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Archives for December 2, 2013

Did They Tell You

The light is dark and somehow blurry but that doesn’t make any sense because that’s not how you describe light. Light is photons and photons are not dark and blurry or fuzzy, they’re just little particles that move at, well, the speed of light. I learned all of that as a young man in the Navy when I was on a nuclear submarine, the USS Henry Clay. And that was at least twenty-five summers back.

Still, the light is dark but the haziness is lifting and it feels as though I’m awakening from a dream and the first thing I feel is a… weightlessness.

Now the light becomes bright sunshine and everything snaps into focus and I see the shape before me and there he is, my brother.

I stare at Billy and feel a slight sense of awe the way I always have, ever since we were small boys. But now I’m seventeen and he’s nineteen and we both sit on the red sundeck of our mother’s home in rural Atlanta. I look down and laugh out loud to see a hard, flat stomach, dark from a summer of landscaping. It’s impossible to comprehend how over time that flat rock will morph and droop over my belt buckle. In my dream, I remember how I felt at that young age when I was so lean and strong and absolutely bullet proof and that persona comes back to me easily like slipping on an old, favorite shirt that has been lost for a while. Decades.

I look out, up and see Bob with a beer in one hand, throwing the Frisbee effortlessly perfect one hundred feet across the yard to Jimmy. Jimmy doesn’t have to move, he catches the disc and in the same motion turns and bombs a high glide toward Bobby who forms the third leg of their triangle. Jimmy’s throw is high, way high. Bobby stares with dark serious eyes, runs, and times a perfect jump to catch the Frisbee just before it sails over the fence into the neighbor’s yard.

I smile and look around to see if anyone else appreciates that little feat of athleticism. Amazingly to me, no one else seems impressed. Easy for Bobby, so natural. He had so many talents, it seemed to my young mind, yet no one seemed to notice. Not even himself.

I sip my beer, ice cold and strong and wickedly delicious and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Give Me Three Steps blares from the speakers in Bob’s truck, doors opened wide, the opening riff simultaneously strident and smooth demands your attention. Jimmy suddenly holds his beer high, head down, long hair waving wildly, feet moving in a way that only he can do, just as impressive as Bobby’s catch. This does get everyone’s attention because we all love Jimmy’s extremely rare dances affectionately known as possum trots.

Bobby, Jimmy, and Bob are my brother’s age. Cindy, Patti my age and so beautiful I can only look at them briefly because their boyfriends (my brother and Bob, respectively) would surely see my thoughts and a fight would ensue. Not that I couldn’t hold my own against anyone (and I mean anyone because I am indestructible as a Doberman) but there is a social status to our circle and I am perfectly content because I have so damn much respect.

Bob is in the yard and Billy is looking in that direction so I steal a glance at Cindy and Patti and watch as they roll a joint. Their hair is longer than the boys, halfway down their backs. The bloom is one hundred percent on the rose and I wonder if they could ever possibly look more beautiful in their lives. Surely they are at their physical peak and it is glorious. They wear bikini tops and cut off jeans might as well be bikini bottoms. Complexions clear and golden from the sun. Arms and legs long and beautiful but oh-my-god smiles make me lose my train of thought and any small shred of self-confidence I might have at that age.

Cindy looks at me and runs her tongue across the joint for seal and gives me an exaggerated wink and then laughs and I turn away in a blush because that’s the way Cindy was. An incredible flirt and my heart aches and I wonder if I will ever find a woman like her as I grow into a man.

That possibility seems impossibly far off.

She lights the joint, takes a deep drag, hands it to Billy. He smiles at her, takes a hit, hands it to me with a look of dead seriousness.

I take the joint and a drag and look across the deck at my brother.

His dark blond hair hangs to his shoulders. He wears a tank top and it looks good on his lean, muscular body. Cut off shorts and his thin legs are tan and I wish my white legs would darken like his. Barefoot like the rest of us but his look is different because he wears a belt and has a wallet attached to a long chain and he also wears an Old Timer pocketknife in a dark leather case on his belt. The belt with all the gear makes him look almost official, though he’s the farthest thing from a cop you’ll ever meet in your life.

Then he catches me gazing at him and registers a stern look and I turn away. The smoke starts to kick in and I feel time stretch and turn and am suddenly only aware of the exact moment and every nerve in my body is buzzing pleasantly and my mind begins to flow. Not drift exactly. Moving with purpose. The way you hop from one smooth round stone to the next while traveling across a creek at a pleasant pace. No sooner do you land on one rock then you immediately scan ahead for the next, and the next, then the next, your body in constant forward motion.

I am here in the company of the people I most love and trust in this world and I feel a feeling of total relaxation and peace.

Patti starts to tell a funny story from her job. She worked as a receptionist at a real estate firm. The company had thrown an after hours party for the employees, about twenty people. Everyone had been loaded and clearly people had a good time but the point was really brought home a week later when they found a pair of red-laced panties stuffed behind the cushions in the sofa in the reception area.

