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Archives for August 6, 2013

Cities turn to creative placemaking to revitalize neighborhoods

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A year ago, the director of a German institute approached Bill Gilmore about showcasing European culture in Baltimore.
Over the course of the summer, the executive director of the city’s arts promotion office did some brainstorming with Wilfried Eckstein about how European art could enliven Baltimore’s transit systems in its arts districts.
That conversation set the stage for what’s about to happen this winter: artists and designers from Europe will come to Baltimore in January to begin the transformation of Penn Station in Station North, the Howard Street light rail line in the Bromo Tower Arts Entertainment District, and bus stops in Highlandtown. Baltimore received a $200,000 grant from ArtPlace America to fund the project, which could put the city’s art scene quite literally on the map.
“It’s become an opportunity to connect Baltimore to arts on an international level,” Gilmore says. 
The transit project is an example of a larger national movement known as creative placemaking: using the arts to revitalize neighborhoods and boost local economies. According to a report issued by the NEA, artists account for three percent of the nation’s workforce, and the cultural industries support close to 5 million jobs.

Projects similar to the one in Baltimore are underway in Denver, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Toronto and St. Paul, Minn. At its core, creative placemaking is about transforming vacant and underused properties into hubs of activity and prosperity by engaging artists and residents of the neighborhood. 

In Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood, for instance, there were significant conflicts between older citizens waiting for the bus and kids from nearby schools. In other areas, the transit stops are hubs of dead space that could be used to better connect local businesses to patrons. 
ArtPlace, along with organizations such as the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Artspace, have been working with cities, planning groups, developers, arts organizations and other stakeholders on placemaking initiatives for several years. Their collective impact is beginning to show. 
Boosting the economy and foot traffic
Pennsylvania has received more than $3 million in ArtPlace America grants since 2011, which has boosted local economies and made urban neighborhoods safer. ArtPlace America is a collaboration of national and regional funders that awarded $15.2 million in creative placemaking grants across the U.S. this past May. ArtPlace looks for projects that strive for diversity and vibrancy when awarding grants. This year, ArtPlace received more than 1,200 grant applications.
It was competitive, but always boils down to the same thing.
“It is really about how arts and culture can play a role in changing and advancing places,” says Bridget Marquis, ArtPlace America’s program director. 
In Pittsburgh, the City of Asylum also hopes to increase foot traffic in a soon-to-be redeveloped part of town, focusing on another corridor known as Sampsonia Way.
The organization offers residencies to writers seeking asylum from countries around the world. Now, a $300,000 grant will help expand its residencies and programming with temporary and permanent public artworks. Large-scale events will bring international and local talent together to help drive traffic to the area and make the city more appealing to immigrants, Executive Director Henry Reese says.
Washington D.C. Director of Planning, Harriet Tregoning, used an ArtPlace grant to create temporary pop-up artist showcases in empty storefronts and lots in 2011. She says creative placemaking is now a permanent part of the city planning process.
Part of what we’re learning is that we can temporarily activate those places and help local businesses get a start, help create new centers of community, says Harriet Tregoning, D.C.’s director of planning.she says. “That temporary activity helps ensure that permanently good things will happen.”
Tregoning says that in DC, the creative economy represents 10 percent of all jobs. The city suffers from a “Clark Kent complex” in that it’s known for government, but has a thriving arts scene. Creative placemaking is now helping rebrand the city.
A $250,000 grant from ArtPlace America helped turn a blighted property in downtown Denver into a rehearsal and performance space for artists. A few months ago, Denver dance company Wonderbound moved into an old used car dealership surrounded by three homeless missions and a notorious park crawling with drug dealers.
Wonderbound and partner organization Community Coordinating District No. 1 turned the building into what’s now known as Junction Box. Passersby stop to watch dancers perform through large open garage doors and, according to Wonderbound’s Artistic Director Garrett Ammon, foot traffic in the area has already increased.
“I’m seeing more people riding bikes or strolling from the Curtis Park neighborhood through this part of town to some of the restaurants,” Ammon says. “It’s been an intersection in town that people avoid, but we’re really seeing some changes.”
Origins of placemaking
The term “creative placemaking” was coined north of the border in Toronto, Ontario, where the nonprofit Artscape has been turning old buildings into affordable artist housing and studios for more than a quarter century. In 2012, Artscape’s tenants conducted over 2,000 performances, exhibitions, and events across the city.  
“There’s an incredible impact on community vitality and activity, which of course attracts more activity to the neighborhood as a whole,” says Pru Robey, Artscape’s creative placemaking lab director, who has worked with American organizations to instigate placemaking best practices, and wrote Canada’s only placemaking course.
“You then see that multiplier effect start to happen, our projects having a role in the wider regeneration and revitalization of neighborhoods. The economic impacts play out at multiple levels – from the individual artist, to the local community vitality and economic activity, to that wider impact on the transformation of our city.”
Outside traditional venues
St. Paul, Minnesota’s Blue Ox artist group had a different idea for creative placemaking. Having grown up as mini-golf lovers in the working-class West 7th neighborhood, they realized there was a huge redevelopment opportunity for a 15-acre plot of land on the former Schmidt Brewery. They thought, “what if we turned the historic site into a mini-golf park that would also function as a business and pump money back into the arts?”
The idea landed them a $350,000 grant. The group will use the money to hire artists to design installation pieces for each hole and contractors to complete infrastructure such as electric and sound. The historic site will be required to maintain a high level of landscaping so that it remains attractive and serves as a kind of urban park.
“One of the things that has always driven us is finding ways to bring the arts outside of the traditional venues it’s always had,” says Gabriel Shapiro, one of four members of the Blue Ox group. “One way is to make large public art like sculptures. If you put it into an interactive context like a mini golf course where the art itself becomes a feature of what you’re there to do, it’s no longer just about the game. You’re actually interacting with art as you play. It’s re-contextualizing how we see art and how we see recreation.”
For as much as creative placemaking is about communities and cities, it’s also about supporting the millions of people who work in the cultural sector.

