Sometimes husbands and wives find faults with little things.  These teeny foibles are both tough to find in my wife and tough to talk about with her.  Occasionally there is a lovely blush of spring in her cheeks and an “oops a daisy” in the end.  This is my favourite look of hers.

Last spring among the cute baby plants from the nursery was a “Jack O Lantern”.  ”Do not put that in my bed” I say in my best still in control deep bass voice.  

I expect her to trust and listen to me; to care about how I feel.  This did not happen.  She already knows I feel nothing and have no idea what goes on in either my head or heart and that my voice is cracking.  In they go.  

There is no revenge taken. I ignore for the season and move on. The best I manage to express myself is a stupid haiku.  

toe nails                                                                                         and coarse bone meal                                                                    in her bed


So.  Anyway.  It is next spring now.  I had to strip this bed and clean things up.  Let me quantify without feelings or judgements, as if you were a customer who needed a quote.  It took 2 plus hours to ferret out the roots.  One cedar shrub was infected.  The roots needed to be burned at 1300 degrees. (kiddimg about the fire)  This is only the first round.  A new shrub will have to be picked up, delivered and installed.  It will likely not match the existing one.

Nothing can grow there while I wait a couple of weeks to certify there are no roots left. I had to dig deep besides so it will take that long for the soil to settle back down anyway.  The edge of the deck will need to be monitored closely.  Some boards may have to be lifted to get underneath if we find a little pumpkin patch hiding there.

I really liked the job.  (not kidding)  Often I wonder if my calling was not an archeologist.  This work is very soothing to me and even Sandra recognizes this.  “That’s why I did it.  You can thank me later”

lol.  “Thanks dear”

Seeds germinating in bag


If you are importing amendments or soil into your yard it is unreasonable to expect them to be weed free.  A wise gardener with an established bed of perennials will hold their breath for two weeks after they have top dressed a lawn or filled their garden. There would be a daily weed patrol, sometimes even at night with a miner’s helmet. This gardener will know to nick out any unwanted growth immediately.

This gardener will also know that even perfect diligence can miss one…there under the Hosta leaf is that bit of green gout that has now grown into the plant.  Now the poor guy will either have to pull the weed for the rest of his life or get rid of the Hosta. If he is a nice gardener he will not gift this plant to a friend.

If you do not think this is important than the point of this article is to get you to see.  In fairness you may not have had to deal with Bishop’s Weed, Mare’s Tail or Creeping Charlie before, your naivete is pardoned but be warned.  It is not even possible to rationalize the cost of an infestation, how long the sentence is in hours or the cost in plants.  

The ideal way to make using soil for top dressing and amending garden beds safe is to create a “soil nursery” garden or an annual bed. The logic of this is simple.  Monitor the soil for a year before using it in an established garden.  Use this garden for gifted plants like split Hostas and Irises etc. These gifts can prove very expensive if they have weeds growing in them.

Practicalities.  A bag of dirt (a yard) would create a garden 15’ by 3’ x 6” deep.  You could fill about 17 four foot window boxes. The following spring you can use this soil to top dress lawns or add to established gardens.  Get a new bag of dirt and replenish your “soil nursery”.  On small city lots this is hardly feasible but you could work through a half yard of soil and buy 10 smaller bags.  

Many people will buy baskets and at the end of the year throw them out with the dirt still in them.  Why not dump them on the lawn and rake it in. The soil has no best before date after all and every little bit helps.

Pause before reacting to your garden. Spring is crazy explosive and full of energy but you are the parent of that two year old, you do not have to have the same energy. Just enjoy it.  

Why exactly are you buying dirt and do you really need it?  I have been consulting for years and it amazes me how people in the spring do too much and do not understand garden techniques, think “helicopter parenting”. Garden tips are not difficult and by becoming gardener you ironically become more relaxed.


Some Useless Info


Bagged dirt is amended dirt. It is not magical. Consider amending your own. This could save time. If your dirt is clay sand is needed.

Bagged dirt is good dirt and is more consistent, it is not a “pig in a poke”.  If you order from another local supplier look into what he has to offer and talk with people.

Cheap top dirt?  You get what you pay for.

Part of the unseen costs of the large bags is it takes longer to shovel out.  It takes a solid hour to unpack a bag using muscles you never knew you had. (use a shorter spade) To unload a truck would take 20 minutes, to pick up from drive and clean up 35 minutes. (all using muscles that are practiced)

See point above. Price in a massage therapist if you do not shovel often.

Returning the bag to supplier takes time and makes a mess in your car.

Consider that about 17 bags (2 cu feet) has the same volume of soil.  Price out getting these delivered and do a cost comparison. (The large bags we unpack generally have more than a yard for those who are doing the math) (the same thinking about weeds is needed for any soil)

For some reason I think of Fanny Mae and how she changed recipes by defining a pinch and dash, changing them to teaspoons and cups.  Here are some conversions for you.

