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Archives for January 19, 2013

Renovating an exterior can give home whole new perspective

Interior renovations are often homeowners’ gifts to themselves. In addition to making a house more beautiful, changes in colors, materials, fixtures and/or layout can make it more livable and functional. But remodeling an older home’s exterior is more of a favor to neighbors, passers-by and a community — if it’s done well.

Monday is the entry deadline for the Renovation Inspiration Contest, which honors well-done improvements, both interior and exterior. For seven years, judges from the Post-Gazette and Design Center Pittsburgh have visited up to a dozen finalists each year and chosen winners and runners-up in two categories: projects costing $50,000 or less and ones costing more than $50,000. Many are interior jobs, often kitchen or bathroom updates, while others are whole house makeovers. Few are strictly exterior renovations, which can be the hardest of all.

Old home lovers know you can’t just erase and start over on a facade, anymore than a plastic surgeon can remove and replace a patient’s eyes, nose and mouth on the operating table. The key to a good facade lift is to make what’s there look better, often by returning it to what it looked like — or should have looked like –when it was new. The very best exterior renovations turn an eyesore into eyecandy, a sight that can fool first-time visitors into thinking it’s always been that beautiful.

In hopes of inspiring you to enter our contest, sponsored this year by Dollar Bank, here are a few great examples of exterior makeovers entered in past years. To enter yours, go to or fill out the form on Page D-3.

Welcoming porch

Jim and Mary Frances Miller are friendly folks. He’s from Mt. Lebanon, and she grew up in Munhall near the home they have shared for 23 years. But they never knew so many of their neighbors until they added a big front porch.

“We became front-yard neighbors,” he said. “People can’t help but stop and talk.”

The couple had talked about changing the front of their 80-year-old brick Colonial for years, almost since their four children were small, playing on the stoop. They finally got serious several years ago after oak wilt killed two large trees on the front lawn. Suddenly their east-facing house was getting a lot more sun and heating up.

After Googling “Colonial porch ideas,” they found a design they liked, with columns supporting a shed roof, and hired Mike Battle Construction to build the porch from wood, vinyl and aluminum. Demolition turned up a pleasant surprise: Beneath the old portico was an arched pediment that appeared original. Mr. Miller stripped and repainted it, and he changed the roof design to add an arch over the door to show off their find.

To complete the makeover, the Millers hired landscaper Josh Smith to plant shrubs and perennials and Andrew Onorato of Onorato Construction to pour a new exposed-aggregate concrete walk, driveway, steps and porch floor. The result is a beautiful and practical improvement that made the couple finalists in the 2011-12 Renovation Inspirations Contest.

“It’s an extension of our home. We added square footage,” said Mrs. Miller, a Realtor.

In warm weather, the porch has become a favorite place for her father, Donald Pederson.

“He’s the official street monitor,” Mr. Miller said, laughing.

Property turnaround

A new porch was also the final piece of the renovation of Daniel May and Jennifer Saitz’s 1863 farmhouse in McCandless. Whether it’s a front or back porch depends on your perspective.

When Ms. Saitz, a Fox Chapel native, moved home from Long Beach, Calif., with her husband and three children, this house had been empty for three years. The original back of the house faced Venango Place, and the old front overlooked what would become their backyard. Together with Jerry Ondo Painting Remodeling Co., the couple did an addition and whole-house restoration that was chosen as a finalist in the 2010-11 renovation contest.

Architect David Leicht designed an addition that included a fourth octagonal bedroom over the family room, and Mr. Ondo preserved the original chair rails in the dining room and living room and beadboard wainscoting in the kitchen. He rebuilt old double-hung windows, saving their wavy glass panes and adding new storms, and finished the new porch and bluestone patio in June 2011. Alan Meinert of Meinert Brothers Landscaping added an informal garden featuring many Pennsylvania natives.

Although Ms. Saitz isn’t sure the new porch is exactly like the original, it feels as if it belongs.

“I felt so bad for this house, that it was empty and abandoned,” she said. “It really had to have a family in it.”

For the love of Lawrenceville

Anne Davis worked in Oakland but wanted to live in Lawrenceville:

“I love this community. It’s convenient to my work. I can walk to the grocery store and the bank,” she said in 2009.

So she was delighted to find an 1880s brick row house she could afford in early 2000. The fact that she had never renovated a house before did not dissuade her. Over the next five years, she worked on the inside and outside as time and money allowed. Inside, she had walls moved to restore the old layout and had Allegheny Woodwork mill new door trim and two-piece baseboard to match the few pieces that had survived previous remodeling efforts. But she entered only the façade in the 2008-09 Renovation Inspiration Contest.

Exterior renovations began with the removal of an aluminum awning and Mark Gardner of Mars cutting down a young blue spruce that would have soon obscured the entire facade. Ms. Davis moved privet hedges to the backyard and had Bethlehem Wire and Fence install a small steel fence.

Next she had Kevin Coyne of Coyne Masonry strip and repoint the brick and Eric Mason of Mason Painting paint the corbeling, dormer and other exterior trim. She had planned to paint the wood blue and soft gray until she happened to drive by some townhouses with glossy black trim in Shadyside.

“It was very simple and very handsome,” Ms. Davis said, and decided to do the same, albeit with a red stripe on the center of the corbels to match the brick.

She found a door that matched her neighbor’s and an appropriate light fixture at Construction Junction in Point Breeze. Finally, she used her neighbor’s original four-pane windows as the template for custom Kolbe wood windows from Al Lorenzi Building Products.

The result was a simple, elegant façade that was chosen as a runner-up in the under $50,000 category. Ms. Davis believes she has done right by the house and the neighborhood.

“You are delusional when you buy a fixer-upper. You have to be committed to helping [a house] out,” she said.

Bungled bungalow

Architect Fred M. Fargotstein has made a career of helping out homeowners and houses, especially ones with Craftsman style.

