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Archives for September 27, 2013

Elizabeth Gilbert on The Signature of All Things and her return to fiction …

If you know the phenomenon that is Eat, Pray, Love, then you know Gilbert has never been one to shy away from transformation. Since the 2006 memoir about her angst-ridden search for self in Italy, India and Indonesia exploded onto the scene, leading to frequent Oprah dates, legions of disciples and a place on Time’s 100 most influential people list, it’s been her trademark.

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Student Opportunities: Student Government: Could it be for you?

Student Opportunities by Constance OwlNow that students are settling into their classes for the new school year, many middle and high schools are beginning to pull their student government associations together. In most cases, each grade might have officers that make up a student body assembly, and this assembly may also have an executive student council with its own officers. Choosing to become involved in your school’s Student Government Association is a great way to represent your fellow students by bringing important issues of student concern to the forefront, or just to experience the process of how government works on a micro level. The biggest advantage to a school that has an active (and proactive) student government is that the students themselves can impact internal school policy while providing students a real voice. Your participation is also a great indicator of your committed involvement to student affairs and helps demonstrate your leadership qualities and capabilities.   

Some schools require candidates for student government to initiate elaborate campaigns while others are much more relaxed. If you are considering running for an office in your student government consider carefully which office is the best fit for your interest and available time. Most student governments meet during school hours and establish focused goals for the school year. When my brother served a Senior Class President, he led a successful recycling campaign at school. Other positive initiatives I have heard of include the installation of hand sanitizers in school hallways, initiating beautification and landscaping projects on school campuses, starting anti-bullying awareness campaigns, and organizing prom dress swaps. I am currently serving as Vice President of the Senior Class at Murphy High School where we are considering a project to raise funds to purchase screen protectors for classroom shared IPADS.

Most importantly, your involvement in your school’s Student Government Association prepares you to become an active participant in your community, tribal, state, and national government as well. You learn how to present points, debate issues, organize events, manage and raise resources, and identify the issues most important to those you represent. You also learn how to communicate ideas and thoughts effectively, and learn to work within a group in a concise and focused manner. College admission applications often ask if you have served as an officer in student government because this is an indicator that you may be someone who is engaged in student affairs and will positively impact their student community. With election time looming, seriously consider if student government might be for you. Who knows, your first steps might just lead you all the way to the White House one day!

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Is interior landscaping worth the cost?

When budgets are squeezed the office greenery is the first thing to get axed. Kenneth Freeman suggests that entrepreneurs ought to be spending their cash on plants for the office.

There is plenty of evidence to show that well-being at work affects efficiency and productivity. But what does this have to do with interior plants, you ask? Research carried out by Craig Knight and Tom Postmes at the Universities of Exeter and Groeningen has shown that items such as plants and art, or even fragrance, increases productivity, engagement and well-being. 

Furthermore, work carried out in the 1980s and 1990s by Roger Ulrich has shown significant health benefits when people are exposed to scenes of nature or views to gardens or plant displays. There is also a huge body of scientific literature showing that symptoms of sick-building syndrome (SBS) are reduced when interior plants are brought into buildings. Such effects were initially thought to be related to the physical characteristics of plants, but the main benefits seem to be psychological.

Simple pleasures such as a walk in the woods or a visit to a park have been shown to reduce stress and feelings of anxiety. Anti-social behaviour in inner cities has been linked to the lack of access to open green space (so-called “Nature Deficit Disorder”) and doctors are even prescribing walks in the countryside as part of a healing regime. 

Our need for nature was identified by the American biologist, Edward O Wilson, who found that when given the freedom to choose their ideal environment, people gravitate towards a location that combines three major features: positioned at height, overlooking the landscape (with open terrain and scattered trees), and being close to open water, such as streams or lakes. 

Wilson’s ideas have been adopted by architects and designers for some time. In a book by Stephen Kellert, Biophilic Design, we see how architects have used these principles to connect their buildings with nature. But by using combinations of plants, art, lighting and sound effects as well as a more naturalistic style of design it should be possible to make significant improvements to well-being and employee engagement at a very low cost.

