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Archives for October 12, 2013

Top Drawer

Designer’s best

Cooler temps offer the perfect opportunity to use warmer colors and accents to cozy up indoor and outdoor spaces. We’ve found just the site to inspire you. offers 15 Best Autumn Decorating Tips and Ideas. We’ve excerpted some of the ideas here. You can see the remainder at:

Welcome fall with dining room tables and centerpieces. Whether you want to go formal or casual for your table, choose colors that reflect your home decor and the season. Consider using red and yellow apples for an informal organic and edible centerpiece. Remember, the centerpiece doesn’t have to be stagnant; add or subtract from it throughout the season for visual interest. For more formality, consider place settings and table linens that have just hints of fall colors and themes.

Dress up your front porch with fall inspiration. Use tall corn stalks, raffia or straw to wrap around entry-porch columns and mailboxes. Use thick ribbon in deep oranges and browns to contrast with the straw. Carry these same materials into lanyards or garlands to decorate around your front door and entry.

Use your fireplace to showcase seasonal décor. Your fireplace mantel has been waiting for this season! Whether you look in your yard or travel to an arts and crafts store, dried leaves and pine cones make great décor. Small pumpkins, gourds or dried leaf vines, along with colorful candles, will brighten your mantel and spirits.

Cooler temperatures mean cozy sitting areas: As the temperatures begin to fall, bring out the fall-colored throws and blankets to place on couches or in adjacent baskets. Complementing fall-colored throw pillows will complete any cozy nook as a place to cuddle up and enjoy a good book.

Best home tour for getting ideas

Wake County’s annual Parade of Homes continues from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and again Oct. 11-13, offering a chance to visit more than 200 new homes with the latest and greatest in technology, design, landscaping and color. The homes, which range from $130,000 to well over $1million, are great places to draw inspiration for your own home or just to see how different color palettes can change the feel of a room. You’ll want to wear comfy slip-on shoes, since footwear is not allowed in many homes. It’s also a good idea to take your camera phone and bring along paint swatches in case you see something you like. (However, some homes don’t allow photography.)

Parade books with floor plans, addresses and prices are available at houses along the route. You can also download the Parade app for your iPhone or Android phone and explore the homes online. Learn more at:

Best Halloween craft

Raleigh resident Kari Raynor and her two sons, Evan and Bennett, had a blast decorating glass jar pumpkins, ghosts and Frankensteins last fall. Raynor got the idea from Pinterest. You can make some, too, with the instructions laid out on the Not So Idle Hands blog. This post takes you through creating pumpkin jars. You can customize your jars by using different colored tissue paper and face designs.

You will need:

• 5 glass jars of varying sizes (varying sizes makes it more interesting)

• Orange tissue paper

• Mod Podge

• Black paper

• Green paint

1 Start by cutting the tissue paper into strips about 11/2 to 2 inches wide. Measure the height of your jars and trim the tissue paper strips to that length.

2 Paint Mod Podge a section at a time onto the outside of the jar. Lay down a strip of paper and smooth them down well. Then move onto the next section. Don’t worry if it’s a little wrinkly or the strips overlap, it won’t show once it’s dry.

3 Keep going till you get the jar covered. Then,work on cutting out faces for them. (The site offers templates for cutting out face shapes.)

4 Glue on the faces and paint the tops of the jars with some pretty green paint. Then brush on a coat or two of Mod Podge. (I used glossy to look shiny, like it’s part of the jar.)

5 Let them cure for 24 hours.

Use either battery powered tea lights or strings of Christmas lights to illuminate the pumpkins at night.

To see a step-by-step guide for creating the pumpkins, visit

Best recipe

Sandra Hardy of Havelock wrote in to share her recipe for autumnal cranberry chicken:

“This cranberry chicken recipe is ideal for busy weeknights when you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. With just four ingredients, this easy cranberry chicken recipe is an easy fix-and-forget-it way to enjoy boneless chicken breasts. I usually serve it with broccoli and some type of potato dish. Baked potatoes are always a good choice because you can bake them in the oven at the same time.”

Cranberry Chicken


6 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 1 oz. envelope dried French onion soup mix

1 16 oz. can cranberry sauce

1 cup Catalina salad dressing


PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

PLACE chicken breasts in baking dish. Sprinkle French onion soup mix evenly over chicken breasts.

WHISK together cranberry sauce and salad dressing. Pour over chicken breasts.

BAKE approximately 50 minutes.

Best of the tube


From remodel to short sale. Caught between their new professional lives and their old student ways, accountants Robert and Marie may be ready to move on, but their disheveled home is holding them back. With water damaged floors, mixed-up rooms and a master bath that somehow turned into a storage area, the house is unsellable. Jonathan comes to the rescue with a plan to breathe fresh life into the home, but is soon tripped up by a costly setback, and the couple gambles on a short sale to land a great new home. “Buying and Selling” airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Send news and photos to The News Observer, P.O. Box 191, Raleigh, N.C. 27602; email

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Young, educated and making it on less than $35000

FP0928_YoungEducated35000_C_ABHow much did you think you’d make when you “grew up?”

