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Archives for May 4, 2013

Plain Old Push Mower

In this age of high tech mowing, it’s time to take another look at the plain old pushmower.

In the early 1800s, the grass on common greens and sports fields was commonly cut by grazing animals or by using a scythe, time-intensive processes that did not always yield the best results. In 1827, a British man by the name of Edward Budding became a hero to groundskeepers everywhere when he invented the lawnmower. The first lawnmowers were of the hand-pushed reel variety, with a frame of wrought iron. Gear-driven, they were beastly to push, but created a much more uniform cut than the sheep generally cared to produce. So beastly were they, in fact, that the earliest reel mower models were not only push mowers, but pull mowers as well, since they often required an additional handle at the front of the machine that could be employed by a second operator. Although still labor-intensive, mechanical mowing had its start.


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The idea spread like wildfire, and the perennial usefulness of the machines has sparked continual innovation. The addition of a chain drive in 1859 made the machines easier to push, an upgrade that is still used in some reel models today. Machines were eventually designed to be pulled by draft animals (the first “riding mowers” with a seat for the driver), and there were even a few steam-powered lawnmowers, ponderous machines that burned kerosene and took an hour or more to warm up.

Around the turn of the 20th century, gas-powered motors were incorporated, yielding a convenient mower that was slightly easier to push than Budding’s original design, mostly through the advent of better machining and lubrication techniques. As small gas-powered motors offered more torque, the rotary blade was added in place of the reel, yielding something not unlike the pushmower many of us grew up using.

These days, improvements in materials science have led to a revisioning of old designs and ideas, particularly where environmental friendliness, energy efficiency and ease of use are concerned.

Revised reels

Many among us have had the misfortune to use a heavy, clunky, often rusty reel mower sometime in our lives. For those who have used one, the idea universally evokes images of drudgery: Mowing was truly a chore, and while keeping the reel blades sharp made pushing a little easier, actually sharpening them every so often was a royal pain.

Thanks to advances in bearing and blade technology, reel mowers have been recreated as a quiet, ultra-convenient way to mow one’s lawn — modern reel mowers are much easier to push than their forebears, and most feature adjustable cutting heights and blades that, properly adjusted, stay sharp for five to 10 years. In addition, they require no fuel, no oil and no prep time. Simply place the mower on your lawn and enjoy an invigorating walk around your property, accompanied by the sound of your grass being cleanly sheared down to size.

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Oh, Deer! What Plants, Shrubs and Trees They Won’t Eat

Diana Knapp spends many hours per day at Hahn Nursery Garden Shop in Ross Township talking about deer.

Specifically, Knapp counsels customers on how to prevent their flowerbeds, shrubs and trees from becoming buffets for white-tailed visitors.

The list of plants resistant to deer might be longer than you think—see PDF file in this article’s media gallery—and there are few basic rules of thumb.

“Most of the grasses they never bother,” Knapp said. “And there are grasses for sun, grasses for shade. A lot of times, things that have a fuzzy texture, or a really strong odor they will avoid.”

For the plants—which deer do like—Knapp suggests a three-pronged attack.

  1. Plastic guards to prevent deer from rubbing off the protective bark of younger trees
  2. Netting for fruits and vegetables
  3. Deer repellents, either liquid or granular

“Deer-repellent products work if you apply them about once a month,” Knapp said, “unless it rains. Then, you have to reapply as soon as it’s done raining.”

And if all else fails?

“Sometimes a nice, high fence is the only way,” she said.

Click on the links below to get contact information of Baldwin-Whitehall-area landscaping companies that may be able to help you plan.

What do you do to protect your plants, flowers and gardens from deer? Please share your ideas in the comments box below.


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Go low-cost but bold with rental landscaping

As long as there’s a backyard outside your rental house, the door is open to creating affordable outdoor living spaces – if your landlord doesn’t mind. Many rental homes lack backyard landscaping, or what’s there is dull and doesn’t reflect any personal style. To create a wonderful space in just one or two weekends, consider tips from the Small Budget Gardener.

Two keys: First, make low-cost choices. Second, choose portable items, so you can take them to your next house.

Portable patio: The most affordable patio makers are plain concrete squares known as “steppers.” The smallest ones are about 12 by 12 inches and 2 inches thick and run about a dollar each. Larger, 2-foot sizes can run about $3 each. Use them to create a new patio for about $100. The steppers can be set edge to edge, or you can leave a gap for decorative gravel, grass or groundcover.

