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Archives for January 29, 2014

Flagler Home & Lifestyle Show takes over FPC campus – Daytona Beach News

Thousands of visitors packed the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School over the weekend for the 28th annual Flagler Home Lifestyle Show, featuring vendor booths, charities, club tables and retailers all displaying goods and services.

“I’m at the home show checking out all the fantastic vendors and the small businesses in Flagler County,” said local attorney Michael Chuimento, who was not only a vendor but spent several hours visiting with friends and business owners at the show.

Gospel Gardens’ 6-foot tall water feature, complete with Gerber daisies, roses and other plants, brought the outdoor tent display area to life along with hot tub displays across from the masseuse-defined relaxation and luxury. Realtor Ginny O’Hara had no qualms about settling into the massage chair while Rhiannon Kelly worked her magic.

Music from Patrick Sammy on the steel drum could be heard among the vendors outside, giving a warm vibe to match the beautiful weather as boat dealers talked with perspective clients.

Inside the school, it was a veritable trick or treat extravaganza for adults. Tables, laden with information on “everything home” was available. Attendees stopped for information on home improvements, landscaping and design ideas as businesses from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach offered options.

Throughout the school, it seemed every segment of the community was represented by the 200 booths and vendors on site.

“It’s been very good, we’ve seen a lot of people from out of state,” said local insurance agent Ann Conser as the crowd thinned around her table inside the high school.

Nearly everyone was seen walking around with a yard stick, courtesy of the Flagler County Realtor’s Association.

“Just enjoying ourselves at the home show today,” said Dale Batt, who as visiting with sons Jeremy and Justin, both carrying yard sticks and picking up lots of other free stuff. The boys especially loved the candy from the tables, Batt said.

Florida Hospital Flagler took the opportunity to host a health fair that included screenings for vision and discussion about their cancer support and volunteer services.

“Today’s been pretty exciting. We’ve given out quite a number of applications for volunteering,” said hospital auxiliary president Flo McCarthy, who was working the booth with Alice Fusco, a volunteer in the emergency department.

Richard and Marilyn Stull, visiting from Illinois, said they spend four months in Flagler County. Coming back year after year, they’ve come to enjoy the show.

“It’s a good Saturday afternoon look-and-see situation,” Richard Stull said.

Business owners seemed thrilled with the number of people coming out to see what was available.

“It’s been fabulous; real steady all day,” said Deborah Negrette, who was out signing up contestants for a cruise to Hawaii.

Article source:

Uncommonly Powerful Performance Metrics For Business Managers: Part 1

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is a tired mantra, so let’s advance the discussion: What the heck are you measuring—and why?

Talk to enough business owners, investors and advisors and you learn that tracking the basics (revenue, expenses, cash flow) only gets you so far. Running successful companies—especially young ones with fast-changing fortunes—requires far more calibration and nuance.

Joni Fedders, president of Aileron, a non-profit small-business boot camp founded by pet-food billionaire Clay Mathile, sums it up well:

“We talk about the process of setting up metrics and routines for measuring, monitoring and reviewing information relevant to goals, and examining that information against strategy, effort and performance,” says Fedders. “This process is key to accountability within an organization.” That accountability in mind, she adds: “We constantly ask our business owners to think about what they could track that would provide an ‘early warning system.’ In manufacturing, for example, the cost of raw materials may be far more important than reviewing quarterly financial statements—by that time, any opportunity to change course is gone.”


How does your business measure up? Answering that starts with choosing insightful metrics.

This is the first installment in a series of articles that aims to unearth new, enlightening business-performance metrics. The goal: to help millions of companies hum at their fullest potential and boost the overall economy. That’ll demand a serious group effort—but then, we have the Web.

If you or your colleagues employ uncommonly powerful methods of measuring business performance, we’d like to hear about them. Please share your comments at the end of this post: Clearly describe your metric and how it helps you manage your company more effectively. Have an interesting twist on another reader’s technique? Chime in. Who knows: Unlocking all that wisdom might create a few jobs along the way.

