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Archives for April 14, 2013

ANN LOVEJOY | Improving garden soil with good quality compost

Every spring, I get a zillion questions. An amazing number are about weed or pest controls, but almost as many focus on sourcing garden soil and compost.

It’s rare to find a home surrounded by beautiful loamy topsoil. It’s sadly common to discover that your new landscape has been prepped with an inch or two of decent topsoil layered over native clay (or sand).

Mature gardens may have decent soil, notably after a gardener has tended that soil for many years. Sadly again, it can take years to build up our acidic, heavy native soils. Even more sad, neglected soils rapidly lose their tilth and return to their natural stodgy state. Happily, the secret to repairing native soils is the same whether they are sandy or clay-based.

The best way to improve either kind of soil is to add compost annually. When a garden is new, you can count on buying in compost for at least a few years. It will take that long for most gardens to provide enough compostable material to supply the garden’s needs. Mature gardens can usually come close, but depending on the kind of gardening you are doing, you still may need to import

compost now and then.

When you are working with a new or long-neglected garden, you would be wise to bring in some good quality topsoil. My favorite way to convert a barren patch of nasty soil into a fruitful garden bed is to have a truckload dumped right where I want it. Rake it out, and presto, you’re ready to plant.

With Emu Topsoil closed, many gardeners are seeking new sources for good topsoil and compost. I really like both products made locally by Oly Mountain.

Oly Mountain Fish Compost recycles locally sourced fish waste, yard waste, and native hardwood logging waste. Certified organic and made in Belfair, Oly Mountain Fish Compost is aged two years. This nearly odorless compost provides a steady, slow release of nitrogen and other nutrients. I especially like that it contains no peat moss, since peat is really not sustainably harvested and makes a poor soil conditioner to boot.

Katie Bach, staff horticulturist for Oly Mountain, feels the same way and firmly states that none of the Oly Mountain products include peat.

After spending eight years at Seattle’s Cedar Grove facility, Katie is bringing a new level of professionalism to the already fine Oly Mountain product line. She also designs specialty mixes for local nurseries and landscaping needs, such as a Forest Mulch blend of organic compost from yard waste and bark which nurseries use for potting and container plantings, reducing the need for extra fertilizer.

She’s working on a potting soil mix for retail customers as well, though that’s still a project in development. The Oly Mountain Bio-Retention and Rain Garden Mix of coarse sand and compost was originally made for county projects, but is now available from several regional bulk dealers (see below).

So is the Oly Mountain 3 Way Lawn Mix, which combines their fish compost with loam and coarse sand. You will also find many retail outlets that sell the excellent Oly Mountain Garden Blend, which partners the fish compost with washed dairy manure, loam and sand. This is a very good combination for repairing and restoring native soils of any kind, and works well for both edibles and ornamentals.

Oly Mountain compost and soils are available in bags and in bulk at many retail outlets throughout Western Washington. For more information, call 206-940-8807 or visit to find retail and bulk outlets near you.

Contact Ann Lovejoy at 8959 Battle Point Drive NE, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110.

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Central Florida Landscape and Gardening Fair is April 20-21

If you are interested in gardening, you have a treat coming up April 20-21 in Discovery Gardens. The Central Florida Landscape and Gardening Fair is preparing a great lineup for you with educational seminars and activities, as well as garden-related vendors.

Starting at 10 a.m., April 20, Dr. Jamie Ellis will be talking about the plight of the honey bee. Well known for his beekeeper college, Ellis’ talk will be more general about the recent declines in honey bees, and other interesting bee facts. All speakers will be around for questions afterwards, so store up some questions for our experts.

Next on the agenda is Jonathan Squires, our local barefoot gardener, with a talk on no turf landscaping, a subject dear to the heart of those who hate to mow grass.

Robert Bowden, director of Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, will be talking at 12:30 p.m. about setting the record straight on gardening myths. His wonderful photography and humor, as well as his gardening knowledge, have made him a favorite speaker for gardening audiences.

Following him at 2 p.m. will be Keri Leymaster, Orange County Extension agent and past Sea World horticulturist. She will tell us how to use those confusing irrigation controllers that are worse than TV controllers to program. Research at UF/IFAS has shown that people can save as much as 70 percent of their irrigation water if they use their controllers properly.