When I was a little girl, in an effort to impress my father who works as a public health inspector, I promised him that I would one day earn a higher salary than he did. I never understood his amused expression as he stared down at this tiny person with a bowl cut who wanted to be a writer.

I do now since I have yet to keep that promise. But I’ve adjusted my expectations.

In fact, many of us might have to or have had to.

According to a recent BMO survey, university and college students expect to earn an annual salary of more than $50,000 on average when they start a job after graduation. But Statistics Canada reports that students with a bachelor’s degree earned $45,000.

That’s not too shabby considering that 74% of Canadians who filed a tax return in 2009 earned less than $50,000. The average after tax income for families in Canada in 2011 was $79,600, while unattached individuals made an average of $31,400.

“In my experience, people who are making less tend to be better at fiscal discipline than people who are making more,” says Bob Stammers, director of investor education at the CFA Institute.

“Everyone needs to learn to live within what they have now. You can’t look to the future and expect that things will be better just because you’re making more money.”

Here’s a snapshot of some young adults who are trying to live within their means, their various challenges and their attitudes about money.

FP0921_SeannaMagee_C_ABSeanna Magee, 29, has a business degree from St. Francis Xavier University and works as a store manager at The Running Room in Toronto. She and her boyfriend have a baby due in March.

Annual income: $20,400 after tax

Monthly income: $1,700

Monthly expenses: $1,655

Monthly expenses: $274 on condo fees, $200 on utilities, $200 to savings, $300 for groceries, $120 on cable/phone, $100 on shopping, $300 on entertainment, $50 on charity, $50 for life insurance, $25 for critical illness insurance, $36 to pay back an investment loan.

What has shaped your ideas about money? I don’t see money as that important. Don’t get me wrong, it is necessary and I definitely would like to have more of it. But having various positions for very cool organizations and never making above $40,000 (usually actually about $30,000), I just see employers as cheap, somewhat exploitive and unwilling to invest to keep good employees.

Name a money challenge that you’re dealing with. I’m expecting a child in 2014 and I make $28,000 with no mat leave beyond employment insurance and my partner makes about $31,000. It will definitely be a challenge.

How much have you saved? I have about $40,000 in my RRSP, $18,000 in my TFSA, $2,000 in a more liquid savings non-reg account and I own a $250,000 property, mortgage free.

What do you splurge on? Daily spending, travel, dinners out, things that don’t seem like a lot but leave me broke before every payday.

What are your plans for the future? Be a mom. Take over my partner’s condo to joint-own. Sell my place. Find an employer that thinks they should pay me a decent wage in sales or financial literacy.

Share your best financial advice.

Credit cards are evil. Also, don’t be too proud to ask for help.

FP0921_JordannBrown_C_ABJordann Brown, 23, and her husband moved from Halifax to Petitcodiac, NB, to be in a better position to tackle their debts. He operates his own landscaping business and she works in marketing for a small startup.

Combined annual income for Jordann and her husband: $34,976 after tax

Monthly income: $2,854

Monthly expenses: $2,854

$100 on rent, $250 on utilities, $160 to savings, $400 on groceries, $52 on Internet/cable/phone, $165 on shopping/personal spending, $190 on entertainment, $60 to pets, $280 on car insurance and gas, $60 on cellphones, $1,137 on debt repayment

What has shaped your ideas about money today? The biggest force that has shaped my ideas about money was literally an impact. In July 2011, I was in a car accident. I broke my wrist and wrote off my car. Being a recent university graduate, I had absolutely no savings to fall back on, and that was terrifying. Once that terrible situation was behind me, I vowed to never be caught unprepared again.

What’s a money challenge that you’ve run into? When my student loans were finally totaled, I was a little shocked. I owed $42,000 from my four-year commerce degree. When I started building a budget that included my monthly minimum payments on my student loans, my new car payment, and my expensive city apartment, the math just didn’t add up. There was no way to pay for it all on my entry-level salary, and eat too. To combat this, I moved to a smaller town with lower rent, and researched student loan forgiveness programs. I lowered my rent by offering to permanently house sit a relative’s 400 square-foot cottage, and reduced my overall student debt owing to $26,000, which lowered the corresponding minimum payments dramatically. This helped my budget balance, and I will be able to get my student loans paid off in 19 months, instead of the originally projected 10 years.

How much have you saved? I have an emergency fund of around $2,000 saved at the moment. I plan on saving three to six months of living expenses and putting around 15% of my net income away for retirement.

What do you splurge on? I splurged last year and adopted my dog Molly from the local SPCA. It wasn’t the most frugal decision; but I don’t regret adding her to my family for one second.

Share your best financial advice/What is your money secret. It’s entirely possible to be happy on a very limited budget. The things that you think are necessities probably aren’t. The sooner you get rid of them and start putting that money towards achieving your financial goals, the better.

