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Archives for January 4, 2014

A repurposed rural oasis is designed for hosting

Much has happened to Paul Schaff and Brenda Rosin-Schaff’s New Berlin home since it was built in the 1890s.

It started out as a small four-bedroom farmhouse. Then it more than doubled in size when a former owner added a 10-car attached garage.

When Paul bought it about 10 years ago, the house was sound structurally, but it needed updating. So he gutted the kitchen and turned part of the garage into a bar and TV area with bedrooms above.

But the biggest changes happened 5 ½ years ago when Brenda moved in and the couple merged households.

She painted and redecorated the home’s five bedrooms, 4 ½ baths, kitchen, dining room, living room, large entryway, bar, TV area, laundry room and a common area on the second floor. At the same time she made extensive repairs to outbuildings on their 3-acre property, then furnished them mainly with pieces she repurposed.

“The barn and chicken coop were in poor condition,” Paul said. “The roof in the barn was riddled with holes, and rain would come in. The chicken coop was on the verge of collapse….We either had to pay money to renovate them or pay to have them torn down.”

Today their property — called Wildcat Creek Farm after the creek that runs alongside their property — is warm and comfortable, with distinctive pieces at every turn.

“Paul allowed me the freedom to decorate the house and outbuildings any way I wanted,” Brenda said. “He trusted my judgment.”

“She knows how to put things together, especially in reusing materials,” Paul said. “I had renovated the house, but she took it to a whole new level. And the barn and chicken coop, that really was her major undertaking.”

Repurposing pieces is something Brenda loves, in part because she was brought up not to waste things and to be creative.

“I have a lot of creative energy,” she said. “Every day I wake up and I’m excited because I always have a project to work on.”

These projects often include using pieces that have sentimental value, an interesting story or are given to her by friends. She also hunts for pieces at rummage sales and discount stores.

Two favorite pieces with sentimental value are an antique fishing lure and a mounted lake trout in the home’s TV area.

“Paul’s not a fisherman, but he caught that fish,” Brenda said. “The fishing lure is the first gift he gave me — not flowers. That hooked me. It was the fact that he listened to what I told him was important to me.” For Brenda, that was nature and conservation projects.

She said that after they met, Paul joined the Badger Fisherman’s League, the oldest non-profit conservation league in the state. She has been a member of the group since she was a child, and both are now on the board. Paul is a co-owner of Schaff Funeral Home in West Allis; Brenda does volunteer and community work.

No matter what area of the property she’s working on, Brenda does much of the work herself but gets help from professionals as needed.

Two helpers she counts on regularly are her grandmother, Bev Bolling, and Bev’s friend Maybelle “Toots” Pezewski, both of Sussex.

“They’re my cohorts in crime,” Brenda said. “My grandmother helps me with a lot of sewing things. She helped me make curtains in the silo, cornice boards in the kitchen and dining room and runners for our wedding. Paul and I were married here two years ago. I come up with the ideas; they help me execute them.”

During a late-fall visit, the couple talked about their home and how it has changed over the years.

Q. What are some of the home’s amenities?

Paul: The chicken coop and barn. We also have two gas fireplaces in the house, original beams in part of the kitchen and the dining area, and a field stone basement.

Q. How do you use the outbuildings?

Brenda: We use them for entertaining friends and family, and we’ve also hosted a few events in them for friends and family members. I’d like to use them to host charity events one day.

Q. What are examples of pieces you got from friends and repurposed?

Brenda: I’m using an old copper sink with a pump and an old farm table in the chicken coop. I reupholstered and painted four church pews for the barn, and I turned an old work bench into a buffet/bar with wheels for the barn.

Q.What’s your favorite room in the house?

Brenda: The yellow bedroom with the four-poster bed, because I just redid it. It has lots of light and good views of our courtyard. Also, the back bedroom, which is done in gray. From there I can see the wood bridge on our property and the barn. That room has the best views.

Paul: The pub. It reminds me of being in Europe in a pub. It’s where family and friends meet over a glass of beer. It’s homey to me.

Q. Your favorite spots in the outbuildings?

Brenda: I like to relax on the leather couch in the chicken coop. If the window is open, I can hear Wildcat Creek. I also like to sit on the couches in the barn’s lower level because I can look out the window and see nature.