To kick things off, here are five insightful yet broadly applicable performance metrics, courtesy of entrepreneurs in various industries. And thank you in advance for fueling the discussion!

1. Core Revenue Impact

I run a consulting company with a full-time staff, so metrics like billable utilization (the percent of time we bill clients) and average hourly rate are mission-critical. We also categorize our revenue between recurring (“Core”) and non-recurring (“Project”) to better understand the overall stability of our operation.  (Higher Core revenue translates into lower volatility, but also into lower average rates and profitability.) We take this a step further with a new metric that provides even greater insight and helps us make better hiring decisions.  Core Revenue Impact (CRI) is a ratio that reflects the portion of overall costs that are covered by Core revenue. For example, a CRI level of .78 indicates that just 78% of our costs are covered by recurring revenue. Conclusion: Unless we have a significant backlog of Project revenue and/or a strong sales pipeline, adding staff is unlikely; conversely, when the CRI level is near or over 1.0, it’s usually a good time to hire. — — Bryan Hogan, President, Afidence

2. Efficiency Rating

We try to look at a few simple numbers that our whole team can understand. A big one is the Efficiency Rating (ER), which we define as “budgeted hours” divided by “actual hours.” When we bid a landscape installation, labor is often the biggest expense—and it’s what the crew has the most influence over—so it’s what we focus on. (Materials are a big input, too, but after 30 years in business, we’ve gotten pretty good at estimating those costs.) If a job slated for 100 budgeted hours ends up eating only 90 actual hours, the ER is 111% (100/90 * 100%). That’s a good number. We track ER for each job and for the year. We also track it per salesperson, team leader and group leader to generate some friendly in-house competition. It’s not a terribly complicated concept, but when it comes to performance metrics, simplicity wins. — — Martin Grunder Jr., CEO, Grunder Landscaping

3. Customer Acquisition Cost Ratio

A favorite in private-equity circles, this metric tells us—in one number—how efficient our marketing department is. The higher the ratio, the more revenue we’re generating for each marketing dollar spent. Our Customer Acquisition Cost Ratio (CAC) equals the difference between new recurring revenue minus the cost of goods sold in the current month, all multiplied by 12 (to get an annual run rate), then divided by the marketing expenses from the previous quarter leading up to the sale. Why the monthly/quarterly timing mismatch? As an online-marketing firm, our sales cycle is relatively short and we figure everything we’ve done in the past 90 days should have shown up by the time the current month rolls around. (By contrast, companies that sell to hospitals might spend nine months landing a new client, so they might use a different timetable.)

We like a CAC ratio between .35 and .75. Anything above that means we’re leaving money on the table by not beefing up our marketing, and anything below means we’re not getting enough bang for the buck. We’ve been tracking this metric for the last nine months or so. It took us a little while to really understand what it meant and how to feel about it, but after a few months we discovered we were spending too much on paid search to generate sales leads. So we hired a new firm to do our search-engine marketing—it was a huge win.  — — Clint Smith, Founder, Emma

4. Prime Time

Our high-end hospitality business is all about deft communication. If you make your living pairing extraordinary people with exceptional experiences, you have to figure out how to reach the right customers with the right ideas at the right time. To do that, we’ve built an algorithm that estimates the Prime Time that specific customers will most likely absorb and act on various marketing messages. Call it a bespoke metric. The software takes into account various data points, such as when a client: opens our emails (as a percentage of “Opens” versus “Sends”), responds to “push” notifications, browses our catalog from her mobile phone, and other so-called measures of engagement with our brand. Result: a specific window of time (say, Wednesdays between 7pm and 9pm) that will boost our odds of reaching specific people with exactly what they want, precisely when they want it. Nearly as important, our metric also lets us know when to leave them alone—and the fewer annoyances, the better.  — — Patrick Widen, Founder, Eyes Only