A bag will top dress a lawn 40’ by 20’

There are 11 wheelbarrow loads in a bag (4 cu ft barrow two thirds full)) (plus 3 shovel loads)

It takes 55 minutes to unpack and move 180’

the last three barrow loads are the most difficult on one’s back.  Consider throwing a child to the bottom with a bucket to niggle out corners.

…and yes I know how many spade fulls of dirt there are.  How many do you think?


Garden FrontLet me tell you a secret. Garden maintenance and makeovers are our speciality. They are the best bang for your buck. It has in fact surprised me how gardens turn out to be less expensive to maintain than lawns but there you have it. Once a garden is established there are considerable savings. To do this takes planning and some initial investment but it is well worth it.

The first secret is NEVER LET A GARDEN GO. Putting off the key seasonal tasks in a garden will destroy it in no time. Neglect even for a short period exponentially increases the work you have to do and the money spent. One weed in a rose shrub or grasses growing at the base of shrubs take away from the beauty. It is what you and others will notice first. If you have just bought a new house with an existing garden or are called on to maintain a family home from a loved one, look after the shrub beds and plants first and right away. Look at the garden as an asset. Every plant costs money and time to purchase and establish. Contemplating through two or three key maintenance seasons could easily cost you this investment. Call a gardener right away. (YES CALL US)

[TIP If you have purchased a house that has a beautiful garden take every step to ensure maintenance is done by the current owner between the sale and the closing date. If they are unable to do it, or there is doubt as to whether they will, negotiate the price of maintenance off the cost of the house. It is that serious. If the closing date is winter then arrange a fall garden inspection to make sure it is done.]

If you have a garden with many weeds and grass encroaching on every border, Schepers Property Maintenance is still your best call. If your garden has gotten like this it is unavoidable that the costs will go up. It is also harder on the relationship between you and your gardener. A neglected garden will never get better with one weeding, it takes a process. The process for remaking a garden is not complicated but it takes a commitment of time and trust. We know what we are doing and know how to do it in a cost effective way but explaining everything we do takes a lot of time.

To get the most out of us, set a budget. (and trust us) We will stick to that budget and we will do more for that money than any other service in Guelph. Our detailed quote will include amendment products and all expected tasks for one year. The wisest customers do not change the goals of what the scope of work is but they may change how long it takes. Our favourite jobs and the ones that are the most effective for everyone are the ones that run over several seasons of care. One of our largest jobs Schepers Property Maintenance has done ended up costing half of what the neighbour paid for an “immediate” resolution. That figure of half included three years of maintenance whereas the neighbour still had maintenance costs on top of the landscaping bill.

Schepers Property Maintenance’s rate for garden maintenance can be kept lower than our competition partly because we are very careful to not invest in large equipment. We like the small garden makeovers in back yards where very often this equipment would do us no good anyway. Doing the larger jobs there are some amazing companies in Guelph to work with. These companies, like Schepers Property Maintenance, are specialists. They are THE experts on excavating and hardscape work. Why would we not introduce you to these people and let us get on with designing and working in a garden and helping out with minor repairs to the home (decks, fences and gates etc).


  1. Budget money.
    • Do an inventory of your yard giving each plant a dollar figure. Add up what plants were lost or not suitable so you know the costs. A garden consultant can help you here.
    • Mature plants are worth more than nursery stock. Do not underestimate the value of mature shrubs or perennials, especially if they are liked.
    • Make a plan for your garden. Calculate the cost if you buy all plants in one year. Consider allowing time to split and divide and do your garden over stages. This also will give you a chance to see if you like the perennials.
    • Trees should only be purchased after an on-site consult as placing these in the wrong place or planting wrong will make for serious disappointment.
  2. Budget time
    • Think about budgeting hours and not tasks. We can help set priorities. By budgeting hours you will see improvements and it does not take long before you are enjoying your garden.
    • Learn to prune and do tasks you are nervous about (yes we can help). By pruning shrubs properly you can keep them almost forever….think bonsai. Your investment will look better and worth more. Pruning is not hard.
    • Be clear about how much time you want to spend maintaining your yard. Knowing how much time would be required to maintain your plan is critical. If what you design takes more time than you are prepared to give, then redesign.
  3. Assess use/purpose
    • There are many things to consider here. This perhaps is where we help the most as coaches and designers. Have you considered the following
      • Security
      • Winter Maintenance
      • Children and pets
      • Future uses
      • Privacy
    • Define how you currently enjoy your yard and how you hope to enjoy it in the future. This may sound odd but it is the most important question. If you enjoy looking but seldom go out, that is a completely different yard than one in which you are always using the back yard. Your viewpoint should not be what you hope it will be but what it is.
    • Set a budget for the change you hope for. If you have done very little gardening, do not buy 30 different perennials hoping you will change. Plan your garden in stages and work into it.