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Gardening books to curl up with this winter: Urban Growth

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There is something enduring about a book. Generally, we don’t toss them in recycling after we have read them, and who would think of lining a bird cage with pages from a book?

The experience of reading a book is a deep dive into a chosen topic. Consider these:

Harley Rustad on a stump in the logged timber stand near Port Renfrew, on Vancouver Island, B.C., with the lone remaining tree: the massive and ancient Douglas fir, “Big Doug.”
Harley Rustad on a stump in the logged timber stand near Port Renfrew, on Vancouver Island, B.C., with the lone remaining tree: the massive and ancient Douglas fir, “Big Doug.”  (TJ Watt, www.tjwatt.com)

Big Lonely Doug. This is a story about the second-largest Douglas fir tree in Canada that is about much more than one tree. It is an education in modern forestry and an insight into how naturally occurring forests work versus the second-growth versions that are planted by the hand of humankind.

In Big Lonely Doug, author Harley Rustad paints a picture of a man who has a conscience and a heart despite his history as a forest surveyor for “big timber.” Dennis Cronin was responsible for flagging areas to be clear cut. One day back in 2011, while surveying a first-growth timber stand near Port Renfrew, on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, he stopped short at the base of a massive Douglas fir. He flagged it for preservation and by doing so, he managed to change the history of B.C.’s forestry industry.

If you love trees as we do, you will be interested to learn that the forests of coastal British Columbia are denser with biomass than forests found in the tropics, where the greater heat breaks down dead matter more quickly. A fallen log in the B.C. rainforest can take over a century to break down.

Mark and Ben Cullen with their new book on the meaning of the gardening experience.
Mark and Ben Cullen with their new book on the meaning of the gardening experience.  (Special to The Star)

Rustad explains that, in 1997, a University of B.C. professor named Suzanne Simard published a study that proposed radical notions about the depth of ecological relationships in forests. By injecting a mature Sitka spruce with a harmless radioactive isotope, she was able to trace the path of the isotopes using a Geiger counter. Sugars were created by the tree in exchange for carbon dioxide, and as the sugars travelled down the tree’s trunk into the ground, they were dispersed into a network of mycorrhizal fungi, “and up into neighbouring trees. The strands of fungi were, in fact, tubes of a superhighway tunnel system, a massive underground network that connected trees together.”

Based on Simard’s groundbreaking work — pun intended — it was determined that Big Lonely Doug supported 42 smaller trees within its underground reach.

This book is a deep dive into the history of Canada’s forestry industry and the current, more hopeful situation in which Canadians on the west coast find themselves. Fact is, there is hope for the remaining old-growth forest and much of the reforested land across the country.

By reading this book, we discovered a deeper meaning for saving our forests, for replenishing clear cuts and for reforesting our cities as well.

The benefits of preserving trees and planting more of them are many. It is all in the book.

Author: Harley Rustad. Publisher: Anansi, The Walrus. $22.95

Big Lonely Doug, by Harley Ruland. ( ANANSI )
Big Lonely Doug, by Harley Ruland. ( ANANSI )

Escape To Reality. Every good book should be an escape. We wrote this one as a special escape.

We’ve been working on this book for over three years, taking time to reflect on the meaning of the gardening experience. Between us, we have the benefit of two generations of insights. Taken together with the lessons taught to Mark by his father Len and the teachings of “The Professor” — John A. Weall, Len’s mentor, counsellor and business partner during their days running Weall & Cullen Nurseries.

We are very excited about this new book: Escape to Reality: How the World is Changing Gardening and Gardening is Changing the World is about fresh, healthy food, clean air, pollinators, native plants and the benefits of the horticultural social-exchange that occurs every time a gardener sets foot in the dirt. It is also about the need to fail, the surprising places where inspiration can spring from and it is about hope.

We think every gardener should read it.

Certainly, if every Canadian did read it, we could share a better understanding of the natural world just outside our back door.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4

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Victoria real estate agent disciplined for false advertising, encouraging cash deal to avoid taxes

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A Victoria real estate agent is facing $9,000 in fines and a 60-day licence suspension after breaking several professional rules during the sale of her father’s half-million-dollar property, according to a decision by the Real Estate Council of B.C. 

Whitney Garside’s missteps — outlined this week in a disciplinary decision posted on the council’s website — included falsely advertising the property as being almost twice its actual size and advising the buyer they could avoid the property transfer tax if they paid cash directly to the seller.

The property on Burnett Road in Victoria was being sold in 2016 by the real estate agent’s father. That relationship was disclosed and isn’t among the reasons she has been disciplined.

According to the disciplinary consent order, Garside told the buyer — whose name is redacted — that by paying $42,000 cash on the side, the value of the property could be reduced to avoid paying the property transfer tax.

That cash arrangement was not shared with Garside’s brokerage, Re/Max Camosun, a failure that contravened the Real Estate Services Act.

The council also ruled that she “failed to act honestly and with reasonable care and skill” when she advised the buyer the property transfer tax could be avoided by paying cash directly to the seller. 

The council’s discipline committee also found that Garside committed professional misconduct when she failed to recommend the seller and buyer seek independent legal advice, specifically regarding the property transfer tax and the cash agreement.

Another issue the council considered professional misconduct involved the size of the property in question.

The council ruled that Garside published false and misleading advertising and failed to act with reasonable care and skill when the property was advertised as 8,712 square feet, when in fact a portion of the lot belonged to the Ministry of Transportation, and the actual size was just 4,711 square feet.

The discipline committee ordered Garside’s licence be suspended for 60 days, which will be completed Jan. 3, 2021.

She has also been ordered to complete real estate ethics and remedial classes at her own expense.

Garside was also fined $7,500 as a disciplinary penalty and $1,500 in enforcement expenses.

She agreed to waive her right to appeal the council’s discipline committee’s decision in September.

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Frisco apartment community sells to Canadian investor

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A Canada-based investor has purchased a Frisco apartment community as part of a larger Texas deal.

The 330-unit Satori Frisco apartments opened last year on Research Road in Frisco.

BSR Real Estate Investment Trust bought the four-story rental community that was built by Atlanta-based Davis Development.

Satori Frisco was more than 90% leased at the time of sale. The property includes a two-story fitness center, a car care center, a dog park and a resort-style swimming pool.

The Frisco property sold along with Houston’s Vale luxury apartments in a deal valued at $129 million.

“BSR recently exited the smaller Beaumont and Longview, Texas, markets and also sold noncore properties in other markets,” John Bailey, BSR’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are now using our strong liquidity position to invest in Vale and Satori Frisco, modern communities in core growth markets with the amenities our residents desire.”

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House prices on Prince Edward Island continue steady climb

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Residential real estate prices on Prince Edward Island continue to climb at a rate higher than the national average, according to the latest report from a national organization. 

The Canadian Real Estate Association released monthly figures for November 2020 on Tuesday.

They show that the average price for a resale home on P.E.I. is about 21 per cent higher than it was a year earlier. 

Only Quebec had a bigger year-over-year increase, at about 23 per cent. Overall across Canada, prices were up 13.8 per cent year over year in the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the fifth straight month, year-over-year sales activity was up in almost all Canadian housing markets compared to the same month in 2019,” the report noted.

“Meanwhile, an ongoing shortage of supply of homes available for purchase across most of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces means sellers there hold the upper hand in sales negotiations.”

That lack of houses coming onto the market compared to the demand means that in those provinces, there is “increased competition among buyers for listings and … fertile ground for price gains.”

There have been anecdotal reports for months that Prince Edward Island’s low rate of COVID-19 infection and looser rules around social activities have been encouraging people to buy homes on the Island. 

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