Fire pit: Create a fire pit for about the same cost using concrete block tumbled in giant drums to make them look old. All over Pinterest are examples of how to create a fire pit by stacking these blocks just so. Some repurpose old washing-machine drums to hold the fire, surrounded by dry walls of block. Their weight is such that stacked creations don’t need a foundation or mortar. When it comes time to move, unstack, load up and go.

Paint and stain: Painting or staining can turn worn-out wood fences or sheds into something delightful. Often, fencing at rentals is a hodgepodge of wooden slats, but a can of stain can unify the spans via subtle color. Water down latex paint to make it more like stain in your favorite color. Or if you’re looking for a lovely cottage garden, use whitewash to transform an everyday look into a clean and tidy background.

Trellis: A wall trellis is easy to make with scrap twigs – or simply buy a cheap wooden one and paint it. Some gardeners are recycling old screen doors, metal bedsteads and sections of old wrought-iron fencing as trellises. These flat panels stand against walls to allow vines to climb up for a beautiful, vertical garden. Best of all, you can simply detach the trellis and take it with you.

Plants: Big annual plants are always the best choice for rentals. You can grow them from seed or buy them in low-cost six-packs to make your summer-living spaces look nestled into the landscape. The most powerful plants are big, burly sunflowers. Use in a patch or row or as a single specimen. Hollyhock is another great choice that leaves you with a whole crop of seeds for next year. Cosmos, foxgloves and all the amaranths are easy-to-grow choices.

As always, containers are the best way to grow anything more long-lived, such as dwarf fruit trees and blueberries. The larger the pot, the more powerful it will be in greening up rental spaces with big plants that will go elsewhere when you do.

Learning to garden as a renter is a great way to save money while improving your lifestyle. Even the smallest spaces can be incredibly rewarding when transformed with these ideas.

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Katsy Swan: The Midpeninsula’s garden designer

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Katsy Swan traces her love of flower arranging and gardening back to her years at the University of Kentucky, where botany was her favorite class and she turned down a date with a long lusted-after boy to gather wild bittersweet flowers with her father.

“My mother said, ‘You have to be kidding! You’ve wanted to see this guy for months and now here you are saying no,’ Swan recalled. “I said, ‘I know. But this is more important.'”

Swan, one of this year’s six Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement honorees, has left her mark on the Midpeninsula garden scene, both public and private. She has designed the Stanford Hospital gardens and taken on many private projects.

Swan left her hometown of Lexington, Ky., after graduating from college in 1956 to teach school in Coronado, Calif., where she met her husband, Ben. After moving to Swarthmore, Pa., so he could finish his degree at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, the two moved back to California. They have lived in the same Palo Alto home for 48 years.

While raising her three children, who all attended Palo Alto High School, Swan volunteered for the Palo Alto PTA. She also started doing flower arranging as a volunteer activity for the Committee for Art at Stanford, creating flower displays for the The Iris B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts (formerly known as the Stanford University Museum of Art), the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery and various fundraisers in the area.

But she got her big break arranging flowers and revamping the gardens at the official Stanford presidential home, Hoover House.

“The gardens at Hoover House are seen by so many people because that’s where they entertain all of their donors,” Swan said. “So the donors wanted to know who did their flowers and who did their garden.”

This exposure helped Swan develop a wealthy clientele throughout the Bay Area, for whom she went to the flower market at 4 a.m. to purchase and condition flowers and then to their houses to decorate and plant.

But she soon realized that many projects needed more than just a garden re-do.

“I’d get there (to a client’s house), and the driveway would be in the wrong place or the deck was in the wrong place, and I would recommend a landscape architect. So I called a landscape architect friend two or three times, and by the third time he said, ‘You need to go get your landscape architecture degree.'”
She started taking night classes at the University of California Berkeley in between tending to Hoover House and other clients’ gardens.

Hoover House was also the catalyst for Swan’s involvement in the Stanford Hospital gardens project. Helen Bing, a major Stanford donor who often had dinner at the house, was serving on an art committee at the hospital at the time.

“(Bing) walked in to go to her first meeting and saw that the landscaping was terrible. She called me and said, ‘If my husband Peter says yes, will you come re-landscape this hospital? It’s a mess.'”
That was 1989. Every year since, Swan has worked on re-landscaping some portion of the gardens, projects that are completely paid for with donations from Bing. Most recently, Swan worked on the main entry way to the new hospital.

“It’s probably the most rewarding thing that I do,” Swan said about the hospital gardens. “You do a lot of beautiful private gardens. I do gardens in Hillsborough and Woodside and all over the Bay Area. But those people, I think because they’re wealthy, they don’t see them as much.”