“Uh-oh. Were they yours?” Cindy asks with her beautiful contagious laugh.

“No, they most certainly were not,” Patti responds, eyes wide, smiling incredulously as though she could not believe Cindy’s suggestion. I had been thinking the same thing, of course, and still was not so sure.

“Who found them?” Cindy asks.

“The cleaning lady.”

“Oh no! Who was there when she found them?”

“A bunch of us. John and Kirk, me, Suzanne, Linda. I think Patrick was there.”

“Oh my God. What did y’all say?”

“That’s what’s so funny. Nothing at first. Then, after a minute, Kirk said we should follow Cinderella’s lead and try them on each girl one at a time.”

We all laugh but of course no one laughs louder or more wonderfully than Billy.

Patti goes on to another story but I have something I want to say because I’m feeling no pain and just have to discuss something related to an idea. So I wait for the right opening and finally I see that Patti is just talking, not really saying anything new so slowly I begin to speak.

I’m easing in into her lane with a turn signal and hoping she’ll let me in.

But Patti, not being a considerate driver, refuses.

I hesitate, then sense an opening when Patti sips her wine and try to ease in with a bit more force but Patti blocks my entry by setting down her wine and talking right over me. But I have already started so by God I’m coming into the goddamn lane and she’s going to have to actually hit me so for the next ten seconds we both talk and finally, way past rude but short of offensive, I go silent. Cindy looks at me and smiles and rolls her eyes at Patti’s boorishness and that makes me feel a little better. Of course, part of me resents that Patti did not show enough respect to let me speak. Then I smile and think perhaps I’m the selfish one to think that every time I start to speak everyone else should stop and listen. I do have certain friends who always defer to me and I get used to it and my ego thinks that everyone should show me that courtesy. Welcome to the real world.

Strangely, Billy always showed that courtesy.

At seventeen, two years makes a big difference. Bobby and Billy and Bob and Jimmy are two years older and I’m still in high school. Hanging out with them makes me feel older, mature. Somehow all the things we do are serious, they matter. Things I do with other friends are meaningless.

I came around from a urinal in my high school to wash my hands and two older boys stood talking at the sink and when they saw me one of them turned to his friend and spoke.

“Look, it’s a Kiser. His older brother is one of the ‘Animals’.”

I knew he referred to Billy, Bobby, Bob and Jimmy. They had all dropped out of Henderson High but not before earning reputations as young outlaws, anti-establishment hippies. And the wonderful nick name, “The Animals”.

He may have meant it as an insult to my family but I felt pride. I was associated indirectly with the older boys who were taken very seriously and it was an association of dignity as far as I was concerned. I held my head a little higher as I washed my hands.

When I told my brother and his friends of this encounter they laughed and repeated it among themselves and again I felt satisfied because I was mostly a listener and a watcher in our circle and most of what I said did not seem to impress or warrant additional comment. I thought a lot about ideas, abstracts that when raised to the group were generally met with derision. I never felt like I was smarter, in fact quite the opposite. I felt awkward in some ways because it just seemed like I thought about things that didn’t apply directly to life. And it seemed the things that did apply directly to life I somehow missed. But I’m a quick study so I stopped bringing up ideas unless, of course, we all had a good, strong buzz, which I definitely have going on now.

I look up again at my brother and the light goes slightly dark and I suddenly know what I knew which is to say what I know at the age of forty-seven, an age when lines form on your face and hands but only if you turn your hand or twist your arm a certain way so you avoid those maneuvers and learn to ignore the strange loose waves that appear on your skin. But I didn’t want to think about that because I’m relishing this moment from the past and I want, desperately, for this to be my real world at least for a little while longer and not the real world thirty summers in the future because no matter how confusing and intimidating and uncertain life is at seventeen it is still a time, particularly when high, of absolutely no pressure and these young friendships will never be repeated in life but you don’t know that yet and I wanted back in if only for a day.

“Did they tell you that you died?”, I ask Billy.

When I was seventeen and he was nineteen I don’t know why but Billy was very angry with me and there was nothing but contempt in his voice whenever he spoke to me. Naturally, the result was that he and I rarely spoke. I loved and respected him, though I could, of course, never tell him that. I seriously doubted he loved me as a brother.

These feelings would persist as I grew into a man and sailed the world in the Navy and went to college and went to work in corporate America and married and had children and became an executive and traveled and met more people than my brother could ever dream of, people of all walks of life and all personalities. At seventeen, I had never met a person as strong as my brother and I didn’t know it then but I never would in my entire life and to this day I don’t understand what made him so strong.

One day we were at the Chattahoochee River drinking beer and a cop came by to hassle us and he was big and pulled out his baton. I did my best to stand up straight but I was certain anyone who looked at me could see the fear in my eyes. Billy stared with utter defiance and it seemed to me he actually wouldn’t mind if the cop knocked him out with that club. The cop seemed to sense the same thing.

“Do you think you’re tough, boy?” the cop asked. He was at least a foot taller than all of us and ten years older. He wore reflective sunglasses and his hair was short and he was dark and he looked like the kind of no nonsense killer who would crack your skull without hesitation.

