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Green thumbs getting greener all the time

A local landscaping company takes its connection to nature seriously TMD Landscapes likes to think of itself as a full service landscaping company, designing, building and maintaining properties all over Whistler – just don’t ask them to cu

A local landscaping company takes its connection to nature seriously

TMD Landscapes likes to think of itself as a full service landscaping company, designing, building and maintaining properties all over Whistler – just don’t ask them to cut down any trees.

They don’t do trees.

They also won’t touch chemical herbicides or pesticides. They don’t use leaf blowers either, and are replacing mowers and trimmers with two-stroke engines with four-stroke alternatives that are quieter and produce fewer greenhouse gases. They are even looking into bringing back push mowers for certain jobs.

For the husband and wife team of Tyler Mosher and Tonya Raworth, the owners of TMD Landscapes, the environment is not some intangible concept; they have their fingers in it every day. Sustainability is not all that intangible either.

"It’s easy to think sustainably in this business, because you’re in the dirt all the time," says Mosher. "You’re part of a natural space from the beginning, putting in the soil and the trees and the plants. You’re part of the process, and you become attached to it."

Mosher has a five-year degree in environmental planning from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and is a member of the Planning Institute of B.C. Raworth, who grew up in Whistler, has a diploma in landscape horticulture. Together they have a good understanding of ecology, hydrology, soil chemistry and plant biology. Whenever they don’t know something, they consult the experts – the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s Parks Operation department and municipal horticulture supervisor Paul Beswetherick.

"As far as we’re concerned, they are the top sustainable landscapers in town right now. They are making huge headway in terms of maintenance," Mosher says of the municipality.

"We can call them up and ask them what’s working and what isn’t, and apply that to our clients. They also put together a list of landscape standards last year, and we follow those to the letter."

Most of TMD’s clients have no idea that TMD offers this kind of approach to landscape design and maintenance unless they ask, and Mosher says it will be a while before they can make the claim to be a sustainable company. More people are asking, however, as local architects are embracing green building techniques – landscape design is a large part of the equation.

Socially and economically, Mosher believes the nature of the company is at its roots sustainable – you design and build a landscape area, and then you maintain that space forever. The company employs up to 15 people during the high season, and is active for more than seven months of the year.

When they design a landscape, they take into account what was there before the house was built and renovated, and try to restore indigenous plant species to the area to keep the local ecosystem sound. In some areas they have even created wildlife corridors between natural areas, keeping bears and other animals moving through.

They use the proper soil for plants destined for the area, which in the long run cuts down on maintenance and the use of water and fertilizers. Irrigation is also used, and TMD is following new municipal bylaws designed to make the most efficient use of the systems.

They plant coniferous trees on the north sides of houses to act as windbreaks and insulate the house. They might plant deciduous trees in the front of the house to provide shade on hot summer afternoons. Farmers have been doing as much to cut their own heating bills for hundreds of years.

Where possible they plant indigenous bushes, flowers and grasses that are from Whistler’s own sub-alpine environment. Because they are adapted to the climate, they don’t need nearly as much water or care as imported species.

The practice is referred to as nature-scaping, but according to Mosher it’s nothing knew for the landscaping industry.

"We are just reclaiming the areas that were damaged by construction or the renovation of houses," he says. "If it’s done right, the house will blend into the surrounding environment over time, and that kind of landscaping is popular because it adds value to homes."

Although they are certified for it, Mosher and Raworth don’t use herbicides or pesticides, believing that a properly maintained property doesn’t require them. They do most of their weeding by hand, although they occasionally use a natural occurring compound that breaks down in the environment to kill weeds in areas like driveways.

They do use fertilizers, but only when and where they are needed. If an area is looked after regularly, that is not very often.

Working as a tree planter in the area and in the northern part of the province while attending college, Mosher estimates that he has planted more than 400,000 trees. As a landscaper, he still plants several trees every season.

TMD Landscapes won’t cut trees down or take the tops off to give clients better views. They will, however, prune the branches to create windows and light wells within the trees that accomplish basically the same thing.

Because landscaping is a business that profits from efficiency, it’s impossible to phase out the use of gas powered tools and trucks.

Although he believes his tree and vegetation planting activities do create carbon sinks in the environment, the company is always looking for ways to cut down on fuel consumption and emissions.

Cleaner burning four-stroke mowers and power tools are generally more expensive to purchase than two-stroke alternatives, but Mosher has found that they can be more reliable and less costly to maintain. They are also quieter, and easier to work with.

"We hate leaf blowers, our clients hate leaf blower, neighbours hate leaf blowers," says Mosher.

The company needs trucks to carry people and equipment from place to place, but TMD made the decision to purchase crew cabs that can carry up to six people as well as equipment – two trucks that can do the work of four.

By always purchasing new trucks, their vehicles are more fuel efficient and give off fewer emissions. It also means that they can upgrade – the same crew cabs will be available next year with smaller, more fuel-efficient engines, and Mosher plans to upgrade his fleet.

"Five years from now we’d like to have trucks running on natural gas, or something better if it’s available," says Mosher. "Trucks are indispensable for our business, that’s just the way it is, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have a choice. We could probably save some money by buying beaters and driving them into the ground, but they don’t work as well, they pollute a lot more, and it doesn’t look as professional."

In addition, TMD Landscapes doesn’t drive from house to house anymore. In subdivisions where they have several customers, such as Nicklaus North and Spruce Grove, they park in central areas and crews walk from house to house doing maintenance.

The landscaping business doesn’t produce a lot of waste, as most of the yard content can either be composted to create more soil or broken down to create aggregate for use in landscaping and construction.

Mosher says the municipality’s long term plans to create a central compost area would be a huge benefit to his industry. TMD currently reuses a lot of its own waste in various products, but still has to truck some waste materials out of town for composting and processing. They also have to purchase and ship some high-grade soils from a processor in the city.

"Ideally, we’d like to have a place in town where we can take our compostable waste, and get soil for our projects," says Mosher. "A lot of other landscaping companies are saying the same thing. It’s just one way we can make our business and this town more sustainable, closing the waste loop within municipal boundaries."

While other businesses are struggling to understand and adopt sustainable measures, Mosher says that the landscaping industry as a whole is improving its practices. "While I like to think we’re a little farther ahead, there’s no question that the other landscapers are also getting better at what they do," he says.

The one intangible in TMD Landscapes’ environmental plans is the effect that Mosher and Raworth hope to have on their clients. By creating rich "outdoor rooms," surrounded by indigenous plants and species, they hope people will grow to appreciate and understand nature a lot more.

"There’s an educational component to what we do," says Mosher.