She also designed the UCSF Cancer Center courtyard garden and the Earth Sciences Courtyard at Stanford.

But Swan’s gardening expertise is not just for the wealthy. She also volunteers at local nonprofit Gamble Garden and the Palo Alto Garden Club, giving lectures and teaching gardening classes.

“They (participants) have access to me without hiring me,” she said. “If they just want ideas, they can come to my classes.”

Swan has also raised money for Gamble Garden for the past 10 years by taking donation-based tours to famous gardens in England, Wales, Scotland, Italy and France.

She continues to design and landscape, with no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“All my other friends are traveling and playing bridge and going for walks and things like that, and I don’t ever envy them. That’s how I know I’m doing what I want to do. I just love what I do. It’s all a challenge.”

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The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, Scotland

Note, the Garden will be open this Sunday, May 5th, from 12:00pm – 5:00pm. More details.

The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is a private garden created by Charles Jencks. Located at Portrack House near Dumfries in South West Scotland, the garden is inspired by science and mathematics, with sculptures and landscaping on these themes, such as Black Holes and Fractals. The garden is not abundant with plants, but sets mathematical formulae and scientific phenomenae in a setting which elegantly combines natural features and artificial symmetry and curves. It is probably unique among gardens, and contrasts nicely with the historical and philosophical themes. The garden is private but usually opens on one day each year through Scotland’s Gardens Scheme and raises money for Maggie’s Centres, a cancer care charity named for Maggie Keswick Jencks, the late wife of Charles Jencks. The garden is the subject of an orchestral composition by American composer, Michael Gandolfi, which he composed for a joint commission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Music Center. The piece was subsequently recorded by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Spano, and nominated for “Best Contemporary Classical Composition” at the 2009 Grammy Awards.
Photos by Paulus Maximus

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Grant Money Available for Water-Friendly Landscaping Projects

As property owners make plans for their gardens and landscaping this spring, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) is offering a helping hand. The MCWD Cost Share program is offering grants to those who want to help protect clean water by installing raingardens, shoreline or streambank plantings, pervious concrete driveways or other stormwater best management practices (BMPs).

Grants are available to any public or private property located within the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, including residential homes, apartments, businesses, schools or cities. The deadline for most residential projects is May 31.

Polluted stormwater runoff is the biggest threat to water quality across the state and nation. In a natural environment, most rainwater soaks into the ground or is captured by trees or other plants.  

But in developed areas, rainwater runs off roads, parking lots and rooftops and carries dirt, fertilizer, pesticides and other harmful material into lakes, streams and wetlands. The poor water quality that results affects recreation, fish and wildlife, and reduces property values.

“In a sense all landowners have waterfront property, even if they don’t live on a water body,” said Joe Barten, MCWD Cost Share Specialist. “You can do your part to prevent polluted rainwater from entering local lakes and streams. We’re hoping these grants are an incentive to take action.”

The MCWD’s Cost Share programs help property owners make improvements that prevent runoff from occurring. Raingardens are bowl-shaped gardens that collect rainwater and infiltrate it into the ground. Because they typically involve native plants, they require minimal maintenance and beautify the landscape. Pervious pavement allows rainwater to pass through the material and into a drainage system below.

Native shoreline/streambank plantings filter and absorb polluted runoff, prevent erosion by anchoring the soil, deter geese and enhance your yard’s appearance.

The grants can pay for up to 50 percent of these projects, with certain funding limits.

To learn more about the options or to apply for a grant, visit or contact MCWD Cost Share Specialist Joe Barten at 952-641-4523 or

Headquartered in Deephaven, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District covers approximately 181 square miles, including Minnehaha Creek, Lake Minnetonka, the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and Minnehaha Falls.

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Gardening Tips: Roanoke Valley Farmers Market gets a facelift for Saturday’s …

Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013 10:58 am

Gardening Tips: Roanoke Valley Farmers Market gets a facelift for Saturday’s opening

By Matthew Stevens

RR Daily Herald


Farmers Markets are a great way to connect the public with their local farmer.

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AS bee populations continue to dwindle due to bad weather, experts offer tips …

PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos

AS bee populations continue to dwindle due to bad weather, experts offer tips on how gardeners can help conserve these vital pollinators

Reports that our bee population is at crisis point as numbers have been hit by bad weather and particularly long winters should prompt responsible gardeners to protect our bees by creating a prosperous environment for them.