5. The Fat Chat Quotient

This one is from yours truly, and it’s a measure of how productive your meetings are. Basically, the “fatter” your chats, the more time wasted and blood-pressure pills consumed. Meetings get mired for all sorts of reasons; you can’t anticipate them all, but you can control the madness with what I call the Fat Chat Quotient (FCQ)—defined as the overall quality of each meeting, captured in one number. Variables of quality include total time spent in each meeting, level of preparation demonstrated, the intelligence of questions asked, the number of tangible tasks comprehended and assigned, and maybe a handful of other key factors. After each significant meeting (as opposed to a quick drive-by), take 30 seconds to rank each variable—from 1 to 10—and tally the total FCQ. Chart the metric and monitor it monthly. If you want a more granular view, group FCQs by specific project or personnel. If you don’t like what you see, make changes. Everyone at those meetings will thank you.

Do you or your colleagues use a particularly interesting metric to monitor your company’s performance? Let us know by commenting on this post: Clearly describe your metric and how it helps you manage your company more effectively. If you have an interesting twist on another reader’s technique, let us know that, too.

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Happy Belated Birthday, Disney Topiaries!

Whether it is the gnarled trees that threaten a fleeing Snow White, the lush jungle foliage behind Baloo the Bear as he teaches Mowgli about the “bare necessities,” the forest that changes through the seasons as Bambi becomes the Great Prince, or just the wonderful landscaping in the Disney theme parks that transport guests to another world, horticulture has always been an important element in making the Disney experience so successful and memorable.


I’ve written about Disney horticulture and landscaping before.

Disney’s horticulture and landscaping are amazing storytelling devices that immerse Disney guests into a variety of stories, as well as providing a beautiful background that is not at other amusement venues. It is just another example of the “Disney Difference” we often take for granted.

As Disney historian Sam Gennawey likes to remind people, there is a very definite reason why a place like Disneyland was called a “park.” Originally, there were areas where people could just sit and quite literally smell the roses, rather than rushing to use a Fast Pass. Relaxing grassy expanses supplemented by a variety of trees and plants provided a comfort.

Walt’s older brother, Roy, had taken up gardening as a hobby that allowed him to spend time with his family. Walt’s attempts to be a home gardener were not as successful.

“As far as gardening is concerned, my hobby is to use native material as much as possible,” Walt told a magazine reporter in the1940s. “Few people realize what a great wealth of beautiful shrubs, trees, and plants there are, right on these hillsides. No matter where people live, they can use native plant material. I don’t like formal gardens. I like wild nature.”

However, Walt couldn’t prevent the birds, squirrels and rabbits around his property from feasting on the fruit he tried to grow. He got frustrated at continually pulling up brush to clear a path. Finally, Walt hired a gardener to take care of the Disney home gardening.

In my book, The Book of Mouse, I briefly discuss the “Floral Mickey” at the entrance of Disneyland Park in California and the Magic Kingdom Park in Florida.

While it has been called the “Mickey Mouse Planter” and, most recently, “Floral Mickey,” when I interviewed Disney Legend Bill Evans, he called it a “parterre,” a French term for an ornamental garden that forms a distinctive pattern.

Evans built a light wooden framework for the outline of the head and the individual sections, like the eyes and mouth, and then filled them in with thousands of colorful plants.

“It was Walt’s idea,” Evans told me. “Just like the face [on the title card] before every [theatrical] Mickey [Mouse] cartoon and audiences would start cheering.”

Even though that iconic image became one of the most photographed locations at Disney theme parks, it apparently wasn’t a top priority as last-minute landscaping was being done for the opening of Disneyland.

On July 11, 1955, just six days before the park opened to the public, Disney Legend Joe Fowler, who oversaw construction of Disneyland, sent a memo to landscaper Jack Evans (Bill’s brother, who, with Jack, operated their landscaping company) that asked, “When are you going to plant Mickey Mouse in the entrance? Looks to me like the time is getting pretty late.”

