Rss Feed
Tweeter button
Facebook button

Archives for January 1, 2013

Talented children woo crowd at concert

CUTE KIDS: Dressed in colourful costumes, children from the Nuri kindergarten put up an entertaining show

MORE than 800 parents and pre-schoolers  filled the foyer of Plaza Angsana, Johor Baru, to attend the “XmasXtra Vegenza 2012”, a fun-filled programme for little ones organised by Nuri Kindergarten.

A host of activities were arranged for the 170 pre-schoolers from 19 kindergarten branches throughout the districts of Johor Baru and Kulaijaya to display their talents.

The children, aged between 4 and 6 were clad in attractive and brightly coloured costumes.

They performed various activities such as aerobic exercises, a choir presentation, traditional and modern dance, storytelling, a drawing competition and a drama performance.

Joining the programme were 20 occupants from Johor Baru Handicapped and Mentally Disabled Children Association who were invited by the organisers to attend the gathering.

The children from the association also performed two dances, the popular Korean dance Oppa Gangnam Style and Hawaiian Hula Hula led by their instructor Nino Suvremisane.

Nuri’s business and development manager Nurulhuda Abdul Rahman presented a donation of RM2,000 to the mentally disabled children’s association.

The emcees for the day were 6-year olds from Nuri’s Taman Universiti branch, Neurrohadatul Aisyi Aisyiq Nurasyid and Jonas Ang Shi Jun.

The concert started out with an aerobics session known as Nurobics with 15 pre-schoolers from the Nuri Bandar Putra, Damansara Aliff, Impian Emas, Johor Jaya and Kulai Putri branches.

Dressed in sports attire, the kids humorous movements aroused a lot of laughter from the audience.

Following the 10 minute refreshing activity, everyone joined in to sing the school song.

The excitement peaked as 10 children aged between 2 and 4 years old, from the Taman Universiti branch performed the Chicken Dance to an enthusiastic crowd.

Next came the Power Reading session where 5 and 6 year old children presented four topics, in four different languages.

Five-year old Amiera Maisarah Mohd Fauzi received a rousing applause as she spoke about the scenery, environment and amenities at the Legoland Theme park in perfect English.

Amiera thanked both her parents and teachers who monitored her progress in the language consistently.

In the inter branch landscaping collage art competition, the Nusa Bistari kindergarten won first prize, followed by Nusa Perintis a Danga Bay branch of the same kindergarten.

Each team comprised four children from the 19 Nusa Kindergarten branches.

Other performances include storytelling in four languages by kids from the Nuri TU branch and a taridra (drama and dance) performance.

The kindergarten’s event manager, V. Jainthi said the children were talented and had a positive attitude about attending kindergarten.

“The parents are very supportive.

They always attend the rehearsals and give us ideas and tips as well,” she added.

The Nuri Education Centre was first set up in Johor Baru 22 years ago.

There were 19 branches in Johor, and four in Selangor.

The kindergarten focuses on a holistic education system and offers subjects such as Kidz IT, Power Maths and English, Music and Movement and Nurobics.

Currently, the centre employs 200 teachers and boasts of 2,000 pre-schoolers.

Besides teaching children between the 3 and 6, nurseries for babies and toddlers are also available.

(From left)Nurulhuda Abdul Rahman with Nuri pre-school principal Santhi and the teachers and kids from the Nusa Bestari kindergarten branch who won the collage competition. Pix by Syed Abdullah Syed Mohamed

The cute emcees from the Nuri Taman Universiti branch, Jonas Ang Shi Jun (left) and Neurrohadatul Aisyi Aisyiq Nurasyid.

Nurulhuda Abdul Rahman presenting a plaque and a mock cheque to representatives from the Johor Baru Handicapped and Mentally Disabled Children Association .

Children in action, performing a ‘Kuda Kepang’ dance.

Article source:

Business Districts Aim High In 2013

There are a number of business associations in Long Beach, but the three biggest are the Belmont Shore Business Association, Downtown Long Beach Associates and the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association.

Those organizations host special events, beautify and promote their respective districts with the goal of keeping customers shopping local throughout the year. Each of the districts has an executive director in addition to board members who meet monthly to improve the business-friendliness of the city and serve as a resource and sounding board for the ideas and concerns of their fellow business owners, area residents and community leaders. 

The executive directors of those three associations were asked what Long Beach could look forward to in 2013 in regards to each business association working to improve business and the local economy.

Here were their responses.


Dede Rossi, Belmont Shore Business Association

“Encouraging area residents to shop local will be one of our main focuses this year.

“Despite uncertainty about the national economy and the looming fiscal cliff, Belmont Shore businesses will continue to depend on local business. It’s as important, or more important, as ever for us to continue promoting events such as Small Business Saturday, which was one of the most successful shopping days this past year.

“We want local shoppers, but we are not saying we won’t also focus on tourism. Belmont Shore will continue to advertise and get our information to local hotels and tourist attractions.