“For us as artists, it’s changed our world too. It’s completely changing our perceptions of what art can achieve,” says Garrett Ammon of Wonderbound. “We’re gaining just as much or more from the experience as anyone else in the community. That sharing of ideas, sharing of inspiration and possibility, that’s what drives us.”
Sheena Lyonnais is a Toronto-based journalist and the Managing Editor of sister publication Yonge Street Media. You can follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

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Tips For Nikki Haley?

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley is getting some free campaign advice in a forthcoming newspaper column from a University of South Carolina student. Jordan Cooper – a senior history major at USC – says Haley “must become more sensible and less detached.”

“Many tea party elements are based on unfounded claims and faulty evidence,” Cooper observes in a column to be published later this week in The (Columbia, S.C.) Star. “She must base her message on empirical data, and common sense solutions. Not sensationalism through media and emotions fit for soap opera.”

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Cooper – who has worked in the past for Andre Bauer and Rick Perry – thinks the key to Haley’s victory will be making “stronger connections to citizens.” In fact he’s got several ideas for Haley on that front …

1.  Using social media like oovoo to meet with constituents weekly, student leaders during the semester, and even tech savvy legislators during the year.  Showing voters her cost efficiency and concern about the issues. And eventually being able to allow the executive branch to work from home one day a week using this software saving taxpayer money.

2.  Conduct a weekly radio program for about ten to fifteen minutes that allows voters to call in around the state.  Voters would then be able to receive free gas cards, grocery donations, and landscaping services for calling in to her program from her campaign.  Additionally, it would show reception for insights from citizens and form a strong rapport with the public.

3.  Implement a Governor’s Reading Program for K-8 students, environmentally friendly business plan competition for high school seniors, and wellness initiatives for senior citizens. Incentivizing 12th graders with a small scholarship, k-8 students with coupons from local businesses, and senior citizens with cruises sponsored by travel agencies for participation.

Hmmmmm …

We hate to rain on Cooper’s parade, but the S.C. State Ethics Commission is likely to frown on Haley’s campaign dispensing “free gas cards, grocery donations and landscaping services” to voters. Or maybe not … after all, Haley has committed numerous, much more severe ethics violations in the past (and gotten off scot-free).

Oh … and last time we checked her ethics committee was vacant. So who is going to hold her accountable?

As for step three, spending more tax dollars on government-run education initiatives is a demonstrably terrible idea – although based on Haley’s prior support for taxpayer-subsidized early childhood education (a.k.a. U.S. President Barack Obama’s signature education agenda item), who knows? She might go for that …

Pic: Travis Bell Photography

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When your parking grows up: What curb spaces can become

This is part 6 of a Sightline series on parking requirements. Read parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, and 5.

In 2007, I saw this in a residential neighborhood near central Copenhagen:

Alyse Nelson

A rack for 10 bicycles had grown where an on-street car parking space had been. In Copenhagen, where 50 percent of residents commute by bike, on-street bicycle parking was a sensible idea — fit 10 bikes where one car could go, thus freeing up the sidewalk from a cluster of parked cycles.

Fast-forward several years, and Copenhagen parking has grown up to bigger and pinker things:

Mikael Colville-Andersen

This car-shaped storage unit provides secure, rainproof space for four cargo bicycles in a space equivalent to 1.5 vehicle parking spots.

On-street parking takes up a lot of space in North American cities: 5 to 8 percent of all urban land, according to UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup. If parking reforms — like pricing on-street spaces — reduce the need for curb parking in our cities, what will we do with all that extra space?

As it turns out, Northwestern cities are already trying out some exciting new ideas. In this article, we’ll look at four things parking can grow up to become: bike corrals, International PARK(ing) Day, parklets, and café seating.

In Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, this car-shaped bicycle rack creatively reminds people just how many cycles can fit in a space formerly used to park one car:

Alyse Nelson

According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, business owners can request an on-street bicycle rack out front, and the city will install one if warranted.

Alyse Nelson

Since 2010, San Francisco has created more than 300 bicycle parking spaces — in racks known as bike corrals — in place of 30 car parking spots. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency [PDF] will consider installing a bike corral in places where demand for bicycle parking exceeds available space on the sidewalk. The MTA prefers to place corrals near intersections, which helps improve sight lines for all road users.