Last year was the 50th anniversary of Disney theme park topiaries that first appeared in 1963, but just in Fantasyland at Disneyland. There were so many Disney anniversaries last year that I wasn’t able to cover all of them, so this is a belated tribute to the topiaries.

Sculpting a figure in living plants had been practiced for many centuries with the most impressive work being done in Europe roughly 200 years ago. The one most important ingredient in making a topiary was time. People planted varieties with small leaves, slow growth and long life, so boxwood and yew trees were the favorites.

Walt must have known a little about topiaries because in the Mickey Mouse short Mickey Cuts Up (1931) as Mickey helps Minnie with her yard work, he playfully trims a potted bush into a face.

Walt felt that a topiary garden of animals would be perfect for the exterior of the new “it’s a small world” attraction, scheduled to be removed from the 1964 World’s Fair and installed at Disneyland.

As Evans told me:

“Walt had been to Europe [including Tivoli Gardens] and had seen some fine topiary and he was suitably impressed. Conventional topiary goes back some 3,000 years. The plant material customarily employed to produce topiary figures was very, very slow growing. It takes years and years to respond to the desired effect.

“Walt was a bit too impatient for that. ‘Let’s get some topiaries in the park in a year or two,’ he said. He didn’t see any point in waiting 20 years. The artists would do illustrations that they wanted. We blew them up to full size and then took a lot of reinforcing rods and warped it around into the shapes we needed. In effect, we built a kind of skeleton out of steel.

“We persuaded these plants that they should grow to correspond to that skeleton. You bend them a little bit in January and a little bit more in February and a little bit more in March until you get the bones of the plant around the basic shape and finally you get to what you want.

‘The difference in doing this short order topiary is that this stuff grows fast. That is a great advantage for the opening but it is a great disadvantage in the long haul. That European topiary is hundreds of years old. This stuff isn’t going to last a hundred years. We can get maybe ten years out of it.

“We have to have stand-ins behind the scenes ready to come aboard because this stuff outgrows and we can’t hold it down indefinitely. At one time, Walt was even thinking of putting them (the animal topiaries) on turntables that rotated (in front of it’s a small world) so it would look like they were dancing.”

That idea didn’t develop for several reasons including the weight factor as well as the added maintenance required.

These topiaries developed by Evans require from three to ten years to produce and are grown in large containers using a metal frame as a guide to assist with training and shaping. Rather than from the artist’s brush, Disney animated characters spring to life through gardening shears.

Disney cast member Joe Delfin, who worked on the landscaping of the Jungle Cruise and Storybook Land Canal Boats recalled, “I used to make turkeys out of plants for Thanksgiving for fun [at Disneyland], and once, in my spare time, I had one going behind the Skyway and I got caught by Ray Miller.”

Miller, who was Delfin’s supervisor, didn’t say anything then, but, a short time later, Miller and Disney Legend Ken Anderson invited Joe to go out for lunch. That lunch ended in a car ride as they began discussing how Walt had seen examples of topiaries while on a trip to England and Belgium, and how he wanted the same type of art work for his new attraction, “it’s a small world.”

“I said ‘wait a minute’…but they just kept telling me I could do it.”

The ride ended at a museum that housed topiary figures in Beverly Hills and, from behind a protective rope, Delfin got a somewhat distant look at what were considered traditional topiary figures.

“The next Monday they put me into it, and I stayed in it for two years.”

By 1963, there were roughly two-dozen topiaries inside Disneyland. They included a waltzing hippo, a poodle, a pig, bears, elephants, seals, and giraffes. They were generic animals that were easy to make out of the material available rather than a specific Disney animated character.

“Although viewed best only from the excursion train [that circles the park], a topiary garden is properly part of Fantasyland,” wrote Evans in 1965. “Here you will find giraffes, camels, elephants, and waltzing hippos, motionless, but alive and well. This inanimate zoological garden is made up of thuyas, junipers, cypress, ficus and African boxwood. A laughing pachyderm, fashioned from golden thuya, a relative of the juniper family, sitting on a grass ball with its trunk raised high in the air and growing in a green wooden box brings joy to many visitors.”