“We believe the newly expanded Long Beach Airport is great for the city of Long Beach, and we are excited that Belmont Shore will be represented at the airport with three long-time businesses (George’s Greek, Sweet Jill’s and Polly’s Gourmet Coffee) setting up satellite locations at the new passenger concourse. 

“Our calendar of events for 2013 will have something for everyone as we find ways to enhance existing events and also add more to bring the community to the Shore. Also, the BSBA will continue to manage marketing opportunities, promotions, events, community outreach, beautification and safety for the business district.

“Additionally, the BSBA is working with the Belmont Shore Parking Commission to continue to provide free bus passes in 2013 for Shore employees through Long Beach Transit.

“We wish everyone a Happy New Year and thank you all for coming to the Shore!”


Blair Cohn, Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association

“On the small scale, we will continue to support, grow and improve our monthly events and programs such as Strollers, Literary Society, Supper Club, Kidical Mass, Community Happy Hours and especially First Fridays.

“We constantly research what other cities across the country are doing to promote business districts and connect communities. We use this information to create even more innovative programs for Bixby Knolls. Our programs are designed to be fun, inclusive and support our businesses.

“The more we do, the more opportunities come our way. So, we will try to take advantage of anything new that pops up. We were very lucky that ‘Levitated Mass’ literally fell in our laps this year, and it worked out well for us. I hope another big rock comes our way so we can throw another huge party with tons of media coverage.

“We are fortunate to have a contract in place with the city to continue our Bixby Knolls Work Plan Projects to improve facades, fix lighting, landscaping and signage. In addition to this, we have hired a private security company to patrol the district, and we have a new Clean Team to stay on top of graffiti, litter and weed removal. These small projects add up to the entire district looking good. 

“On the bigger scale, and as an economic development tool, we are currently creating a promotional video/documentary of Bixby Knolls. This will be used as a sales tool for Bixby Knolls and shared with brokers to help land tenants in vacancies. This will highlight the district’s features, demographics, events and more; it will be a great way to lure new businesses to the area. We also will use this as a chance to showcase the area’s history, its ups, downs and ups again, and ultimately describe all of the ways the BKBIA has tried to promote and support the local economy. We will share this video with national media outlets.

“We will remain optimistic and keep being relentless on trying new things and hatching schemes to keep up the vitality and success of Bixby Knolls.”


Kraig Kojian, Downtown Long Beach Associates

“I’m unsure if any business association can “improve business and the local economy,” but it can certainly dedicate energies and resources to ensure its goals and objectives are focused to foster a healthier environment and community. In the spirit of resolutions (which I do not believe in) my reply to your request is in the form of, what else, a list of 10 resolutions presented in no priority order:

1. Maintain a healthy and positive attitude by continuing to engage with stakeholders whose optimistic outlook and solutions are focused on accomplishing goals to improve the quality of life in the Downtown community.

2. Get into shape by continuing to find ways of shedding burdensome regulations and streamline business-friendly processes that encourage investment to the urban center. 

3. Be better communicators by recognizing that no matter the individual, organization or the preferred medium, there is always room for improvement with this responsibility.

4. Find more reasons to say yes to inputs that create a healthier, more effective organizational system, which produces cost–efficient results.

5. Be more resourceful by identifying new and expanding existing partnerships to maximize our potential in developing our community.

6. Expand awareness of unique ventures and be proactive by paving a direction to make the improbable opportunities possible.

7. Engage creative talents and identify transformative projects that have a long-lasting effect on the community while using greater spending power when applicable.

8. Work smarter rather than harder because more people and organizations can do the latter, but the former is an art.

9. Strive for greatness, because mediocrity is for others.

10. Establish new standards that exceed old expectations — self explanatory.”

Article source:

The Best Green Ideas of 2012

As we look back on the year that was, let’s honor some of the outstanding issues and accomplishments for community sustainability that came to light. In many cases, naming a particular item one of the best of 2012 may be a bit (not completely) arbitrary: by definition, sustainability is seldom a single “event” that occurs wholly within one calendar year. But, in each of these cases, something caught my attention this year.

Mine is a very personal list. Yours may differ, which is part of the fun. Let’s get to it.

Best community sustainability issue that reached critical mass this year: water. Maybe it’s that I work for NRDC, whose water team has become invested in community solutions in a big way. My colleagues published the second edition of our major green infrastructure report, Rooftops to Rivers, late last year, celebrating the efforts of cities across the country in solving serious runoff pollution problems with smart landscaping, green roofs, permeable paving and related approaches that also make dense neighborhoods healthier and more beautiful. This year, they followed up with another (and seriously wonky) report detailing how local and state governments can potentially stimulate billions of dollars in private investment in these solutions. And, as the year drew to a close, superstorm Sandy had demonstrated with terrible ferocity the importance of urban water management to a resilient future.  