Meanwhile, if your in terests are more along the lines of cooking what you grow, Julie England, our own Family and Consumer Sciences Extension agent, will be teaching cooking with herbs in our kitchen. Find out what herbs grow well here and how you can use them in delicious, nutritious recipes. Taste testing will be included.

Vendors and other speakers will be available in the Discovery Gardens both days, and there will be children’s activities in the children’s gardens including the butterfly house. At 10:30 a.m., Saturday, and 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Bill Ferree of WattNext, Inc. will be talking about using solar power in the Horticulture Learning Center (HLC) building. A federal grant was used to outfit the HLC with solar panels that now provide the electricity for the building with the excess sold back to the utility.

Master Gardeners will be stationed in seven of the gardens from 11 a.m. to noon and 2 to 3 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday to answer any horticulture questions about the tropical shade garden, camellia shade garden, nectar garden, palm walk, herb garden, cottage garden and butterfly house.

If you are interested in backyard fruit production, our own commercial fruit production agent, Gary England, will be in the fruit garden to answer questions from 2 to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Steve Earls, our local square foot gardening guru, will be available at our square foot vegetable garden on Saturday at 12:05 p.m. and 1:40 p.m. on Sunday for demonstrations and questions.

On Sunday, our auditorium speakers start at 10 a.m. with Carl and Bernie Moro talking about gardening with worms. They are the owners of Our Vital Earth and have extensive knowledge of composting and gardening with worms.

At noon on Sunday the keynote speaker Tom MacCubbin will be talking about gardening challenges for Florida gardens. MacCubbin is famous in central Florida as a long-time UF/IFAS Extension agent, now emeritus, for his TV and radio gardening programs.

Teresa Watkins, host of “In Your Yard” radio program, will follow him at 1:30 p.m. to talk about how to implement Florida friendly landscaping in your community. This is an introduction to the course used for state certification of HOA and property managers.

In the gardens on Sunday at 10 and 11 a.m., Maryann Krisovitch from the Lake County Water Authority will talk about using rain water at the cistern and rain barrels that capture water from our HLC building.

If you are interested in purchasing and painting your own rain barrel, Christina Miller from the city of Mount Dora will be in the gardens from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday with rain barrels and paint so you can make your own to take home.

Wildflowers are the topic for Wendy Poag, Lake County Parks and Trails, Sunday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. starting in the Wetlands pavilion. She will take you through the gardens to see the various wildflower plantings and answer questions about how you can start your own.

If you are interested in more detailed information on wildflowers and native plants, we have a program called “Expanding Your Plant Palette” on April 24.

As you can see, we have a lot of great speakers and activities for you on April 20-21 in the Discovery Gardens. I hope you will join us and discover your own gardening talents at the second annual Central Florida Landscape and Garden Fair.

Visit the Discovery Gardens and our plant clinic with your plant problems and questions from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays, at the Ag Center, 1951 Woodlea Road, Tavares.

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Gardens get a makeover on new design course

Gardens get a makeover on new design course

KEEN gardeners can learn how to personalise their own outdoor spaces at a new design course.

The sessions over 12 weeks will cover site surveying, garden history, planting styles and landscaping.

The ‘complete garden design course’ which is being held at Stewart Park in Middlesbrough at the Bolcklow Visitor Centre costs £44 for a series of 12 three-hour classes on Thursdays or Saturdays from 9.30am to 12.30pm.

Tutor Nicky Morgan, who has 25 years experience in the horticultural industry said no experience of garden design was required but a love of the outdoors and a willingness to learn were essential.

For more information or to book a place contact Nicky Morgan on 01642-515643 or email or

Comment now! Register or sign in below.


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Littleton man wins awards at Boston garden show

A simple garden design that he commissioned for his own backyard turned into an award-winning career change for Thomas Wheaton.

Wheaton’s new career began after he and his partner moved to Littleton in 2005. Their backyard was “nothing but grass that became just a big patch of burnt grass in the summer,” Wheaton said. The following year they hired a garden designer to create a perennial border for their backyard. Wheaton, who has a degree in art history and was working as an accountant in Boston at the time, enjoyed the process so much that, when he started thinking about changing careers, he decided to become a garden designer.