Paul: The lower level of the barn, too, because I like looking out the windows. When I’m there I wonder what it was like when they actually used it as a barn in the early 1900s.

Q. Which of your five bedrooms do you use?

Brenda: We use all of them now. When we were first married, Paul’s daughter and son and my son lived here and used some of them.

Q. Who painted the bird motif in the first-floor bathroom?

Brenda: Paul’s mom, Sandy Schaff of West Allis. We call it the birdbath. I put a birdcage in there.

Q. How big is your home?

Paul: Just shy of 5,000 square feet, and we have a four-car garage. But we can only get two cars in there. Brenda stores pieces in there that she plans to repurpose one day.

Brenda: I’m not a hoarder, but I do save things I can use in some way down the road.

Q. What are the pluses and minuses of having such a big property?

Brenda: We have so many spots where we can entertain. The downside is there’s a lot to keep up.

Q.Any setbacks since you started making changes?

Brenda: Wildcat Creek has flooded the coop and the barn more than once. This year improvements were made to the creek, and it hasn’t flooded since. When we started remodeling the outbuildings, we were trying to save them from the flooding….We kept going to the next level.

Q. Did you make changes in the gardens?

Brenda: When I moved here, there was landscaping immediately around the house. I added more gardens, a number of waking paths and an allée on the north side of our house that runs from our courtyard to the backyard. Allée is a French word for a walkway lined with trees and shrubs. I got a lot of the flowers from friends; some I even found on the curb. I’m also a member of the Elmbrook and New Berlin Garden Clubs.

I also added a lot of mulch this year. When the creek would flood, I’d lose a lot of plants and mulch. This year I hauled 70 trailers of mulch from the recycling center.

Q. What’s in your court-yard?

Brenda: A hot tub, herb garden, arbors, decorative metal fencing and a fountain I found on Craigslist.

Q. Any more projects to do?

Brenda: We have two separate basements. I call one the creepy basement, and I’d like to turn it into a wine room. It has stone walls and was a natural cellar. It’s too cool of an area architecturally not to do something with it.

Do you, or does someone you know, have a cool, funky or exquisite living space that you’d like to see featured in At Home? Contact Entree home and garden editor Tina Maples at (414) 223-5500 or email

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Ideas for home improvements abound at convention center

PORTLAND – It’s only January but remodeling and landscaping shows, with an eye toward spring, have already begun pop up.

The Build, Remodel Landscape Show at the Oregon Convention Center, for example, is a one-stop source for ideas on home improvements from roof to basement. It’s a great place to start before you tackle a remodeling project.

The remodeling industry has seen tremendous growth in the past several years.

Last year alone, with home sales up, over $150 billion was spent to spruce up kitchens and baths. This year looks to be another good one for an industry that always likes to come up with something new.

For example, one vendor at the convention center was displaying floors made out of ordinary craft paper.

“I took the decoupage process, which is obviously centuries old, and I translated it into a large surface like a floor or countertop,” said Lisa Raymer of Decoupage Floors. “It can be colored anyway you want.“

Raymer said the biggest question she gets is “What happens if the paper gets wet?”

The material is sealed in such a way that you don’t have to worry, according to Raymer. She said it’s a process you can even do yourself, if you’re brave.

The show runs Friday until 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

More about the home improvement show at Home Show Center

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Vandals steal landscaping equipment from Carmichael nature area – Merced Sun

The Earl J. Koobs Nature Area in Carmichael got a rough start to the new year after vandals broke into a shed and stole lawn mowers and other landscaping equipment worth more than $5,000 in total.

The 4.6-acre nature area, next to the former La Sierra High School, has become a base of exploration for students studying the environment since its establishment in 1971.

On Thursday afternoon, Linda Jones, chairwoman of the nonprofit committee overseeing the area, waited anxiously for Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies to arrive and take a report. Without the equipment, she said, volunteers would struggle to maintain the landscaping.

“I can’t imagine what they did to get this off,” Jones said, pointing to the large brown door of the shed, now half open.

She said the break-in happened between Tuesday evening and Thursday morning.

The door wasn’t just pried open with a crowbar. Instead, vandals dismantled it altogether by unbolting the sliding mechanism.

With its lush grass and tall oak trees, the plot of land inside one of Sacramento County’s older suburbs is a reminder of simpler days. Volunteer crews maintain the preserve year-round, mowing the grass to prevent fires.