Billy stared at him, looking relaxed and unaware of the menace the man projected. somehow completely immune. I did not know how that could be. I did not know how Billy would answer. I had no idea what I would say. It was clearly a lose-lose question. If Billy said no then he was subservient and I knew that was not an option. If he said yes then the cop would have to prove he was tougher and with a big dark cop like that you just did not want to encourage him to prove such a thing.

“Tougher than some,” was Billy’s cool reply and we would talk about that day and his reply in the decades ahead.

The cop stared hard at Billy for a moment, then two. And then an incredible thing happened. The cop smiled and the tension was broken and he told us to be on our way as we were scaring the “regular” folk. We said that’s cool and we left and we laughed all the way home. Billy had a great laugh and a big smile and just a wonderful personality when he chose to use it.

In our thirties things changed and Billy’s contempt faded and, hey, give me some credit where I deserve it. I worked really hard and made something of myself and became a man. I went further in life, I’m sure, than Billy ever thought I would.

In our forties he actually apologized for being such a prick when we were younger. Not to me, of course, but to my Mom and she told me and that was good enough.

As Billy looks at me across the sundeck on this summer day in the late nineteen seventies there is a little of what we would develop in our forties in his gaze and the contempt is gone and even though we look the way we look in our young bodies we both have our older perspectives.

I can see in his face that Billy takes me seriously. He would make a terrible poker player because as tough as he was his face gave everything away. Perhaps that’s what made him so tough.

Still, he is struggling to humor me because clearly he thinks it is a ridiculous question. His look says it all and as he struggles to find the words I realize I don’t need to hear them, I can see his look of dismissal, indifference to the question. See, we were partly older but still here we are on our mother’s sundeck so the question really is stupid.

“Hey, I know it’s only talk,” I said. I have to get this point across somehow because it’s important and I will learn in my twenties and thirties that no matter the social status in the crowd you have to make the important points. That was, in fact, how you climbed the ladder of social status, by recognizing the important points and making them where others could not.

“But let me tell you what I know. Let me tell you the warning signs so just in case you see them coming, if you see any of these patterns, you’ll know.”

Now I’m framing my argument with a logic he can’t debate.

“Just in case, Billy.”

He looks away and I think about the despair he must have felt at the end, the utter lack of hope and the eventual decision that the pain had to end no matter what. Fuck it. And I realize I can’t tell him of those warning signs because that discussion would somehow have me lecturing to him and that should never happen and the moment is lost. Forever.

The last words he will ever say to me are also the first time he ever says those words to me and I was shocked and amazed and nearly cried because to hear it from him was surreal and there was nothing about his words to be taken lightly.

“I love you,” he will say thirty years from this moment and he will give me a hug and I will leave his dirty little studio apartment, where he’s living alone with two days to live.

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Children’s park planners seek input on design

Little Gabriela Green visits Fairhoper's Community Park regularly with her dad Rusty.

Little Gabriela Green visits Fairhoper’s Community Park regularly with her dad Rusty.

Posted: Monday, December 2, 2013 10:26 am

Updated: 11:11 am, Mon Dec 2, 2013.

Children’s park planners seek input on design



FAIRHOPE – Imagine a cannon on one side of Fairhoper’s Community Park that could blast kids into a splash pad. At the same time, adults could play chess with lifesize queens and kings.

These are some of the ideas coming to light as planners work toward revamping the city’s premier children’s park on the corner of Morphy Avenue and Church Street.

“We went to the elementary school and met with two classrooms,” said Clay Adams of Walcott-Adams-Vernuille Architects, who are drawing the design. “The schools were fun, and they had some great ideas.

“We left the idea of them sketching what they would like and turning it in,” he added.

Adams’ firm recently presented the Fairhope City Council with a plan for updating the 20-year-old park. A first public forum on the design was held last Tuesday, and the meeting with school children came the next day.

Planners will hold another public forum on the park Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Delchamps Room at the Fairhope Civic Center. They will again take the ideas the following day to Newton Elementary School students.

Adams said some good ideas came from last week’s pubic meeting. Some parents expressed a desire to have a innovative area, such as a large chess or checker board, to keep adults occupied while their children play. Another idea for grownups was a walking area with stretches and other exercises along the way.

The cannon concept was from the children’s meeting. Youngsters also suggested spinning rides and rock- or rope-climbing walls, and maybe a pirate ship for Fairhope.

“Obviously, we talked about the completion date,” said Adams. “Our tentative date is spring time, and April would be the 20th anniversary of the original building of the park.”

A splash pad with fountains for youngsters is part of the new design for the park. It would be set on a timer and be turned on and off by visitors to the park.

“Everybody liked the idea of additional gazebos because of how crowded the single one is when someone is having a birthday party,” said Adams. “We asked the kids how many had had their birthday parties there, and more than 50 percent raised their hands. All the children were familiar with it.”