In last year’s renovation contest, a period bathroom he designed for Mari Pena and Jason Xenakes in Morningside was named a runner-up in the small category, and in 2008-09, an updated kitchen he did in Highland Park was a finalist.

This façade renovation in Fox Chapel involved more subtle changes, but a close look at the before and after photos reveals the importance of getting details right.

The bungalow’s previous owner was clearly no fan of the exposed rafter tails and eaves that give a Craftsman character. After covering up the roofline and dormer with vinyl trim, the bungler whitewashed dark-stained trim with bright glossy paint.

Mr. Fargotstein advised the homeowner to replace vinyl with cedar shingles and return to a subtle color palette more in keeping with the Arts Crafts aesthetic. Aluminum “K” gutters came down to make way for traditional half-rounds in a dark copper finish, and the front porch got a major makeover that included stripping and refinishing the front door and adding a period light fixture and Spanish cedar storm door. The beadboard ceiling and dark, rich colors are the final, just-right touch. To see more, go to Mr. Fargotstein’s website,

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With television shows spurring inspiration and desire, combined with the popularity of staycations, the London Home Builders’ Association Lifestyle Home Show is the ticket in January — whether you’re an exhibitor or visitor.

More than 17,000 people attended last year’s show and show co-ordinator Jodi Mabee expects more this year.

“People are investing more money in their homes,” she said. “There is the influence of TV shows that people see and want for themselves. The home is a place for entertaining, so people want the big kitchen, new gadgets and home theatres.”

With that in mind, the show has evolved over the years to include how you live as well as where. Audio to yoga, automobiles to chiropractic and massage therapy all have a presence among the builders, renovators, designers and landscapers.

The new Boulevard of Dreams is a stroll past the latest in products and services.

Financial planners and mortgage specialists will be on hand to help you figure out how to fund your dreams.

Reflecting the aging population are the growing numbers of exhibitors who help people live better and longer independently.

“Senior Homecare by Angels is new this year,” Mabee said. Other such booths feature hearing aids, safety installations for bathrooms, mobility assistance, spa and fitness equipment and other home care providers.

The show celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It’s grown from one building to six and Mabee said it sold out to exhibitors before she began to promote it. There is a waiting list of hopefuls.

“They know we’re bringing everyone to them,” she said. “Exhibitors fill up their appointment books, get lots of leads and connect with their target audience. It’s a chance to get their information out there.”

Many visitors come looking for specific information. “They come with a purpose,” Mabee said. “They might come to gather information about one or two things and leave more educated about many others. The exhibitors showcase the latest trends and products.”

Feedback on a survey from last year’s show provides insight into what people want. More than 70% came to see specific exhibitors; 60% were looking for information on products and services; and 29% were planning renovations.

More than 40% planned to buy furnishings, 27% to buy appliances, electronics or garden equipment, and came to check out the new styles and suppliers. Half the visitors planned to buy home accessories, and 15% a new car.

Decorating ideas draw 45%, landscaping 36% and other upgrades (roofing, flooring, etc.) appeal to 29%.

Some of the new or unusual exhibitors this year include Red Iron Designs (decorative metalware); Jetsan Inc. (digital art); Mobelhaus Furniture Cabinetry (custom-built solid wood); Motivo Interiors (custom wall and Murphy beds); London Mompreneurs Group (promoting female entrepreneurs); and Stan Portley’s unique and antique furniture.

Mabee said more people want to green their home. Aeroseal by GreenHome is showing “a patented new technology that tackles leaks,” Mabee said. The process seals central heating and cooling and ventilation ductwork and won a Best of What’s New award from Popular Science and the Energy 100 award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Eco Creations, a new exhibitor, features designer stone panels that are “more affordable, easy to install and eco-friendly,” Mabee said. The laminated stone panels are new in Canada.

Anden Design/Build will introduce an “exciting change for the window industry — a wood window that loves water.”

Designs, Grand River Brick Stone and Ray Catchers Sun Sails have partnered to showcase all the elements to transform your backyard.

Ground Effects Landscape and Breno Group Construction pair up to illustrate what a joint design team can do for your home.

The stage shows and demonstrations also provide inspiration and ideas.

Paul Lafrance, Ramsin Khachi and Denis Flanagan join a long list of local guests. Lafrance, creator, owner and chief executive of Cutting Edge Construction and Design, will talk about the backyard revolution Sunday at noon and 3 p.m.

Lafrance’s bio illustrates his philosophy: “Paul’s passion for design and architecture is matched by his love of music and composition. As Paul says, ‘You don’t need to be a musician to know a good song when you hear one. It’s all about how it makes you feel.’ A good backyard retreat is all about emotional response rather than just assembling sticks of wood!”

Lafrance is a familiar face from his appearances on Home and Garden, Holmes on Holmes, Breakfast Television, Holmes Inspection, and as host of HGTV’s Decked Out and Deck Wars.

Khachi is also known through television as the expert for construction and design on the Marilyn Dennis Show. He’s the principal owner of Khachi Design Group Ltd., that specializes in commercial design and custom home construction and Khachi Interiors Inc., an interior design and decor firm. Ramsin is speaking Saturday at 1 and 4 p.m. about lifestyle trends and how to apply them to renovations.

As well as many television gardening shows, Flanagan is a key figure at Canada Blooms and Landscape Ontario. He also teaches at several community colleges, and will present Friday at 3 p.m.

Vickie Balasz, of Jaydancin Inc. will demonstrate the art of soapmaking. “It’s always sold out,” Mabee said. Bobbie Robinson, of Stan Portley’s will show basic techniques using the Van Gogh Collection chalk paint. “It’s really trendy now,” Mabee said. Stan Portley’s furniture finished with this paint will be on display in their booth.

Janice Fedak, a colour and design expert with Benjamin Moore Paints, will talk about this year’s hot colours Saturday at 2 p.m.

For the complete stage schedule, check the website.