That laughing elephant along with a two-humped camel, a giraffe and an elephant doing a hand stand were uprooted to take up residence in the front of “it’s a small world” when it opened in May 1966.

“Outward-bound passengers enjoy a close view of the fanciful figures which are shaped from growing trees and shrubs,” Walt said during the “Disneyland Around the Seasons” episode for his weekly television series on December 18, 1966.

“At Disneyland we didn’t have time, so we devised other methods of topiary gardening. Over-simplified, these amounted to lifting old plants out of the ground, confining their roots to containers and persuading them to assume shapes they hadn’t planned on,” Evans wrote. “For example, a camel with four feet on the ground requires four individual trees, and you draw straws to see who gets the neck. On the other hand, if the hippopotamus is poised on one toe the problem is simplified, providing you can produce enough plant above that point.

“Now that our chlorophyll circus is past its growing pains, the gardeners who bent, tied, clipped, and manicured the troupe can relax a bit, but only a bit, because these animals lead a somewhat precarious existence. It is possible to kill these plants with kindness. Overwatering is quite as dangerous as underwatering.

“Having in mind that beauty is only skin deep, we are understandably concerned with the welfare of our animal charges. Too much water, too little water, too much fertilizer, too little pest control, could materially damage or destroy 24 months of hard work in making them.”

When these creations were relocated in 1966 to the area in front of “it’s a small world,” another 10 remained throughout Disneyland.

The real “Disneynifcation” of topiaries with an emphasis on specific Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse, rather than generic animals to distinguish them from European gardens and topiaries that were now popping up at other amusement venues began with the creation of the Sphagnum Moss Topiary.

Currently, the most common type of topiary at the Walt Disney World Resort are Sphagnum topiaries grown using heavy steel frames stuffed with sphagnum moss and planted with close-growing vine material.

Sphagnum topiaries can be grown within a month, but require daily watering and frequent applications of fertilizer. They are easily moved from one location to another and are adaptable for use as stage decorations or for special occasions, but do not survive as long as a traditional topiary.

However, those interior frames do survive high winds and pests like squirrels and guests who pick at them. The steel frames are re-used and sometimes modified.

These topiaries are appreciated for their beauty, their ability to call to mind a favorite Disney character and as a marvel of engineering.

The earliest topiaries at the Walt Disney World Resort were on the road near Disney’s Contemporary Resort on the way to the Magic Kingdom.

Mary Poppins holding her parasol high as if she were ready to fly away, a train of elephants holding each others’ tails by their trunks as they seemed to be marching slowly toward the Magic Kingdom, a giraffe casually munching on the leaves of a nearby real tree and other creations were quickly installed with plastic leaves enhancing the figures.

These were intended to be a temporary installation, so dead trees were painted and decorated. Within a decade, the whimsical band had dwindled significantly.

Yet, a handful did continue to survive but gradually disappeared until by 2003 only two acrobatic elephants outside the Magic Kingdom, no longer showcased as they once were, remained.

The last remaining topiary, one of those elephants, quietly disappeared in 2011 with no one noticing.

Those plain green silhouettes with their quiet charm and wonder gave way in the mid-1990s to more elaborate version with splashes of color and accessories.

The first of this new breed of topiaries appeared to promote The Lion King animated feature, to make more distinctive features and expressions. For instance, the villain Scar’s actual scar became more visible.

The addition of so much color was inspired by the floral floats in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade where Disney horticulturists could see how a variety of natural materials could be weaved into a figure to provide something more distinctive and suggestive. Today, some of that natural color is enhanced by paint as well.

As Walt Disney World Resort topiary specialist Renee Worrell has pointed out, by the time of the opening of Epcot in 1982, the traditional Evans’ method was not working as well because of the necessity for more speed and flexibility.