Salvaging the personal graffiti and other art around the park was also important to people at the public meeting, according to Adams. He said the designers are “recycling and repurposing” those pieces.

Adams said council President Jack Burrell told the group that the budget could reach $429,000.

“We haven’t bid it,” said Adams. “But we are working backward toward that goal.”

Adams was involved in the planning and building of the original park, and he said it “seems like yesterday.” He said he has been told that the park would likely be closed for four months during the renovations.

He said the work could begin as early as January, and that would put the new park’s opening in April.

“Of the adults that were at the meeting, I think everybody is excited that we are maintaining the existing trees,” Adams said. “Some of the adults talked about embellishing landscaping around the entrance.

“We’ve had four or five groups of meetings so far, and it seems like everybody is really excited,” he said.


Monday, December 2, 2013 10:26 am.

Updated: 11:11 am.

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Do it yourself landscapes: Ideas, tips and advice for Southern California …

This article has suggestions for landscaping in Southern California.

Water is the most important consideration when planning to landscape your yard, as in how to minimize the use of water. Southern California in its natural state is a semi-arid desert. Since Southern California goes through periods of drought and imports most of its water, it makes sense ecologically to use as little water as possible. And, it saves money on your water bill.

Ideas, tips and advice for southern california landscaping

Grass is a big water hog. Some experts say that grass needs about an inch of water every week. This might not seem like a lot, but multiply one inch times the square footage of all of the grass in your yard, then add in some more for hand watering brown spots, and finally throw in more water for runoff, and you have probably used more water than you realize. If you have a 10 by 20 foot lawn, you should be using a minimum of 2,400 inches of water a week to keep your grass green. That is a lot of bathtubs full of water! Does this mean that you have to give up your grass? No. But, you might want to reduce the area of your traditional lawn by planting combinations of low water drinking grasses like Blue Wildrye, Buffalo Grass, Bear Grass, Blue Oat Grass, or Giant Feather Grass. Planting these grasses will not only save on your water usage, you will be also be spending less time mowing and you will be making your yard more visually interesting by varying the textures, the colors and the heights of your grasses.

What about flowering plants? Sages do not require a lot of water, have different colored flowers, and are also fragrant. Look into Baja Blanco Cedros Island Sage, Black Sage, or Creeping Sage. What about flowers that attract hummingbirds? California Fuchsias, Royal Beard Tongues, and Bladder Pods do not require huge amounts of water and attract hummingbirds. How about plants that attract butterflies? Try Baja Fairy Dusters, Golden Yarrow, or Hearst California Lilacs and save on water. Don’t forget California Poppies. Add some White California Poppies for a nice annual bed.

What about a cactus or a succulent garden? Cacti like the Barrel Cactus, the Blue Blade, and the Hildemann Cactus have contrasting shapes, colors, and flowers, and all three like part sun and part shade. Your succulent garden might combine Chalk Dudleya, Colorado Four o’Clock, Felt Plant, Purple Stonecrop, and Medicinal Aloe, all presenting different shapes and sizes. Some of these succulents will even attract more hummingbirds. You might also consider combining your succulents and cacti to give the area a more exotic look.

Now that you have different areas of interest in your yard, put in stepping stones to go from one area to the next. Or, plan a rock path to a shady tree and put a bench underneath to catch the evening breeze. And since you are saving so much water, you might want to install a wall fountain so that you can hear the soothing sounds of gentle splashing when you are at home.

Water is a precious resource in Southern California. You will be saving water and money by changing your plants to ones that require less water, not to mention saving some mowing time. Remember to turn on those sprinklers in the morning and in the evening, but not during the middle of the day to maximize the amount of water that actually can be used by your plants and minimize evaporation. Enjoy your new yard.

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Green Landscaping In New York City

In 2010, the fellows of the Design Trust for Public Space published a handbook for green landscaping in New York City’s parks. Developed with public spaces in mind, the guide is an invaluable resource for urban landscapers looking to reduce their environment impact and offers in-depth planning information aimed at mitigating the urban heat island effect, providing healthy habitats for native species and reducing the impact of climate change.

Although the technical guide aims at the creation of large-scale urban park spaces, the landscaping guide also offers some practical and cost-effective methods adaptable for green spaces large and small. From harvesting rainwater, using native plant species and enriching your soil with composting, home landscapers and gardeners can benefit from some of the best expert-developed practices currently being used to transform New York City’s public urban park spaces into environmentally friendly green oases.

Invest in rainwater harvesting or a drip irrigation system

Water management, including reducing the reliance on city water supplies, is a top priority for New York City Parks. For home landscapers looking to reduce their own monthly bill, harvesting rainwater can be an an easy, environmentally friendly way to make your garden more green and reduce water usage. Water management systems are available to fit every budget and every space, from old-fashioned rain barrel projects that rely on gravity to drip irrigation systems that water plants at their root to reduce the amount of water needed to keep plants healthy. For residents unsure of their options or seeking expert installation, NewEco Landscape Design and Builders is one local, eco-friendly company that can help homeowners explore their options and develop a system to best meet their needs and space.