FP0921_MarcRowley_C_ABMarc Rowley, 25, lives with a roommate while he attends Concordia University in Montreal. He’s studying Francophone literature and media resonance and works as a research assistant and web content developer at the university.

Annual income: $23,300 after tax (including a $4,000 student loan and a $2,500 scholarship)

Monthly income: $1,941

Monthly expenses: $1,931

$375 for rent, $208 for tuition ($2,500 annually), $83 for books ($1,000 annually), $25 for hydro, $160 for savings, $125 for miscellaneous, $300 for groceries, $35 for a flip-phone with no data, $60 for Internet, $100 for shopping, $400 a month on going to the bar twice a week, ordering food twice a week, movies, plays, concerts, $30 for grooming, $30 for charities.


How did you view money growing up? Frugality was very important at home. My parents share one car which they bought with cash, live in a relatively small house with a relatively small mortgage, don’t carry a credit card balance, eat most of their meals at home (and always take a lunch to work) and were very clear about what was a necessity and what was a luxury.

What are your plans for the future? I would like to stay in school to complete a Ph.D. I could see a career in academia in fields surrounding new media studies or in the private sector doing PR or communications work. It’s much more important to me to do a job I’m passionate about, for an organization I believe in, than it is to make lots of money.

What are you saving for? My savings are an emergency fund to cover rent and bills for three months in case of a change in my employment status.

What do you splurge on? Experiences! The money I have “extra” goes to memorable nights out with friends, shows and concerts, entrance to museums/gardens/festivals and delicious meals.

Share some money advice. You can’t take it with you.

FP0921_RebekahBrinks_C_ABRebekah Brinks is a 32-year-old supply teacher, and her husband is a former youth pastor who is returning to college to become a hearing instruments specialist. They live in the Town of Simcoe, 10 minutes from Lake Erie.

Combined income for Rebekah and her husband: $34,200 after tax (including the Child Tax Credit and Universal Child Care Benefit)

Monthly income: $2,850

Monthly expenses: $2,754

$830 for Mortgage, $230 for gas, $228 for car and house insurance, $180 for utilities, $237 for childcare, $60 for RESPs, $400 for groceries, $138 for Internet and Netflix, $25 for shopping at the thrift store, $50 for entertainment, $20 for grooming, $250 for charity, $56 for vacations to Niagara Falls, Grand Bend, etc., $50 for gifts.

How did you view money growing up? I had a paper route when I was 10. I remember my parents sitting us down with jars and saying, “Hey you made $50 on your paper route so 10% goes to gifts, 10% goes to savings, 10% goes to charity and the rest goes to whatever you want. You have to work for what you want. We don’t spend money if we don’t have it.”

What kind of money challenges have you run into? With my first son, I had a maternity leave because I was working full-time; after he was born, I went back part-time so when I had my second son, I didn’t get a maternity leave. Both my husband and I really had to pare down our expenses. We kept all of our receipts for a month, looked at what we were spending and cut everything we could. I knew I had to work for five days [out of the month] to pay our bills. If we wanted something on top of that, we knew I’d have to work an extra two days. It made us prioritize.

What do you splurge on? Vacations. Two years ago, we went to the Dominican Republic. But we budget for it.

What has shaped your ideas about money today? Last year, I had ovarian cancer. I’m quite fortunate that the doctor caught it early. It really made me think that possessions aren’t important because I’m not taking them with me when I die.

FP0921_KevenMcLeod_C_ABKevin MacLeod, a 27-year-old Cambridge, Ont., resident works as a financial services representative at a bank. He’s saving for a wedding.

Annual income: $23,108 (after tax)

Monthly income: $1,925

Monthly expenses: $1,925

$325 on rent, $102 on utilities, $150 to savings, $150 on groceries, $101 on Internet/cable/phone, $25 on shopping, $85 on entertainment, $4 to charity, $168 on car loan, $209 on car insurance, $220 on gas/oil/repairs, $386 on debt repayment.

What’s a money challenge that you’ve run into? The biggest money challenge I’ve run into is planning for a wedding while still trying to pay down debts. It seems that no matter how much I save, there seems to be another thing to plan.

How much money have you saved? With my employee ownership plan, my RRSP is currently worth $4,500. I can’t see the money coming from my account so I don’t miss it. My employer also matches contributions up to a certain portion which has also helped. The rest of my savings is currently going towards wedding-related expenses.

What do you splurge on? My biggest splurge has been restaurants. I hate doing dishes and love well-cooked meals; so when I was younger (and accumulating lots of debt), I visited a lot of restaurants and became accustomed to them. Now with a more stringent budget, I find that I still like having that once-in-a-while treat and try to make it count by combining it with special occasions.

What are your plans for the future? My plans are to get married in late March 2014, and to start building roots with my fiancée. That will largely mean getting our debts under control and then starting to look for a place to start a family.