So there was the introduction of specialty character topiaries (like for the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival) that were grown using heavy steel frames stuffed with sphagnum moss and planting them with close-growing vine material, the Sphagnum Moss topiaries.

However, this new version presented its own unique problems. Keeping the figure properly hydrated became a big issue.

Each topiary has its own irrigation system due to the differing needs of different parts. For example, the arms and other extremities dry out quickly, while the bodies would rot if they were watered too much. The amount of water for each area is controlled with a system of hoses with holes for each living sculpture.
Elaborate, slow-drip irrigation systems were installed in the 1990s and that is primarily the procedure today.

Some people, myself included, long for the enchantment of the original simple, green craftsmanship of the earlier topiaries that took months to grow, but, like most things that have changed at a Disney park, that will probably never happen, especially since guests seem to enjoy the much more colorful but temporary offspring that decorate the parks today.

I will be curious to see how the introduction of new technology will impact Disney topiaries in the years to come.

Article source:

Judy Andrews, garden designer, championed roses of old

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January 30, 2014

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Judy Andrews at Rookwood.

Judy Andrews at Rookwood. Photo: Madeline Ellis

JUDY ANDREWS 1932 – 2013

Judy Andrews was an exceptional organiser and her skills were evident in her home. After her death, her daughters found that everything was filed and labelled, right down to the empty boxes, each labelled “Empty box”.

Outside the house, she was a long-time member of the Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment, formed in 1994 to protect the natural and built heritage of the northern Sydney area from over-development. Her meticulously documented report about local properties at risk was used as a case study by the National Trust (NSW) in its submission to the state government.

Andrews won her first battle against breast cancer in the early 1980s and it was then that she was invited to the Christmas party for the Heritage Roses in Australia Inc. She accepted reluctantly, not being a fan of roses – and then saw the beautiful, old-style blooms. At a time when most people are thinking of retiring, she began formal studies in horticulture and design at Ryde TAFE. After graduating with distinction she set up her own business, Judy Andrews Garden Design. Her plans were so beautifully drawn that clients would sometimes have them framed so they could put them on their walls.

Andrews was also a dedicated volunteer at Rookwood Cemetery, the source of many rare roses, and designed the planting specifications for the rescued heritage roses of its Long Garden. In 2006 she was given the distinguished service award at the Horticulture Research International Association (HRIA) Conference in Perth for her landscaping and engineering design and plan for the Rumsey Rose Garden, a municipal heritage rose garden in Parramatta Park.

Judith Navena Lewington was born in Killara on March 5, 1932, to Dudley Lewington and his wife, Vera (nee Wilcox). Dudley had started work at 13 to help his family and became chairman of the British Tobacco Company (Australia), but his passion was carpentry and in his workshop he had a set of tools and a bench for both his daughter and young son.

Vera was an expert dressmaker, and both grandmothers painted, all skills which Judy developed to a high standard.

Andrews loved her local area, and lived there all of her life, with the exception of a few months in the Blue Mountains when Sydney was at risk of attack during World War II. Ironically, both times the Japanese subs attacked, the family were back in Sydney on visits.

She was a shy child and disliked school but enjoyed her senior years as a boarder at Frensham School in Mittagong. At the 50th class reunion she noticed, to her horror, a beloved deer statue, the centrepiece of a fountain, had been replaced by a figure of a boy. Helped by two former classmates, funds were raised and the deer restored.

On finishing school, she attended business college, then got a job with stockbroking firm Ord Minnett.

She married George Andrews in 1955 and they moved into a house in Killara they had designed. She battled the possums and established a garden with room for a growing menagerie of pets.

Andrews was just as much at home building a henhouse as she was making dresses for her daughters (with matching outfits for their Barbie dolls).

The marriage ended in 1979 and Andrews moved to Park Avenue in the neighbouring suburb of Gordon. The heritage-listed cottage was set in expansive lawns, all of which disappeared over the years as she transformed them into a lovely garden that was featured in magazines and became part of the open gardens scheme.