In 2011, he enrolled in the Garden Design School USA at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in West Boylston, where he earned a certificate in garden and landscape design.

After graduation, he teamed up with classmate Christine Kendall Quinby, of Natick, and they designed a garden to enter in the Boston Flower Garden Show in March. They won four awards for their design, titled “A Welcoming Urban Oasis.”

“The theme of the show this year was called ‘Seeds of Change’ and they were looking for innovative uses of materials — new kinds of plants that need less water; a very environmental sort of green approach,” he said.

Wheaton said the design had to be contained inside a 400-square-foot plot.

“That was fun because I was given a blank space – a perfect square,” he said.

He put a circle inside the square, accessed by two paths.

“I imagined … a small space somewhere in a dense area like the South End or Beacon Hill with buildings all around it. I imagined a little courtyard and for purposes of the show, I imagined it as a parking space. My imaginary clients had the space they weren’t using and they wanted to put in a garden. So I imagined taking out the asphalt or brick and resurfacing and putting in a garden.”

Wanting to create some interest, he shifted the circle a foot in two directions, to create four slightly different triangular spaces surrounding the circle. The design included a built-in rainwater recovery system that provided irrigation.

The next step was deciding what materials to use in the finished design. Keeping to the theme of the show, he chose porcelain tiles for the pathways because they contained 20 percent recycled material. He used weathered steel for the retaining wall, because it took up less room than rocks or bricks and lent a nice texture to the design.

Selecting the right plants was a little tougher.

“Because we’re in New England,” he said, “we had to have all the plants for the show picked out before the holidays last year. The next step was to find a nursery that could store them in the winter and trick them into blooming early.”

They chose Weston Nurseries in Chelmsford. Once all the materials were gathered and the design was complete, it took a team of eight volunteers two and a half days to build the garden in the showroom, before the start of the show. All in all, Wheaton said, it took them about eight months to plan the garden, and $15,000. But it was worth it, he said, because it generated new clients.

“The exposure I’ve gotten from the show has been incredibly valuable,” he said.

Now he hopes to continue the momentum to build his new business – Thomas Wheaton Garden Design.

He offers a range of services and prices – from initial consultations to design to overseeing the entire project.

First, he meets with the clients on site to take a look at the space and determine their preferences.

“Then I look at ways I can design the space to meet their expectations and make it more useful to them, more beautiful,” he said.

Wheaton says he is a big fan of modern designers, but he tries not to let his personal style influence his designs.

“It starts with listening carefully to what [the clients] want,” he said. “I sometimes have to restrain myself from designing what I want and start thinking like the client.”

“What I’d like to end up doing is working at home on designs for people who want to have their landscape composed in a thoughtful way,” Wheaton said. “And along the way meet some great people and exchange ideas and create some beautiful yard scapes.”

Visit, email or call 508-345-2029.


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Want to design the perfect garden? Sustainable West Seattle has the answers

Want to design the perfect garden? Sustainable West Seattle has the answers

The Sustainable West Seattle April Forum “Successful Gardening with Nature Part 2 – Designing the Perfect Garden” is set for Monday April 15.

The forum will be held on Monday, April 15, at the West Seattle Community Orchard at South Seattle Community College. You’ll find the orchard on the east side of the north parking lot.

Before you start planting a garden, start planning. Successful food gardens are well planned to take advantage of natural features such as sun and shade as well as structural features like walls, concrete and fences. A good plan incorporates not only what you want to grow, but includes the benefits of plant-to-plant interaction, pest control, aesthetics, and ease of gardening.

West Seattle Community Orchard, South Seattle Community College
6:00 pm Meet and Greet, SWS announcements
6:15 to 6:55 pm – Tour the Orchard with Q A regarding the orchard plan
7:00 to 8:00 pm – Food from local gardens and drink will be served, followed by a power point presentation with local gardens being shown as well as permaculture design principles being presented. The three dimensional garden will also be described.

Whether you’re a seasoned backyard farmer or a newbie contemplating your first tomato plant, join the company of others who want to grow their own food and learn a few tips from successful gardeners.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.

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