Share some financial advice. Don’t be afraid to walk away to consider something, or talk your way into a better deal. I have found great success in negotiating with service providers whose aim is customer satisfaction. It can be daunting; but it’s helped everywhere from wedding vendors to cellphone providers.

FP0921_EricaMartinello_C_ABErica Martinello, a 29-year-old early childhood educator, purchased her first townhouse with her parents’ help in 2011.

Annual income: $34,000 (after tax)

Monthly income: $2,833

Monthly expenses: $2397.42

$976.42 on mortgage, $56 on condo fees, $35 on home insurance, $100 on utilities, $90 on cellphone, $60 on the Internet, $150 on groceries, $45 for the gym, $10 on clothing, $25 personal items, $200 on car insurance, $160 on gas, $100 for savings, $100 into an RRSP, $100 for debt repayment, $100 into an account, $10 as an allowance, $30 for certification fees, $50 for gifts.

What has shaped your ideas about money today? Reading a lot of blogs about money and personal finance has helped me be able to figure out that a budget is something good to have but it isn’t set in stone and that it’s always changing.

What kind of money challenges have you run into? I get laid off from my job for [July and August] so I collect employment insurance during that time. I have to start putting aside money in January to be able to have a cushion to make sure I have enough to cover my bills. This summer was particularly hard. My car broke down and my neighbours on both sides wanted to build a fence so my entire cushion of money was used up rather quickly.

How much have you saved? I have $500 saved in a savings account and I add to it whenever I have extra income, which isn’t often. I also have a pension with my job that is automatically taken off my pay. I also pay $100 into an RRSP every month, so I have about $1,000 in there by now.

What do you splurge on? 
I splurge on nail polish and a subscription to Cosmo magazine.

What are your plans for the future? My plans for the future are to be able to put at least $200 into savings and to increase my debt repayment.

Share your best financial advice. Pay yourself first.

Illustrations by Andrew Barr/National Post

Financial Post

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Are you young, (fabulous), educated and making do on a moderate income? Tell us how you do it by sharing your budget with us at Let us know: what money challenges you’ve run into, how much you have saved, what you’re saving for, what you splurge on and finally, share a bit of financial advice.

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Composters transform roadkill into landscape

Virginia Department of Transportation officials describe the latest project happening at their Hanging Rock Area Headquarters near Salem as a national model.

Yet, they also understand that the initiative — composting road kill carcasses — can turn some stomachs.

“We don’t necessarily want to put one of these right next to a subdivision,” said Jimmy White, VDOT project manager.

The Hanging Rock composter is set just inside a tree line on state property north of Interstate 81.

This breakthrough in highway-management technology is straightforward. A dead deer goes inside a bin. A month later, brown compost tumbles out.

The composting bin array off Thompson Memorial Drive and a unit near South Boston in Halifax County are an experiment designed to reduce the state’s $4 million annual cost incurred by driving dead animals to landfills.

Officials are becoming convinced on-site decomposition could be cheaper. A worker stacks wild or domestic dead animals collected on state property in concrete bins with lots of sawdust. Naturally occurring microbes do the rest, assisted by forced air jets in the floor.

But there is a side benefit. What was once waste becomes a fertilizer-like resource inside the composter, and VDOT has no intention of giving the valuable material away. It plans to spread it. Some of the Halifax-made compost, when spread on an eroding area along Virginia 360 outside Halifax, contributed to rapid grass growth, White said.

Applying composting, which farmers have used for years, to road kill management is exciting to state officials.

The completeness of the animal breakdown is “fantastic,” said Stan Philpott, superintendent of the Hanging Rock yard, who is also pleased that his crews no longer have to drive about 10 dead animals each weekday to the New River Valley. The animals went to the landfill near Dublin operated by the New River Resource Authority, which is still used by some VDOT regional offices that don’t compost.

Once usable quantities of the compost are produced, crews are expected to apply it as a fertilizer to stimulate vegetation growth where the ground has been disturbed or eroded. The agency will also employ it as a landscaping and flower bed mulch, White said.

The state’s composting venture complies with Department of Environmental Quality regulations, said DEQ solid waste permit writer Jenny Poland. The material is not required to be pathogen-free, though the pathogens “are at levels that should not be harmful to human health,” according to Poland.

“The compost will be used by VDOT. They have a lot of projects where they will be able to use that,” said Poland, “It has good soil amendment properties.”

Based on the project’s success so far, VDOT is contracting for four more composting units at $115,000 apiece at locations yet to be announced. Barring a glitch, the state could someday operate enough composters to serve large tracts of the state, White said.

Highway workers are on course to collect more than 5,000 dead animals in the Roanoke and New River valleys and nearby communities this year, most of it roadkill. The statewide count could exceed 50,000. VDOT must dispose of the carcasses but wants to lower the cost. The annual, average disposal cost was $4.1 million from fiscal 2007 through fiscal 2011 for personnel, transportation costs and landfill fees. The mileage alone, to and from landfills, averages 252,000 miles yearly.