But, beyond NRDC’s work or individual storm events, a lot of good things happened in 2012 to mark significant progress in using soft approaches to cleaner watersheds. In particular, the federal EPA approved Philadelphia’s plan to deploy the most comprehensive green infrastructure program found in any American city; New York City announced that it, too, was embarking on a major green infrastructure program to reduce runoff and resulting sewage overflows; Washington, D.C., proposed a comprehensive zoning update that will include, among other things, green infrastructure requirements for new construction, and settled a lawsuit by agreeing to tighter deadlines for waterway cleanup.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jerry Wong

Meanwhile, the city of Chicago announced a program of small grants to help individual homeowners adopt “backyard” projects such as plantings and rain barrels that help clean the watershed; and, in Seattle, long a leader in these issues, Washington State University and the non-profit Stewardship Partners are working to install 12,000 rain gardens in Puget Sound communities by 2016.  If you’re working on city sustainability and aren’t including clean water solutions in your portfolio, you’re not just overlooking a critical set of concerns but also missing a lot of creativity and excitement.

Best regional plans for thoughtful land use and transportation investment: the Southern California and Sacramento Sustainable Communities Strategies. The best work to emerge so far from the implementation of California’s SB 375, the state’s landmark smart growth legislation, these two plans tackle climate change by placing a majority of new homes and jobs in transit-accessible locations, reducing traffic and related carbon emissions, preserving single-family neighborhoods, and saving hundreds of square miles of farmland and open space. Now the plans must be carried out, of course, but the law’s mix of carrots and sticks makes me hopeful.

Best provocative new book: The Space Between. This one was a very tough call, given The Walkable City, Jeff Speck’s definitive work on how to shape cities that put people, not cars, first, and Chuck Marohn’s burning fiscal indictment of sprawl, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns.  But my nod goes to Eric Jacobsen’s Christian case for cities, The Space Between, because of its freshness.

Best expansion of the green city vocabulary:  Walk Appeal. This one comes from Steve Mouzon, who also gave us the apt phrase “original green” to describe buildings and communities that respond to environmental issues naturally rather than with technological add-ons.  “Walk appeal” describes the extent to which a street or community induces us to use our feet simply because it’s enjoyable.  (Honorable mention:  Scott Doyon’s “pub shed.”

By and courtesy of Dhiru Thadani

Best well-deserved recognition for a sustainability leader: Dr. Richard Jackson’s Heinz award. Long a champion of safe, walkable, clean neighborhoods, Dick Jackson is chair of the department of environmental health sciences at UCLA. He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s far from the only one who is showing us why we need to improve our built environment to protect human health.  But no one does it with more conviction and authority. This year Dick’s fantastic work earned a prestigious Heinz award; I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

Best new idea in community revitalization: use of LEED-ND as a planning framework for recovering neighborhoods. Okay, I’m (very) biased on this one. But many of us involved in the creation of the green rating and certification system LEED for Neighborhood Development hoped from the beginning that the system would find multiple informal uses for citizens and planners in addition to its formal application in honoring worthy new development with certification. Constructed as a logical, ordered framework of standards measuring neighborhood characteristics that affect sustainability, LEED-ND also provides a structure for guiding the thinking of community development corporations and other leaders of distressed city neighborhoods as they plan improvements. It is now being used for just that purpose in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Boston, Los Angeles, and perhaps elsewhere.

Best municipal blueprint for changing an unsustainable community into a sustainable one: Plan El Paso. This superlative city plan could just as easily have been picked as one of the best in 2011, when it was preliminary and EPA recognized it with a national award for achievement in smart growth. But, in March of this year, the city council formally adopted it and, in November, El Paso voters approved the issuance of $473 million dollars’ worth of bonds to begin funding it. These actions give us another opportunity to salute the city’s leadership – and the skill of its planning team – in moving forward with what may well be the nation’s best-articulated commitment to a more sustainable future in a community not previously known for environmental aspiration.

Columbus, Ohio. Courtesy of Ped/Bike

Best continually improving and evolving sustainability tool: Walk Score. The genius of Walk Score is its simplicity. Enter an address and you get a numerical rating from zero to 100 instantly. Walk Score isn’t perfect, particularly because it relies on imperfect databases and also because it attempts to quantify something – walkability – that is partially subjective. But it’s incredibly good in approximating the relative completeness and convenience of locations. Best of all, its keepers don’t rest on their laurels but continuously tinker with the system’s underpinnings to make it more reliably accurate. (Honorable mention in this category goes to the ever-improving and highly useful Housing + Transportation Affordability Index from the Center for Neighborhood Technology.)

Best accumulated body of recent work by a federal agency:  HUD.  As I wrote earlier this month, I have been seriously impressed by the community-building work of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development since its Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities was created almost three years ago. Working with an extremely limited budget (as federal programs go), HUD continues to assist cities and towns all over the country as they develop commitments and investment for a more resilient, greener future.  It’s a remarkable portfolio of accomplishment. (Honorable mention to the work of the National Endowment for the Arts, including its Our Town program, and to EPA’s always-impressive Office of Sustainable Communities.)

