and other insects.
The key points that helped our customer choose seed were as follows.
  • We guaranteed success.
  • It meant less work from them watering
  • We used seed that would grow well in the conditions they had and that would match the existing grass (Bluegrass sod does not grow well in shade)
  • We would create a garden along the fence by transplanting those plants in their existing garden that would survive under a Walnut tree. (the grass did not grow well here anyway and needed a different detail)
  • We could transplant some of the plants from the front to fill the new garden.
  • We could solve the problem of the dog path, or at least minimize it.
  • We could mulch.
This work cost a third of what Sod cost and the yard is great looking. The seeding by itself, without the cost of mulch and the hours transplanting would have cost 10% of the sod. As she is already a customer we are there weekly anyway and can always put a dash of seed down here and there.
It is important to add that our gardening of this home has always been done under budget and over expectations. Weeding, transplanting and general garden care costs less than lawn care for the same square footage. Finally, grass is not asphalt, it is not exotic and in fact is easy to grow, why can’t it be done well by gardeners?
The other service Schepers Property Maintenance provides is garden consultations.  This customer was given options and clear pricing and she knew us well enough to know that we are OK with competitive quotes.  By being able to clearly define the scope of work and option (and expectations, and care requirements etc) the quotes are clearer and more easily compared.  A garden consult could save you hundreds of dollars and can be very inspiring.


Stuart Deck


Stuart Deck After

A customer was considering moving and was reviewing her property with the resale value in mind.  The rear deck was one of the items where she felt she needed to make improvements.  She requested a quote for the work of repairing all of the worst boards, staining and sealing.





My advice was to get her to talk to a realtor (or two…) and ask them also.  They will have a better sense of what work should be done.  So often people over assess what is needed.  Washing the eaves troughs and downspouts, mulching the garden and pruning are examples of jobs that can cost less and increase value more.

It was decided in the end not to replace any of the boards.  They were not a liability and could wait.  It was also decided that because the colour of the deck was inconsistent a pressure wash and a sealer would be a good idea.  Replacing the boards would have been one of those jobs where you really do not know where to begin and where to end.  This makes the quote/ work hard to manage and any extra money spent would have been a waste.  Besides.  New owners may want to completely reconfigure the deck.