When White ran a VDOT yard in Rockbridge County 20 years ago, sometimes the carcasses were fed to the big cats at the Natural Bridge Zoo, he said.

Those days are long gone.

VDOT workers have buried roadkill beside highways. However, that system worked better before utilities placed infrastructure along highways, where it is tracked and safeguarded by Miss Utility, and environmental regulations came into force that further regulate digging. It isn’t done much any more.

In recent years, the best available solution was to drive the carcasses in a pickup to landfills. But White said some Virginia landfills charge a lot, perhaps $60 to $100 a deer, and have become reluctant to accept animal carcasses because “it hurts their management of the landfill.”

Joe Levine, who directs the New River Resource Authority, said the waste-management agency’s facility continues to accept dead animals without any operational issues at the municipal waste rate of $32 a ton. That said, the authority is in favor of recycling, waste reduction and reuse.

“All compliant composting systems are great ideas,” Levine said.

Convinced the state needed a new plan, the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research, an arm of VDOT, studied composting and decided the state should try it as a possible new, long-term solution to animal disposal. After some early attempts, and input from Advanced Composting Technologies LLC, in Candler, N.C., the state focused its efforts on rectangular bins equipped with blowers. Microbial action, which requires food, water and oxygen, can rot a batch of animals in a month or two in such a container, according to White, who said temperatures hit a pathogen-killing 160 degrees or more.

A crew built the state’s first forced-air, animal composter in 2012 at a VDOT yard just outside Halifax, a small town near South Boston. Workers converted three steel roll-off garbage containers at a cost of $48,000. In a sign of the tool’s versatility, it processed a couple of donkeys in addition to the usual roadkill of primarily deer but also bears and smaller animals, White said.

Halifax Mayor Dick Moore recently heard about the system.

“It didn’t bother me. There was no odor involved that I can tell by just riding by there,” he said.

To further the experiment, crews retrofitted four concrete material storage bins at the Hanging Rock VDOT yard for $28,000 and the state started up that composter in July. Each bin can hold about 10,000 pounds of animals, about 100 deer. The temperature inside of one of its bins stood at 150 degrees Wednesday morning.

The system features forced-air jets that fuel decomposition and a trough that routes the run off from the topless bins into a tank underground. Using a hose sprayer, an attendant applies a couple of spritzes of the fluid every so often to help keep the piles cooking.

VDOT thinks the money it saves in avoided disposal expenses will cover the cost of each forced-air device in as few as five years for those VDOT yards at least 25 miles from a landfill. The payback period is likely to be longer, but well within the composter’s lifetime, for VDOT yards closer to a landfill, a VDOT research report said.

Cristina Siegel, who directs the Clean Valley Council, a Roanoke-based nonprofit organization dedicated to litter prevention, recycling, waste stream reduction and stormwater pollution prevention, reacted positively to VDOT’s composting project. She said DEQ approval likely means VDOT has demonstrated it can ensure the proper heat and moisture recipe for full decomposition of organic matter — a breakdown much greater than area residents may achieve in backyard composting piles.

“There certainly is an initial ‘yuck’ factor when you hear the idea,” she said. However, given the exacting standards VDOT appears to be using, “a compostable plate or a head of old lettuce or a road-killed deer ultimately break down to the same organic components.”

To report a dead animal on a highway, call 800-367-7623 (800-FOR-ROAD).

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A garden to crow about

The Ruin Garden at Chanticleer (photo by  Lisa Roper)

The Ruin Garden at Chanticleer (photo by Lisa Roper)

The Liberty Bell was not the goal of my recent visit to Philadelphia. Instead, I made a beeline for Chanticleer (, a public garden in Wayne, just outside Philly. It’s one of America’s great (as in fabulous, exceptional, matchless) gardens. Like other great gardens – the ones that I consider great, at least – flowers are not the main attraction at Chanticleer.

The beauty of Chanticleer rests, in large part, in its “structure” – that is, the enduring qualities of the views, the shape of the land, the large trees, the paving that leads your eyes and your feet and the walls.

One special structural feature of Chanticleer is its ruins. Yes, ruins! Not actual ruins, but a stone mansion, roofless and apparently falling apart – all built to look that way. Why? Because ruins add a romantic air to a garden: dilapidation. Plants reenveloping the decrepitude, much like the lush trees ready to gobble up oblivious humans frolicking in Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Rococo landscapes. A return to the primitive, to Eden; Nature regaining the upper hand.

Chanticleer’s ruins may look like Nature is gaining control, but it’s not so. After all, this ruin was built. The plants, likewise, are planted. So dripping out from crannies among the rocks are chains of succulent plants. Water gathers in nooks (constructed, of course) in which grow water plants. In one “room” that could have been a main hall in this ruined mansion – if it had ever begun life as a non-ruined mansion – is a large stone table with a mirrored surface. The edges of the table actually form a lip that holds the pool of water that makes the table’s mirrored tabletop.