Best little-known work by a community-based non-profit that deserves a pat on the back: The Boston Project. A faith-based organization in the city’s Talbot Norfolk Triangle district, the Boston Project embodies “a passion for seeing renewal in urban neighborhoods.” It was founded by Paul and Glenna Malkemes, who run the organization’s activities out of their house; the first floor serves as a free, pleasant and safe drop-in center where youth can come and go at their leisure to do homework or enjoy fellowship. With its affiliate TNT Neighbors United, the project is working, with some success, to create “a multi-site urban garden” with a walkable route that connects community green spaces such as planned play areas, passive parks, vegetable gardens, and orchards.

Vancouver. Courtesy of Flickr user Jeff Arsenault

Best body of educational work by a national non-profit: American Society of Landscape Architects. With a relatively small staff, ASLA is quietly doing incredibly innovative work that improves city communities. Go to the organization’s web site and see, among other things, 30 (mostly urban) case studies that illustrate the transformative effects of sustainable landscape design; animations of the possible, using Google Sketchup to show how to build parks out of waste, design neighborhoods for active living, create smart landscaping that saves energy, transform ugly transportation infrastructure into attractive people spaces, and design wildlife-friendly neighborhoods; a guide to the beautiful hidden spaces of Washington, DC; a study on the economic benefits of green infrastructure; an interactive tour of the Society’s own innovative green roof; materials on brownfields transformation; and much more. Not to mention the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a partnership undertaking that seeks to do for landscapes what LEED has done for buildings and neighborhood development. Very, very impressive. (Honorable mention: Project for Public Spaces.)

Best sustained excellence in writing about people and community: PlaceShakers. The hard-to-define, geographically dispersed firm PlaceMakers does a lot of things, but what I like best about them is their writing, in the PlaceShakers blog. Scott Doyon, Ben Brown, Hazel Borys and company are kind of all over the place in what they think and write about, and that’s a very good thing. While it all comes back, one way or another, to a decidedly new urbanist view of community design (form-based codes, the transect, skinny streets, and so forth), it’s a refreshingly broad and very well-written take on that approach. Scott, for instance, explains walkability by reference to where the bars are in his community; Hazel links neighborhood feel to Christmas carols and a meditation on the Ode to Joy that most of us know as the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; when Ben discusses the intricacies of housing market trends, you feel as if they are being explained by your favorite uncle. And, yes, the rest of them write, too. Their articles aren’t lectures so much as stories told by interesting and fun people who, in the process, tell you as much about themselves as about their subject matter. 

Best architecture/planning firm of the year: Mithun. There are firms that design outstanding urbanism. And there are firms that design outstanding green buildings and community features.  But there is none that integrates those two important concepts – both critical for sustainability – better than Seattle-based Mithun. I reported on two of its projects during the year: the firm was the guiding force behind Denver’s award-winning Mariposa project as well as the master planner for the excellent green revitalization concept for the Sunset neighborhood of Renton, Washington. Late in 2012 Mithun added significant talent and capacity by merging with the highly accomplished, San Francisco-based Daniel Solomon Design Partners, long a leader in urbanist design solutions. It will be exciting to see how the firm’s work will continue to evolve.

Not a bad year, that. Next, I’ll look at some stories to follow in 2013. Happy New Year, everybody.

This post originally appeared on the NRDC’s Switchboard blog.

Article source:

Cirque du Soleil brings its poetry to its neighbourhood

The Cirque du Soleil had plenty of options when it considered where to build its corporate headquarters, but it chose to invest $100-million in a barren site on the edge of a giant garbage dump in the Montreal neighbourhood of Saint-Michel.

“Every little municipality, every mayor wanted Cirque du Soleil. We really chose the worst compared to the others,” says Gaétan Morency, vice-president of citizenship. But the company, which creates shows seen by millions of people around the world, had unusual criteria for its decision. “We wanted to help a community grow and be proud again,” Mr. Morency says.

In the 15 years since it moved in, Cirque du Soleil has created jobs for young people in a neighbourhood with a history of gang violence and where many families live in poverty. It has launched a program in the local schools and is one of the partners in TOHU, a neighbourhood cultural centre with a circular stage that offers regular performances. The headquarters has expanded twice with new additions in 2001 and 2007.

But far fewer businesses have followed the company into the area than Mr. Morency expected. “It is not an easy neighbourhood, maybe that is why it reacts less rapidly,” he says.

Saint-Michel is in the north end of Montreal and was a separate municipality until the mid-1960s. The Autoroute Metropolitaine, a major highway also known as the 40, cuts through it connecting Montreal to Quebec City.

The area around the Cirque du Soleil headquarters feels windswept and far emptier than the busy streets in many other parts of Montreal even though 2,000 people work at the headquarters and all the artists hired by Cirque come for preparatory training sessions that can last several months. As well, thousands of people attend regular shows and events at TOHU.

“We have seen a few retail stores, and a new restaurant in front. But it closed at the end of the summer,” Mr. Morency says.

But that may be about to change.