A steady stream of supporters and friends – and even Earl J. Koobs himself – stopped by as word of the burglary spread.

Koobs, 94, was a key figure in founding the preserve when he taught biology at La Sierra High.

“The kids gave me hope that this country would rise again,” said the soft-spoken Koobs, a World War II Navy veteran.

Half an hour earlier, committee member Glen Pinnegar peered into the damaged shed. Pinnegar already had ideas for preventing a repeat of what happened, perhaps by building a wrought-iron fence all around.

But he noted, “If someone wants in, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.”

Over the last few decades, thousands have been touched by the nature area. Elementary-school students hike the trails and observe monarch butterflies during the school year. Countless Eagle Scout projects have been completed inside, including a network of elevated boardwalk trails and an information booth.

The nature area also is home the state’s first-known Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Jones said. About 200 people gather there on Veterans Day every November to remember lost lives.

One thing preserve volunteers share is a sense of community.

Jones, who has led the steering committee for 18 years, said her upbringing in rural Los Altos Hills pushes her to keep the area open. She could hardly contain her enthusiasm as she pored through a scrapbook of old newspaper clippings showcasing the nature area’s history.

“Community,” Jones said. “That’s something to be happy for.”

Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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CCWD goes native

Landscaping designed for free

Using her wealth of knowledge and love of gardening, Mountain Ranch resident Judy Dean has designed the grounds of Calaveras County Water District’s new headquarters for free.

Dean said her design was a “public-spirited” service.

“I can contribute by giving an idea of what to plant without wasting money,” she said.

On her 8-acre property, Dean has planted about 700 varieties of historic roses, various cacti and succulents, and hundreds of rhododendrons, antique camellias, irises and lilacs. She has studied landscaping for more than 25 years and owns more than 3,000 books on plants.

“She knows plants’ names better than peoples’ names,” said her husband Bob Dean, a CCWD board director, who recommended his wife as the grounds’ landscape architect.

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CCWD landscaping designer

Judy Dean

Jeff Meyer, CCWD’s director of financial planning, said the county required a landscaping plan for the district’s new building.

“We want to be responsible and cost-effective,” he said.

When the water district put out a request for bids, it received one response of more than $50,000, Bob Dean said. As an alternative, he offered his wife’s services. He estimated the total expense of the landscaping will cost about 20 percent of the offered bid, “hopefully less.”

Since Judy Dean took on the landscaping, the project has morphed into something of a community effort. Calaveras Tree Nursery offered a significant discount of about 40 percent off the native oaks purchased and Carson Hill Rock Products donated the decorative and structural rocks for the grounds.

In the spring, CCWD will host a plant sale for the Sierra Foothills Chapter of the Native Plants Society. Dean said she wants to collaborate with the Calaveras Master Gardeners, a group that has a demonstration garden and plant sales in San Andreas.

Beyond the events, Mitch Dion, general manager of CCWD, said he hopes the site can be an everyday educational facility.

“Long-term, people can see how native plants work in landscaping,” he said.

Bob Dean said this was an ideal opportunity to act upon the 2009 Water Legislation, which mandated urban water suppliers to reduce statewide per capita water consumption by 20 percent by 2020.

As such, Judy Dean was intentional in her design. She incorporated a wide palate of drought-tolerant and cold-hardy plants. Almost all of the 280 varieties of trees and plants will be drought-tolerant, and 100 of them will be native to the area.

Dean compared landscaping the grounds to completing a crossword puzzle.

“You’re matching the plants to the site,” she said.

She said the natural surroundings of oaks and grasses influenced her design. And the building itself, with its clean lines and neutral colors, suits the environment.

“Our job, as we see it, is to soften it and give it some dimension, volume, height,” she said of the “cracker flat” building. “It’s good to blend seamlessly with the natural landscape.”

Dean said there were a few key elements in her strategy: staying low-maintenance, working with the existing views, and protecting and enhancing architectural features.

She avoided plants with invasive roots, rolling seeds and oozy fruits.

“You don’t want a mess to clean up,” she said. “You want something easy to control.”

The plants and trees will need to be watered every couple weeks for two years, she said. After that, she said they may only need to be watered a couple times every summer. The grounds will be drip irrigated and will incorporate both deciduous and evergreen trees.

“There will be assorted things to catch your eye in every season,” she said.