Plant with native species to encourage local wildlife

New York City is home to over 2,000 native species that provide habitats and food for local wildlife, and city gardeners and horticulturalists regularly research which plants are best suited for particular parks and spaces based on a number of factors from soil quality to the amount of sun. For homeowners seeking to learn which plants thrive in shady areas or which are salt-resistant varieties, the Greenbelt Native Plant Initiative offers New York City residents a comprehensive list of native species suited for a range of city environments, from wildlife gardens to the growing number of green rooftops across New York City. The Greenbelt Plant Initiative also has an expert staff that can answer your questions or direct you to additional resources available to home gardeners and landscapers.

Start composting

In parks throughout the five boroughs, compost gathered from public composting projects is helping to provide nutrient-rich soil for plants to thrive. An easily recycled resource for landscaping projects of all sizes, composting is an environmentally friendly way to turn wasted food into a renewable green resource. For homeowners seeking to learn more about how they can compost, city-sponsored NYC Compost Project makes it easy to start your own composting project at home. The program, which is part or NYC WasteLess, offers discounted composting supplies, low-cost workshops to help train you to compost wisely, as well as assistance for first-time composters on how to create a healthy compost heap to turn wasted food into healthy soil for their home landscapes.

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Tamar Auber is a freelance writer whose work can be found on

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Community Involvement Wanted

An important change is taking place in our neighborhoods. Across Jamestown, more and more residents are leaving the sidelines and joining with neighbors to improve their corner of the city.

This movement accelerated in 2011. Members of Northside PRIDE continued their efforts to build confidence and camaraderie between Falconer Street and East Sixth Street by organizing events, bringing attention to key issues, and planning a park. In the Fairmount-McDaniel area, members of the Wild Westside held a block sale, threw a party, and worked with the city to get new trees planted.

On Lakeview Avenue, Forest Avenue, and West 13th Street, new neighborhood watch groups were organized, adding to more than a dozen existing groups that partner with police and work hard to improve the safety and attractiveness of their streets.

Meanwhile, neighborhood activists led volunteer clean-ups on Winsor Street and the Chadakoin River to remove blight and raise our expectations, and realized a vision of a revitalized playground in Roseland Park.

All of these efforts, led by neighbors, demonstrate the power of active collaborations between residents, institutions, and city government. Founded on participation, these partnerships are the cornerstones of revitalization. Step by step, they turn a vicious cycle of disinvestment into a virtuous cycle of reinvestment, giving people the confidence and encouragement to fix a porch, plant a garden, and talk to neighbors.

The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation (JRC) is working to seed and facilitate these partnerships through a number of new and experimental initiatives recommended in the city’s neighborhood revitalization plan and by city residents.

Fact Box

Jamestown residents are invited by the Jamestown Strategic Planning and Partnerships Commission to attend the reporting and planning event set for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, at the Dr. Lillian Vitanza Ney Renaissance Center, corner of Washington and Third streets. Light refreshments will be provided free-of-charge at 5 p.m.

The SPPC is a volunteer group which discusses and implements ideas about how to make Jamestown a more livable and vibrant community. Ideas are assigned to volunteer action teams who work to bring the ideas to reality.

Group members include representatives from private local industry and businesses, WCA Hospital, local churches, local foundations, private citizens, Jamestown Community College, the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, the Downtown Jamestown Development Corporation, city government and the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities. Commission members are seeking input from the public on next year’s goals.

Wednesday’s event will include short reports from the action teams on 2011 accomplishments, followed by break-out groups to help set future priorities for the commission. Action teams that will report include: the Jamestown Urban Design Plan, Neighborhood Initiatives, Education, Health Care, Diversity in Leadership and Regionalism.

The Renaissance Block Challenge began in 2011 to assist groups of neighbors with exterior home improvements, creating concentrated areas of visible reinvestment. The first four Renaissance Blocks have poured over $40,000 into repair and landscaping projects on Liberty, Lincoln, and Grant Streets and Royal Avenue. Pre-applications for the 2012 Renaissance Block Challenge are now available at the JRC’s website.

GROW Jamestown, an effort to encourage gardening and landscaping, also began in 2011 by recognizing nearly 200 great gardens-nominated by the public-that add value to homes and streets. This effort will expand this year into new directions and partnerships, from community gardening to the enhancement of neighborhood gateways.

Empowering residents with vital information in accessible formats-how to plant a tree, throw a block party, report code violations, start a neighborhood organization-is a priority in 2012. So too are finding ways to hasten the demolition of dilapidated homes, ensuring that vacant buildings are properly monitored, and expanding litter and graffiti removal activities.

Keeping neighborhoods healthy, or returning them to health, is an ongoing process that requires constant stewardship and the testing of new ideas. As more Jamestowners contribute their energy and imagination, it’s hard not to be encouraged and inspired.