Portland has nearly 100 bicycle corrals throughout the city:

Alyse Nelson
Alyse Nelson

Streetfilms, an organization with a mission to showcase smart urban planning solutions on film, visited Portland to learn about bicycle corrals:

Streetfilms spoke with Portland Department of Transportation’s Greg Raisman about the appeal of on-street bicycle corrals. “There’s something that’s quite empowering about parking your bicycle on the asphalt. It’s a real equalizer,” he said. “It feels like … when I’m riding my bicycle or I’m driving my car, my community and my city respects me equally.”

On-street bicycle parking is just the beginning. With streets making up a fifth to a third of the urban land area (for example, 27 percent in Seattle, 25 percent in San Francisco, and 20 percent in Portland), cities have implemented a host of creative ways to use on-street parking spaces for other purposes.

One idea that has spread around the globe is PARK(ing) Day, an annual event in September in which curb parking spaces are transformed into people places for a day. It all started in San Francisco in 2005, when a design firm called Rebar turned a single on-street parking space into a temporary public park with sod, a bench, and a tree.

Since then, San Francisco’s PARK(ing) Days have included places to kick back and listen to tunes:


And kick a ball:

Steve Rhodes

Card games, belly dancing, live cello music — these have all been part of PARK(ing) Day in San Francisco, as captured in a Streetfilms video.

Rebar decided to share its idea with the world, creating a free, downloadable PARK(ing) Day Manual [PDF] as well as graphics and posters for participants to use and a Google Earth map to track all PARK(ing) Day events.

In 2011, the event grew to nearly 1,000 PARK(ing) Day parks in 162 cities worldwide. Participants have adapted the design strategy to include temporary art exhibits, bicycle repair stations, and urban agriculture plots, such as this one in Seattle:

Jeanine Anderson

PARK(ing) Day 2010 brought chickens to Seattle’s streets:

Seattle Department of Transportation

An on-street café was part of PARK(ing) Day in Portland:

Elly Blue

The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to “call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!” The temporary parks help people see the power of public spaces and imagine a future where less space is dedicated to the private automobile.

The success of PARK(ing) Day has generated enthusiasm for more permanent installations in parking spots. In 2010, San Francisco became the first city in the world to create “parklets” — mini urban parks that typically take up a couple of on-street parking spaces. Platforms raise the parklets to the level of the curb, ensuring ADA accessibility; other features include landscaping, benches, tables and chairs, and bicycle racks.

This San Francisco parklet has café tables:

Michael Pucci of Pucci Residential Design

This one in the Mission District is hosted by three businesses: Revolution Café, Escape From New York Pizza, and Loló Restaurant:

SF Planning

This parklet on Noriega Street in the Outer Sunset neighborhood is hosted by Devil’s Teeth Baking Company:

SF Planning

This parklet on 9th Avenue near Golden Gate Park is hosted by Arizmendi Bakery:

SF Planning
SF Planning

Parking spaces at Haight Street Market in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood have grown this parklet:

SF Planning

The city accepts applications for parklets once a year. Selected proposals go through a vetting process that includes public noticing and construction review. Parklets are built, insured, and maintained by private property owners but must be open to the public and subject to city inspection.

Even though parklets take up on-street parking spaces, they are placed in neighborhoods that are busy with pedestrian and bicycle traffic. That helps businesses see them as a boon. According to Andres Power of the San Francisco Pavement to Parks Program, “it’s the businesses that are clamoring for this most. There’s a nexus that helps us move beyond the concern over parking loss.”

Three years after the program’s inception, 40 parklets have grown in San Francisco, with 40 more in the planning and permitting stages.

Other cities are following suit. Vancouver has a pilot parklet program in place to turn streets into community gathering places. The city’s first parklet, Parallel Park, was built in 2011 in the East Vancouver neighborhood of Mount Pleasant:

Joming Lau

The parklet takes the place of two parking spaces and includes a wooden deck, bench seating, and tables. Parallel Park was voted “Best Place to Park Your Butt for Free” by the city’s Georgia Straight newspaper, and it even has its own Facebook page.

VIVA Vancouver, the city program in charge of the parklet program, pitched the idea to business improvement districts across Vancouver. The South Hill Business Association submitted a proposal for the Hot Tubs Parklet, which opened in September 2012:

Paul Krueger

In Portland, a pilot program called Street Seats grew three parklets in 2012. This one, outside Wafu noodle bar, was the first:

Sarah Figliozzi

Unlike the parklet programs in San Francisco, Vancouver, and Seattle, which require that the converted parking spaces remain open to the public, the Street Seats pilot program built only private café seating that business owners restricted to their own customers.

The 2013 program allows public Street Seats sites and accepts applications from any businesses, neighborhood associations, and nonprofit groups.

Seattle is in the process of creating a parklet pilot program through its department of transportation. Although the exact locations have yet to be announced, several parklets are being planned for Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Belltown, and Chinatown/International District neighborhoods.

As UCLA’s Donald Shoup points out, “The upside of the mess we have made [with overabundant parking] is that we have an accidental land bank readily available.” From on-street bicycle parking to café seating, creative ideas for using public streets are spreading. Temporary oases such as PARK(ing) Day parks are inspiring people to think differently about on-street parking spaces, and permanent modifications such as parklets are providing welcoming gathering spaces in dense neighborhoods. As successful pilot initiatives blossom into long-term programs, we may yet see more vehicle parking spaces growing up to become people places.

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L.A.’s Destruction Of Parkway Gardens

In the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, it’s illegal to honk your car horn at a sandwich shop after 9 p.m. In Cicero, Illinois, you better not hum on public streets on Sundays, unless you want to risk arrest. And in Aspen, Colorado, don’t you dare fire catapults at buildings. These are all actual laws still on the books, lingering remnants of eras long gone and evidence of our judicial system’s inability to “clean up” old legislation after it’s no longer needed.

Los Angeles isn’t immune from arcane laws still technically governing its citizens. It’s illegal to herd more than two thousand sheep down Hollywood Boulevard at one time (1,999, though, and you’re golden), and if you hunt moths under a street light you risk a citation. But while most ancient laws are nothing more than cute nods to the past, one piece of city code has been rearing its ugly head recently to the point where it’s not only ruffling residents’ feathers, it’s making L.A.’s streets less beautiful — and less useful.

City Municipal Code 56.08 begins:

When trash, dead vegetation, weeds or other debris are allowed to collect in public places, it affects the quality of life of a neighborhood by reducing the aesthetic value, as well as by leading the community to lose interest in the care and safety of the neighborhood.

From there it details, in proper bureaucratically vague ways, the various “blights” that need to be kept out of city parkways, that area of public grass between sidewalk and street. Things like bushes that have grown too large and tree limbs that obstruct the “free passage” of pedestrians. Which, surely, is something we can all agree on. No one wants to spend a nice stroll dodging urban overgrowth. But what you wouldn’t expect is that the law would be used in a way that harasses residents trying to make parkways more beautiful.

Take Los Feliz resident Abbie Zands, for instance. Two months ago, Zands — along with the assistance of the folks at Farmscape Gardens — built a trio of raised vegetable beds in the parkway in front of his house on Ambrose Avenue. In order to keep the garden pleasing to the eye, they decided to only cultivate “tidy” crops like herbs, peppers, and eggplants. They also made sure the beds were at least 20 inches away from the street — so as to allow drivers the ability to open their car doors without problems — and 20 inches from each other — so as to allow passersby to walk from sidewalk to street unfettered. (The beds are pictured above.)

“Everyone was absolutely excited about it,” Zands told me. “I would say that 90% of people walked by said something positive, and the other 10% were too busy on their cell phone talking. But it’s just been 100% positive.”

The project was met with such great enthusiasm that Zands created a website,, to promote urban gardening in his neighborhood. The goal was for people passing by to grab a few veggies, take photos of what they plucked, take them home to prepare in a meal, and post the recipes on the site. “A way to build a community around it,” Zands described it. But if you head over to the website now, it’s a ghost town, unkempt and untended. Because something terrible happened: The city got involved.

Zands received a violation notice in the mail which told him he “needed to take down the raised beds immediately.”

His case is just one of a series of attempts by the city to put the kibosh on these “illegal” parkway gardens. As Steve Lopez noted in the L.A. Times, the city’s crackdown on independent vegetable gardens started a while back:

Almost exactly two years ago I told the tale of Ron Finley, who took an urban gardening class and turned his South Los Angeles curb strip into a fabulously bountiful Eden that brought neighbors together and provided free, nutritious food to a neighborhood with too few healthy options.
This resulted, of course, in Finley being cited. … Finley was told to uproot his little slice of Eden.

Angel Teger from South L.A. is another resident who was told to get rid of her parkway garden. Teger’s “little slice of Eden” consisted of five fruit trees, some herbs, and a few squash plants, and was a “neighborhood magnet” for local residents to learn how to grow and harvest their own plants. But a few weeks ago, a city “Tree Surgeon Supervisor” swung by and told her to uproot her garden within 48 hours or he’d come by and do it for her. (Teger refused to abide and, in some rare good news, had her citation rescinded.)

“It’s just the way the system works,” says Dan Allen of Farmscape Gardens, the aforementioned vegetable bed-creating group that assisted Zands. “If nine people are excited about it, but one person’s down about it, you get cited. I think that because it’s different and bucking the trend of more ornamental landscaping, it gets targeted.”

This Wednesday, Zands will head to court to argue his case, hoping the city will use common sense and allow him to keep his three vegetable beds. “I’m just kind of going to state my case and see what they say,” says Zands. “Maybe I’m naïve and should consult a lawyer, but I think it’s pretty silly for me to have to take them down.” But even if the city rescinds Zands’s citation, Allen doesn’t believe that’s enough.

“They still set the precedent,” says Allen. “People thinking about doing this on their parkways may see the ordeal that the city has put Abbie through. That could be a deterrent.”

Regardless of the outcome this Wednesday, then, is the more pressing matter of changing the ordinance to remove obstacles standing in the way of residents growing their own vegetables. It’s really a simple question for legislators: If the Municipal Code is about the “aesthetic value” of a neighborhood, which looks better, the current batch of litter and festering dog poop? Or a cared-for, tended-to, nourishment-providing garden?

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Parties Extra! Oklahoma State University’s gardens are in full bloom


One of the topiaries on the Oklahoma State University campus. (Photo by Helen Ford Wallace).

You don’t have to ask Ann Hargis how her gardens grow.

You can look around the Oklahoma State University campus to see that the gardens are alive and well and growing just fine.

OSU is where her husband, Burns Hargis, is president, and she is the “first cowgirl,” as she describes herself. It is also the place where the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture is set up for teaching and research.

Ann Hargis, Steve Dobbs, OSU’s manager of grounds and landscape services, and I checked out a few of the gardens on a short, rainy-day tour in Stillwater recently (the heavens decided the gardens needed a summer drink). We didn’t even get to the headquarters’ garden, the Oklahoma Botanical Garden Arboretum, saving that for another day.

There are many growing venues for students, alumni and guests to view, and all are filled with beautiful and well-planned areas. They include the Central Garden, the new Price Garden, the Formal Garden and plazas where creative topiaries are featured during the growing months. The gardens are filled with thousands of varieties of flowers, plants and herbs. Some you might recognize; some you might have to ask their botanical names.

In each garden we visited, Ann Hargis had knowledge about the flowers and plants, or a curiosity to learn. She and Dobbs have a similar vision in their desire to beautify the campus. Ann Hargis, OSU first lady for the past five years, has “bloomed where she was planted.” And there are thousands of flowers blooming there with her.

We got to see orange flowers (OSU’s favorite color), along with many other colors and varieties. These viewings included Ann Hargis’s favorites, orange canna lilies, at her campus home, Wilham House.

We saw large blooming magnolia trees planted by the late Henry Bennett, an early OSU president. “He loved magnolias,” Dobbs said. “He had a master plan for the campus.”

Dobbs also pointed out new plant material, the sweet gum slender silhouette trees, planted around buildings.

“We want the campus to be beautiful and inviting and also educational,” Dobbs said.

Most of the gardens have bar code technology (QR, or Quick Response, codes) so the students, alumni and guests can interact with the displays and get information about plants and how to grow them.

Topiary boot

The topiary cowboy boot display, in the southwest corner of Theta Pond, is made of eight different plants that create the texture of the boot, including the OSU orange “O” made by using bronze-color hens and chicks flowers. It weighs 2,300 pounds and is almost 8 feet tall. Among the plants that are always used are Joseph’s coat, miniature sweet flag, basketgrass, dwarf mondo grass, variegated creeping fig and creeping fig, dwarf sweet flag and dichondra. Other flowers are added for color.

An intricate frame was created for the boot that involves a way to transport it back to the greenhouse for the winter months. William Hilson, landscape technology specialist, built the boot, and he and Steve Dobbs designed it.

Price Family Garden

New on the campus is the Price Family Garden, dedicated in April by Linda and Stuart Price. Hargis noted the garden was given in honor of mothers. “Mothers have a great influence on students,” she said.

The plaque on the wall in front of the Atherton Hotel has a quote from Edwin Hubbell Chapin: “No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother’s love. …”

This garden is a cutting garden for flowers for the hotel and the Ranchers Club Restaurant. There also are edible foods and herbs the restaurant’s chef, Ben Coffin, uses in cooking. Growing are different flavors of mint, basil, fennel, rosemary, lavender and Swiss chard. There are zinnias, hibiscus, mums and pansies in season; also growing in the garden is one of the historic OSU magnolia trees. There are peach trees and raspberries. There is squash, pinto beans, okra, soybeans, lettuce, asparagus, peppers and several types of tomatoes.

Also of note

Another topiary located just south of the football stadium is the Garth Brooks topiary hat. This hat is a replica of Brooks’ favorite straw cowboy hat that he wore for the Oklahoma Centennial Celebration. It is created using creeping fig plants. The words “Go Pokes,” planted in Joseph’s coat, are by the hat. A nearby QR code tells the story. Many of the QR codes, used as teaching aspects for horticulture, are linked to the OSU website.

The Old Central Native Garden is by OSU’s oldest building and features plants native to Oklahoma, such as big bluestem, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, ox-eye daisy, evening primrose, gaillardia and horseherb. The Formal Gardens by the Student Union features outstanding, organized landscaping and placement of plant material.

Wilham House has its own gardens and beautiful trees. Ann and Burns Hargis grow vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, okra and various herbs. One of their patios has a fireworks-looking topiary and pots filled with gorgeous summer flowers and plants.

Orange power on display

If you tour many of Oklahoma State University’s gardens, you’ll see orange flowers. Steve Dobbs, OSU’s manager of grounds and landscape services, offers a list of the names of the varieties of orange flowering, fruited or foliaged plants on campus for OSU fans of the color:

The summer and spring orange plants in the Price Garden: sweet pepper, ‘Tangerine Dream’; sweet pepper ‘Good as Gold’; cauliflower ‘Cheddar’; Swiss chard ‘Oriole Orange’; cuphea ‘Big Cigar’; canna ‘Intrigue’, and pyracantha ‘Mohave’.

Orange flowering or foliage plants in formal gardens or seasonal beds on campus include: celosia ‘Fresh Look Orange’; celosia ‘Ice Cream Orange’; zinnia ‘Double Zahara Fire’; lantana ‘Bright Orange’; cuphea ignea; Esperanza ‘Bells of Fire’; coleus ‘Rustic Orange’; canna ‘Orange Punch’ and canna ‘Robert Kent’.

The Hargis patio with blooming plants. (Photo by Ann Hargis).



Ann Hargis and Steve Dobbs with one of the topiaries on campus. (Photo by Helen Ford Wallace).



Plaque at the Price Garden. (Photo by Helen Ford Wallace).


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Helping people take back their yards

EAST HARWICH — Some people walk dogs for a living. Tom Strangfeld
walks yards.

Strangfeld, 66, is a respected landscape designer — “a big shot,” according to Chuck Baker, a former colleague at Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton, who has known him for 40 years.

He has planted trees in Boston’s Public Garden, and appeared on the PBS series “This Old House.” He installed a landscape, complete with a cave, for Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. He designed and built the garden at the Concord grave site of gardening guru and TV star James Crockett. He has lectured at the Arnold Arboretum and Radcliffe Seminars, and is a former president of the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association, an industry trade group. He has taken top prize — five times — for his exhibits at the New England Spring Flower Show.

“Tom is one of the top five landscapers and horticulturalists in the state, absolutely,” according to Jim McManus a manager of that event, now the Boston Flower Garden Show.

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Yet for as long as he can remember, Strangfeld has wanted to reach out to people directly in their homes, to avoid what he sees as the “repetitious and soulless and boring” landscaping he believes is common in many suburban yards.

‘Too often the public perceives good landscaping as 10 thousand dollars’ worth of ecologically unrelated evergreens set off by an annual application of fresh bark mulch.’

He has an encyclopedic knowledge of plants. He’s a natural teacher who sees lessons in every bud and blossom, enjoys telling stories, and has very strong opinions, not all of them about flowers.

About a year ago, his wife, Marian, came up with a job title for him — “Yardwalker ”— and Strangfeld has now become one, offering one-hour “walking” lessons to introduce people to their own gardens.

“There’s a very limited number of people who get excited about gardening versus cooking and decorating,” said Strangfeld, a burly, bearded man who comes off as gruff at first, but isn’t. “A lot of people need a little help.”

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Tom Strangfeld’s garden in East Harwich is 20 by 30 feet, framed by a white picket fence, and purposely low maintenance.

Some are looking for big-picture advice on their yard’s potential. Others have technical questions — how to rescue a sagging arborvitae hedge, or plant a perennial without killing it. Many people are pruning-phobic.

Don Buchholtz of Dover has walked his yard with Strangfeld. “Usually I can figure things out pretty well,” Buchholtz said, ‘but pruning is something I’ve tried to figure out and read about and basically it sounds ridiculous but I could never get it.”

One walking lesson later, and he got the hang of it. “I haven’t done anything complicated at all, but what I have done is fine,” he said. “It grows back and you do it again.”

It doesn’t surprise Strangfeld that so many people feel disconnected from their gardens and yards. “I don’t think people think a whole lot about the fact that they have choices,” he said. This is a prelude to Strangfeld’s major pet peeve, namely that in his view suburban landscaping “went off the track” a few decades ago, and has never recovered: People choose their shrubs and plants less because they are pretty than because they’re purposeful.

He blames this on the construction industry, specifically on the advent of the poured concrete foundations which gained popularity in the 1940s with mass-produced housing for returning war veterans.

“My theory is that this post-World War II construction change led to a change in the horticulture industry,” said Strangfeld. “The foundations got higher and higher [and] that’s when the landscaper was supposed to come in and hide the ugly concrete.” Old standards such as lilacs, spirea, and roses weren’t up to the task of camouflaging foundations, so the new standard became what Strangfeld calls “SFBs” — short, fat, bushy shrubs like yews, rhododendrons, junipers, and boxwoods.

“Too often the public perceives good landscaping as 10 thousand dollars’ worth of ecologically unrelated evergreens set off by an annual application of fresh bark mulch,” said Strangfeld, who worked for nearly 30 years at Weston Nurseries where he was manager of sales and marketing, and director of development.

Over the years he’s amassed other pet peeves, many of them related to what he sees as earnest but misguided efforts to make homes appear well cared for. These include “mulch mounds,” or “mulch muffins,” which are tall piles of mulch around the base of a tree that get added to every spring until they’re a foot or two high. There’s what he calls “the wrapping of the evergreen” — the superfluous shrouding of trees in burlap in the winter, ostensibly to protect them from the elements. He also has a beef with big box stores which sell plants yet neglect them: He refers to these as “bush pushers.”

As is often the case, he’s reminded of a story. It’s about the time a man came into Weston Nurseries one day complaining that the birch tree he’d bought was in bad shape. Strangfeld asked him for the order number. “I didn’t buy it from you people,” the man huffed. “I bought it from Home Depot.”

(Stephen Holmes, a spokesman for Home Depot responded, saying: “We work diligently to exceed our customers’ expectations every day by providing high quality, healthy plants, as well as the care they need to remain that way.”)

Strangfeld is sitting on a small deck — more like a platform, actually, just big enough for two chairs — in the small entry courtyard in front of his East Harwich house. The garden has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, yet it’s unexpectedly unassuming, only 20 by 30 feet and framed by a white picket fence.

It started out as a shade garden but after the flowering cherry tree fell down two years ago, it became a very sunny garden. No matter: Strangfeld plans to completely redo it over the next few years for his grandchildren. Plans include a playhouse, maybe a treehouse, a space ship, and some sort of secret hideaway.

The garden is subtle without strong contrasts, and intentionally low-maintenance. (He’s a strong believer in low-maintenance gardens. Also, that the landscaping of a house should function the way the inside does, as “a series of intimate little areas in a range of sizes.”)

In his own garden, every plant seems to have a story behind it. The enkianthus is his current favorite because of its shape, flower form, red stems and the lovely lime green leaves when they first appear. He points out the alchemilla with its velvet green leaves and explains it got its name because sparkling water droplets collect in them that look like silver, and alchemists thought they had special properties.

He loves the contorted shape of his Japanese white pine. Other favorites are witch hazel, fennel, heuchera, and astilbe. There are not many SFBs in the garden, except for three Vardar Valley boxwoods, and by the way, “just because a species is overused as an SFB doesn’t make it a bad plant.”

He built the deck and fence himself, and he also made his distinctive “killer tool” which he refers to as a “cultinator.” It’s a menacing-looking object that does everything from slice weeds to clean ledge and he made it by grafting the broken blade of a roto-tiller onto a piece of Chinese chestnut he picked off a collapsed bridge in an old Japanese garden at Elm Bank.

“As it came together, it started to resemble ancient war clubs I’d seen at the MFA,” he said. “So I went in that direction.”

Baker, the longtime Weston Nurseries colleague, describes Strangfeld as “an old-fashioned renaissance kind of guy. He is very creative and hates the mundane things in life. He sees every day as an opportunity to create something. People in the industry were always elated he never had an interest in having his own company because no one would want to compete against him.”

Strangfeld is at an age now when other landscapers might be contemplating hanging up their spades, or in this case, cultinator. Not Strangfeld, though, who is both delighted and astonished that he’s still in good enough shape to do landscape work. He said the “biggest kick” he gets is driving bulldozers, excavators, and backhoes.

Plus, there are all the stories he gets to tell. Gardening gives him great material. There’s the one about his father who pruned everything in the yard till they resembled bright light bulbs. “The forsythia lit up.” The one about his old neighbor Snuffy, “the human mulch machine” who would decompress from a stressful day at work by shredding branches with a hand pruner into tiny pieces.

There’s his all-time favorite story, the one he calls the Public Garden Artist Caper. In the mid-1980s he planted four flowering cherries in the Public Garden, one by each corner of the bridge. A month later, he got a call that they’d disappeared. Eventually he found them, one planted in each remote corner of the park, perfectly planted, staked, mulched, and watered.

It turned out the culprit was an artist who did oils of the bridge. Apparently the trees got in the way of his vision, so he hired a crew to transplant them.

“I’ll tell you another quick one,” said Strangfeld, now on a roll. It’s about the time he was working on a job with a contractor named Big John and a ground manager named Russell.

“I was on a bulldozer and I see John waving at me to stop, stop, stop. “ Behind him was Russell, flat on the ground. Convinced he’d run over him Strangfeld leaped from the bulldozer and leaned over him. Russell looked at him and grinned. Drunk. So they dragged him over to a tree, leaned him against it, then wrapped a rope around him so he wouldn’t flop over.

Shortly thereafter, the boss drove up. “Big John said, ‘Go away. You don’t want to know about this.’

Evidently he didn’t. He got back in his truck and drove away.

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Midday Fix: Organic gardening tips from author Jeanne Nolan

Jeanne Nolan

To purchase a copy of the book:

From the Ground Up: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation

Jeanne’s Tips:

When you have good organic potting soil in a container, you can plant herbs or vegetables close together because you have lots of nutrients in the soil

Water the plants in with organic liquid fertilizer made from fish emulsion and seaweed — it helps the plants withstand heat and be more productive

To reduce weeds in your vegetable garden: a) prepare your soil well by adding plenty of compost   b) plant lots of different types of vegetables, herbs and flowers together-this attracts beneficial insects to the garden that will deter or attack harmful insects.  c) Pull out weeds by hand-if you never let them get established –they won’t produce to seed and you will eventually win the battle

To deal with bad insects in your garden: a) use a garlic spray-this is a natural insect repellent b) use Safers soap to kill aphids and other insects c) handpick cabbage worms or japanese beetles, drop them into a container of soapy water to their demise.

For more information:

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Matteo Thun & Partners designs Garden Villas residential scheme in Venice

Consisting of 6.400m2 of space, the Garden Villas offers 32 small patio houses, providing contemporary camping bungalows in natural surroundings.

Genius Loci, which refers to a location’s distinctive atmosphere, or a “spirit of place,” is the guiding force for the botanical architecture layout and floor plan. The scheme has retained a number of pine trees to enforce the concept.

Covered in larch-wood cladding, the façade protects the homes from sun and wind. Connecting the two areas, the terrace roof provides shade and protection from rain.

Houses are developed facing each other with a courtyard, including a terrace with a shower, a lawn and original pine trees.

Each house feature two bedrooms and a bathroom on the one side of the garden. The living area includes dining, kitchen, a TV corner and a bathroom.

Wide, double-glazed window fronts, natural stone floors both in indoors and outdoors create connectivity between the interior and exterior.

The building construction used wood-cement blocks, an environmentally-friendly material to provide thermal and acoustic insulation.

Camping Marina di Venezia situated near Venice is developed in a 70-hectare park, which provides holiday home accommodation with various upscale amenities like Olympic-sized swimming pool, large children’s pool, water slides, restaurants, bars, and shops.

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Designer gardens on show


Johannesburg – Eleven designer gardens and a recreation of South Africa’s 2013 Chelsea Flower Show exhibit are open to the public at the Garden World Spring Festival in Muldersdrift.

The show ends on September 1.

The highlight of the festival is a recreation of the South African exhibit, which recently won a 33rd Gold Medal at the 100th Chelsea Flower Show (May 21-25) in London. Sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry, Mogale City and Clover Mama Africa, this year’s garden exhibit celebrates 100 years of Kirstenbosch as a world famous national botanical garden.

Designed by David Davidson and Raymond Hudson, the garden is a circular, walk-through exhibit that features Kirstenbosch’s dell and cycad amphitheatre on one side, and the protea garden and mountain skyline on the other.

Various historic landmarks, still to be found in the gardens at Kirstenbosch, including Colonel Bird’s Bath, are to be found in the garden. The exhibit also includes representations of several centenarian species that were introduced during the first five years (1913-1917) of Kirstenbosch’s existence and are still in the gardens today.


Designer gardens

Under the umbrella theme, “Celebration”, the 11 designer gardens created by top landscapers will offer a host of planning ideas for your spring garden.

The overall winners and the team honoured with the title Best Garden on Show were Grant Gove and Claire Slabber, who received a platinum award for their collaboration with vegetable expert Jane Griffiths on the garden entitled, “A Delicious Cottage Garden”.

The winning garden highlighted how to create a fruitful food garden that sustains your family. Overflowing with fruit, vegetables and flowers, “the garden is a living ode to a time we once knew,” says Griffiths.

“Drawing on the ideals of the traditional cottage garden, all available space is filled and everything is recycled, re-used and re-invented. Slate walls, gravel and log paths, wooden fencing and rustic elements suggest a garden that has developed organically over decades”, says designer Gove.

Strawberries drip from an edible roof, while vegetables and herbs hang from vertical gardens and flourish among annuals. This delicious garden is a vibrant reminder that the beauty of nature can be celebrated on our own doorstep.

Two other platinum awards were presented to Sonita Young of Young Landscape Design Studio for her oriental-inspired feng-shui garden entitled “Elemental Chain”, and to Damon Johnson from Terra Firma for his garden, “Celebrations”. Johnson’s tropical garden features the ultimate in outdoor living with a splash pool spectacular waterfall.

Gold awards went to Werner Botha of Apple Landscape, Lana Marais and the Tshwane University of Technology, JJ van Rensburg and the team from Vukascapes, as well as Johan Coertze Erika Frost of Blue Fig Landscaping.

Parents of schoolchildren also flock to the show each year to see the children’s and schools’ gardens. This year, there are also a number of little box gardens that create a world in miniature and spectacular floral art displays by the Gauteng Flora Union.

An indigenous educational exhibit has been mounted by the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden and Rand Water’s “Water Wise” exhibit will highlight how to zone your garden with one, two and three drop plants.

A programme of catered events runs through the spring festival:

August 9: Attend a talk on organic vegetable gardening by Jane Griffiths at 11am. R110.

August 10: A talk on healthy herbs by Lizette Jonker at 10am. R100.

August 17: Brunch with Charles Barnhoorn (bulbs), Leon Hefer (floral art) and Margaret and Sandy Roberts who talk herbs, bulbs and flowers at 10am. R120.

August 17: How to make bird feeders at a kids’ craft workshop with Lizette Jonker at 10am. R80.

August 24: “In Tune with Nature” is a spring music concert with Richard Cock and Tanya Visser at 11am. R100.

August 31: Lizette Jonker demonstrates how to use grasses, veggies and herbs as table arrangements at 10am. R70.

Visit the Garden World Spring Festival and see 11 designer gardens till Sunday September 1, 8am – 5pm. Garden World, Beyers Naudé Drive in Muldersdrift. Entrance to the Designer Gardens is R20 and children under 12 free. Booking for the talks, workshops and music is essential. Contact Magriet on 011 957 2545 or 083 997 6142. Visit



* No winter garden is complete without pansies and violas. Whether you prefer to grow old favourites or try some of the latest introductions, all will add colour to your winter and spring garden.

* Indoor plants can become dusty. Clean leaves with Wonder Wipes or use a damp sponge on smooth leaves, and a soft brush on hairy leaves. Fires and heaters tend to make the air dry and brown tips on leaves can be an indication of low humidity. Mist foliage to help increase humidity.

* When buds on fruit trees appear in early spring, apply fertiliser granules for fruit trees, 500g per year of the age of the tree, maximum 4kgs. Always extend the fertiliser to the drip line of the branches and water thoroughly. Also fertilise citrus trees, keeping granules away from the stem and extending to the drip line of the branches, then water thoroughly.

* Leave damaged and withered leaves on plants until all danger from frost is over. Even though these leaves may not look attractive, they help protect the crown of plants and any emerging new shoots from frost damage. – Saturday Star

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