Despite all that she did, she still found time for tennis, bridge with her aunts and catching up with family and friends, and never forgot a birthday. She was an active member of the Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens and involved in many other societies.

Judy Andrews is survived by her daughters Jenny, Claire and Nicola, nine grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and brother Barry.

Lynne Caincross


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Cyclone won’t save cattle farmers

Bob Katter urges the state government to grant permits to drought stricken Queensland cattle farmers to access underground water with up to 10,000 cattle “dying every day”.

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An introduction to tea gardens

By Katie Marks

Posted Jan. 29, 2014 @ 1:01 am


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Planting seeds: Common Ground manager offers tips for local gardeners

The Town Crier recently conducted an email interview with Patricia Becker, manager of Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center in Palo Alto. The 42-year-old nonprofit organization’s mission is to provide education and resources to support the local community in growing gardens sustainably through the cultivation of edible and native plants.

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Q: What is Common Ground?

Becker: Our full name is Common Ground Garden Supply and Education Center. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit serving the San Francisco Bay Area. We offer classes and events in sustainable gardening and lifestyles. We sell seeds and plants, organic composts, tools, natural disease and pest control products, books, magazines, cards and local gift items.

Q: How many people does Common Ground serve annually?

Becker: We had over 400 participants in one day for our Annual Edible Landscaping Tour in July 2013. An estimate is close to 100,000.

Q: What sort of products can someone expect to find at Common Ground?

Becker: Everything for your gardening needs, organic and sustainable from A to Z. And if we don’t have it, you probably don’t need it!

Q: What are the five most important tools for gardening?

Becker: High-quality pruners, a digging fork, a spade, a hand trowel and gloves. No. 6 would be comfortable, tough shoes.

Q: What is the best time of year to start planting a garden?

Becker: California has two optimal planting seasons – in all honesty, gardens can be planted here in the Bay Area at any time of year. Except December. We sell a “Common Ground Planting Guide” for this area that lists what to start in flats or directly in each month. It is a best-seller and highly recommended.

Q: Which plants grow best with maximum sunlight, and which do best with more shade?

Becker: Most edible plants prefer six to eight hours of sun per day. Certainly, plants will grow with less light, but the amount of flowers and fruit one receives usually correlates with how much sunlight is provided.

Q: Which plants flourish in local yards?

Becker: Plants that have come from Mediterranean climates will do very well. But overall, most plants find our climate quite amenable.

Q: What are some foolproof plants for the novice gardener?

Becker: Culinary and medicinal herbs, Nasturtium edible flowers, Calendula edible flowers, mints, lavenders, salvias. Most edible plants and California native plants are relatively easy to grow.

Q: What should you consider before replanting or redesigning your garden?

Becker: How much time will you truly spend in your garden? Who is going to care for it, and is that person up to the task? If the garden includes edible goodies, which fruits and veggies will the family actually eat?

Consider taking a Common Ground class that can help answer your questions.

Q: Gov. Jerry Brown recently declared a drought emergency in California. What are some ways gardeners can conserve this year?

Becker: Water at night. Mulch, mulch and more mulch. Rosalind Creasy, author of the wonderful book “Edible Landscaping,” suggests that we consider taking out our lawns and replacing them with food gardens. She points out, “Lawns require 1 inch of water per week; at that rate, using irrigation only, a 25-by-40-foot (1,000-square-foot) lawn can suck up about 625 gallons of water weekly, or approximately 10,000 gallons of water each summer.”

Q: What are your favorite ways to maximize a smaller garden space?

Becker: Growing plants like peas on a vertical support is fun, wise and attractive. Also, in our arid climate, it’s possible to grow plants closer together than might be suggested by a book or seed packet.

Q: What is the best way to fertilize the garden? Is it different for flowers than for edible plants?

