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Archives for December 16, 2013

A Roaming Community Garden, To Help Green Vacant Lots

When she first moved to San Francisco, architect Stephanie Goodson missed having a garden. After several failed attempts at growing food in her dimly-lit apartment, she started thinking about the many temporarily vacant lots she saw when running through her neighborhood. Four years later, Nomad Gardens–her design for a mobile community garden that can move from lot to lot–is about to break ground.

Goodson’s neighborhood of Mission Bay was once industrial, but like other parts of the city, it’s quickly becoming home to new high-rise apartments. While developers go through the process of finalizing plans and funding for new buildings, many lots sit empty. Mission Bay Development Group, which holds a lease to turn 300 acres in the neighborhood into a new mixed-use development, loved the idea of the gardens–especially because they could easily move when construction does finally start.

“There was a community garden across the street, but there was a 30-year waiting list,” Goodson said. “The developer also told me that it’s hard because people get attached to their spaces, and put sweat equity into growing and fostering these plants, so whenever the lot’s ready for development, it’s hard for the community. I said, ‘Well, what if it’s transportable?’ He loved it.”

The new garden will include over 200 individual plots, making it San Francisco’s largest community garden. Each part will be built on a platform so it can easily be moved to a new location with a forklift and flatbed truck. Goodson’s team first experimented with reusing old pallets, but later decided to work with an industrial designer to create a design that would be a consistent size, easy to build, and more durable during transport.

Eventually, they plan to make a product line of branded mobile garden units that someone could buy at a store like Ikea. “We want to create a sustainable business model,” Goodson says. “We’re currently partnered with the SF Parks Alliance, so we’re technically classified as a nonprofit, but we’d like to be a completely self-sustaining business. One of the ways of doing that can be a kind of one-for-one model where we have a product line that allows us to take the proceeds and put it back into gardens.”

The Mission Bay garden will also include room for outdoor movies and other community events. “We see it as a really good opportunity to meet your neighbors,” Goodson says. “I’m a big believer in cities and the cross-pollination of ideas. Giving a space like this provides for serendipity, innovation, and idea generation, and just cultivating a strong community.”

After an Indiegogo campaign and years of working through all of the necessary details with the city and the developer, Nomad Gardens signed a lease on the lot last week, and the first plots will be built in early January. They’ve already been approached by other cities who want to build a similar gardens.

“Our goal is to do this all over,” Goodson says. “We’d like the first garden to inspire good design and community building in other parts of San Francisco and beyond.”

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To find Rome’s heart, stray off beaten path

ROME—Stand within the Colosseum’s massive bowl, and you can practically hear the roar of the ancient crowd. But to capture the sounds of today’s Rome, it’s best to get away from the flurry of tourists and settle into a quaint trattoria like Da Tonino, where everyone within its rustic walls chatters away in Italian.

No sign outside announces the restaurant; my wife and I dined there courtesy of a local’s tip. And that cloaked quality was precisely its appeal.

Hidden gems—ignored by the guidebooks, well off the tourist path—await in nearly every nook of this wondrous city. Of course visitors should crane their necks at the Vatican, sip espresso at an open-air bar in Piazza Navona and climb the Spanish Steps. But in a place with a history so long and rich that it is dubbed “the Eternal City,” only one approach seems plausible: Peel away the layers, savouring each one, to get a deeper sense of the place.

In our journey to do just that, we hoofed everywhere, from an underappreciated villa with some of the world’s foremost fountains to a neighbourhood bakery with marzipan confections—and places beyond.

Our feet are still recuperating, but our souls are soaked with indelible memories.

• Cul De Sac

Cork dorks should head posthaste to Cul de Sac (Piazza di Pasquino 73;, to sample scores of wines they can’t get elsewhere (start with a glass of the cesanese, although it’s impossible to order poorly here). But this locals-laden enoteca has way more to offer: a locavore menu with eight kinds of pâte, sundry salumi and cheese and homemade pasta, friendly service (a waiter actually asked an indecisive customer how much she wanted to spend on wine) and a fabulous vibe inside and out.

Tucked into a prototypically quaint but preternaturally quiet piazza a block west of the Piazza Navona, Cul de Sac’s outdoor tables are filled by 7 p.m., which is still happy hour for Romans. The booths inside rest under shelves of bottles reaching to the 12-foot-high ceiling, with the nets in between to keep any errant bottles from conking customers on the head.