For example, in the shady picnic-lunch area behind the building, Dean hopes to plant Japanese maples, which will bloom orange and yellow in the spring and change color throughout the year.

She said seasonable and daily variations are not the only shifts in plants’ appearance. As the plants grow, their relationships to each other and the building change.

“Gardening is a movable artistic experience,” she said. “Plants and rocks are endlessly entertaining.”

Dean said this has been an enjoyable project for her because it is a new challenge. Whereas her gardens at home evolved over time, the CCWD grounds were planned ahead of time with acute attention to detail.

“It exercises my mind,” she said. “The more I do, the more I learn for myself and I can integrate it together.”

Dion hopes the lesson of water-wise gardening can extend to the community.

“The goal is to demonstrate on a backyard-sized scale,” Dion said. “We are going into a drought, gang. What do you do? You go native.”

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Trowel & Glove: Marin gardening calendar for the week of Jan. 4, 2014

Click photo to enlarge


• West Marin Commons offers a weekly harvest exchange at 1:30 p.m. Saturdays at the Livery Stable gardens on the commons in Point Reyes Station. Go to www.westmarin

• The Novato Independent Elders Program seeks volunteers to help Novato seniors with their overgrown yards on Tuesday mornings or Thursday afternoons. Call 899-8296.

• Volunteers are sought to help in Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy nurseries from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays at Tennessee Valley, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays at Muir Woods or 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays or 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays in the Marin Headlands. Call 561-3077 or go to

• Glenys Johnson speaks about “How to Successfully Grow Sweet Peas” at a Peacock Garden Club presentation at 11 a.m. Jan. 8 at the Falkirk Cultural Center at 1408 Mission Ave. in San Rafael. Call 453-2816.

• The SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Watershed Network) native plant nursery days are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays and weekends. Call 663-8590, ext. 114, or email to register and for directions.

• Marin Master Gardeners and the Marin Municipal Water District offer free residential Bay-Friendly Garden Walks to MMWD customers. The year-round service helps home-owners identify water-saving opportunities and soil conservation techniques for their landscaping. Call 473-4204 to request a visit to your garden.

• Marin Open Garden Project (MOGP) volunteers are available to help Marin residents glean excess fruit from their trees for donations to local organizations serving people in need and to build raised beds to start vegetable gardens through the MicroGardens program. MGOP also offers a garden tool lending library. Go to or email

• The Marin Organic Glean Team seeks volunteers to harvest extras from the fields at various farms for the organic school lunch and gleaning program. Call 663-9667 or go to

San Francisco

• The Conservatory of Flowers, at 100 John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, displays permanent galleries of tropical plant species as well as changing special exhibits from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. $2 to $7; free on first Tuesdays. Call 831-2090 or go to

• The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, at Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Way in Golden Gate Park, offers several ongoing events. $7; free to San Francisco residents, members and school groups. Call 661-1316 or go to www.sf Free docent tours leave from the Strybing Bookstore near the main gate at 1:30 p.m. weekdays, 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. weekends; and from the north entrance at 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Groups of 10 or more can call ahead for special-focus tours.

Around the Bay

• Don Landis teaches “How to De-Bitter Olives” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 5 at Cline Cellars at 24737 Arnold Drive in Sonoma. Free. Call 707-940-4025 for reservations.

• Cornerstone Gardens is a permanent, gallery-style garden featuring walk-through installations by international landscape designers on nine acres at 23570 Highway 121 in Sonoma. Free. Call 707-933-3010 or go to www.corner

• Garden Valley Ranch rose garden is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays at 498 Pepper Road in Petaluma. Self-guided and group tours are available. $2 to $10. Call 707-795-0919 or go to

• The Luther Burbank Home at Santa Rosa and Sonoma avenues in Santa Rosa has docent-led tours of the greenhouse and a portion of the gardens every half hour from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. $7. Call 707-524-5445.

• McEvoy Ranch at 5935 Red Hill Road in Petaluma offers tips on planting olive trees and has olive trees for sale by appointment. Call 707-769-4123 or go to www.mcevoy

• Wednesdays are volunteer days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center at 15290 Coleman Valley Road in Occidental. Call 707-874-1557, ext. 201, or go to

• Quarryhill Botanical Garden at 12841 Sonoma Highway in Glen Ellen covers 61 acres and showcases a large selection of scientifically documented wild source temperate Asian plants. The garden is open for self-guided tours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. $5 to $10. Call 707-996-3166 or go to

The Trowel Glove Calendar appears Saturdays. Send high-resolution jpg photo attachments and details about your event to or mail to Home and Garden Calendar/Lifestyles, Marin Independent Journal, 4000 Civic Center Drive, Suite 301, San Rafael, CA 94903. Items should be sent two weeks in advance. Photos should be a minimum of 1 megabyte and include caption information. Include a daytime phone number on your release.