One of the local demonstrations is given by Downtown Yoga Holistic Centre. The topic is Energy Management 101, and you may need it to last through six buildings of information, demonstrations and workshops.

Visitors will have a chance to get answers on Saturday at 2:30 during AM 980’s Ask the Experts show and at Jennings Furniture Design’s ask the design dilemma experts. Other opportunities to gain advice are offered on stage by London Eco Roof, Beachcomber Hot Tubs, Miracle Method, Dynamic Kitchens and Motivo Interiors.

You can also talk to experts from a broad range of disciplines: the Better Business Bureau, Canada Revenue Agency, City of London environmental programs, Habitat for Humanity, London fire department and the Lucas secondary school construction technology in action program.

Of course, everyone loves a contest. Every hour, Corus Radio will draw for gift certificates. CTV has a $3,000-prize package; Jennings Furniture sponsors the Ugliest Kitchen contest and The London Free Press offers a weekend trip for two in Toronto, plus door prizes will be drawn if you fill out a show survey.

Janis Wallace is a London writer.

— — —

What to see:

Everything for the interior and exterior of your home, top to bottom, A to W:

  • Appliances
  • Art
  • Basements
  • Bathrooms
  • Birdhouses
  • Blinds
  • Building
  • Cabinets
  • carpets
  • Cleaning
  • Closets
  • Crafts
  • Decks
  • Design
  • Drapery
  • Electronics
  • Fencing
  • Finances
  • Fireplaces
  • Flooring
  • Furnishings
  • Framing
  • Garage doors
  • Heating
  • Hot tubs
  • Insurance
  • Junk removal
  • Landscaping
  • Matresses
  • Moving
  • Painting
  • Plumbing
  • Renovating
  • Roofing
  • Security
  • Selling
  • Staging
  • Stairs
  • Stone
  • Storage
  • Water products
  • Windows and doors

Check the website for schedule, floor plan, exhibitor contact information and features:

— — —


What: London Home Builders’ Association Lifestyle Home Show

When: Jan. 25 – 27

Where: Western Fair District

Tickets: $10 adults, $8 seniors and children 12 and under free

More info:

Saturday, January 19, 2013


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Designing ideas

Sometimes it seems that there are so many options available to us – which is of course true – but as one sorts the chaff it becomes clear that there may only be one solution.

This solution, as a design exercise, is very often a compromise that delivers us what we need in a single stylish concept.

Compromise is a common word these days. What we want is not necessarily what we can afford – so delivering an intelligent solution that delivers a mixture of what we need and what we want should be the primary concern of good designers.

Perhaps the most important thing about good design is that it needs to function properly. This is as true for an engineering solution as it is for a lifestyle solution – such as your garden. If your garden does not function properly it means that you will not be able make best use of a large asset and it will mean less free time for you.

Poorly designed solutions require more upkeep and maintenance. I love a challenge.

Some gardens are simple to design – classic and timeless plant choices and symmetrical designs.

These look fabulous but are they very challenging – not really. Some gardens are harder to design, mimicking nature or creating a unique original environment, and are far more challenging, offering the designer and, I think, the owner more.

These more challenging gardens are often the ones found on magazine covers or the ones that win the prizes as they are ground breaking in design and implementation.

This year the Ellerslie Flower Show in Christchurch will no doubt be over subscribed with visitors and we’ll all be crammed in like sardines in a tin. But hopefully there will be some awesome, thought provoking and ground breaking designs for us all to appreciate.

Every single individual element in a garden, like in all things where the sum of the object is a combination of many individual elements, it is only as good as its weakest link. Every element needs to be well considered and conceived.

It must relate on so many scales and on every dimension.

Truly original design is something to behold and encourage. Repeating greatness is not the same creating greatness. I think originality and the thought processes that are essential to it are at the core of every great garden.

So for the new year ahead I want to push the boundaries a bit more with some original thought provoking columns that will inspire my readers to garden greatness and reflect some of the very interesting work that we will be doing around the province and further afield.

In Marlborough we are somewhat excluded from the wider world of design and the modern, ground breaking thought that creates it.

I hope to be able to bring you some very interesting solutions to your garden design problems. So what is the best solution for your own garden problem? It is a simple but effective one that crosses all your T’s and dots all your I’s. Your solution is as unique as you are.

It must fit your lifestyle perfectly.

Here’s to a great 2013.

– The Marlborough Express

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Kyoto gardens give up all their secrets during intimate guided tours

How do you appreciate a Japanese garden? The typical temple visit — where you ponder a seemingly random assemblage of rocks and raked gravel or push your way through a throng of tourists jostling for camera angles — can leave one confused and underwhelmed.

Kyoto-based garden tour organizer Mark Hovane, 47, suggests that visitors first becalm themselves. He quotes master gardener Kinsaku Nakane’s advice that we view Japanese gardens “with a detached gaze, without preconceptions, and in a state of total receptivity.”

On a recent midwinter day, Hovane explained the history and design of two gardens in the Daitokuji Temple complex in northern Kyoto. It is a prime destination for his tailored tours, Kyoto Garden Experience, which take no more than four visitors at a time to intimate but historically and aesthetically noteworthy gardens.

He displays effortless erudition and a passion for his topic, achieved through a 23-year residence in Kyoto. In his tours, he said, “I try to provide clients with a set of tools to interpret what they see, so they can experience gardens in a deeper way.” Today, he also provides this writer with an extra pair of wool socks, which become increasingly appreciated as we linger on an open-air temple veranda.

We have entered Daitokuji, a Rinzai-shu Zen complex of 22 subtemples that was originally built in the late 14th century, through a large stone gate — a framing device, Hovane said, that both separates us from the bustle of adjacent Imadegawa Street and accentuates our entrance into sacred space.

We soon reach the subtemple Obaiin, founded in 1562 at the order of the warlord Oda Nobunaga. Obaiin contains a dry landscape garden designed by the great 16th-century tea master Sen no Rikyu as well as the front garden before us, now blanketed with golden moss. Although this garden draws crowds to view its maple leaves in autumn, Hovane likes viewing it in midwinter: “Once the leaves have dropped and you are no longer taken with their autumn beauty, the bare form of the garden reveals itself,” he says.