• Jewish Ghetto

At a couple of entrances to the Jewish Ghetto, you must pass through turnstiles (no coins needed) that we dubbed “pedestrian roundabouts.” Sadly, the Jews who were forced to live in this flood plain near the Tiber River in the 16th century (after two millenniums of being a free community), had to come in and out through locked gates in massive walls.

The walls came down in the late 19th century, and a stately, imposing synagogue (Lungotevere De Cenci) went up on the neighborhood’s edge. The old ghetto now has a few Jewish merchants and restaurants serving Roman Jewish specialties. Don’t miss the fried artichokes at Giggetto (Vie del Portico d’Ottavia 21;, and walk off your meal on tree-lined riverside Longotevere de Cenci.

• Villa d’Este

Villa d’Este’s array of eye-popping frescoes are almost worth the 20-mile trek from Rome to Tivoli by themselves. The grandiose fountains in the “back yard” more than cinch the deal.

Installed by one Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, the son of Lucrezia Borgia, these 25 acres of waterworks (Piazza Trento, Tivoli; use ancient Roman hydraulic-engineering principles and range from the simple to the massive, from an endless row of smaller jet streams to a multifaceted “nymphaeum.” These spigots aside, the gardens include lovely landscaping and some gravity-defying trees. Similar landscapes are depicted inside, spread through a suite of art-filled rooms that, were they housed in Rome, would be anything but “hidden.”

• Dagnino

Taking a hungry kid to Pasticceria Dagnino (Via V. Emanuele Orlando 75; would easily make the shortlist of Worst Ideas Ever. Popping in as an even slightly ravenous adult isn’t such a grand notion, either. The almost unending assortment of mouthwatering sweets at this Sicilian-style bakery includes ice cream and cake, cookies and cannoli. But what marks it as Sicilian is a boundless batch of that island’s cassata cakes and marzipan crafted into brightly coloured, exquisitely detailed fruits. Drool alert! You can skip all that eye candy by sitting and ordering at a table in the tony gallery near the Termini station, but why would you? Bonus points for the best cappuccino by far we had during our two weeks in Italy.

• Monumental Cemetery

Most of us have found ourselves in a museum gawking at some oddity and thinking (or saying) “Is this art? Really?” That’s certainly the rote response at the catacombs in the Church of the Immaculate Conception (Via Vittorio Veneto 27;, where thousands of bones have been fashioned into light fixtures, hourglasses, arches and even flowers in rooms with names such as The Crypt of Pelvises. The Catholic Church’s Capucin sect, which has a history of an often-cultish relationship with the dead, crafted these “works of art” with the remains of 4,000 of their flock. Appreciating, or at least understanding, this attitude is enhanced mightily by a fabulous museum above the crypt, leading to a plaque that advises: “What you are now, we used to be. What we are now, you shall be.” OK, then.

Bill Ward is a reporter with the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.


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Two By Two: Max Low+Gus Dawson Featured

Max Low: 

I started here at the zoo just a few months after it opened, and I’ve been here ever since.  I’m the grounds and gardens supervisor, and it’s been very satisfying to see people enjoying what I’ve done – but I have a team of great people around me. That’s one of the great things about working here is that all the staff – from the keepers to the canteen workers, everyone really cares.

Gus is one of those people – he’s a prime example of the kind of dedicated people who work here.  He’s been here a long time too – there’s not much he doesn’t know about this zoo. 

We were good friends before he came to work at the zoo because going back to our younger days, we both played with Dubbo Macquarie (Rugby League Club). We’ve both been heavily involved in the community and in sport, and we knew each other well through cycling. 

The thing that’s always struck me about Gus is his honesty. He’s just a straight shooter and these days you can’t ask for anything better in a bloke, can you.

We’ve had our disagreements over the years, but I’ve always gone back and apologised! Things happen, but it’s all good and the fact that we can be open means we’ll probably be friends forever. 

We work together in a sense, but not directly alongside each other. He does all the paperwork and I do all the hard work! (Laughs) He’s good at the admin side of things, and I’m not so hot at that.  But the physical stuff? I can cope with that.  