Last year’s annual survey by the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) indicated an increase in losses of honey bees and the organisation is concerned that losses may be even greater this year if the long winter is anything to go by.

“Much longer winters mean that bees are potentially running out of stores,” says Gill Maclean, BBKA spokeswoman.

“We don’t yet know what the losses will be for this year but we are concerned that they are going to be greater than they were last year.”

Weather-related impacts such as cold spells affect colony development and queen-mating. Honey bees don’t forage in very cold or wet weather, so their winter stores were depleted last year.

The honey bee is the only bee to maintain a colony throughout the winter, reducing its colony size in autumn and relying on its stores of honey to last it through the winter months when it is too cold for foraging or there is no forage available. Some colonies may have since been lost simply by running out of stores.

However, gardeners can do their bit to help bees, says Maclean.

“Planting the right sort of plant is important and try to plant in drifts. There are so many bee-friendly plants including thyme, oregano, mint and viburnum. Plant some trees for bees as well, including spring-flowering cherries, apples, plums and pears.”

All blossoms are widely visited by bees including blackthorn, cherry, plum, damson and crab apple. Other trees that are widely visited are the horse chestnut for its nectar and sycamore for its pollen.

She also advises gardeners to set aside part of the garden as a decorative wildflower area which will be a magnet for bees, planting white and red clover, borage, thyme, bugle and other bee-friendly plants.

“Bees also need water, so you can do something like fill a pot lid with water and put stones in it and netting over it so that they can drink without falling in.”

Gardeners should make sure they provide a succession of bee-friendly plants which will flower between February and November, to give bees the best chance of building up their stores.

Last year, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) launched a guide as part of its Perfect for Pollinators initiative, listing more than 200 wildflowers, such as corncockle, teasel and wild parsnip, that provide plentiful pollen and nectar for pollinating insects.

It advises gardeners to:

:: Avoid plants with double or multi-petalled flowers, which may lack nectar and pollen, or insects may have difficulty in gaining access.

:: Never use pesticides on plants when they are in flower.

:: Where appropriate, British wild flowers can be an attractive addition to planting schemes and may help support a wider range of pollinating insects.

:: Observe the plants in your garden. If you know of plants with blooms that regularly attract insects, let the RHS know.

:: Choose flowers that bloom successively over the spring, summer and fall, such as coreopsis, Russian sage or germander, in order to provide pollen and nectar resources to the native bees of all seasons.

:: Encourage bees by keeping honey bees yourself or allowing a beekeeper to place hives in your garden. Nest boxes containing cardboard tubes or hollow plant stems, or holes drilled in blocks of wood will provide nest sites for some species of solitary bees. Such nests are available from garden centres or you can make your own (holes/tubes should be in a mixture of sizes with a diameter of 2mm-8mm). Place these nest sites in sunny positions. Some solitary bees nest in the ground, either in bare soil or short turf. They will find their own nest sites, so tolerate the small mounds of soil deposited by the female bees when they excavate their nest tunnels.

:: Provide nest sites for bumblebees: Bumblebee nest boxes can be purchased but they are often ignored by queen bumblebees. They prefer to find their own nest sites down tunnels dug by mice or in grass tussocks. The tree bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum, has recently colonised in Britain and will often use bird nest boxes

:: If you want to become a beekeeper, details of county beekeepers’ associations and training courses can be seen on

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Learn Garden Tips At Rolling Meadows Library

Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013 12:00 pm

Learn Garden Tips At Rolling Meadows Library


Garden fundamentals will be the focus of a presentation at the Rolling Meadows Public Library.

“Growing Edibles for Fun and Flavor” is planned for Wednesday, May 8, at 7 p.m. The program will offer tips on planning, planting, maintaining, and harvesting a variety of nutritious and delicious produce. Emphasis will be on organic growing techniques including pest management, soil fertility, and crop planning.

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Garden Tips: Hanging Baskets And How To Keep Them Healthy

(WHNT) – Hanging baskets are beautiful – and they make a wonderful gift for Mother’s Day.

(It’s Sunday, May 12!)

To ensure your hanging basket will last through the summer, start with more soil to make sure the plant keeps growing.

George Bennett of Bennett Nurseries says plants in hanging baskets are ‘hungry’.  You need to water them nearly every day, and because of that, the fertilizer will often get used up more quickly.  So, fertilize your hanging baskets more often to account for this.

Bennett suggests you use an acid-producing fertilizer to offset the pH of the water you’ll be giving the plant so often.

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