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Green Landscaping In Boston

Landscape architecture is a huge field that affects a great deal of our physical environment, especially in urban areas where truly wild landscape is pretty rare. Within the overarching realm of landscape architecture, green and sustainable landscaping is a huge, growing trend. After all, when not designed properly, human-made landscapes can be dependent on a great deal of resources. Different plants have different needs – some require more water, sunshine, healthier soil and fertilizer, while others hardly need any of these. So the trick for landscape architects (and DIY gardeners), is learning which plants to put where and in a way that is both resourceful and aesthetically pleasing. Sustainable gardens also avoid the planting of invasive species and are mindful to the wildlife that depend on that given space. Sustainable landscaping is also often regenerative, meaning that the garden won’t need to be replanted every year.

Large-scale green landscaping takes a lot of forethought, and usually requires the designers to develop a master plan. The master plan will not only explain the look and feel of the area, but will also predict the resources and upkeep required for maintaining it. Landscape architects, planners, architects, engineers, horticulturalists and others work in interdisciplinary teams to make the project beneficial environmentally and economically. The surrounding community is also taken into consideration when designing green urban gardens. Plants serve as natural air filters, so gardens can be designed to maximize carbon sequestration. Green spaces are also important for the well being of urban neighborhoods. 

2013 07 15 19.47.18 Green Landscaping In Boston

(Credit, Cameron Bruns)

Sustainable landscape design is especially popular in Boston where energy efficiency is so important to residents and businesses. In fact, Boston hosted this year’s American Society of Landscape Architects Conference, which drew in more than 6,000 landscape professionals and students. Attendees took classes in subjects like Geodesign – which focuses on using geography and GIS mapping to make cities more livable while also conserving nature. Another course offered was Biophilic Design; the study of how people interact with nature. There was even a specific session at the conference dedicated to tree planting in and around Boston.

A great outcome of the ASLA conference is “The Dirt,” or the Landscape Architect’s Guide to Boston. The guide features wonderful greenspaces throughout Boston, including The Emerald Necklace, Raymond V. Mellone Park and Condor Street Urban Wild. The Guide also refers to Boston as a “trendsetter” when it comes to sustainable landscaping. 

Christopher Columbus Park Green Landscaping In Boston

(Credit, Cameron Bruns)

But the American Society of Landscape Architects Conference isn’t the only opportunity for people to learn about sustainable garden design. The Boston Architectural College, which has a huge focus on green design, has courses in landscape architecture. Located in Boston’s Back Bay, the architectural college provides opportunities for both bachelors and masters degrees in the fields of landscape architecture, interior design, design studies and traditional architecture. The landscape architecture department provides education in urban ecology, hydrology, planting design and structural construction. Students at the school have the opportunity to work with real clients to put their skill to the test even before graduating. This practical learning experience makes graduates some of the best in their field. 

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Cameron Bruns is the founder of and co-author of Just Us Gals Boston. She lives in Boston’s North End, where her goal is to promote ethical, stylish, and sustainable lifestyle choices to all Boston residents. Her work can be found on

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Gardening Tips: How to Develop your Garden on a Budget

These days, all of us are looking for ways to get more for less, and when it comes to starting a garden and developing it to maturity, this happens also to be the BEST way of doing it. There are two reasons for this. First, when starting a garden on an unlimited budget, we can be far too likely to purchase too many plants. Gardens should be started with fewer plants that are allowed a season or two to establish their place in the garden. You’ll also learn how to best care for them when there are fewer that require your attention, and along the way they will become old friends. Secondly, when the budget is large, the tendency to use store-bought fertilizers is greater. The long-term health of your garden is dependent on developing natural, organic fertilizer to feed your flowering friends. So, be glad for a limited budget and enjoy the process of slowly developing a fantastic garden that will mean so much more to you in the end.

Gardening Tips: How to Develop your Garden on a Budget

The first step to developing a garden on a budget is to be very discriminating in your choice of plants. As you consider what you will plant, read widely on plants that grow well in your climate zone. Talk to gardening friends about their favorite plants, and why they appreciate them. Spend time at a local nursery walking among the perennial flowers and bushes, studying their characteristics and asking lots of questions of the nursery plant specialists. You’ll discover that each plant species has its own personality, and with careful consideration you’ll be able to choose plants that you will truly enjoy nurturing and tending to.

Secondly, and related to the first step, find gardening friends who are willing to divide some of their plants and share them with you. You’ll have the added pleasure of knowing you received your plant from a fellow gardening enthusiast, which will strengthen a friendship while offering the plants you desire.

The third step involves vegetables in the garden. Ask your family which veggies they will most enjoy, and then stick to those options. That way, what you grow won’t go to waste, and you’ll get all your money’s worth from the plants you choose. This is especially true if you plan to spend a little more to get starter plants like tomatoes, peppers, broccoli or seed potatoes. With vegetables and flowers, start with seeds whenever you can to further reduce expenses.