We continue to Ryogenin, originally built in 1502, whose five gardens include a fine example of kare sansui, or dry rock gardens. Hovane explains that raked gravel gardens offer both symbolic meaning and practical utility. Many were first constructed during the Muromachi Period (1337-1573), when much of Kyoto, including the Daitokuji complex, was decimated by the decade-long Onin War (1467-77) and subsequent factional warfare, disrupting water supplies. Stone gardens needed no water, making them an excellent landscaping choice (and ideal today for arid locales like Hovane’s native Australia).

In Ryogenin’s dry garden, observed from the veranda of the former abbot’s home, the rocks are raked in raised, parallel rows to suggest waves, to imply a sea of humanity beset by turbulence. Interspersed are islands, groupings of vertical or horizontal rocks. The main grouping here signifies Mount Horai, a mythical land in Chinese mythology where the immortals live; to the left and right is an auspicious pairing of vertical rocks representing a crane and horizontal rocks in a round bed of moss representing a tortoise, both symbolizing longevity.

Hovane adds: “The thick clay walls surrounding the garden play an important role in bounding the garden, as a picture frame bounds and defines space. This frees our minds to travel into the microcosmic world of the garden. Since we can’t physically enter dry rock gardens, we must enter them cerebrally, with our imaginations.” The monochromatic hues of kare sansui gardens also allude to the black-and-white Chinese landscape paintings that have greatly influenced Japanese landscape design.

Different types of gardens emerged over the many centuries of garden design in this country, Hovane explains, depending on function and then-current influences. Many Zen temple gardens are intended as aids in contemplation, but not meditation, as is commonly believed, since Zen monks typically meditate in an inner, enclosed space.

“The spirituality of temple gardens is actually experienced through the maintenance of the gardens,” he says. Before entering a kare sansui garden to rake the gravel, for example, you must center yourself, or you risk producing a messy combination of storm-tossed and becalmed seas.

Some gardens were designed for strolling and entertaining for the nobility, such as the villa gardens at Katsura Rikyu and Shugakuin Rikyu in Kyoto. Then there are the roji, or gardens adjacent to tea rooms, spaces whose main function is to receive guests and foster the proper ambiance for the tea ceremony.

Hovane first learned of Japanese design in elementary school in Perth, in Western Australia. Struck by its simplicity, he decided that he was “destined to live in Kyoto.” After graduating from the University of Western Australia with a humanities degree in 1988, he arrived in Kyoto in 1989 on a working holiday visa.

He had hoped to secure an apprenticeship to a master gardener, but when that proved problematic, he began teaching English. He later became a lecturer at several local universities, among them Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Kansai University and Kyoto Prefectural University.

On weekends Hovane read about and visited as many of Kyoto’s 1,600 temple gardens as time allowed, and he traveled overseas, visiting gardens in Europe and China for comparative study.

He has also studied ikebana, calligraphy and the tea ceremony, and he notes that these arts share many aesthetic principles with traditional garden design. The positioning of rocks in the garden, for instance, he finds akin to calligraphic compositions, and both arts foster an appreciation of yohaku no bi, or “the beauty of paucity, referring to the unexpressed portion of a work.” He notes that all of these arts hold in high regard seasonality and “the spirit of hospitality.”

Coming from a land blessed with 300 days of summer a year, Hovane’s first experience of autumn leaves in Japan was a revelation. “Colored leaves — wow! Autumn became my favorite season, but I soon wanted to see how the gardens change at different times of the day and the year,” he said. “In Australia one’s eye is undisciplined because we have boundless outdoor space. But in Japanese gardens everything is compressed, with an economy of design. You start to appreciate fine nuances despite an apparent simplicity. My training here has been from the development of my eye.”

Garden Experience tours began in January 2010 and he has led more than 100 clients to date. Hovane says that his clientele tends to be older; many are artists, designers, architects or retired academics, and most are from the United States, Australia or Europe. With the hope of returning to Australia someday to lecture and do consultancy work about Japanese gardens, he is now writing a regular blog and working on a garden book that will focus on seasonality, links with other Japanese arts, and trees and shrubs suitable for planting in them.

For visitors wishing to have their own garden experience, Hovane gives some timely advice: to avoid the crowds, select temples not listed in tourist guides and visit just after the gates open or just before closing. Also, try visiting during the off-season, he added. “In May and October you can enjoy irises, hydrangea and other flowers, yet hardly anyone is here. Also, Kyoto’s gardens are best if you see them just after it’s rained. The greens of the garden become more vivid and the wet rocks come to life as their colors are revealed. The moss looks especially beautiful.”

When asked to suggest favorite Kyoto gardens Hovane mentions but three:

Katsura Imperial Villas (Katsura Rikyu): No expense was spared to construct and maintain this “fantastic compendium of design,” Hovane says. This 16th-century palace in western Kyoto incorporates both Shinto and Buddhist design concepts, and the gardens contain four teahouses. Visits are by appointment with the Imperial Household Agency.

Saihoji: Also called the Kokedera, or “moss temple,” Saihoji requires advance permission and compels visitors to first hand-copy a Buddhist sutra or join in chanting before being allowed into the celebrated moss gardens, with their amazing interplay of dark and shadow. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is at its best in June and July.

Entsuji: Off the beaten track in suburban Iwakura, this temple is “a small masterpiece of design, featuring the borrowed scenery (‘shakkei’) of Mount Hiei in the distance. The mountain background is cleverly incorporated into the garden by the bridging device of Japanese cedar trees in the middle ground, linking the distant scenery and the foreground of the garden, thereby framing the viewer’s perceptions.”