Gus has a solid work ethic – he’s just a great person all ‘round.  Through the years, he would have saved the zoo a lot of money in the way that he’s gone about different jobs. He’s always had the zoo’s best interest at heart and he’s worked hard to serve that interest. He’s a bit of an unsung hero, and I think he’ll be sadly missed (Gus retired yesterday – Friday 13).

I’m retiring in six months’ time, and I reckon we’ll still see each other regularly.  Life’s been a lot easier for me for having had Gus’ friendship in it. Work wise, he let me control and do what I wanted to do – he didn’t ever dismiss my ideas.  We’ve been able to talk things through, and our friendship has been a two way street because we respect each other’s opinions. 

Dubbo is in Gus’ blood – he’s been here as long as I have and he’s well respected as part of the community.  I think that boils down to his honesty; the fact that he’s a straight shooter with people is his biggest asset. It’s an “old school” thing – it’s different these days; you don’t get that honesty in people as much now.

He’s the sort of bloke you can rely on, and he’s helped me out a couple of times when I’ve got myself into situations I shouldn’t have been in! (Laughs) He’s sincere with it, too – whatever he does and says, you know he’s sincere. And he makes a point of always trying to make things better without complicating the situation – that’s a hard quality to find in people.   

Gus Dawson:

I retired on Friday after 27 years at the zoo – and I’m not going to do much of anything for a while. Spend some time with the grandkids…

I’ve worked in basically just about every area of the zoo so there’s not much I haven’t seen and know about the place and Max is the same.  We worked alongside each other most of the time in some kind of capacity.  

But we were mates beforehand, having played footy together and then through cycling. He was a lot better footballer than I was but more than that, he’s an all ‘round good bloke. 

He’s very handy with what he does; very knowledgeable. When you look at what he’s done with the horticulture at the zoo, it’s amazing. In the early days we had no budget at all, everything was tube stock or whatever you could scrounge from wherever we could scrounge it, and he’s done most of that from day one, right through. 

One of the things I admire so much about Max is his ability to just get things done but add that polished touch – and he brings teams together. I remember when we were doing the lion exhibit, that’s how long ago it was, and the morning of the opening we had trouble with one of the pathways. He was still bringing it all together that morning, putting final plants in and fixing the pathways but it looked fantastic for the opening.  He has that ability to get that finished look and make the deadlines that are needed.  

I’m proud of what he’s achieved at the zoo – he’s done a great job.  When you look around the whole site and at what he’s done over the years… It’s a pretty rugged site, not great soil to work with and it’s a credit to him to have been able to turn it into how it looks today. Look at the presentation and the landscaping and gardens he’s been responsible for – he’s done an amazing job.  

He’s always been a good mate; a reliable, good guy – he’s just someone you want to be around.  It helps that we have lots of things in common, like our love of sport.  We know each other pretty well – he’s a team player and that’s important in life and in work. 

He’s also a humble man – he doesn’t like taking all the credit for his work at the zoo and that earns him a lot of respect.  He’s also respected in the community where he’s been president of the Garden Club, the Referee’s Association, President of the Railway Bowling Club… He’s done a lot for the local community over the years.  He’s not just an asset to the zoo; he’s an asset to Dubbo. 

– As told to Jen Cowley


Disclosure: Jen Cowley sits on the Board of Directors of the Taronga Conservation Society, which has responsibility for both Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos.

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Options for William St. project to be presented Wednesday

The city of Cape Girardeau is prepared to unveil two options for a newly designed William Street corridor.

Planning for an aesthetically improved corridor is in the early stages and being paid for from the city’s Transportation Trust Fund, which is funded by a voter-approved half-cent sales tax.

The project, if built, would span the length of William Street for about two miles from Main Street to Kingshighway.

The city has set a meeting for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Osage Centre, where city staff and consultants will present the options to the public.

In the first option, landscaping, including medians with plantings, would be added from Kingshighway to Sheridan Drive and a similar transitional area would be built from Sheridan Drive to Louis Street. At that point, the four-lane street would be reduced to two lanes with a center turning lane combined with a center median with plantings. Along the length of the entire street, landscaping, a sidewalk on the south side of the street and a wide, multipurpose lane on the north side of the street for walking and biking would be built.

In the second option, the plan is basically the same, but most of the area of the street downsized into two lanes would contain only a two-way turning lane in the center of the street and no planted median.