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Fort Collins Nursery to offer series of winter workshops


Jan. 18

• 50 Shades of Green: Gardening for Sensuality/$22. 10 a.m.-noon and again from 1-3 p.m.; beginner to intermediate; presented by Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden;What makes a garden sensual? It can be the play of light and darkness; the contrast of sound and motion against stillness and serenity; the visual, fragrant and tactile qualities of plants; the creation of mystery, surprise, and immersion; the presence of fascinating creatures; or beautiful ripe food to be picked and eaten. The presenters show how to mold experience in the garden through the selection of plants and creation of spaces that engage the senses. Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden are garden designers nationally known for their sensual, richly layered work. Lauren designed the Fragrance, Watersmart, and Romantic Gardens at Denver Botanic Gardens. Together they have recently completed the new entrance and visitors’ center gardens at Chatfield Arboretum, featuring native plants in romantic interpretations of natural plant communities.
Jan. 25

• My Favorite Pollinators How to Attract Them/$18; 10 a.m.-noon; beginner to intermediate; presented by Beth Conrey.
Pollinating insects are crucial to any garden’s success — without them, most plants won’t produce the fruit and seeds they need to thrive! But honey bees are only a small part of the pollinator spectrum — there is a wide variety of alternative pollinators all around us.Would you like to learn more about these fascinating and essential creatures?
Beth Conrey, president of the Colorado State Beekeepers Association, along with Dr. Carolina Nyarady, Master Gardener, will teach how to identify alternative pollinators and how to care for your landscape to attract and keep them;
• Even More Secrets from My Grandma’s Garden/$18; 1-3 p.m.; beginner to intermediate; presented by Don Eversoll.
Local botanist, author and gardener Don Eversoll will present an easy-to-follow slide presentation titled, “Even More Secrets From My Grandma’s Garden;” Eversoll will show how to make super soil from dirt or clay and will reveal new tricks on growing “killer” heirloom tomatoes, both by starting your own seed and buying the best plants available, including grafted types. Eversoll’s recent fame for growing 16-foot-tall corn as well as a unique variety of strawberry popcorn also will headline this two-hour class. Door prizes and samples available along with book signing in the Garden Shop after his presentation, Eversoll’s book will be 20 percent off;
Feb. 1

• Organic Gardener’s Companion: Cool Warm Season Vegetables/$18; 10 a.m.-noon; all levels; presented by Jane Shellenberger. There are two distinctly different types of vegetables that we can grow in most parts of Colorado. Cool season vegetables such as greens, broccoli, and potatoes like to start growing in cool spring temperatures and they love our cool nights. But warm season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, most beans, and squash like warmer soil and air; they simply won’t grow well if started too early without protection.
Discover the different conditions preferred by different vegetables, plus techniques for creating better growing conditions in your garden. Shellenberger is the publisher/editor of Colorado Gardener, which she founded in 1997 and author of “Organic Gardener’s Companion, Growing Vegetables in the West.” A lifelong gardener who learned about plants from her botanist mother, she lives on a farmette west of Longmont. Book signing in the Garden Shop to follow her presentation;
• Raised Bed Gardening 101/$18; 1-3 p.m.; beginner; presented by Bryant Mason.
This class covers the basics of how to start and maintain an easy and productive raised-bed vegetable garden in your backyard. The topics covered will include: soil development, how to build raised beds, selecting a location, planting timing, choosing the best crops, weeding, watering, harvesting, and other topics related to beginning a garden.
Bryant Mason is the founder of The Urban Farm Co., a business whose mission is to make it as easy as possible for people to grow fresh, healthy food in their own backyard. Participants also may be interested in Raised Bed Gardening 201 on Feb. 15;
Feb. 8