Chanticleer is not all ruin; just one little section. Another distinctive feature of the garden is its sweeps of grasses: lawn sculpture – of lawn. So there is mown lawn within which are splayed large sections of tufted, tawny, clumping grasses (fescues, I believe). Cover crops, which are grown on farms for soil improvement, are used decoratively at Chanticleer – perhaps also for soil improvement. One 70-foot-long-by-15-foot-wide, leaf-shaped bed had been tilled and was sprouting “veins” of rye plants along its length.

Chanticleer sports many annual or cold-tender plants distinctive for the size, color or shapes of their leaves. Some grow in pots, attractive and distinctive in their own right. In response to my query about how they store all those tender plants in winter, I was told that most were discarded. Chanticleer closes for the season on November 3.

Oh, and they do have pretty flowers also at Chanticleer.

Returning to my own garden: Has Chanticleer now provided inspiration for here? No. My garden is a very different kind of garden from Chanticleer. Chanticleer provides a thoroughly enjoyable feast for the eyes, but not something that I need to take home.

The main emphasis here on the farmden (see, it’s not even a garden any more) is edibles – albeit used more or less decoratively, depending on where you look: a feast mostly for the mouth, somewhat for the eyes.

The goal is to produce an abundance of flavorful, nutritious foods pretty much the year ‘round. Year -‘round food is made possible in this climate with freezing (many vegetables), common storage (e.g. cabbage, apple, pear, onion, squash), fermentation (cabbage, radishes), drying (tomatoes), one five-by-five-foot coldframe (lettuce and other salad greens) and a 400-square-foot, minimally heated greenhouse (lettuce and other salad greens, kale, chard).

But wait: Now that I look around, things look pretty good around here also. Right now, golden Chojuro and Seuri-Li Asian pears hang from the branches of espaliered trees sitting atop a stone retaining wall. Atop another retaining wall along the east and north sides of the house is a lush, green groundcover of lowbush blueberries, soon to turn a fiery crimson color. Mingling with those blueberries are low-growing lingonberries, whose red fruits are highlighted by the backdrop of the plants’ glossy evergreen leaves. (My book, Landscaping with Fruit, details ways to make a fruitful landscape that looks nice and tastes good.)

Way in back, running down the field is a row of pawpaw trees, their large, lush tropical-looking leaves hiding the mango-sized fruits now ripening. The creamy-white fruits have taste and texture along the lines of vanilla custard or crème brûlée. Some of the leaves have begun to shed their tropical look as they turn a clear yellow.

My persimmon trees aren’t hiding their fruits. Those fruits, which give their name to the color “persimmon orange,” liven up the trees, and will persist – decoratively, like Christmas ornaments – and remain edible even after the leaves drop. The fruits, the varieties Mohler, Dooley and Yates, are delicious, akin to dried apricots that have been plumped up with water, dipped in honey, then given a dash of spice.

And on and on: very tasty, and nice to look at. But Chanticleer is admittedly nicer to look at.

Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at and I’ll try answering them directly or in this column. Come visit my garden at and check out my new, instructional videos at For more on local homes and gardens, go to Ulster Publishing’s

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Garden of the week: Rooftop terrace at Birmingham’s stunning new library

There is also a herb garden on the third floor Discovery Terrace, where fruit and vegetables will be grown next year, but it is the colourful explosion of rich red flowering sedums on the seventh floor terrace that is a really magnificent sight at the moment.

Red hot pokers, shimmering grasses and the contrasting foliage of blue-green curry plants (Helichrysum) and bright green cranesbill leaves add to the interest as you meander along the gravel paths admiring the fabulous views over Britain’s second city.

There are still a few everlasting wallflowers providing a little colour, but even when winter sets in the garden will still look good thanks to the hard landscaping, which includes artfully arranged wooden seating that has a slightly sculpted look.

And come the spring the borders will be brought to life with flowering bulbs.

The fact that the two roof terraces were created by volunteers, led by television gardener Alys Fowler, is even more impressive.

Volunteers will continue to maintain the gardens, and many of these have been sponsored by Birmingham Library for a training scheme at the University of Birmingham’s Winterbourne House and Garden.

Once you have had a look round the roof terraces, make sure you take a tour around the space age interior.

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44 dump-truck loads later, a Great Gardens Contest winner emerges

Sam Lawther is the first person to win the PG’s Great Garden Contest twice.

It’s not because his garden is wonderful, though it is. And it’s not because we changed the rule that prohibits first-place winners from entering again. It’s because Mr. Lawther’s garden is totally and absolutely brand-new.

It’s a new garden, new house, new property about 15 miles from the old one, new everything EXCEPT the plants and his faithful dog Draco.

Look closely at the pictures: Almost everything you see was put in less than a year ago. And we aren’t talking perennials and small shrubs here, we are talking about some significant specimens. How he managed this is a story in itself.

