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Archives for September 8, 2013

Fast Pitch competition puts on brakes

Posted: Saturday, September 7, 2013 10:00 am

Fast Pitch competition puts on brakes

By Shaun Zinck


The Rock and Walworth County Fast Pitch competition has been canceled.

James Otterstein, economic development manger for Rock County, said there were “unavoidable conflicts” that would have impacted the pre and post competition activities.

He added the competition will be back in the spring.

“It was a collective decision and on that note, the partners look forward to assembling a quality 2014 Fast Pitch Competition,” he said.

The competition was scheduled for Oct. 2 at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Otterstein did not elaborate on what the conflicts were that caused the event to be canceled.

The Rock County Alliance website still lists the event at UW-Whitewater with a tentative times scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Final presentations were scheduled to start at about 5:30 p.m. No exact date has been set for the competition.

The competition allows entrepreneurs in any phase of their business to pitch an idea to a panel of business owners. The contestants have three minutes to make their pitch. Both high school and college students can enter in the “student” category.

The panel of judges then chooses the finalists, who get additional time to pitch their idea again and answer questions. According to the Rock County Alliance website finalists also get to pitch their ideas to the general public.

The winner receives $5,000. Second and third place also receive a cash prize. Students also can enter their business ideas for a chance to win $2,500.

Local vendors also are on hand to help the potential business owners with ideas on how to further their pitch.

This summer Eigerlab hosted the Stateline Area Fast Pitch competition in Rockford. Eigerlab has done the FastPitch competition for seven years. Charles Meyers won the $5,000 prize for his “String Gator.”

The tool cuts string needed for landscaping tools such as a string trimmer to the right length. Racine and Kenosha recently held their competition in August.

Last year, the Rock/Walworth County Fast Pitch competition was held at Blackhawk Technical College’s central campus between Beloit and Janesville.

While a date has not been set for the Rock and Walworth County competition this spring, Otterstein said details would be forthcoming.

“Interested contestants are encouraged to check back online at within the Business Resources section, as those details will be posted and updated accordingly,” he said.

More about Rock County

  • ARTICLE: District divides on party lines
  • ARTICLE: Center to close by 2015
  • ARTICLE: First shots fired vs. flu
  • ARTICLE: City disputes property decline

More about Walworth County

  • ARTICLE: Walworth County Fair draws large crowds
  • ARTICLE: Walworth County kicks-off Fair starting Wednesday
  • ARTICLE: Beloit unemployment drops
  • ARTICLE: Quilts dress up countryside


Saturday, September 7, 2013 10:00 am.

| Tags:

Rock County,

Walworth County,

Fast Pitch Competition,

James Otterstein,


Rock County Alliance,


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Renovation shines light on glory of former Alcoa facility in New Kensington – Tribune

Developer Steve Kubrick has been renovating the former Alcoa Research Laboratories in New Kensington for nearly two years, but he’s still discovering treasures amid the trash.

Replaced windows, new skylights and reconnecting the electricity have shed light on a trio of buildings left largely in the dark since they were abandoned by Alcoa in the 1990s when the remaining jobs were shifted to the Alcoa Technical Center in Upper Burrell.

Shoveling away the debris — a combination of aging fixtures and furniture left behind by the aluminum company plus the leavings of vandals — revealed the solid base of concrete, stone, brick, marble and aluminum that will form a 200,000-square-foot “vanilla shell� for prospective tenants.

And sandblasting away the grime has revealed the architectural details of Building 29, Alcoa’s showpiece that has sat guarded from Freeport Road by fences and landscaping for more than eight decades.

Kubrick said he is delighted by the colors and patina emerging in the aluminum doors, flagstones and marble floors surrounding the entrance of Building 29, named after the year it was built.

“These are like little treasures you find,� he said.

He is far from the only person intrigued by the resurrection of what once was the heart of the city’s industrial lifeblood.

Kubrick and his marketing intern, Penn State New Kensington student Stacey Ansell of Springdale, said they have been inundated with calls and visits from interested tenants, former Alcoa workers and people who grew up near the site but never had an opportunity to go inside.

They recently hosted a private event on the front lawn.

“I must have given about 50 tours,� Kubrick said.

But the interest has produced results, both in terms of bringing in businesses and in gaining information on how the buildings once looked.

Kubrick said he has three tenants who have signed leases: a landscaping contractor looking for office space; a service company in need of storage for inventory and vehicles; and a paper distributor.

Kubrick was ready to reveal the name of only one tenant: Steel City Paper and Supply.

Owner Mark Pleva said he was moving out of Schreiber Industrial Park and thought Kubrick’s property was a good fit.

“I had other opportunities, but I wanted to stay in the area. It’s close to my house,â€� Pleva said. “It’s convenient — the right place at the right time.â€�

Kubrick believes the three tenants are the tip of the iceberg. He said several companies and agencies have toured the facilities and liked the flexible space and convenient access to Route 28.

“It’s great to hear people say New Kensington is a better location (than their current sites),â€� Kubrick said.

“I think there are a lot of promising situations that are happening up there,� said New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo. “Everything is going as planned. Things are progressing well, and I think it will just keep getting better.�

Kubrick said the high-bay space available in each of the buildings is one of the factors driving the interest. Each building has areas with ceilings ranging from about 14 feet to 40 feet high, plus overhead cranes and loading bays.

Another plus is that the buildings were constructed as solid square shells. Interior walls can be knocked out or built depending on the needs of tenants.

Kubrick said the cost and timing to make space available depends on the tenants. Basic office or storage space with an open floor plan could be readied within a month or two and cost as little as $4 per square foot to prepare. More complex needs — individual offices, clean-room space, other amenities — would take more time and money to turn around.

Kubrick said a few more major projects will be completed in the coming months: Roofing repairs are about to begin, and he’s preparing to seek bids for work on the ventilation system, bathrooms and elevators.

Using photographs, he has almost finished restoring the front rooms on the main floor of Building 29 to as close to their original appearance as possible. In what could be used as classrooms or offices, cream walls are accented with blue trim and the floors are covered with terra cotta tiles.

While keeping much of what Alcoa built, Kubrick will put his own modern stamp on the site.

Between use of natural light and an energy-efficient heating and cooling system, Kubrick wants to go as green as possible.

He would like to add a reflecting pond between the sycamore trees that frame the front entrance. He has ideas of hosting a museum inside and private and public events inside and out — offering the community access to the property it never had before.

And he has renamed the 17-acre complex the A-K Research Park.

“It gives it its own name and identity,� Kubrick said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or

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Witte: Ideas for North Union roundabouts, back-in parking not set in stone

OLEAN — Even with the millions of dollars Olean is receiving to renovate major components of the North Union Street and its utilities, plans for the road’s overhaul will remain just plans for now.

The federal Department of Transportation on Thursday announced Olean will receive a $6.5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (T.I.G.E.R.) grant for the $8.85 million proposed “Walkable Olean” project. The project aims to improve North Union between State and Main streets for pedestrians as well as calm traffic and repair or replace utilities.

While Olean officials are certain the funding will be used to address important infrastructural needs, more controversial aspects of the plan — reducing North Union from four traffic lanes to two and changing its seven intersections with traffic lights to roundabouts — remain up for consideration.

“I know there’s going to be controversy about this … I know there’s people who didn’t like the idea of roundabouts or back-in parking,” Mayor Witte said. “But the point of this process that we’re at is still the beginning. Right now, we’re going to move to accept the grant, and then we’ll be going right back to the drawing board with the designs.”

The mayor said it will likely be at least a year before the city is even ready to move forward with construction work to North Union. And even then, the project will first need legislative approval from the Olean Common Council.  

“Whatever we do, the Common Council has to approve this project. I don’t get a vote in that. In the end, it’s up to those seven aldermen as to where this project goes,” she said.

In the near future, city officials are planning to hold meetings about the project that the public will be invited to attend — especially those who signed a petition submitted to the city in June against the North Union’s proposed overhaul.

“I want the public involved. Our job is to inform the public and listen to what they have to say,” the mayor said. “The beauty of what people want to preserve on North Union is something that can be done while still making traffic calmer. There’s multiple ways of doing this project … and we need to respect and listen to the public. If they aren’t comfortable with roundabouts, we can do something else. There’s plenty of time to take a deep breath and look at this project as a whole and figure out what the public is comfortable with.”

Mayor Witte added that she has already talked with federal transportation authorities and received confirmation that any changes to the visible portion of North Union in the proposed project would not jeopardize the city’s receipt of the T.I.G.E.R. grant.

“New York state’s D.O.T. administers this grant, and we have a great working relationship with them. They worked with us on the East State Street project, and we made changes there as we went along,” Mayor Witte said. “Changes in a project are all part of the process. We have to adhere to the bigger ideas with the project, which is the infrastructure. Anything to do with landscaping or traffic flow is the icing on the cake, and we can determine what flavor that icing is.”

Whatever form the project’s designs take, the mayor and Public Works Director Tom Windus said the top priority for the $6.5 million in federal funding is upgrading North Union’s underground water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer lines — all of which are a century old and beginning to fail.

“I’ve said from day one when we started talking about all this, I’ve said that we need to fix the infrastructure underneath North Union,” Mr. Windus said. “We need to concentrate on getting the water and sewer lines replaced. It’s just phenomenal that the city can get $6.5 million to help fix over 100-year-old infrastructure, because there’s not much money out there that will pay for something like that.”

Replacing the three utility lines will use up a substantial portion of T.I.G.E.R. funding, as each line will cost upwards of $1 million each, Mr. Windus estimated.

“With some sections of those lines, we might be able to reline them,” he said. “If we can do that, that would save us some money.”

For the last 12 years, the city has been under orders by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to stop the surge of millions of gallons of water into the sanitary sewer system during periods of heavy rainfall. The influx of rain overwhelms the system and forces raw sewage out of the wastewater treatment plant on South 19th Street and into the Allegheny River. Without demonstrating some movement to address that problem, authorities could levy more than $100 million in fines against Olean. Each day the city is out of compliance with environmental regulations adds another $37,500 to the potential fine.

In past discussions about overhauling downtown Olean, Mr. Windus said most of the water that inundates the local sewer system comes from the downspouts of buildings on North Union tied into the sanitary sewer system.

Another priority with the expected influx of federal dollars is upgrading the more than 70 light poles along each side of North Union.

During the past five years, two of North Union’s light poles have fallen over, finally giving way to decades of weathering and tension from supporting power lines and strings of holiday decorations.

The exact cost to replace all of North Union’s light poles has yet to be determined. Mr. Windus did, however, offer that to replace a single light pole and its concrete base would cost upwards of $25,000.

“Now that we’re going to be tearing up the road to get at storm sewers, the cost to replace a pole decreases because we’re already doing excavation,” he said. “We do have to consider what type of light poles we want to put in … and that’s something we’ll figure out during the design process. We might want to reduce the number of light poles. Or, we might want to get smaller, decorative lights, and that would mean we’d need to get more lights.”

Mr. Windus added that he’s hoping to have the power lines affixed to the current light poles buried underground.

“If we’re tearing everything up, why not?” he said. “Burying those lines would make North Union a lot more aesthetically pleasing.”

The T.I.G.E.R. grant was the city’s second attempt this year to secure outside funding for the North Union project. The city is one of three entities in New York to receive the federal funding this year. Rochester received $17.7 million for its Inner Loop East Reconstruction, and the Port of Oswego Authority was given approximately $1.5 million for its East Terminal Intermodal Connector.

The Common Council approved the city to pursue the T.I.G.E.R. funding in May after learning Olean’s application for a $7.35 million Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) grant through the state’s D.O.T. was no longer being considered. The STIP grant became unavailable because of funding cuts, and its program was canceled earlier this spring.

News of the T.I.G.E.R. grant award came as a surprise to Mayor Witte.

“We actually didn’t think we were get the T.I.G.E.R grant because we were told the D.O.T. would announce recipients in July,” she said. “Because we hadn’t heard anything, we actually moved forward with four other grant applications.”

At the end of July, the Common Council approved the city to apply for grant funding through New York’s Consolidated Funding Application program for North Union-related projects, including installing new bicycle paths throughout the city and replacing the underground utility lines along North Union Street.

Mayor Witte is confident the city’s chances are still good for getting those grants, noting that the T.I.G.E.R. grant only covers roughly 75 percent of the North Union streetscape project’s costs.

“One grant, even if it is for $6.5 million, is not going to do it all for this project,” she said. “I think what (state authorities) will see is that we’ve been trying to be proactive with getting grant funding, and I think they’ll look at the whole picture and see that these other grants will only add to what we’re trying to get done.”

State officials are expected to announce grant recipients through the consolidated funding application program in December.

(Contact reporter Christopher Michel at Follow him on Twitter, @OTHChris)

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Building a playground for all in Ipswich – Wicked Local


How to help

The Winthrop School Playground Committee needs volunteers to help build the school’s new playground.

Details follow:

WHEN: Wednesday Sept. 11 through Sunday, Sept. 15

SHIFTS:  Three shifts available for construction, with 50 volunteers per shifts. Shifts are: 8 a.m. to noon; 12:30 to 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Childcare: Five persons per shift. Meals: Five persons per shift. Landscape and planting, starts on Friday Sept. 13: 10 persons per shift.

TO VOLUNTEER: Web site:  or call 978-356-2976.

Build it and they will play.

They raised the $250,000. The half-acre space has been graded. The stone retaining wall has been built.

In short, everything to finish the new Winthrop Elementary School playground is in place except for one thing — a full complement of volunteers to actually build the gardens and play structures that will create the playground.

The Winthrop Playground Committee needs about 100 more volunteers to fill all its shifts covering construction, daycare, meals and landscaping. Volunteers will be organized into three shifts per day from Wednesday, Sept. 11 to Sunday, Sept. 15. It may seem all the slots are pretty much filled.

But don’t worry.

“We won’t turn anyone away,” said Joycelyn Duff, a playground committee-founding member, who, with about a dozen other core volunteers, has been working for the past year to turn the new playground from dream to reality.

The playground will incorporate a fully inclusive environment for students of all capabilities with a variety play structures, open play spaces, various gardens and free exploration areas that reinforce classroom learning. The space will allow kids’ natural curiosity to govern their play and give them a chance to test and build their strength, agility and balance.

A four-person swing symbolizes both the design’s inclusive and group play philosophy and the physical challenges inherent in the structures. The swing allows a student in a wheelchair to climb into the swing and swing with three other students. Everyone equal. Everyone working and playing together.

“This playground won’t look like any other playground you’ve ever seen,” said Duff.  “The main goal was not to make it a cookie-cutter playground. We wanted to make it a ‘natural playground.’”

The playground will also have a bank of traditional swings, a zip line, a climbing net, a “clam shack” play structure, two slides built into a hill and hanging elements such as rings and bars that build a child’s upper body strength.

In addition, the playground will incorporate elements that reinforce classroom learning such as magnifying posts where kids can get a close up view of leaves, bugs and whatever else they can scrounge; a sundial to reinforce the concept of time; a sensory panel with natural elements such as sea shells, rocks, drift wood and other pieces of the local environment all covered in a resin that allows kids to feel the contour and texture of all the elements; rain, flower and vegetable gardens; musical elements such as a drum, a xylophone, and sound tubes that emit different tones when struck depending on length; and an amphitheater for student performances.

“Learning through play is an amazing, powerful thing,” said Winthrop Principal Sheila McAdams. “The next generation science standards from the state, part of the federal common core of curriculum standards, that’s coming out and we expect them to be adopted this fall. Within context of that, a huge component of this playground is natural engagement, engaging with the natural environment. Observation. Things to think about for science, but that are not often deliberately taught. We just assume they are there.”

The gardens, plantings and paths also serve a very practical purpose — they will help control and contain storm runoff.

In the past, the back yard of the Winthrop School was dusty dry in the heat, muddy in wet weather and an ice sheet in cold weather, often sending rivers streaming down into the back of the school and making the “playground” unusable, especially for students with any form of physical disability.

The new playground will be covered in a material called Fibar, a combination of wood pellets and resin, smaller than wood chips and a material that compacts to support a wheelchair — and it’s permeable, so it helps with the drainage issues as well.

Duff said the committee originally had hoped to use a rubberized surface, but that not only proved too expensive, it also would have recreated the drainage problems that plagued the old playground because the whole play surface would have been covered with an impermeable surface.

Grading the old slope, incorporating paths and plantings in the play space and using the Fibar material will help make the playground accessible to all students and manage drainage.

“I have a fifth grader who is able bodied,” said Duff. “My second grader has Down syndrome and has low muscle tone, loose joints and a neurological disorder that leaves her weak. We wanted something to speak to both of my kids. Something that would be fun, beautiful and challenging to them both.”




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A growing business in more ways than one

In B.C., there are more smallscale landscaping firms, employing crews of four or five people, than anywhere else in Canada.

WorkSafeBC estimates that there are at least 3,837 employers in the landscape, tree service and garden centre sections.

Many other firms are not registered.

This number translates into more than 15,000 people employed in the landscape services sector alone.

Anne Kadwell, director of HortEdBC, a Burnaby-based agency that works with industry to create and provide professional training for workers, says while the industry is booming, it is still being held back by two main problems: a shortage of educated, technically proficient workers and a lack of understanding and appreciation on the part of consumers of the value of horticultural expertise, especially the value of hiring professionals to do important projects.

“There is definitely a shortage of skilled labour in horticulture. Classes at colleges are full but there is still a big demand for more skilled workers.

“But there is also a profound lack of awareness in the mind of the general public about what exactly horticulturists do. That came as a big surprise to me when I came here from Ontario.

“There, if you said you were a horticulturist, people understood what it was you did. They would ask about how to fix a lawn problem or prune a tree or shrub. Here, when you say you’re a horticulturist, they say, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ “

Kadwell thinks more work needs to be done to educate homeowners about the importance of hiring professionally trained workers to do landscaping or prune trees or install ponds and retaining walls.

“The problem is too many homeowners think gardening is easy and anyone can do it, but to get it done correctly, you need to hire a person who knows what they are doing, someone with a horticultural education.”

Hedy Dyck, chief executive officer of the B.C. Landscape and Nursery Association, the province’s professional horticultural trades association, says homeowners need to think in the long term when they are having landscaping done.

“Most homes in Vancouver are now valued between $800,000 and $1.2 million, so why would you not want to protect that investment,” Dyck says.

“The problem with do-it-yourself landscaping is that people take shortcuts and don’t do the work properly and within three years it looks like hell.

“It really is a waste of money. Most people start with great intentions, but when they realize how much work is involved, they don’t follow the proper procedures and that’s when problems occur.”

Dyck says it pays to think in the long term.

“Nothing hurts property value more than failed landscape projects,” she says.

“It is important, for instance, to know what planting is appropriate on a site. You cannot put a tree in some places because the root system will undermine all the underground wiring and draining systems. You need to know what you are doing.

“Gardening is a hobby for many people and that’s great, but it’s important to realize your limits and to let professionals do the essential work that you want to look good and stand the test of time.”

Both HortEdBC and the BCLNA are working closely with industry to create new opportunities for young people looking for a career in horticulture.

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East Sacramento gardens look good enough to eat

Stroll the shady streets of east Sacramento and you may discover something surprising: front yards full of food.

Where once only camellias and azaleas grew, lemon bushes offer juicy fruit along with glossy foliage. Fragrant thyme, mint and oregano freely mingle with petunias. Lipstick-red peppers peek out of manicured flower beds. Shiny strawberries punctuate ruffled green borders.

Other food plants are easier to spot. Green beans wind up trellises. Cornstalks stand sentry at fence lines. Lawns give way to pumpkin and melon vines, tempting passers-by with their almost-hidden treasures.

This being Sacramento, of course, there are plenty of tomatoes, bursting out of their cages with clusters of fruit.

Front-yard tomatoes? Such a scene would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. But now, everybody everywhere wants to get into “edible landscaping.”

That’s the impetus behind the East Sacramento Edible Gardens Tour, which will be held next Saturday. Six east Sacramento gardens — most grouped within walking distance — will be open to the public as part of a fundraiser for Soroptimist International of Sacramento. Proceeds from the annual event will support the Tubman House, which provides homeless parents and children with housing and support as they rebuild their lives.

In its third year, this unusual garden tour focuses on food and the creative — and attractive — ways edibles can fit into suburban landscapes.

When this tour first started, edible landscaping seemed like a novel idea.

“Now, everybody thinks it’s very nice,” said tour chairwoman Susann Hadler. “They see these gardens and think, ‘What a great thing to do!’”

More than 1,000 patrons took part in last year’s Edible Gardens Tour, Hadler noted. “It’s quickly become one of our major fundraisers.”

What surprised Hadler was how many more gardeners wanted to become involved with the edible tour.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “The response is amazing. Our gardeners are so enthused and they’re all hands-on. They’re really excited about what they’re doing and they want to share that (enthusiasm) with others.”

Next week, the featured stops range from a neighborhood community garden tended by about 10 families to an art-filled oasis with artichokes and zucchini framing the outdoor sculptures. Master gardeners will be stationed at each garden to answer questions. Music will be provided by members of the Sacramento Symphonic Winds.

“We have all the gardeners hustling to get ready,” said Janine Yancey, one of the tour’s hosts. “We’re very excited.”

Ty and Janine Yancey had space for a garden, but not the expertise. The couple bought a home on 38th Street with plans of replacing it with another house.

“We built a guest house on the back of the lot and tore down the original structure,” Janine Yancey said. “In the interim, we’re growing a community garden.”

The project started “with just a bare lot,” she added. “I credit Ty for taking the ball and running with it. He passed out fliers and organized our neighbors. We started the garden last year, but this year took it to new heights.”

The Yanceys discovered they had neighbors with green thumbs and years of vegetable-growing experience. They also learned by doing. With the help of a landscaping friend, the Yanceys and their neighborhood gardeners installed drip irrigation and decomposed granite walkways. Decorative stones outline the individual plots.

Tom Bushnell, one of the neighbors, heartily approves. He’s among the group that tends a sunny plot of tomatoes and peppers on an otherwise very shady street.

“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” Bushnell said as he watered on a recent day. “I can’t wait for my honeydew melons. Everybody’s got something growing. It’s the most luscious stuff.”

The vegetables are delicious, but even better is the camaraderie.

“The best thing about this garden is we’ve gotten to know each other,” Bushnell said.

Added Janine Yancey, “All of us are totally engaged with the garden. It’s a focal point. We chitchat, hang out, just relaxing. It’s become our little meeting spot.”

There’s space for all ages to get involved. Bushnell points to a hot-pink row of hand-painted signposts, created by the Walsh family for its “just tomatoes” garden in the group plot. Children had added mirrors and other baubles to brighten their veggie space.

“How cool is that?” he asked. “It’s just so fun.”

Inspiration grows wild in these gardens.

“One of the things I kept hearing last year was, ‘I can do that!’” Hadler said. “There are so many ideas that people really will incorporate into their own gardens. They see how people created space for edibles even if they had no space. They put herbs in pots on their doorstep or cucumbers on a trellis. People pick up on their doable, practical ideas.”

Families are encouraged to bring their children on the garden tour, Hadler said. Kids under age 12 are admitted free.

“Kids see things,” Hadler said. “They get excited. They’ll point out vegetables as they discover, ‘That’s where tomatoes come from!’ Cherry tomatoes right off the vine are so sweet. They want to eat them. It’s a great way to introduce kids to vegetables.”

Each of the gardens has its own personality. Mike and Juliana Horrell’s Peter Rabbit Garden has an outdoor bunny pen set among abundant herbs and vegetables. Susan and John Stine’s Sunshine Garden is sprinkled with sunny mosaics to match the bright light.

Heirloom tomatoes, grapevines and lavender mix with unusual fruit trees in the Circle of Life garden of Donna and Josh Pane. Trish and Tom Uhrhammer turned the vacant space between two homes into a private but shared edible paradise. Outdoor art populates the creative “garden rooms” of Eric Geiger and Phil Klamm.

Food plants often do double duty. In these edible landscapes, herbs replace lawns and shrubs bear fruit as well as screen walls. The results are as attractive as any ornamental garden.

“Everybody in Sacramento talks about farm to fork,” Hadler said. “Here, it’s garden to dinner table, every day.”

And there’s been no push-back over the front-yard tomatoes.

“If anything, it’s the opposite,” Janine Yancey said. “People say we have a park on our street now.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington

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Tips to add height to your garden

Most of the flowers selected for a border are low-growing but tall plants that make bold vertical statements have their place in the garden, as well.

Too often they are relegated to the back of the border but they can look good as specimen plants or on their own. The few that I will tell you about here may be best located in full sun but others can do well in part or dappled shade.

A plant that is so well known that it is frequently passed by is the hollyhock. It can grow anywhere from four to seven feet in height. It may grow as a biennial that reseeds itself but I have also found it to be a short lived perennial. Its flowers may occur as singles or doubles but in my opinion the doubles look too much like the decorations for weddings. Colours vary from white through red, pink to yellow. Against a wooden fence they are outstanding.

Delphiniums or larkspur are one of the classic garden perennials that remind one of the traditional English-style herbaceous borders. The four to six feet tall Pacific Giant Hybrids bear spikes of double flowers that are white, pink and blue. These and other delphiniums are best suited to the back of a sunny border and do best in rich, moist but well-drained soil. The taller plants often need staking which is best done in late May but the mid-sized varieties seldom do.

Another plant with tall, long-lasting spikes is blazing star or gayfeather. They are tough, drought-resistant plants that may naturalize in a meadow situation as they are native wildflowers. They form low grassy clumps of leaves that send up spikes that may be purple, pink or white and reach five feet.

Mullein is often seen growing along roadsides and in waste places. The five to six feet stalks grow from a basal display of leaves and in the wild persist for months. The hybrid Verbascum plants have fuzzy gray leaves that grow in low clumps. The tall stems are laden with one-inch pink, white, yellow or lavender flowers from midsummer to early fall. They like any sunny location and I have found them excellent in the middle of a mixed bed.

Veronicastrum (Culver’s-root) is closely related to Veronica. This tall (4 ½-foot) native plant bears flowers in long wands that arch gracefully in late summer. Album is a popular white while Rosea is pale pink. When growing it choose small-flowered plants like Russian sage or Salvia as companion plants. Ornamental grasses like Calamagrostis, Panicum or Miscanthus can also fit well.

Tall, flowering plants that can grow in partial or dappled shade as well as sun are Ligularia, Foxglove, Bugbane and Gooseneck loosestrife. Lysimachia, the last-named, is a moisture-loving perennial that bears short spikes of white flowers. This native does spread to form patches but has good, red fall colour. Ligularia flourishes in cool, moist locations and belongs beside water. The tall clumps of large rounded leaves bear spikes or clusters of yellow flowers in summer. Bugbane (Cimifuga or Actaea) is also a native and prefers a moist soil.

The above plants do not exhaust the list of tall flowers you can grow. Jo-Pye Weed is one of the most striking of our native wildflowers. Its panicles of purple-red flowers can rise well over five feet. Other tall plants are a Black-eyed Susan (Rudbekia triloba), yarrow, bee balm and Boltonia.

Denzil Sawyer is a local freelance writer and a Master Gardener.

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Program Will Detail Garden Tips for Season’s End

DERBY — Garden author, lecturer and instructor Colleen Plimpton will speak at 6:30 p.m. Monday, September 16, at the Derby Library, 313 Elizabeth St.

Good Night My Garden is a show-and-tell using visuals of tools and equipment used to put gardens to bed.

Ms. Plimpton will discuss bulb planting, what to leave up and what to cut down, composting, lawn care and bird feeding.

Ms. Plimpton’s award-winning, one-acre ornamental garden has been on numerous tours and serves as a living classroom laboratory where she teaches composition, color, composting and other gardening how-to’s.

She also runs a garden coaching business, teaches gardening at the New York Botanical Garden and works with numerous local garden clubs and non-profit groups.

This program is free and open to the public although registration is requested.

Those seeking registration or additional information may call 203-736-1418 or visit

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3 Crapemyrtles perfect for the southern garden

If the fear of pruning a crape myrtle has held you back from owning one in your own home garden then the Garden Docs want to help you get over that fear. Their Sept. 6 advice on The Press Democrat about how to prune these beautiful garden additions starts with emphasizing the need to know where to plant your crape myrtle, so you can prune it less.

Successfully planting the Delta Jazz Crapemyrtle or the Early Bird Crapemyrtle available in Lavender, Purple or White is a snap, since the Southern Living Plant Collection website tells you exactly how tall each should be by maturity, so you can plant them in appropriate spaced settings.

Choosing the right location for a 6-foot tall to 4-foot wide white Early Bird Crapemrytle means you can let it grow more freely and have to prune it less. If you plant it in a space that is too small for it; however, you will spend more time pruning it than you will have to enjoy its blooms each year. And no one wants to do that.

In addition, the Southern Living Plant Collection crapemyrtles only have to be pruned once annually, after they bloom in the spring. So there is no guesswork. That’s partially why the Atlanta Landscape Design Examiner chose SLPC’s Delta Jazz Crapemyrtle for her trial garden in North Georgia. That and the fact that it has such beautiful deep-colored blooms as well as lovely leaves for fall and winter.

Interested in more gardening and landscape news and tips? Click on the subscribe link next to my photo at the top of this page and immediate email notifications of each new article will soon follow.

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Architect’s book focuses on ‘universal design’

The changes brought about by illness, accident or aging, and the ways homes can be designed or adapted to them, are the focus of Deborah Pierce’s “The Accessible Home.”

Pierce, an architect, offers a comprehensive look at design features that remove barriers and improve access, and that make for greater independence and a better quality of life. But more important, she uses the book’s introductory sections to provide a broad context that is about people rather than about buildings.

Probably our most iconic cultural image of “disability” involves a person in a wheelchair trying to cope with unfriendly obstacles such as curbs, stairs, narrow doorways or out-of-reach storage cabinets. Such a narrow definition of the term is decidedly incomplete, as Pierce explains. While extreme or permanent disabilities might be relatively rare, other limitations affect one out of four persons at some point, and not all the issues are related to mobility.

Conditions such as partial or complete loss of hearing or eyesight, for example, are far more common than severe spinal cord injuries or other limitations that prevent walking, and they can present numerous difficulties in coping with everyday tasks. Degenerative neurological conditions can affect balance, space perception and muscle control. Joint pain or arthritis can make it difficult to use doorknobs, faucet controls, cabinet latches and other common hardware.

Even ordinary decreases in strength or flexibility can render an otherwise cherished home unfriendly, and Pierce notes that most homeowners queried want to “age in place,” that is, to stay in their home even if they become disabled.

As Pierce writes, the best features of universal design are user-friendly to all persons and don’t give the home an institutional look or a makeshift appearance of improvised afterthoughts that detract from a home’s aesthetics or value. The details of the best designs are many and varied, but some features are common to nearly all the homes featured:

Provide wider traffic areas: Hallways, door openings and other “corridor” spaces should be wide enough (typically 36 inches minimum) to accommodate a wheelchair.

Keep sight lines open: Connections between rooms should be as open as possible, both for traffic issues and to avoid any one shared space from being too isolated.

Introduce contrasts: Especially for sight-impaired persons, colors and textures can be simple and reliable indicators of a change in direction, floor level or other features.

Choose user-friendly hardware: Manual dexterity and grip strength vary widely in individuals and will change for one person over time, so plan for those differences. Lever door handles (versus round knobs) are a good example of friendlier design.

Multilevel storage: Allowing access to storage at many levels ensures that items can be placed and retrieved by the person who uses them most, whether standing or sitting.

Expand bathrooms: Bathing and grooming rituals and toilet use are daily practices that may require assistance for some, so spaces should allow for both mobility aids and human helpers.

Window placement: Taller windows, with their sills placed low, help ensure that everyone can take in the views.

There are dozens of other smart amenities and details built into the book’s featured homes, and Pierce devotes entire chapters to different room types – approaches and entries, living and dining areas, kitchens, baths, bedrooms and utility spaces.

The book does a nice job of balancing the human and technical issues of a complex subject and of highlighting good design aesthetics in the process. It seems most discussions of universal design topics are short articles focused on wheelchair users. The broader approach that Pierce takes here is a welcome and eminently useful exception.

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