• Design Tips for Western-Inspired Gardens with Plant Select/$18; 10 a.m.-noon; all levels; presented by Pat Hayward.
Learn how to make stunning and unique gardens using many of the plants introduced through Plant Select. Using examples from homeowner gardens as well as professionally created designs, you’ll be inspired to try out the many new ideas presented. Plant Select is a plant introduction program from Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University focusing on unique, adaptable and resilient plants for western gardens.
The second part of this workshop will focus on many of the newer Plant Select introductions, with special emphasis on care, site choice and the stories behind the plants brought to horticulture from local and gardening personalities;
• Raised Bed Gardening 101/$18; 1-3 p.m.; beginner; presented by Bryant Mason.
This class covers the basics of how to start and maintain an easy and productive raised-bed vegetable garden in your backyard. The topics covered will include: soil development, how to build raised beds, selecting a location, planting timing, choosing the best crops, weeding, watering, harvesting, and other topics related to beginning a garden. Participants also may be interested in Raised Bed Gardening 201 on Feb. 15;
Feb. 15

• Raised Bed Gardening 201/$18; 10 a.m.-noon; intermediate; presented by Bryant Mason; A continuation of the Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 Raised Bed Gardening 101 class (attendance of previous class not required but highly recommended), this class will cover topics such as: basic organic pest and disease management, tomato growing information and tips, winter growing/season extension, advice on growing other common garden crops, basic companion planting met hods, and common garden mistakes and issues.
• Incorporating Native Plants Into Your Landscape/$18; 1-3 p.m.; beginner; PresentedJoanie Schneider.
Not all native plants or gardens are created equal, which is what makes planning your designs and plant options so interesting and unique. Contrary to their reputation as dusty prickly plants, the native flora around the Rocky Mountain Front Range is truly exquisite, with a great diversity of colors and textures. This class will teach you which native plants are approp riate for a variety of different gardening situations.
Joanie Schneider is the owner of Sustainescapes Landscaping, a Northern Colorado design/build landscaping company focusing on sustainable, artistic landscapes;
For additional information follow or contact Heather: FCN Winter Workshops 2014

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Gardening Tips: Identifying mysterious holes in the ground

Posted: Friday, January 3, 2014 11:55 am

Gardening Tips: Identifying mysterious holes in the ground

By Matthew Stevens

The Daily Herald, Roanoke Rapids, NC


Recently, I’ve received several calls about mysterious holes in the ground. The callers want to know who made these holes, why, and what to do to stop them. There are actually many different kinds of insects and animals that leave some type of hole or holes in the ground. The key to identifying the culprit is to look at the width and depth of the hole, and examine the area around the hole.

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Friday, January 3, 2014 11:55 am.

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Some tips for gardening in cold season

We don’t normally think about our landscapes and gardens very much during the winter months, but here are a few helpful plant tips that you may wish to consider on these cold season days:

• Avoid heavy traffic and playing on dormant lawns now, as dry turf is easily broken and the crowns of turf plants may be severely damaged or killed. This damage may show up next spring and summer as thin or poorly growing turf areas.

• Flower and vegetable garden seeds stored under warm, moist conditions deteriorate rapidly, and sometimes actually rot. Be sure to keep your seed stored in a cool, dry location, like a cellar or basement. If you can’t do this, it will be best to buy fresh seed each season. And speaking of ordering seed, now is a good time to check through your seed catalogs and place your orders before varieties sell out.

• Save your plastic mesh bags in which oranges usually come because they make ideal storage bags for air-drying bulbs, herbs, onions and gourds. Check any bulbs, tubers or corms that you currently have in storage and discard any that are soft or diseased.

• Examine the limb structure of your shade trees and remove any dead, diseased and/or storm-damaged branches now before they fall and cause damage to any plants or passers-by below.

• While you are traveling about each day, keep an eye open for plants with interesting winter form or color that you may wish to incorporate into your own landscape.

• If feeding birds is one of your favorite hobbies, order vines, shrubs and trees that provide cover and small fruits for your feathered friends. Consider planting species such as crabapple, hawthorn, dogwood, holly, cotoneaster and pyracantha that can help lure and feed hungry birds.

• Clip and bring branches of forsythia, pussy willow, quince, spirea and dogwood indoors for forcing blooms inside the home. Make long, slanted cuts when collecting branches and place the stems in a vase of water as soon as possible. These plants should bloom in two to three weeks.