In neighbourhoods closer to downtown, such as the Plateau-Mont-Royal, industrial buildings once used by the garment and textile industry have been converted into offices or condominiums, says Jordan Perlis, an agent with Colliers International in Montreal.

This wave of development is now spreading north, toward Saint-Michel, fuelled in part by the demand of the city’s growing video game industry.

“I am hoping that trend will continue,” says Mr. Perlis, who is seeking commercial tenants for a building in the neighbourhood. The presence of Cirque du Soleil gives the area a “level of credibility,” he adds.

Pierre Durocher, who works with the non-profit community organization Vivre Saint-Michel en Santé, says Cirque du Soleil has helped to restore the pride of a community that had been in steady decline for years. But the effort to turn the neighbourhood around began before the company arrived, Mr. Durocher says.

One of the top priorities of residents was getting the city to stop throwing household waste into the old Miron quarry. After the Second World War, the limestone quarry was a source of pride and jobs in the neighbourhood. But then the city began dumping its garbage there. The stench helped to define Saint-Michel as the home of one of largest urban landfills in the country.

Cirque du Soleil helped to push the municipal government to stop dumping in the quarry in 2000 and to adopt an ambitious plan to turn the dump into a park with an artificial lake and bike paths. Now officially called the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex, the two-square-kilometre park is slowly being transformed. Grass grows on what used to be mounds of refuse. Gas from the decomposing garbage that once leaked into local basements is now collected by a network of pipes sunk into the garbage and burned by a Biothermica power plant to produce electricity.

“It was all part of us coming here, that the site would be managed,” Mr. Morency says. “Now, there is no more landfill going in.”

The park, to be completed in 2020, will change the feel of the neighbourhood, Mr. Durocher adds, and should attract developers and businesses.

Worried that people living in Saint-Michel will get pushed out by higher housing prices, he is working with others in the community on plans to prevent that from happening. They want to encourage the development of co-operative housing and they also have a scheme to help residents become homeowners.

Mr. Morency is proud of the social and cultural contributions Cirque du Soleil makes to Saint-Michel.

All the original landscaping was done by young people as part of a project with the Montreal police department. TOHU, the cultural centre, also offers regular work to locals. “It creates an alternative for those young people, from being in a street gang,” Mr. Morency says.

Cirque du Soleil has offered programming in local schools for seven years, which has helped it become rooted in the community.

“We have always strived to be a neighbour of choice. To be a neighbour of choice you have to meet your neighbours and know them and see what their issues are,” Mr. Morency says. “We never had graffiti on any of our buildings because they feel part of it.”

He thinks one of the company’s biggest contributions has been in changing the way residents think about their neighbourhood.

“Instead of being the landfill neighbourhood, it is the Cirque du Soleil neighbourhood. That’s a very big difference.”

Mr. Durocher doesn’t go quite that far. There is more to Saint-Michel than the Cirque du Soleil, and the community had already began its long, slow climb upward before the company built its headquarters here. But he is grateful for all it has done.

“They have played a very positive role.”

The Cirque complex

The Montreal headquarters is the heart of the Cirque du Soleil’s artistic enterprise.

It is where shows are developed, where costumes, wigs and outrageous clown shoes are crafted and where the performers come from around the world to learn their routines and how to apply their own makeup. The complex is three buildings in one. The first, known as the studio, was finished in 1997 and holds three acrobatic training rooms, with trapezes and built-in trampolinesthat send performers flying up past the office windows of the people in charge of getting the shows on the road.

An addition called the Ateliers was added in 2001. This is where master shoemakers, milliners, wig makers and carpenters construct the props and costumes for every show.

A third wing, called le Mat, or the mast, was added in 2007 to address a need for more administrative space and has eight floors of offices. A separate building, finished in 2003, is where many of the artists are housed when they visit Montreal.


Article source:

Keeping Christmas trees ‘green’ through recycling

City program affords easy, environmentally-friendly disposal

The city of Henderson is encouraging residents to give their holiday trees a new lease on life through recycling. The city’s free holiday tree recycling program helps to greatly reduce the number of trees sent to the landfill while also providing nutrient-rich mulch to promote the growth of trees citywide.

“Last year we recycled 3,970 holiday trees,” said Doug Guild, Parks superintendent, city of Henderson Parks and Recreation Department.

“Recycling makes sense because holiday trees are all natural and biodegradable, while mulch provides important nutrients for other trees and plants so they can thrive in our harsh desert environment.”

Americans purchase around 30 million Christmas trees each year from 12,000 growers nationwide. Ninety three percent of these trees eventually are recycled either at private homes or in in one of the nation’s 4,000 tree recycling programs.

Holiday trees can be dropped off during regular park hours Dec. 26, 2012, through Jan. 17, 2013, at seven locations throughout Henderson (see box below).

All non-organic material must first be removed from trees, including lights, ornaments, wires, tinsel, and nails. These items cannot be recycled and could damage chipping equipment. Flocked trees cannot be recycled.