The next step is to start a compost pile so that you never have to buy expensive fertilizers. See our guide on composting for complete information. For starters, save your non-meat kitchen scraps and your garden or yard waste. Pile these together in a corner using a border of hay bales, chicken wire, or old lumber. Add a 10 to 1 mix of brown material like dead leaves and green material like grass clippings. Stir up the mixture, soak it with water, and wait until it fully decays into compost. Then use it to feed your growing vegetables, perennials, shrubs, and more. Along these lines, find a local rabbit raiser, and ask for rabbit manure, which is an outstanding source of organic fertilizer!

Finally, look for multi-purpose plants to grow. Herbs often boast beautiful, usually small and delicate flowers that are aesthetically appealing. The bonus is that they can be used to add zest to any meal made in the kitchen. Some flowers, like violas, pansies, bachelor buttons, and even roses may be eaten, too, if you are really adventurous!

In the end, you’ll be glad you had a limited budget, because the process of developing it will be more intimate, more hands on, and you’ll have more energy and emotion invested in this wonderful process.

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Gardening Tips: Choosing the right tools for gardening

Any house will look beautiful with colorful and fragrant flowers in its garden. This not only adds aesthetic as well as monetary value to the house but also helps the inhabitants to relax and enjoy a natural and serene atmosphere. It is a popular belief that gardening is a therapeutic hobby, as you get to do some manual labor which allows you to ease out your worries and cope up with your troubles.

Gardening Tips: Choosing the right tools for gardening

Whether you want to have a garden full of flowers or vegetables, choosing the right gardening tools will help you in doing all the jobs easily, quickly and comfortably. If you are a beginner in gardening, then choosing the right gardening tools may not be that easy for you. There are several tools available out there and you may easily get confused about which one you should purchase. So, let us take some steps back and have a look at which tools are extremely essential for gardening.

A spade is a very important gardening tool that will be needed all through your life dedicated to gardening. This tool is used to dig holes for moving soil, planting, taking away the sods and edging beds. These are in the form of shovels that have short handles and square heads. Another imperative gardening tool is a hand trowel which is used for placing the plants into the soil. It is better to purchase a hand trowel which is made up of stainless steel and which has a rubber grip.

Different types of hoes are also available and you have to choose the one as per your type of garden. If you have a vegetable garden, then a stirrup or standard hoe will be appropriate for you. But if you have a perennial garden, then choose a super-thin hoe for more delicacy in the touch. You will also need a rake that will help you in cleaning up your garden effortlessly. In this way, you will be able to round up the litter quickly and easily and also get rid of weeds and unwanted parts of the plants. A rake made of plastic is a long lasting and durable option.

It is very important to have your garden weed-free and for that, you will need hand cultivator. This is used for turning the soil for seeding, whether you are gardening in containers or garden beds. This has to be used with a pulling and chopping motion and you should choose the one that is attached securely to its base. A pruner is used to shape the plants and remove the spent foliage. Although this is an expensive tool to buy, it will prove to be very useful for you in the long run.

If you are going to do gardening, then you will also need to water your plants regularly. Therefore, having a water hose is just impeccable. It should be enough in length to reach all the areas of your garden. Purchase a hose that is high in quality standard and which also comes with a warranty. Gloves will also be needed to keep your hands clean and away from stings and bruises.

Doing gardening is not very easy and it is extremely rewarding. You will need to keep in well-maintained and for that, you will need most of these gardening tools that you should buy today itself.

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Gardening Tips: How to Build a Rock Garden

Rock lovers that enjoy gardening find great satisfaction in combining beautiful stones and their favorite flowers into essential parts of their landscape. Rocks create wonderful gardens. Their size, weight, and stability make them highly suited for use as a border, and even as a containment barrier in a raised-bed garden, as we’re going to discuss in this guide.

Step one is to choose a location for your rock garden. Stroll around your yard imagining possibilities. Popular options include a hill slope that is difficult to mow, a ring or rectangle formed around a favorite shade tree, a focal point easily enjoyed from a large window or the deck, or a corner of the yard, perhaps where fencing comes together. Leaf through some of your favorite gardening books for location ideas, as well as inspiration for design.

How to Build a Rock Garden

Step two is to finalize that design through trial and error, by laying it out in the chosen spot, using newspaper. Explore different shapes, and expand or shrink the design until you are happy with it. Add several layers of paper, which will act to smother the vegetation beneath, while allowing for drainage in the garden.

The third step is to form the outside border with stones large enough to create a bed at least 6-8 inches deep. Bunch stones tightly next to adjoining ones, so they will better hold the soil. When the containment border is complete, fill your garden with quality top soil. Water the soil thoroughly to compact it, and then fill in settled spots. If you plan to add an elevated section within the garden, perhaps with a smaller course of rocks, now is the time to do that, filling it with soil, also. Circles within circles, rectangles within rectangles, or mixed shape combinations can be very attractive.