Becker: If an organic fertilizer is used, then there should not be any difference in application between edible or ornamental plants. Different plants do require different foods, so it’s best to know those differences before they’re fed. The best way to fertilize is up to each individual gardener, but most opt for either broadcasting handfuls of fertilizer or spraying it with a hose-end sprayer.

Q: What are some bee-friendly plants? What are the benefits to having bees in the garden?

Becker: A beehive near your garden is said to improve yields of fruit and vegetables upwards of 35 percent. Most flowering plants will be visited by bees. Lavenders are particularly reliable attractors.

Q: What is the most challenging part of gardening, and how do you overcome the challenges?

Becker: The best garden is the garden that is paid attention to. Finding time to tend the garden is typically the greatest challenge. Otherwise, gardening is a pastime that can be enjoyed by essentially anyone.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who insists they have a “black” thumb?

Becker: You are what you say you are. Pay attention to your garden and your thumb will green up in no time.

Q: What are some great potted plants/edibles that work well in smaller garden spaces?

Becker: Citrus is a good potted fruit tree. Blueberries do well in pots. Lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, just about every type of edible plant can be grown in a container. We sell a popular book, the best book for growing edibles in container, “Container Gardening” by Rose Marie Nichols.

Q: What are some good guidelines when it comes to watering? Every day? Twice a week? Does it depend on what is growing or the season?

Becker: Typically, one waters less in the winter when the days are cooler and shorter (maybe twice a week max), and then in the summer, perhaps three, sometimes four times per week.

Q: Where can local residents find answers to their gardening questions?

Becker: By taking classes at Common Ground, where you learn and meet gardening friends. Our classes really educate the students.

Q: What are some upcoming Common Ground events that might be useful to local gardeners, expert or novice?

Becker: We have a superb Edible Garden Series beginning Saturday and running into late spring, which covers most aspects of organic gardening, all the way from design to harvest. We’re also offering a class Feb. 15 that will give gardeners ideas and strategies for how to get more from their garden in less time, taught by a Common Ground staff member.


Common Ground Garden Shop readies for Spring – Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

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Gardening Tips For Spring Season


You need not be born with green hands to give that magical touch. All you need is the right spirit and knowledge to have a healthy garden. Now, there must be numerous doubts arising in your mind about those fancy tools, and expensive products to make a healthy garden. Is it really necessary? The answer is a big “No”. You can make your garden simple and beautiful through careful planning. Here are a few gardening tips for spring.

Gardening Tips For Spring Season

1. A survey is essential

One of the gardening tips for beginners is that a survey is essential. If you are planning a spring gardening, then make a note on the unwanted things that needs to be removed from your garden. If you are to maintain large trees, call in a specialist if needed. The next thing you need to do is make a compost pile with last year’s foliage. You also should check the fences, pathways and steps and make necessary arrangements.

2. Check your tools

Tools are some of the important items when it comes to gardening. One important gardening tip for beginners is to check if you have all the tools ready, so that you need not rush up in the growing season. Gardening tips for spring needs to be followed carefully to attain better results.

3. Clearing out

If there are dead, diseased or damaged plants in your garden, remove it in the first place. Gardening tips for spring are easy to follow and implement. All it demands is a little care. If you are a gardening beginner, make sure you don’t forget to prune the plants and shrubs.

4. Test the soil

A soil test is something that should be done if you need a healthy garden. Gardening tips for beginners should contain a detailed explanation on the soil test. A home-soil test kit is readily available with which you can check the pH of the soil. The samples are to be taken from different areas. If you want to raise the pH level, then add dolomitic lime. To lower the pH add sulphur.

5. Preparing new beds

The next step you need to do is preparing new beds. Clear the planting area and spread the area with compost of 4-inch thickness. Once you prepare the new beds, the next thing to do is plant the saplings. Once you plant the saplings, don’t forget to fertilise them.

Following the above gardening tips for spring is sure to make your garden wonderful. Follow the above gardening tips for spring and watch your garden bloom this spring.

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