When the home he was renting and gardening in Plum was foreclosed on, he was forced into an unplanned move. He and his girlfriend, Kim Lynam, now his wife, found another property to buy, but at the last minute that deal fell through. Driving around one day, they spied this property in Fawn. The house, built in 1936 on a 11/2-acre lot next to a cemetery, needed a lot of work. The elderly owner had moved into a nursing home, and her nephew was attempting to clean the place out. The home was full of a lifetime’s worth of possessions and the property had been used as a dump.

“It was just a big stretch of land,” Mr. Lawther says.

Once he had bought it, the land became the new home for his Garden of Misfit Plants, also known as Buffalo Gardens.

“During the summer Olympics last year, we moved Buffalo Gardens 14 miles up river,” he wrote in his entry essay. “Every shrub, plant, bulb, rock and leaf was brought to our new place. We moved the garden during the hottest part of the summer, on the hottest year ever. Luckily, it began raining 24 hours before we began the move and would continue for the next two weeks.

“Five exhausted people, 15 days, 44 dump truck loads, 1,232+ miles — $560 in gas. Moving one sacred garden: Priceless.”

The order of things was dictated by what they could dig up and load into the truck immediately. In addition to the plants, they rebuilt the Native American structures Mr. Lawther had at the old Buffalo Gardens, including a sweat lodge, medicine wheel, tepees and other items.

A little background on Mr. Lawther: He works for Pivik Landscaping and had constructed his former garden from rejected plants gathered from landscape jobs. With the help of his co-workers and the blessing of his boss, he created a quirky garden from all kinds of discarded plants and other items. When he was forced to move, it didn’t occur to him to walk away from the landscape he had created.

The result of his labors is his current garden. When judges from the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, the contest’s sponsors, received his entry in the large garden category, fall/year-round gardens, we all wanted to see what he had come up with this time. It didn’t disappoint.

Although he says the order the plants came from his old home ended up dictating placement at the new garden, it is interesting how it has turned into a cohesive whole. With discarded stone and pavers, he’s constructed walkways and installed garden “rooms.” The sweat lodge is made of wood and vines and the medicine wheel of stones placed in a circle. An old clawfoot tub he dug up on the property has been fashioned into a fountain, and the 1950s built-in swimming pool has been turned into a pond and fountain. Because the pool, which has largely been left untended, now teams with frogs, salamanders and other fauna, Mr. Lawther has not wanted to empty it and convert it into a real water garden. He’s figuring out how he can do that without harming the eco-system that has developed there.

Statues abound, and salvaged mirrors hang throughout the gardens, reflecting sunlight and adding whimsy. In one area, he has formed a large elephant out of grapevines removed from a landscaping cleanup job. Mr. Lawther is a genius at reusing discarded items.

Plants of all kinds are included in the garden — hostas, arborvitae, ornamental grasses and various shrubs and trees. He also grows the four herbs sacred to most tribes — sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar and sage — for use in his religious ceremonies. He has several vegetable gardens, too.

Although they live in the country, they have not had problems with deer so far. That’s because Draco, a large grizzled mixed-breed dog, is never far from his master’s side.

Mr. Lawther is quick to praise friends Rob Rucker, Tim Nuckles and Chris Gasior for stepping up and helping him during his move. And he says his new wife spent many hours watering the new transplants. His sister’s family, the Stifflers, also donated time and effort to the new garden.

“And of course, I want to thank Larry Pivik of Pivik Landscape for letting me borrow a skid loader and a dump truck for 16 days.”

Mr. Lawther embraced his Native American heritage several years ago when he was working on an independent movie project. His mother had Lakota and Cherokee ancestors.

“When the movie was in its early stages, Kim and I went to see the White Buffalo for the film. We were invited to participate in an Inipi ceremony,” he said.

Inside the sweat lodge, Mr. Lawther said he experienced the spirits of the sacred white buffalo and the spotted eagle, protector of the white buffalo.

“I had a vision that has taken five years for me to completely understand. I felt reborn somehow, closer to my own soul than ever before, and closer to the creator. The vision was about love, giving, learning, family.”

The garden is an extension of his beliefs. He has dedicated his new garden to his mother, Theresa J. Lawther, who died recently. “She was our lodge mother. She loved to sit in the garden and enjoy the surroundings,” he says.

Mr. Lawther hosts an Inipi ceremony once a month. He is full of plans for the new garden and has another passion. A cancer survivor, he has decided to sell some of the plants he collects and donate the money to children battling the disease. He has set up a website,, to accept donations and to announce plant drives/sales and other events beginning in the spring.

While he hadn’t planned to move Buffalo Gardens, it has all turned out for the good, he says. Winning the Great Gardens Contest again is just icing on the cake.

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Constance Craig Smith gardening tips: Tackle these 8 tasks now and your …

Craig Constance-smith

16:31 EST, 11 October 2013


16:31 EST, 11 October 2013

We British are supposed to be a nation of gardeners, but a recent survey that asked people how they felt about their garden produced some dismaying statistics.