The Parks and Recreation Department will chip the trees into mulch for use in parks and landscaping around Henderson municipal buildings.

Free mulch will also be made available to the public from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2013, at Pecos Legacy Park, 150 Pecos Rd., and Jan. 12, 2013, at Acacia Demonstration Gardens, 50 Casa Del Fuego St.

For additional information, call 267-4000 or visit

Article source:

Recycled Christmas trees help beautify highways

As you take down the Christmas tree, take a moment to imagine its next incarnation: Chipped up and mixed into soil, it might soon secure new grasses along some South Texas highway or sustain vegetable sprouts in someone’s garden.

Adding weathered plant material back into the soil is becoming the norm for a growing number of people who are buying and using mulch and compost.

While San Antonio has for years been turning brush into mulch and offering the compost at a minimal cost to residents, other cities are catching on.

Two decades ago Houston offered only a couple of places to buy it; now there are more than 60. Beyond buying, more people are learning how to make compost themselves from clipped grass and wilted vegetables.

“We are in a high growth mode and poised to steamroll,” said Michael Virga, executive director of the U.S. Compost Council, which plans to debut a campaign this spring with a message aimed at landscapers, green builders and the public about soil quality and the importance of recycling food.

“Compost Camp” is offered by the State of Texas Alliance for Recycling. Urban Harvest, the Houston gardening nonprofit, offers classes in compost and soil.

The Texas Compost Council, with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, plans to offer a Master Composter program, like the better-known Master Gardener training. Its aim, council director Alan Watts said, is to “communicate to citizens how they will save time, money and effort with natural landscaping practices.”

San Antonio has offered mulch for a minimal cost per pound from its brush pickup sites for many years and accepts undecorated cut Christmas trees at locations around the city after each holiday season.

This year, Christmas trees can be dropped off from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and again on Jan. 12 and 13. The Bitters Road and Nelson Gardens brush sites will take trees all month. After the trees are ground into mulch, residents can return to the drop-off location and pick up mulch for free while supplies last.

Beneficial fungi

Soil is supposed to contain more than tiny bits of rock, clay and sand. That’s only the building block. Soil needs plant material in various stages of decay to feed plants and hold soil so it doesn’t float away in the first heavy rain. To be complete, soil also requires bacteria and fungi that colonize plant matter and break it down, releasing a trove of nutrients in the process.

For John Ferguson, who now finds himself surrounded by warm piles of live soil, the “aha” moment came long after a master’s degree in physics, even courses in soil science.

He got sick while using the fungicide Captan. Fungicides kill unwanted pests, but they also kill beneficial fungi. Fungi play a fundamental role in unlocking nitrogen, a primary plant food.

When Ferguson realized the importance of natural plant decay in soil, he tried to buy compost. But not enough people were making it, so he began producing it himself and now owns Nature’s Way Resources in Conroe.

Twenty-three states have banned organic material in landfills. Often they are places where landfill space is scarce.

But Texas is long on land, and disposal fees at landfills are comparatively cheap. Watts thinks this doesn’t matter, because Texans are ready for a more sophisticated understanding of the reason to compost.

“Saying that we’re running out of landfill space as a reason to compost is like saying we are running out of graveyard space as a reason to cure disease,” he said. “It’s not the land you’re trying to save, it’s the material that is going into the ground.”

Composting has grown significantly in Texas for a different reason, and it has a lot to do with the Texas Department of Transportation. It has become, it believes, the single largest purchaser of compost in the country.

Driven by TxDOT

In 1985, landscape architect Barrie Cogburn tried to help TxDOT determine why its freshly graded slopes so frequently slumped away in the rain, taking with them the department’s expensive plantings. Cogburn noticed that new topsoil brought in by subcontractors was often little more than finely ground rock.

At a workshop she learned just how much organic material was ending up in Texas landfills.

“They have too much, and we don’t have enough,” she thought. “There has to be a way to come together on this.”

Cogburn and Scott McCoy of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality teamed up in an experiment adding compost to TxDOT’s soil. They also added dairy manure that was piling up in Bosque County, polluting water all the way downstream to Waco.

The results were favorable: TxDOT embankments started staying in place. And the organic material retained water, so the department had to irrigate less. The practice is now widespread.

Drought, hardpan, climate change predictions, soil depletion, the current popularity of gardening all point the same direction. Ferguson puts it this way: “We have got to get it out of our landfills, and get it back into our soils.”

Express-News Staff Writer Mary Heidbrink contributed to this report.

Article source:

Gardening Tips: Don’t toss those leaves, compost them

Large amounts of leaves on your lawn can compact the grass, especially when they get wet. But when you rake the leaves, don’t put them on the curb, compost them. They make excellent organic matter.

You can add them to your flower beds or put them in your vegetable garden and turn them under. They will rot all winter, making a good source of nutrients.

Here are some benefits of compost:

It increases the soil’s moisture capacity.

It returns nutrients to the soil.

It improves air movement in the soil.

It inhibits weed growth.

It prevents soil compaction.