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Pittsfield Garden Tour Committee to fund sculpture on Common

PITTSFIELD — A major gift from the Garden Tour Committee will fund a new permanent sculpture near First Street on the Pittsfield Common.

The 14-foot piece, called “Infinite Dance,” will include a bronze female figure dancing atop a stainless steel ring, according to a design approved Wednesday by the city Parks Commission.

The artist is Carol Gold, who was raised in South County and has designed a number of sculptures for public sites in other states, including at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark. She was one of 17 artists who submitted a total of 77 ideas for the sculpture, according to Anne Pasko, co-chairwoman of the garden committee.

“We were very fortunate to have attracted this caliber of artist,” Pasko said.

She said of the proposals, “almost every one of them was gorgeous,” but added that there was wide agreement in choosing Gold’s concept among the 11 women in the group.

The committee had wanted the artist to have ties to the Berkshires, and Gold, now of California, has lived in the county and has family members living here.

For 15 years, the garden committee has held annual tours of a total of 110 garden spots throughout Pittsfield, and most of the money for this project will come from the sale of tickets for the tours. She declined to provide the overall cost of the sculpture at this time, but said “this is a very expensive piece.”

This will be the first major sculpture by Gold to be displayed

in a public space in the Northeast, Pasko said. However, she has pieces on permanent display in California, Colorado and at other sites, in addition to the one at the entrance to the Clinton library.

James McGrath, manager of the city’s Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program, who is overseeing a major, multiphase redevelopment project for the 6-acre Common site, said the Parks Commission “was quite impressed” by the sculpture and the gift to the city.

He said the small brick structure used as a warming building, which had restrooms and space for ice skaters to take a break from the cold, will be razed as part of the current phase of the Common work. The sculpture, along with two concrete pads for the temporary display of public artworks, will replace the small building.

Those are expected to hold sculptures the city’s Artscape program displays at parks in the city, including Park Square. The temporary displays usually are replaced by another work on an annual basis.

The sculpture site, which will be further enhanced by gardens and landscaping, “will open some nice views, some nice vistas” for those passing by on First Street, McGrath said.

He said he expects to present a design for the next phase of the Common redevelopment project — including grading and installation of underground utilities, in two months, with the aim of work beginning by July.

The sculpture is likely to be mounted on a permanent base and be unveiled in the fall, he said.

Eventually, Pasko said, the site will include gardens and other improvements, adding that it is envisioned as a long-term project for the garden committee. “We will make sure it is nicely landscaped,” she said.

Gold has created a design and mock-up of the piece, Pasko said, and after final negotiations with the artist, it will be created in time for mounting.

Pasko said “it is pretty impressive that this small committee” could raise the necessary amount in addition to about $85,000 over the past decade and a half for various gardening or landscaping projects in the city — primarily through ticket sales for its tours.

She also credited the Berkshire Taconic Foundation, which assists nonprofit groups with finances, for wisely investing the group’s funds over the years and increasing the amount. While “being very frugal with our money,” the committee has long planned “a major project for the city of Pittsfield,” she said.

To reach Jim Therrien:,
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien

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Restoring the work of landscaping pioneer Henry Nehrling

MIAMI – During the summer, the kudzu and air potato vines came creeping back, threatening to reclaim the ground that dozens of volunteers had cleared only months earlier.

By October, the vines were snaking up oak and magnolia trees, some more than a century old, that had once been the subject of federal research programs but had been overgrown by invaders. The volunteers launched a late-fall counteroffensive, cut back the new runners, then set to work uncovering more trees. They sawed through the sturdy vines, slowly peeled them back like a carpet from the trees they had taken over, used crowbars to pry their roots from the soil. Then they planned more workdays to fight the invaders.

In the midst of all this greenery, the tangle of desirable and the undesirable, stands the former home of Henry Nehrling, a botanist who nearly a century ago tested and introduced to Florida some of the plants that are now staples in landscaping throughout the state.

The historic Central Florida property is on the National Register of Historic Sites and has been certified as a Florida Historic Landmark. It is the headquarters of the nonprofit Nehrling Garden Society, which is rescuing and restoring the home and grounds.

But whether it is the invasive vines that keep returning, financing that vanishes just as it is on the verge of landing in the bank, or a compromise with the wary neighbors, the society’s efforts often sound more like a battle than simple conservation.

“We are doing it foot by foot, yard by yard,” said Theresa Schretzmann-Myers, the society’s vice president and volunteer coordinator.

On the grounds is a sago palm that was already more than 100 years old when Nehrling planted it a century ago. Enormous magnolias he hybridized. A tall eucalyptus that Nehrling planted and that has been dead for 30 years but is home to giant pileated woodpeckers. A huge golden bamboo with lime-green trunks and gold leaves, masses of amaryllis and caladium, towering bunya pine and bay laurel.

“It’s just such a treasure,” said Angela Withers, the society’s president. “It’s rare to find a place with such a combination of elements … the history, the science, the beauty – a site where a man who was really quite extraordinary did his work. It was an amazing passion and he grew these amazing plants. There are plants here that are over 100 years old. It’s a living laboratory.”

The property is a house of dreams. In an architectural rendering, the run-amok greenery has been curbed and neatly organized into a palm collection, a bromeliad collection, demonstration gardens. Walk the grounds with Withers and Schretzmann-Myers and they will point out the Nehrling Society’s ambitious vision. In addition to reclaiming the garden and the house, they want to turn the garage – added in the 1980s – into an education wing, build a gazebo, plant a palm allee, build a lakeside observation boardwalk and add Henry’s Bookshed, a small library.

“For me it’s been an unbelievable journey,” said Richard Nehrling, Henry’s great-grandson and a volunteer and advocate for the garden. “It’s really sad for me, knowing how important this garden was. David Fairchild was on plant-collecting trips all over the world and he was sending samples back to my great-grandfather to test. He tested over 3,000 species.

“As I look at that in 2012, I think how sad that nobody even knows about this garden, that it doesn’t have a place in our history. That story got lost for 70 years.”