• Water newly-planted shrubs and trees in the landscape when the soil becomes dry if no rain occurs for more than two weeks. Pay particular attention to evergreen shrubs and trees as their leaves transpire water whenever air temperatures rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Design a flower bed for the shady spots in your landscape. Plan to use shade-tolerant plants such as astilbe, begonia, bleeding hearts, browallia, coleus, ferns, helleborus, hosta and impatiens. Several good shade-tolerant groundcovers include: ajuga, hypericum, English ivy, liriope, mondo grass, pachysandra, vinca and winter creeper.

• During cold snaps, invert large flowerpots over semi-hardy perennials such as dusty miller for protection from low temperatures and wind.

• Check houseplants often to be sure they are receiving enough light and water. Most indoor plants prefer a well-lit location like a south or west-facing window. Don’t place houseplants near a heat vent, on top of the TV, next to a door, etc. as hot and cold air are hard on them. When watering, use your own built-in water meter. Stick your finger 1 inch into the potting soil and if the soil feels dry at that level, then it’s time to water. Check to be sure that water drains completely through the soil ball from top to bottom and exits through the drainage holes.

• When fertilizing houseplants during winter months, use only about half the rate recommended. Houseplants grow less rapidly during cooler months, so they don’t need as much fertilizer now. The ideal temperature should be around 70 degrees in the daytime and 60 degrees at night.

• Reposition stepping stones in your lawn that have heaved up or sunk below the grass level. Carefully lift them up, spread sand in the low areas and then replace them. A bed of sand under stepping stones will aid in drainage and decrease sinking and heaving next year.

• Turn or rototill your vegetable garden to expose weed seeds, nematodes and insects that are over-wintering in the soil to the elements. Exposing insects and weed seeds to cold air and drying winds will help reduce their numbers in your garden.

• Take hardwood cuttings of forsythia, spirea, Japanese quince, mock-orange, Viburnum and other deciduous shrubs. Tie bundles of deciduous cuttings together, and bury in sand in a cold frame. Remove in early spring, and plant in a nursery bed.

• Continue to turn your compost pile, adding leaves and yard debris.

Randy Drinkard is a retired technical writer for The UGA Center for Urban Agriculture and ANR Agent for Troup Cooperative Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Some tips while planning your garden

SALISBURY — The New Year has arrived and we’re all contemplating how we can improve our landscapes and vegetable gardens. The annual gesture of self-improvement and moderation often becomes a test of one’s will. Below are resolutions for home gardeners for the upcoming year that are easy and are obtainable goals.

Have a plan — Impulse buying and planting without a viable plan can be a problem as a landscape matures. Overgrown plants, improperly spaced plant material, diseased or non-adapted plant material are typical problems associated with impulse planting.

Solicit the help of reputable and qualified nurserymen, an Extension Master Gardener volunteer, commercial landscaper or Cooperative Extension before planting if you have any doubts about your plant material. Look for more gardening information from Cooperative Extension through classes and other media outlets.

Calendars and apps — Label your calendar for gardening chores that must be done and follow them. The window of opportunity for many gardening activities is quite narrow and must be followed in order to have a successful growing season. Keep this calendar handy for quick reference. Take time to file away bits and pieces of useful information on your computer, iPad or tablet you got for Christmas. Keep the files readily accessible to periodically update or delete out-of-date information. Have it close to the “to do” list.

There are more than 100 apps featuring gardening information from beginning gardening to gardens in England. Be aware as information on the Internet can be misleading and downright false. So can some tablet apps. Apps often have information that may be correct but not really applicable to your gardening scenario.

Different varieties — Home vegetable gardeners and flower gardeners often plant the same varieties each season. While it makes sense to “stick with a winner,” there are new varieties of vegetables and flowers that warrant a homeowner trial. All-America Selections have been extensively tested and are generally a good choice, whether it’s a vegetable, fruit or flower selection. Be sure to label new varieties and make notes about growth, development and other pertinent characteristics during the growing season. These notes may be instrumental in selection of next season’s crop.

Maintenance — Take time during the dead of winter when not in use to maintain power equipment. An oil change or tune-up extends the longevity of gasoline powered equipment. Sharpen lawnmower blades to help reduce engine wear, improve the turf’s appearance and reduce the incidence of disease. Sharpen or replace pruner blades. Replace all seals and gaskets in hand pump sprayers now so you will be ready when the pests of spring arrive.

Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities on Facebook or at

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Signal Hill’s community garden moving ahead after ‘streamlined’ design finalized

 The Signal Hill City Council has approved a new “streamlined” conceptual design (pictured in the rendering above) for the proposed community garden on 21st Street that will include features that provide access to persons with disabilities.

The Signal Hill City Council has approved a new “streamlined” conceptual design (pictured in the rendering above) for the proposed community garden on 21st Street that will include features that provide access to persons with disabilities.

Sean Belk
Staff Writer

Rising from what was once ashes and rubble, a community garden will sprout up in Signal Hill this year on an empty lot that became vacant after a house sustained severe fire damage.
Now covered in weeds, the empty space is wedged in between homes at 1917 E. 21st St., separated from Signal Hill Park by a brick wall. Remnants of the dwelling were demolished after the City acquired the property in late 2011.
Both nearby homeowners and city officials agreed that the best “interim use” for the space would be a community garden because of its close proximity to homes though the long-term goal for the area is to expand the park as part of the City’s Parks Master Plan.
The conceptual design of the garden has gone through a few changes after the Parks and Recreation Commission conducted a workshop with gardeners earlier this year and city staff reviewed community gardens in the local area.­­
Staff had first proposed adding a gathering space, a trellis, extra trees and landscaping for an additional $13,000, but that plan was nixed this month when the Signal Hill City Council voted unanimously at its Dec. 17 meeting to go with a “streamlined” version of the design. The Council authorized staff to start soliciting construction bids for the project that is now budgeted at $160,600.
The new design will enable green thumbs and beginning gardeners to grow plants, fruits and vegetables in the garden that will include a total of 26 plots, but city officials agreed that the “optional features,” such as the community gathering space, were unnecessary.
Steve Myrter, the City’s director of public works, told the Council that a community-gathering place would cost $10,000 alone and would encroach on a portion of the park, something that Signal Hill Mayor Michael Noll appeared to be strongly against.
“I have a problem when you’re encroaching on our park,” Noll said. “Like, 30 feet deep and 50 feet wide is a lot of park, especially during Concerts in the Park. There are several picnic tables around that area. If you think you need more, you can always put another picnic table around there so somebody can sit and talk and do whatever.”
The Council agreed, however, to make the entire garden Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant, which will cost an additional $35,000. Two of the plots will have raised beds to provide access for disabled persons, and a handicapped parking space will be added adjacent to the curb on 21st Street. The Council is required to approve a budget adjustment for Fiscal Year 2013-14 to cover the project modifications, including a 10-percent contingency.

Sean Belk/Signal Tribune Signal Hill city staff were given the go-ahead this month to start soliciting construction bids for a project to build a 26-plot community garden on this lot at 1917 E. 21st St., which was acquired by the City in 2011 after a home sustained significant fire damage.

Sean Belk/Signal Tribune

Signal Hill city staff were given the go-ahead this month to start soliciting construction bids for a project to build a 26-plot community garden on this lot at 1917 E. 21st St., which was acquired by the City in 2011 after a home sustained significant fire damage.

According to the city staff report, Pilar Alcivar-McCoy, the City’s director of community services, said making the garden ADA-compliant was recommended primarily because of the property’s down-sloping surface.
“This is a very sloped lot, so, in order to meet the grading requirements for someone with limited mobility, you’d have to really ramp it,” she said.
Alcivar-McCoy said the gardeners would be given parking passes to allow them to park on the street to haul heavy materials on specific days, of which nearby residents would be notified in advance. For the most part, however, gardeners would be parking in the parking lot near Spud Field, she said.
“The residents on 21st are very concerned about poor parking, and so we’re trying to minimize the amount of parking,” Alcivar-McCoy said. “But we’d have scheduled days where [residents] would know in advance and we would have a certain amount of time in the morning, let’s say Saturday, where gardeners can all bring their heavier materials and then come in through 21st Street for that time period.”Alcivar-McCoy also assured that there would be security gates with key codes on both sides of the garden that would only be accessible to staff and plot renters.
In addition, she said the City hopes to use the nearby Community Center and the park to organize gardening-themed workshops and educational programs. Alcivar-McCoy also noted that a portion of annual fees would go toward paying for a part-time staff person on site.
“We have a lot of options that we are aware of that we can talk about,” she said. “As it develops and as it goes along, we’ll find out more.”

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