The fourth step is to begin planting your flowers. Here we have to take a step back and talk about plant selection. Let’s begin with color. Different types of rock feature different color characteristics. Field stone is varied, yet quite different than assorted shades of sandstone or ledge stone. It is important to choose flowers that will complement the colors found in the rocks. The best thing to do is to have a few rocks with you when you select your flowers. You’ll easily see that some colors are a good fit and others are not. The principle is the same as matching carpeting with furniture fabrics or curtains indoors. The other plant selection issue involves choosing the right height plants for where you plan to place them. Shorter plants will go in front, taller, bushier plants should go in middle or back. The point is that as you view the garden, all rows of plants should be visible. Sketch on paper your planting configuration before you start planting. Finally, plan for there to be color through each season. Know when each bulb or plant blooms, and locate them so that all sections of your rock garden will have several plants in full blossom at all times.

The last step is to plant the flowers in your rock garden. The essential thing is to begin in back and plant toward the front, so that you won’t damage what you have already planted by accidently stepping on it, for example. Keep a few of the nicer stones set aside to place here and there in the garden as attractive accents. These basic steps to building a rock garden will produce a unique, natural space employing some of the choicest bounty the earth has to offer.

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Home garden fun: Tips to grow a giant pumpkin. Includes advice on seed …

Growing giant pumpkins can be a fun and exciting hobby. It can even be profitable if you can grow contest-winning fruits for annual fairs. The biggest pumpkins recorded have weighed over 1,000 pounds, and their growers often boast of belonging to the “1000 Club.” You too can grow a giant pumpkin. It will take some time and effort, but will be rewarding and fun. Here are some tips for growing that prize-winning, kid-pleasing giant pumpkin:

Select the right seed variety. Not all pumpkin varieties are the same. Some are bred to be purposely small (such as ‘Small Sugar’ and ‘Spookie’), but others have been developed just for growing giant pumpkins. Giant pumpkin varieties include ‘Big Max,’ ‘Big Tom,’ ‘Howden’s Field,’ and ‘Atlantic Giant.’

Tips to grow a giant pumpkin

This last variety, ‘Atlantic Giant,’ actually holds the world record for all giant pumpkins—over 1,300 pounds! Check your local garden supply store for the varieties best for your area. Your local Cooperative Extension Service can also give you tips on the seed variety best suited for where you live (Look for the Extension Service in the government pages of your phone book.).

Select the right place to grow your pumpkin. Pumpkins grow on large, spreading vines that can quickly take control of your garden. They need lots of growing space. However, they can tolerate a little more shade than most vegetables, so you may be able to find an otherwise unused spot in the garden for them. Still, make sure your pumpkin patch receives at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Pumpkins especially thrive in open fields or mixed in with corn. You can plant your pumpkin vines between corn rows or along a fence.
Prepare the soil. Pumpkins need rich soil with lots of moisture. To grow a giant pumpkin, you will need to take extra steps in ensuring the quality of your soil. If you are new to gardening or have recently moved and are beginning growing on a new spot of land, you may want to have a soil test taken by the local Extension Service. Tell them you want to grow a giant pumpkin, and they can tell you exactly what to add to your soil and how much of it to add to make your soil just right for giant pumpkin growing. (Soil tests rarely cost more than $5 to $10, and you get free gardening recommendations along with the results).

Before planting your seeds, mix in some commercial fertilizer and rotted manure or compost to the soil. A fertilizer high in potassium will help you grow a giant pumpkin. (Potassium is the “K” in NPK fertilizers).

Planting Pumpkins: To plant your pumpkin seeds, make a hill or mound from the soil about 4 to 6 inches high. Sow five seeds per hill, spacing seeds 6 inches apart. It’s important to wait until all danger of frost is over before you plant your seeds outside. If you live in a northern climate, you may need to start your seeds indoors and transplant outside after the last frost. Pumpkins take 110 to 120 days to reach maturity. They love the hot days of summer and get squeamish at the first sight of cold weather. After the seedlings emerge, thin to just 2 or 3 plants per hill, keeping the healthiest looking ones. Mulch the young plants to retain moisture in the soil. Make sure to keep the soil moist, but never soggy. Some gardeners place a gallon jug (old milk carton) with a hole punched in the bottom and filled with water on each hill to ensure good moisture.

Getting the one giant pumpkin: Your pumpkin plants will produce several fruits per vine. But you want your plants to put as much energy as possible into growing one giant fruit, not lots of little or medium-sized pumpkins. So once the small green fruits emerge, cut off all but 3. Let those grow for a few weeks and then select the best looking one to continue. Cut off the other two. Most pumpkin vines send out secondary shoots. You can leave these to grow, but sidedress fertilize them periodically throughout the growing season.

Protect against pests. The most serious threat to pumpkins is the cucumber beetle. These long beetles are striped or spotted yellow with black marking, and they eat holes in leaves. Spray your plants with rotenone or carbaryl as they grow to provide protection against pests.

And even though you want to give your giant pumpkin as much time as possible to grow, it is very important to harvest it before the threat of frost. Frost will destroy your prize pumpkin. But if you have fertilized well, used a rich soil, and kept close watch over your pumpkin to protect it from pests, you should be able to have a rewarding treat in the early fall. Maybe you too can join the 1000 Club!

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