Jake Garrard, a city engineer and the project manager, said vehicle counts by the consultant who came up with the concepts show the number of lanes on William Street can likely be reduced in some areas without an adverse effect on traffic flow.

“At certain times, there is more demand than others. But for most of the day, it’s pretty empty along William Street,” Garrard said.

People familiar with the Broadway Corridor Improvement Project completed in October 2012 will see similarities in the William Street ideas. The Broadway project included a new street overlay, decorative enhancements such colored concrete in surfaces, new lighting, trees and other plantings, a promenade sidewalk on one side and added benches, signage, bicycle racks and trash cans.

But there will be a noticeable main difference in the style of the two projects, Garrard said.

“This isn’t going to be a destination, like Broadway is,” Garrard said. “We aren’t trying to get people to stay right there. We are trying to make it an easier means for pedestrians to get to the east to the west or the west to the east.”

The street has only a sidewalk on the south side in some areas, and a large area is primarily residential. The area of William Street that passes the Town Plaza and meets Kingshighway would be left four lanes with a turning lane to make businesses accessible for larger traffic volumes, Garrard said.

A comprehensive plan for the city that covers 2008 to 2028 names enhancements along William Street as “the most important infrastructure recommendation within the ‘core city section'” of Cape Girardeau because the street provides a vital main route to the downtown business district.

Voters would have to approve funding the project by renewing the city’s half-cent sales tax for transportation projects because the project is included on a fifth Transportation Trust Fund, or TTF, project list. That vote is expected in 2015. Only the design for the project is funded now with TTF 4 funds that were approved by voters in 2010.

Garrard said the city hopes to receive public input at the open house-style meeting Wednesday. An online survey on the William Street design options also has been posted on the city’s website at


Pertinent address:

William Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

1625 N. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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Garden Cameos: Winter is a good time to get a gardening education

Part of that thought process is education. You can never know it all. I have been gardening for 40 years, and I still make plans to educate myself. Reading books during the cold restful winter is one way to accomplish this. Catch up on all the reading you have meant to do, and get some new ideas from other gardens you may read about.

Spartanburg Men’s Garden Club will hold its annual 13-week Community Gardener 101 course beginning Jan. 21. Classes are held every Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will be located at the new SCC Evans building located in downtown Spartanburg. Gardener Joe Maple says, “We are thrilled to be invited to teach our class from this new facility. It is spectacular, and we are looking forward to a filled-up class.”

Subjects that will be taught in this course are annuals and perennials, container gardening, irrigation, basic seed starting, vegetable gardening, ornamental plants, native plants, and culture of trees. Linda McHam will teach the Art of Landscaping, and Tim Hemphill will teach 3D Landscaping. There are two new teachers this year. Robert Powell, better known as “Botany Bob,” who recently retired from teaching at Converse College, will teach basic botany. In addition, plant guru and local veterinarian Ed Davidson will teach indoor plants and herbs.

Plant propagation also will be taught on the main campus of SCC in the greenhouses by SCC instructor, Kevin Parris. Ted Petoskey from Sod Fathers will teach all there is to know about soils.

“The area in which we live is very challenging weather wise,” Maple said. “Taking this course helps you brush up on your skills to keep your plants healthy and pest free.”

The cost of this course is $175, and includes the textbook and a one-year’s membership in the Spartanburg Men’s Garden Club, which is a community garden club and meets once a month at the SCC main campus. Availability is limited and are urged to sign up as soon as possible by calling 592-4900 or toll free at 877-592-4406. You can register online at

Figuring out whether or not you have the time to take this class is a personal decision, but rest assured, it will be the greatest use of your time to improve yourself. After all, isn’t that what January is for? The benefit of learning the information is one thing, but hanging out with other gardeners and learning great things is the real gift. This makes a great Christmas present for someone.

While you are settling in for the cold weather, I will assume that you have forced some amaryllis bulbs and some narcissus to help get you through the winter months. This is always the perfect time to pick up some of the latest gardening books and read up. In addition, the techno savvy gardener can load up some of the Apps available at the App store like Dirr’s Trees and shrub App and also Armitage’s Greatest Perennials and Annuals. Both are available for a fair priced and they are invaluable.

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Gardening Calendar updated Dec. 15


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