Like the other society members, Nehrling wants his great-grandfather’s story known, his homestead to be a public garden again, a place for plant research.

But the society’s dreams are tempered by the cost. It needs to raise money to pay off the mortgage – right now, there’s only income to cover the interest – as well as to hire staff, renovate parts of the house, launch an educational program. Right now, all the work is being done by volunteers; the only person being paid is a fund-raising consultant.

It’s all part of the legacy of a man whose passion for tropical plants made a mark throughout Florida.

Late in the 19th century, Nehrling, a Wisconsin schoolteacher and naturalist, bought 40 acres in the German-American settlement of Gotha – about 12 miles east of what is now downtown Orlando – to grow tropical and subtropical plants. His land evolved into Florida’s first experimental botanic garden, which he named Palm Cottage Gardens.

Nehrling grew more than 3,000 species of plants for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction. He wrote books and articles about horticulture. His expertise included palms, bamboo, bromeliads, amaryllis, gloriosa lilies, orchids and caladium. He is considered the father of Florida’s multimillion-dollar caladium industry.

Some of his work was for David Fairchild – the famous plant explorer and one of the founders of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami – when Fairchild worked for the USDA.

In the archives at Fairchild’s gardens is this comment by Fairchild about Nehrling:

“I have known many with a passion for plants. I have met many who were keen to collect and dry their fragments. I have known others who lived to make gardens, but none who quite so fully combined their passion for observation with their skill in the propagation and cultivation of a variety of species, keeping them under their constant attention so that they were able to accumulate through many years’ observation clear pictures of their characteristics.”

Another visitor to Palm Cottage Gardens was Thomas Edison; Nehrling would later create an orchid garden at Edison’s winter home in Fort Myers, Fla. Some of the orchids he attached to trees are still there.

After Nehrling lost thousands of plants to a freeze in 1917, he bought acreage in Naples, Fla., for his most tender tropical plants. That garden is now known as Caribbean Gardens, home to the Naples Zoo.

Nehrling died in 1929, and the Gotha property changed hands several times. Pieces of it were sold off. There were periods when the house was unoccupied and vines poked through the walls. Many of his plants died; others were taken by neighbors who assumed the land was about to be bulldozed.

The nonprofit Nehrling Garden Society was established in 1999 by people who wanted to save the property and Nehrling’s legacy. The group tried for more than 10 years to buy the property, but each time a grant or other financing seemed about to come together, a new obstacle would crop up. Wary neighbors worried about noise and traffic had to be sold on the plan as well. Barbara Bochiardy, who owned the property, was willing to sell it to the society for significantly less than the asking price if they would save it.

Finally, in 2009, a local entrepreneur loaned the society $350,000. With that and $100,000 it had raised, the society bought what was left of Palm Cottage Garden: 5.9 acres, a house more than 100 years old, and a neglected greenhouse from a later era, with many of its glass panels broken or missing.

But buying the property did not solve the financial problems. Withers said the group’s biggest challenge is raising money to pay off that $350,000 loan, which doesn’t carry the cachet of donating money for a specific project – like converting the unfinished garage into an education wing – that the donor’s name could be attached to. The society is already doing other things or has plans to: offer classes for a fee; rent out the property for events; sell plant sponsorships; partner with a nursery to develop and sell Nehrling-branded seeds and plants.

The society took possession in May 2010 and began organizing volunteers – Boy Scouts; Girl Scouts; garden clubs; service clubs; arborists; middle and high school students; plumbers and roofers; Disney employees; church groups; even German studies students from Rollins College, where Nehrling taught.

“We have had unbelievable help from the community,” said Schretzmann-Myers.

They worked almost year-round, taking a break in the summer. For protection, they wore long pants and long sleeves, the kind of clothing that is unbearable after a few minutes working outdoors in Florida’s heat and humidity. They ripped up invasive plants – kudzu, dog fennel, cat’s claw, Brazilian pepper and air potato, the latter the very species Nehrling had warned in his writings not to bring into Florida. They pruned desirable plants and planted Florida native species in the newly cleared ground by Lake Nally at the back of the property.

As they did, they discovered some of Nehrling’s original plants, mostly trees and bamboos, still living. “These are plants that have survived with benign neglect for a long, long time,” Withers said.

And they found junk. In one spot, long ago overrun by plants, they found an old still used to make moonshine from orange juice. Cleaned up, it sits in the garage now.

“It’s exciting. Every time we do a clean-up, we find something else,” Schretzmann-Myers said. “There’s living history here on the property.”

As the restoration continued, neighbors came forward with cuttings or seeds from plants that originated in Nehrling’s garden. The group replanted Nehrling’s amaryllis garden at the front of the house with bulbs rescued from a nearby abandoned garden, almost 700 bulbs that were descendants of plants Nehrling had introduced. They planted a big bed of caladiums, too.

Right behind the house, they created a “pollinator garden” with thyme, blue sage, coreopsis, passion vine, milkweed and other plants to attract bees, butterflies and moths.

While most volunteers worked on the grounds, others worked on the house. They spent the first two years making the property safe, rebuilding stairs that had rotted through, building supports under the sagging back porch, replacing railings and screens. The society uses part of the house as an office, part for exhibits and part to sell Nehrling’s and other garden books.

The property is zoned for agricultural use. Unless it is rezoned, the society can give only private tours by appointment; it cannot set regular hours that the gardens are open. That is one of the society’s goals, which they hope to achieve in the next 12 to 18 months, but with the property set in the middle of a residential neighborhood, they must win over the neighbors.

So the Nehrling Society continues to work on that bridge between past and present, between the research that Nehrling did and the plants that go into Florida gardens today. They have done much but still have work to do – the constant battle against invasive plants, cataloging the plants they uncover, digging, cutting, clearing, planting, pruning. And perhaps most importantly, educating.

“The beauty of a place like this is it’s a place where you can get your hands dirty,” Withers said. “You go to these immaculate gardens and say, ‘Isn’t that lovely.’ We want to show people how they get that way. Very rarely do people understand the joy that comes from growing a plant from start to finish.”


Nehrling Gardens

What: The Nehrling home and gardens are in Gotha, Fla., about 12 miles east of downtown Orlando. They are open to the public only on private tours arranged in advance.

Help: In addition to cash, the Henry Nehrling Society is seeking donations of gardening tools, cleaning supplies and other goods. It is also looking for volunteers. The website has a wish list as well as information on how to donate or sponsor a plant identification marker.

Information: 407-445-9977,

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Gardening Tips: Pruning fruit trees

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2013 11:18 am

Gardening Tips: Pruning fruit trees

By Matthew Stevens

RR Daily Herald


For fruit trees, your pruning strategy will depend on what type of tree you have.

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Turn your garden into a personalized, beautiful gym

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Gardens can be great training grounds for fitness buffs.

Add trails for jogging. Build benches for workouts. Use trees and fence posts for stretching. Lose even more calories by squatting or lifting while weeding, planting, hauling and digging.

You can personalize your garden to fit your energy level. Equipment such as exercise beams and conditioning ladders are inexpensive and simple to make, while portable gear like weighted rollers, jump ropes, dumbbells and Swiss balls can be eased into the routines.

“If you have children’s play equipment, it is easy to add a pull-up bar or climbing frame for adults to a tree house,” said Bunny Guinness, a landscape architect who runs a garden design business near Peterborough in central England.

Gardening in and of itself can be a formidable calorie burner, said Guinness, who with physiotherapist Jacqueline Knox wrote “Garden Your Way to Health and Fitness” (Timber Press. 2008).

Regular physical activity reduces the risk of many illnesses, and gardening can provide it, said Margaret Hagen, an educator with University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

“Raking is like using a rowing machine,” Hagen said. “Turning a compost pile is similar to lifting weights. Carry a gallon sprinkling can of water in each hand and you’ve got 8-pound dumbbells. Pushing a lawnmower is like walking on a treadmill, only much more interesting.”

Even more calories are burned when calisthenics are included in the mix. Add push-ups, chin-ups, bridging, power lunges and dips to the workouts.

Warm up before you begin to avoid cramping and joint pain. Pace yourself. Hydrate, especially if you’re gardening out in the sun. Avoid bending by using telescoping pruners, edgers and weeders. Opt for lightweight and easy-to-grip hand tools.

“One of the things I like most about gardening is that because you stretch and move in so many directions, it works all your muscle groups, releasing tension everywhere in your body,” Hagen said.

Don’t forget to include mental health in your landscape design. Add tranquil herb gardens, soothing fountains and small sitting areas for meditation, relaxing and cooling off.

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The Wow Factor

Luxury homes are not just about Italian marble, Swarovski chandelier, designer upholstery and plunge pool. Elevator, well-equipped gym, massage room, versatile space for parties, multi-level garage and wet-and-dry kitchens are some of what the rich and chic seek to incorporate while planning their homes.

Is this a house? Or a hotel? The question lurks in my mind as I step into a newly-constructed villa in an upscale locality in Chennai. From the spacious contemporary-styled formal living room with streamlined ivory-hued furniture, the space flows seamlessly into a lounge area where an all-glass elevator glistens from a corner. A sliding French door with remote-controlled blinds on the right opens to a painstakingly-preened lawn that leads to a swimming pool. From the poolside you have access to the gym and massage room. Plush indoor pen for the poodle with direct throw from the air conditioner, tiered garage, jamming room for the musically-inclined kids, primary and secondary kitchens… the list of add-ons sound preposterous. But that’s what makes luxury living so different from what it was even a decade ago, when all that mattered to make a statement were flamboyant furniture, oxidised antiques and imported marble.

It’s an era of specialisation. Luxury homes are increasingly designed to specific needs. Builders, architects and interior designers assert it’s not about snob value, but about genuinely feeling the need for these value additions. “Today’s clients are well informed and constantly updated about global trends, facilities and features. They are willing to pay for high-end international features and specifications. The result, an all-new luxury experience,” says Anand Nagpal, CMD, RFPL Properties.

Whether it is an independent home, villa or spacious apartment, the accent is now on taking luxury to another level. People are looking beyond the mandatory branded faucets and modular kitchens for that extra something to make a home special and individualistic. “Upscale in today’s environment is about making a living space as bespoke as possible. It’s about addressing the client’s tomorrow’s needs today,” says Gaurav Goenka of Adroit Urban Developers. “And that starts from efficient space design, which I see as the next big thing.”

Indeed space spells luxury. And that’s why lavish private parties at home are haute and happening these days. Builders are keen on incorporating party spaces in well-laid out landscaped terraces and sprawling gardens. Vijay Shanthi’s ongoing project The Art in upmarket Nungambakkam has a “special garden space that doubles as entertainment area.” According to Suresh Jain, MD, Vijay Shanthi Builders Ltd., “It’s the ‘x’ factor that counts. It can be about allocation of space for private terrace and large balconies or providing facilities such as party lawn, barbeque area, decks, gazebos and lounges.”

The two-kitchen concept is another trend that clients and promoters are gravitating to. “It’s an international trend that’s catching on real fast. It’s practical and allows hassle-free maintenance,” says Nagpal. According to architects/interior designers, the two-kitchen concept is usually executed in homes spanning over 4, 000 sq. ft. The dry one is open to the family room/dining room and features appliances, refrigerator, cooking range for heating, etc. It’s usually a clutter-free modular unit. The wet kitchen is where the heavy-duty cooking and washing take place and the smells are sealed there!

When buyers are talking plan, they are obviously thinking long-term, considering the increasing demand for residential elevators. The non-invasive installation process, compact size, pricing (Rs. 4 lakh upwards) and range of finishes to suit different decors make them a much-sought-after fixture in new homes. It’s a practical solution when mobility is a concern or when you have to carry a lot of weight. Most villas coming up in the city have elevators. People building independent homes too have them on their list of priorities.

That the future is about “smart homes” is evident from the features builders offer. When Akshaya Ltd. launched its 38-floor Abov, wide publicity was given to the touch pad controls. Trend-watchers reveal that this is a new dimension to luxury — to sit in one place, control and monitor the entire home!

Centralised music with touch pad controls, panic switches in bedrooms and even glass-break detectors are add-ons now provided by promoters like the AR Group.

Customised gym, spa, massage and yoga rooms are other aspects that add to the wow factor in affluent living. This is usually a discreet space that’s functional in purpose and motivating in décor. Spa with Jacuzzi, massage room with specialised furniture and accessories and calm-pervading yoga rooms are also becoming a huge trend.

Ready to live it up?

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Stylish, economical, contemporary

The humble zinc has emerged on top among materials that offer roofing solutions.

With the cost of construction shooting through the roof, a host of new roofing materials carry a promise against a hole in your pocket. The days RCC ruled the roost are clearly passé. A variety of metals and materials of polyvinyl genre are offering solutions that ensure a roof over every head. And to boot, they are cheaper, durable as well as recyclable.

The humble zinc has emerged on top among materials that offer roofing solutions. Zinc is a natural element that takes very little energy to manufacture compared to other metals used in equivalent applications. Rolled zinc is unique in that it reacts to the main components of the atmosphere by creating a self-protective coating. Thanks to the latter, zinc can easily last a hundred years. Rolled zinc is also 100 per cent recyclable and 95 per cent of it is effectively recovered and re-used in different areas of applications. It is also amenable to use as a cladding material for facades, interiors and partitions.

Long life

Nilesh Kumar from Umicore, a company that manufactures rolled zinc products sold under the brand ‘vmzinc’, says his company’s perforated zinc rolls could ensure a life of 80 to 100 years and are totally rain-proof. These could be used for all kinds of buildings such as schools, villas, bungalows, apartments, religious places and ordinary houses. However, zinc is not the sole metal that goes into ‘vmzinc’. The manufacturers use an alloy of zinc, titanium and copper. Thomas George, the company’s Bangalore-based regional sales manager, says that the cost ranges from Rs. 400 to Rs. 850 per sq. ft including the cost of installation of such roofs together with accessories. Curiously, Umicore has also come out with zinc-made sunshades, louvers as well as perforated partitions which while being see-through from inside obscure the inside view and allow rooms to be airy.


The zinc sheets could be installed vertically, horizontally, diagonally or as shingles, imparting traditional aesthetics. George says schools, public buildings and exhibitions centres install zinc roof in Europe not merely as a measure of cost-cutting but also for aesthetics. “You could dare to be creative with the material”, he claims.

Architect John Ronan used zinc-perforated sheets to clad the street-side exterior of the Poetry Centre in downtown Chicago (see picture) with a veil of perforated black zinc and erected a monument clothed in a visual filter. “This exceptional element lets passers-by know that they are walking by a cultural building. Ronan could have chosen the screen-printed text for the glass walls too (as we see in several Vayu Vajra buses in Bangalore). But he did not. This 1,900 sq. m building blends quietly into the surrounding urban fabric in a dual present-absent mode. The popularity of zinc with the newly trained architects in the West has in fact led to launch of a magazine on the topic, Archi Zinc Trophy, dedicated to zinc architecture. It is published in five European languages.

Tiles made of organic fibres together with high grade bitumen are also recyclable and amenable to versatile use in roofs. These tiles are light-weight, water-proof and carry the promise of retarding the pitter-patter (noise) of rain by 70 per cent. Onduline, a French company, has begun manufacturing Onduvilla tiles in Bangalore in both traditional format and sheet profiles. Puneet Patil, representative of Onduvilla, says these tiles are highly aesthetic in nature and are ideal for farmhouses, ashrams, schools, terrace coverings for standalone garages, villas, pavilion, and even for wall cladding. They can withstand the fall of coconuts or jumping monkeys. Though only meant for the final roof in multi-storey structures, they work out cheaper than RCC and are comparable with metal roofs. Interestingly, the company has recycled two lakh tonnes of material and earned carbon credits.

Patil dispels the fear that the tiles have an element of asbestos and says the tiles or sheets provide a lot of thermal and acoustic comfort. Sound-dampening effectiveness allows their use in schools and colleges where showers may interrupt classes.

In order to make the tiles totally seep-proof, specialised screws are provided to fasten them with the metal substructure. The screws, besides being layered with washers, come with a hat-like cap for covering the upturned end.

Roof gardens

For roof garden enthusiasts who harbour fears regarding inadequate drainage leading to seepage or dampness, Germany’s Doerken company has introduced Delta Terraxx, which is a dimpled sheet with welded geotextile installed as a protection-cum-drainage layer to the basement and its waterproofing system. These sheets are rot-proof, resist saline solution, inorganic acids, and alkalies, and can also be suitable for foundation-wall protection and drainage.

Sujay Shah, Managing Partner of Doerken GmbH, says civil structures in India are still not certified for drainage norms as no yardsticks are in place. Often dampness is misconstrued as inadequate drainage. He says these norms were initially standardised in Germany and were later recognised for worldwide application. For instance, for horizontal plain surfaces, the norm is .03 litre per metre per second while for vertical plain surfaces it is .3 litre per metre/second.

He says application of these norms will allow many building owners to go for roof gardens by laying membranes beneath the soil.

Laying such membranes has a side benefit too. In case of heavy downpours, these membranes will slow down the rain run-off and will help avoid water-logging or flooding on the street and basement.

Says Shah, a 150-page book on green roof and drainage solution has been published in Germany. Doerken was engaged for water-proofing the 57-km Gottherd tunnel in Switzerland.

Even the under-construction Marriott Hotel in Whitefield is using Delta Terraxx for green roof.

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