You can compost leaves in a bin or just in a pile. Regardless of which method you use, the pile should have good air movement throughout. One side should be able to open for easy turning and removal of finished compost.

To get your compost off to a good start, you will need to add some leaves, grass clippings, garden materials and one cup of nitrogen fertilizer for each layer of material added to help in the rotting process.

Leaves to get rid of

After a hard freeze, perennials will normally drop their leaves. The leaves should be cleaned up if you had insect or disease problems this summer. Insects can live over winter in those leaves and affect the plant next spring.

In an effort to clean up your garden, don’t be in a big hurry to cut off the stems and leaves of perennial flowers, such as butterfly bush, goldenrod, black-eyed susan and shasta daisies. It may benefit perennial flowers more if they are left standing during the winter and cut down in the spring.

There are several reasons to wait until spring. Many perennials have attractive foliage and seed heads that offer food for birds. The stems of some perennials also offer a place for birds to hide during the winter.

Booker T. Leigh is director of the Tipton County Extension office. E-mail your gardening questions to Include your name and the area where you live. For more gardening information, call the Tipton County Extension office at (901) 476-0231 or the Shelby County Extension office at (901) 752-1207.

Article source:

Head of the table: Top tips on homemade decorations

They were even older than my parents, these things. My mother said she’d been given them by an elderly couple, childless, Viennese I think, whom she had met at a language class. Between Christmases, the decorations sat in their gasmask box, wrapped in pages of the Radio Times December 1947 and it was part of the ritual that, each year, we packed them away in the same torn squares of paper.

Ritual is a vital part of Christmas, but when you move from one house to another, some things have to change. We can still hang a wreath on the front door of our new place, as we did on the old, but where should the Christmas tree go? More importantly, where should we put Father Christmas? Father Christmas is a cardboard mobile – him, the sledge and several reindeer – and he came to us in the Seventies, a spin-off from the brilliant strip cartoon books that Raymond Briggs brought out then.

In the old house, the mobile hung from a bacon hook in the ceiling of the back sitting room, high enough not to tangle in anyone’s hair. Setting him in place was always the last thing we did, the finishing touch to our Christmas preparations. But we don’t have such generous ceilings now and FC still hasn’t found a comfortable place to fly.

Another change came when we shifted the Christmas feast from lunchtime to evening. That’s only possible as your children get older. But gradually, the feast became the high point of Christmas, with anything from a dozen to 20 people around the table and because of that, I started another ritual. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I shut myself in the dining room and constructed a centrepiece for the table while listening to the King’s College carols on the radio. When it was done, I shut the door on the room and nobody went in until Christmas night, when it was time for the feast to begin.

Flower arranging in the formal sense – pedestals, wafty bits of chiffon – is not my thing. But I love decorating and a centrepiece for the Christmas table gives more scope for invention than a Christmas tree. The transient nature of a table decoration is a huge advantage, too. You don’t have to worry about what it may look like the next day. This is a one-night stand.

A Christmas centrepiece needs evergreens and things that shine silver and gold. It needs the warmth of red, but the red shouldn’t come from roses. They feel all wrong at Christmas – ludicrously out of season, and therefore ludicrously expensive. Amaryllis (hippeastrums as they are now called) are in season and come in some wonderfully uncompromising shades of red. But they are tall, and you don’t want to make a fence between one side of the table and another.

You can use them in a kind of cornucopia, though. Start with a big square of silver foil to protect the table and reflect light. Build up a bed of moss on that and lay a nest of terracotta pots (old ones if you’ve got them) on their sides in the centre, not tightly packed, but curving slightly one away from the other. Stand small pots of cyclamen here and there around the central pots and then construct a flow of twigs and greenery spiked with flowers to come from the mouth of the last pot.

It’s an imprecise craft. But you do need a good supply of materials – most of which I usually get from the garden. Moss, twigs (especially beech and dark red twiggy bits cut from a variegated dogwood), teasels,f silvered seedheads are all good. Walnuts can be fantastic. Silvered, each one becomes a priceless artefact, the slight wrinkles of the shell looking as if they have been chiselled by a craftsman. If you are ultra-fashionable, you can turn out distressed walnuts. Spray them first with gold, them give them a quick burst of deep red, but not so much that it stops the gold shining through.

Ivy is the greatest of all gifts for decorating because at this season it carries heads of berry as well as strong, handsome evergreen leaves. As with the cyclamen above, ivy (sprayed or left green – it depends what you are using it with) disguises plastic pots, bridges awkward gaps, always drapes itself well wherever you put it.

Ivy is what I mostly use to make garlands as it’s much kinder on the hands than holly. Start with a string of Oasis-foam sausages. You can buy special plastic cages, about 15cm/6in long, which split open to take a slab of the Oasis and then link together with hooks. Or, a cheaper option, you can wrap long, thin slabs of Oasis in plastic netting, pinching in the gaps between the slabs as you go. Make up the length of sausages you need, soak them in the sink until the Oasis is saturated and then let it drain.