Some 40 per cent of  respondents said they were embarrassed by their garden, while 12 per cent said they never set foot in it.

None of this surprises me because when I tell people I write about gardens, they often look embarrassed and mutter that theirs is ‘a bit of a disaster’.

If you fall into this category, take heart, because autumn is just the time to tackle a neglected one.

Tackle these eight easy tasks now and your garden will look glorious next spring

Tackle these eight easy tasks now and your garden will look glorious next spring

Put in a bit of work now, and by next spring your garden will give you a glow of pride instead of making you wince with shame. Here are some simple steps to get your garden back on track.

● Be ruthless about cutting back overlarge plants or shrubs. It won’t damage them and it will bring light and space into your garden.

● Remove any plants that you don’t like. Give them away, and plant something you really like instead.
● Declutter the garden. Store ugly things out of sight or throw away.

● Make sure you have easy access to a tap and invest in a good hose. If you have to lug watering cans around, chances are your garden won’t get watered enough.

● Sheds are invaluable but often unsightly. Transform yours with a coat of paint, or put wires along the sides and grow climbers such as sweet peas or sunflowers up it.
● Improve your patio with some attractive containers and colourful plants. Container gardening is a quick way to give your garden a lift.

● Love your lawn. An immaculate lawn looks beautiful but it’s a huge amount of work. Don’t worry about having weeds such as dandelions – call it a wildflower lawn. And if you don’t have time to mow often, just keep the edges neat to give the illusion of a well-kept lawn.

● Think long-term. Annuals are often the most eye-catching plants in the garden centre but perennials and shrubs are the best value and reduce the work you have to do. n

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Sustainable gardening tips shared at meeting in Chico – Enterprise

CHICO — Chico Horticultural Society will meet Wednesday, Oct. 16 at the Chico library, East First and Sherman avenues.

The meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. with refreshments, the program will start at 10:00 and the business meeting will start at 11:00. The public is welcome to attend.

The presentation will be on “Sustainable Gardening for California Landscapes.”

Presenter will be Pam Geisel, former director of the Statewide Master Gardener Program and county director of Glenn County. She is a professor emeritus in environmental horticulture, and obtained her master’s in Plant Science from CSU Fresno. Geisel has also written numerous publications on a variety of horticultural topics.

She will discuss recommendations for the Top 10 sustainable garden practices that gardeners can implement without having to make drastic changes in their gardening lifestyle. These practices and tips will help your garden become more sustainable and can, over the long run, save you money.

If you have questions, call Margaret at 520-0067.

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Gardening Tips: Preparing for first frost

Posted: Friday, October 11, 2013 11:01 am

Gardening Tips: Preparing for first frost

By Matthew Stevens

The Daily Herald, Roanoke Rapids, NC


After a long summer, it seems fall is finally here. While we haven’t had a frost yet, the first one doesn’t seem far, as the Roanoke Valley has often had a first fall frost around Oct. 15. The weather for the next week doesn’t seem to indicate an immediate risk of an overnight frost, but we all know the weather can change quickly.

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Friday, October 11, 2013 11:01 am.

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Expert tips to help home gardeners put their rose gardens to bed for fall

View full sizePeter and Susan Schneider grow numerous varieties of roses at Freedom Gardens in Portage Co.
Here are tips that home gardeners can use when closing the rose garden for winter from local rose experts Patti Jacko and Peter Schneider. We also interviewed two experts at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, grounds manager Mark Hoover and horticulturalist Deyampert Giles.

Stop fertilizing roses six weeks before the first frost.

Stop deadheading, since it promotes flower production.

Make sure that the graft point on grafted or hybridized roses is completely covered under soil. Otherwise, the thaw-freeze cycle in winter will kill the plant. You can tell if your rose was grafted – a propagation method in which the roots of one variety are attached to stems from another variety – if all of the branches are coming out of a golf-ball-sized root. That graph point must be well protected from winter weather.

Put down mulch to help keep moisture in the soil.

Rose hips – a swelling where the petals used to be – are actually seed pods that can be saved for next year. Collect the hips and place them in a cool, dry place during the winter. Do not refrigerate or freeze them.

Fall is a good time to plant new roses. They will put down new roots during the fall and winter, and be among the first to leaf out in spring. This is also a good time to transplant.

Keep watering up until the first frost if there isn’t much rain.

There’s no need to cover roses with burlap or Styrofoam.

Rake up leaf material that could harbor diseases. If you use any products, check first to be sure it does not contain fertilizer.

Expect your rose garden keep flowering through the first or second frost, depending on soil and air temperatures. “Roses can take a freeze,” Jacko said, but “don’t expect them to look gorgeous.”

This week’s series: Rose Gardens in Fall

WEDNESDAY: Two local rose experts give advice on putting rose gardens to bed.

THURSDAY: The Rose Garden at Cleveland Botanical Garden.

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