Creating a healthy and nature-connected working environment can pay huge dividends in terms of well-being, productivity and business effectiveness – a real return on a relatively small investment in interior design.

Kenneth Freeman is the head of innovation at office landscaper Ambius

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/From Gardens Installed to New Hardscape, call Londrigan Landscaping for the … – Glens Falls Post

From gardens installed to new hardscape, we offer everything you could ever need to maintain develop a perfect landscape. And with over 20 years of experience and skilled craftsmanship, we can guarantee you will be very happy with your results.

Londrigan Landscaping

Serving Queensbury Surrounding Areas

Call us at: 518-792-4128

View Our Website

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The art of landscaping with trees

When landscaping with trees, it helps to unify house and plants.

Shrubs and trees should be planted near the house in such a way that they balance and frame the house and soften the corners, Greg Davis, professor of landscape design at Kansas State University, said. “We try to blend the house or any built structures into the site. We can’t reproduce nature, but we try to emulate it.” Tall trees in the backyard provide a background for the house, anchoring it and breaking up the roof line.

Balancing the house does not necessarily mean using the same plants on each side. One design trick is to reverse in plants the shapes that are present in the house, Davis said. For example, if one side of the house is blocky in shape and the other side is elongated, you can use blocky-shaped plants on the elongated side and use elongated plants on the blocky side, “to pull that and bring that down into the landscape.”

It’s that matter of unifying. Another way is to follow the rule of thirds, a principle used in composing photographs. Translating it into landscaping means planting in odd numbers and choosing heights of plants that reach one-third or two-thirds up the side of the house, Davis said. “The human brain tends to separate in even-numbered things, so if you plant halfway up, you look at that and say, ‘There’s plants down here and house up there.’ But if you break it up in thirds, psychologically and visually,” the house and plants come together as a unity.

Concentrating on the size and form of plants simplifies the process of plant selection, Davis said. A good way to find plants that fit a certain shape you’re looking for is to go to botanical gardens and arboretums that label their plants, he said. That way you can see mature specimens. But you also have to go with a different eye, focusing on form rather than looking at details such as leaves and flowers, he said. If you choose plants based only on the flowers you like, for example, your yard can turn into a mini arboretum rather than a design, he said.

Some of the places in the area with labeled plants are Botanica, the Sedgwick County Extension Center grounds at 21st and Ridge Road, Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Hesston, and Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine (open for concerts and other special events; next chance is Oct. 13 for pianist Phil Aaberg; tickets $10; gates open at 3 p.m., concert is at 4).

Nurseries are another place to look. While you usually won’t see plants in their mature form, you will find the expertise to steer you in the right direction, Davis said. The county Extension Service also has lots of resources to help, he said.

He also recommends taking drives in the autumn to enjoy fall color and see what plants you enjoy that might fit into your home landscape.

In addition to beautifying, landscaping helps cut utility bills. Trees or other plants planted around the house provide a buffer so that wind doesn’t reach the house as strongly and reduces the energy exchange in the skin of the house, Davis said. A shade tree can reduce the temperature in an attic by 40 degrees, he said. Conifers that hold their leaves over the winter planted on the north and northwest side reduce wind speed and provide wind screening, he said. Shade trees planted on the west, south and southwest provide energy savings in summer.

When choosing a tree, be sure to take into consideration the mature height and width of the tree, so that you’re not planting something that will interfere with power lines or grow too close to the house, for example.

To find a tree that will thrive in your yard also consider your soil type, the amount of sun or shade the spot receives, exposure to wind and drainage.

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Home & Garden Calendar


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The Mountain Gardener: Tips and tricks to keep wine grapes safe – San Lorenzo Valley Press

Cabernet sauvignon grapes on the vine in Napa Valley. Courtesy of Jan Nelson


Cabernet sauvignon grapes on the vine in Napa Valley. Courtesy of Jan Nelson


Cabernet sauvignon grapes on the vine in Napa Valley. Courtesy of Jan Nelson


Prune orchards once reigned supreme in the Napa Valley. Pears, walnuts and fodder for grazing sheep were also grown where now 45,000 acres of premium wine grapes flourish.

The crush is on in Napa County. Mostly cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and merlot are being harvested at night, but back in 1928 the prune crop was worth twice as much as wine grapes.

We all have an insect or two that we have to deal with in our gardens. I found out on a recent excursion to Napa Valley that all those acres of grape vines could possibly be lost if the European grape moth has its way. Believed to have been imported in vegetables from Europe, it was first detected in Napa County in 2009. Back in 2011 Santa Cruz County was dealing with the same pest. With quarantine efforts and eradication of fruits and flowers near the area where they were first detected, our county hasn’t had much of a problem with them since.

Integrated pest management is the ecologically sound approach to pest control. In Napa County, I learned that the European grape moth is being well-controlled in recent years by organic sprays such as spinosad and Bacillus thuringiensis, more commonly known as BT. Another very effective control method used is mating disruption with pheromones.

These techniques might not be as picturesque as planting roses around a grape orchard as an early warning system for fungal diseases, but they have worked for the grape moth. Roses are traditionally planted at the perimeter of vineyards because both they and grape vines are prone to powdery mildew and Downy mildew in our Mediterranean-type climate. If powdery mildew appears on the roses, the vineyard can be sprayed with sulfur. Although sulfur does not cure powdery mildew, it will prevent it.

Downy mildew is another deadly mildew that attacks the green parts of the grape vine. Once Downy mildew is detected on the rose bushes, the grape vines can be immediately sprayed with a solution of copper sulphate and lime.

Many of the vineyards also plant lavender and rosemary to repel many harmful insects, provide habitat for beneficial insects preying on undesirable insects and add a pleasant flavor to the wine.

Sitting outside on a tasting room patio planted with beautiful flowering shrubs and perennials, it’s hard to imagine the delicious wine in your glass doesn’t come effortlessly on the part of the winery. Like our area that grows pinot noir grapes exceptionally well, the terroir of the Napa valley is expressed in the flavor of its wine. The qualities of the soil, geography and climate all contribute.

A vast array of soils of volcanic and marine origin coexist in Napa Valley. Half of the world’s soil orders occur here with more than 100 soil variations all affecting the character of the grapes. Soils guide the grape-grower as to which rootstock and grape varieties to plant. Valley floor soils tend to be deeper and more fertile and produce vigorous growth, so the crop must be tightly managed to produce concentrated grapes. On the hillsides, the vine has to struggle to survive the spare, rocky soils and naturally sets a smaller crop, producing smaller grapes of highly concentrated color and flavors.

Walking among the vines, I noted drip irrigation in use. I found out that traditionally Old World wine regions consider natural rainfall the only source of water that will still allow the vineyard to maintain its terroir characteristics. Spain has recently loosened the regulations of the European Union Wine Laws and France has been reviewing the issue.

Grapes depend on a certain amount of water mainly in the spring and summer, and so, here in California and other summer dry regions of the world like Australia, the vines are irrigated starting in May or June. It’s a fine line to determine how much and how often to irrigate to preserve the flavor of the grape and not just grow lush plants with high yields.

In our own gardens, we can train a plant to put down deep roots, decreasing the amount of watering it needs. So it is in grape growing where the vine receives sufficient water during budding and flowering, but irrigation is then scaled back during the ripening period so that the vine funnels more of its limited resources into developing grape clusters.

I enjoyed the gardens of the Napa Valley as much as the wine tasting. White Japanese anemone, pink sasanqua camellia and oakleaf hydrangea are all blooming. The dogwood trees are budded for next year’s show and the Japanese maples are starting to color.

It’s interesting to know that one grape vine produces about four to six bottles of wine per year and in 1968 the nation’s first Agriculture Preserve was established to protect open space and prevent future over-development.

Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at, or visit to view past columns and pictures.

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Planting for winter – this week’s garden tips

Even though it’s winter don’t overlook your strawberry beds or those other hardy plants that will cope admirably with the colder weather.

– Sow winter lettuces in a vacant greenhouse border.

– Dry off begonia and gloxinia tubers to rest them for the winter.

– Hoe regularly between vegetable rows to keep down weeds.

– Take cuttings of conifers, evergreen trees and shrubs and root them in a propagator.

– Sow sweet peas outdoors in a sheltered spot.

– Prepare the ground for fruit trees and bushes to be planted this autumn and order your chosen varieties now.

– Complete the planting of new strawberry beds.

– Remove dead leaves from brassicas and other crops.

– Protect the developing curds of cauliflowers by bending a few leaves over them.

– Raise the height of cut on the mower to around 2.5cm (1in) and reduce the frequency of mowing.

– Plant lily bulbs in borders or large pots.

Best of the Bunch – Hebe (Veronica)

These evergreen shrubs come in all sizes, but among the best are the ones which bring a burst of autumn colour, such as H.

‘Autumn Glory’, which grows to around 80cm (2ft) and bears spikes of deep purple flowers against a backdrop of shiny, oval leaves and looks great as a specimen shrub or hedge in a seaside garden. H. ‘Midsummer Beauty’ is another winner, producing lavender flowers from July to November.

Be warned though, the most attractive are often also the least hardy, so plant the slightly more susceptible varieties extra deeply, with at least four to five buds below soil level to revive the plant should frost injure the topgrowth.

Hebes prefer sun or light shade and should do well in any garden soil with reasonable drainage.

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Garden Tips: New petunias coming soon

Some of you may know that I rave about the super performance of the Wave line of petunias. The Waves still are great, but there are many more petunias that could match and maybe even surpass them.

I am enthralled by the mini-petunias, also known as milliflora petunias. These are petunias with small, petite flowers about 1.5 inches in diameter. I tried two of Proven Winners’ Charm series of mini-petunias in my containers this year. I was astounded at the mass of color these little charmers provided. Pink Charm grows 10 inches tall with a trailing habit up to 48 inches long. The soft pink flowers have white throats and cover the plants with a mass of color. The Charm series is heat and drought tolerant and also includes Sangria Charm with rosy purple flowers, Indigo Charm with purple flowers, and Watermelon Charm with red flowers.

New this year to the Proven Winners’ Supertunia line is Picasso In Pink, joining Pretty Much Picasso already on the market. Both these petunias have a striking chartreuse edge around the flowers, but the new Picasso in Pink is more compact and less vigorous with a more mounded habit.

The Picassos aren’t the only line of petunias with green-edged flowers. Just coming on the market is the Kermit series from Westflowers. This line includes Baby, Piggy and Rose with unique pink and green flowers. They are touted as being abundantly floriferous and weather tolerant.

The Kermit petunias were bred by a German breeder who also has developed a line of petunias called Crazytunias. One of these is Black Mamba, a black petunia that is said to be one of the best black petunias available because the flowers don’t fade or develop stripes. Another Crazytunia is Cherry Cheesecake with an intense red and white candy cane star patterned flower.

It took a while for plant breeders to come up with some truly nice yellow petunias, but what about orange? Danziger just might have it with their Cascadias Indian Summer. It’s a vigorous semi-trailing petunia with blooms that open to yellow and then turn to a peachy orange.

First new colors and sizes in petunias and now there is a new shape too! Sparklers, the first star-shaped petunias, were introduced by Thompson Morgan. They recently introduced ‘Sparkler Mixed’ with star-shaped flowers with pointed petals and leaves. This mix contains flowers in pastel and jewel toned pinks and purple. The plants have a 12-inch tall mounding habit and a spread of 14 inches.

— Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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