Lay the whole thing out on a flat surface and start pushing short pieces of ivy into the Oasis. It covers up very quickly. You can add baubles or kumquats on wire, hips, dried orange slices (if you’ve had the forethought to make them), small sprays of silvered larch cones, bows of red velvet ribbon… but generally garlands look best if you stick to one evergreen for the background (it could be blue-green spruce, if you’ve got one you can cut) and no more than three add-ons. Tie string either end and fix the garland in place. I find they usually hang well, but if there are gaps in the chain, when it’s in situ you can easily fill them with more greenery.

In any scenario around Christmas, candles are vital. The ones that are made from rolled sheets of beeswax look pretty and smell hauntingly of honey, but they don’t last long, and will probably give up around the time of the Christmas pudding. Fat candles balance better than thin ones and enhance the sense of plenty that you should be aiming at. Creamy church candles are excellent and will last for several Christmases. I buy vast quantities from Ethos Candles factory shop, just off the A303 at Mere in Wiltshire (01747 860960). Happy Christmas.

Article source:

Britain’s best winter gardens: readers’ tips

Winning tip: Dunham Massey, Manchester

These gardens are set in a magnificent 300-acre deer park. They are beautiful at any time, but on a frosty day (it’s open 11am-4pm in winter) the bare red stems of cornus and the brilliant white of the many birch trees really stand out. After exploring, you can warm up with hot chocolate and homemade cake in the Stables Restaurant. Just across the road is prize-winning Dunham Massey brewery. jantice

North of England

Lowther Castle in winter

Lowther Castle and Gardens, Cumbria
Layers of magic and mystery are revealed on a winter walk through this spectacular garden, once the playground of the Lowther family who lived in the now-ruined castle. Stunning vistas, hidden dens and red squirrels abound as you explore 130 acres. Warm your hands and feet afterwards with great coffee and scones in the Courtyard Cafe.

Snow on pine trees, Ness Gardens
Snow on pine trees, Ness Gardens

Ness Gardens, Cheshire
My favourite garden is Ness Botanical Gardens, managed by Liverpool University but open to the public all year round. In winter you will have most of the vistas to yourself, including magnificent views over the Dee estuary and the Welsh hills.

East Anglia

Blickling Estate, Norfolk
Catch the massive yew hedges outlined in frost, wander along the icy lakeside with massive bull rushes and winter geese. The gnarled ancient trees reveal their labyrinth of tangled branches, some arching along the grass – perfect for games of hide and seek. There are plenty of choices to warm up afterwards: in the cafe or the Buckinghamshire Arms pub next door.

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire
The best garden in East Anglia in winter is at Anglesey Abbey, just north-east of Cambridge. Here you can be seduced by an array of sumptuous winter colour, especially the fire and radiance of many varieties of cornus. Throughout winter much more appears as bulbs come and go including many varieties of snowdrop, crocus and iris.
Leonard Mead

West Country


Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
People would say go to Westonbirt in autumn, when the leaves are changing colour. I suggest going in winter, when there is an Enchanted Christmas walk through a mile of trees illuminated in the winter night sky. It’s a fantastic time to walk the grounds wrapped up warm with your family and dogs.

Hestercombe Gardens, Somerset
With small formal gardens, the arts-and-crafts style of Jekyll and Lutyens, a Victorian shrubbery and landscaped Georgian gardens which take up a small valley, there is something for everyone at Hestercombe. The valley walk is fabulous, with many follies. And indoors there’s a watermill, a gallery, and a cafe in the stables.

South of England

The Hill Garden, Hampstead Heath, London.
Photograph: Martin Godwin

Hampstead Hill garden and pergola
This flight of fancy is one of my favourite places in London, just a few moments from bustling Hampstead. The red-brick Victorian pergola is a delight; the twisting paths and ornate walkways are a joy to discover. I love this place in winter, when the frost outlines the hanging vines and the sun sparkles on the pond.

Waddesdon Manor light installation
Waddesdon Manor light installation

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the Waddesdon Estate in 1874 as a country retreat in the style of a grand Loire chateau. In winter the gardens here come into their own, with beautiful vistas opening up across the Chilterns. There is plenty of walking in the grounds, a combination of formal and informal layouts that show off the winter colours.

Article source:

Gardening in the snow tips

Raise plants in pots off the ground to prevent roots from freezing, remove
saucers to ensure plants don’t stand in water, and wrap the whole thing in
bubble wrap or hessian if you want to be doubly sure. But note that in very
exposed areas you may already be too late to save marginally hardy plants.

Don’t walk on the lawn when it is frosty, as it damages the grass.

If you have plants in the garden that already look frosted (ie drooping,
blackened foliage), and are not sure what to do, leave them alone. They will
probably die back but, if perennial, they will reshoot in spring.

If they are frost-tender it’s too late to revive them, so start making plans
on what to plant in the gap next spring.

This is best done indoors, by a roaring log fire, with a selection of 2013
seed catalogues.

Article source: