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Archives for February 15, 2014

Calgary artist behind Mars One habitat and illustrations of future space station

MONTREAL – Bryan Versteeg hasn’t stopped drawing ever since he got his first crayons and left marks all over the walls as a child — all the while dreaming of someday living in space.

He still remembers that sketch books and drawing pencils were the predominant gifts on his fifth and sixth birthdays.

So began the career of the 38-year-old Calgary space artist who’s becoming known for his futuristic out-of-this-world illustrations.

“I’ve always been seeking out the future of engineering,” Versteeg said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Over the years, he has been inspired by magazines like Popular Science, which he collected during the 1980s and 90s. The monthly magazine has been well known for its concept drawings of flying cars and interplanetary spaceships.

“It’s a great way to look into the future,” he added.

Warp forward to Versteeg’s recent illustrations of what a human habitat on Mars would eventually look like. His Mars One conceptual designs have appeared in thousands of articles on the Internet.

Versteeg started working on the Martian space habitat after he was approached by the founders of the Mars One Foundation, which is planning a one-way mission to the red planet.

In December, the non-profit organization selected 75 Canadians to enter the second round of the mission’s selection process. The 43 Canadian women and 32 men were among 1,058 candidates selected.

Versteeg said he agreed with the Mars One approach, which involved sending up to six landers to the Martian surface before shipping up any humans.

They would include two living units, two life-support systems and two supply units.

“If you’re going to be putting a permanent base there, you want to make sure everything is working before people get there,” Versteeg said.

“I really believe in Mars settlement and colonization as a foothold for human beings on another planet.”

Versteeg has worked in the graphics industry for more than 20 years, as a conceptual artist in the architectural and engineering fields.

In 2011, he founded in order to focus on the conceptual visualization for space exploration.

Versteeg is also a member of the International Association of Astronomical Artists.

One of the other projects he has been working on for about two years is his “Kalpana One” Space Station.

It’s named after Kalpana Chawla, one of seven astronauts killed when U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart while returning to Earth in February 2003.

“Kalpana One” is Versteeg’s idea of what living in outer space could actually look like.

“The interior of the space station is basically a space for about 10,000 people,” he said.

“I designed the golf courses and the football fields, the farms, the recreation spaces and ponds and landscaping — it was probably 50 projects within one project.”

Versteeg’s illustrations can aptly be compared to the artwork for the iconic rotating space station in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“They did a lot of research and they made something that was as close to realistic as possible,” he noted.

Versteeg referred to his greenery-filled “Kalpana One” space station as “2101” — 100 years after the setting of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction masterpiece.

“I know I’ve always wanted to live in space and so it doesn’t need to be all that incredible for me to want to live there,” Versteeg said.

“I try to create places that my wife could see herself live in.”

The futurist artist, who has been married for 10 years, began studying art and design in school at the age of 14.

He originally considered a career in architecture and learned interior design along the way.

Versteeg said a lot of research goes into his artwork and he’s always reading up on the latest cutting-edge technology.

“You try to limit yourself within the laws of physics and within existing concepts that we already understand because I really want to make sure it’s realistic,” Versteeg said.

“If a person looks at it and says: ‘That’s impossible’ right off the bat, then we’ve kind of already lost a bit of the audience.”

Catherine Hazin, director of arts and culture for the Canadian Space Society, has called Versteeg “an incredibly important Canadian artist.”

“He is really making the idea of living and inhabiting space accessible to the public,” she said in an interview. “It’s an incredibly important job that nobody has been able to do as effectively as he has until now.”

Versteeg is also one of the founders of Deep Space Industries (DSI), a company that plans to mine and utilize space resources like asteroids.

NASA is currently studying a plan to send astronauts to study an asteroid and Versteeg said DSI has been co-operating with the U.S. space agency.

“Some of the DSI guys have been consulted for NASA’s designs, but exactly how NASA is planning on doing it is up in the air,” he said.

“We have our own ideas of how we can go out and prospect and analyze and target asteroids and then return them, process them and use the resources for manufacturing.”

Versteeg has even created stunning concept illustrations of what mining in space would look like.

“I have wonderful discussions with the guys I work with at Deep Space Industries who offer incredible insight,” he said. “They kind of vet my designs and tell me what could or could not happen.”

His illustrations of space mining may not be that far from reality. DSI is facing competition from another company, Planetary Resources Inc., which also has plans to mine asteroids.

Versteeg predicted that, like Ford when the company started mass producing cars, space utilization will take off “in leaps and bounds.”

Article source:

Remarks by the President on the California Drought

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

February 14, 2014

Joe Del Bosque’s Field Los Banos, California

4:55 P.M. PST

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I want to thank Joe and Maria Del Bosque and their beautiful daughters for showing Governor Brown and me around their farm. 

Joe has got an incredible story.  The son of a migrant farmworker, farm work is how he put himself through college.  He’s been a farmer for most of his life.  He started by going around to other folks’ land and saying, I’ll grow some cantaloupes for you as long as you pay me for what we produce, and over the years was able to develop this amazing business and not only start growing cantaloupes, but almonds and cherries and all kinds of other good stuff.

“There are three things that make farming work in California,” according to Joe, “soil, water, and people.”  And in the little free time they have, Joe and Maria work to improve the health and safety of farm workers.  There are a lot of people who are dependent on him year-round, and a lot of people who work seasonally with Joe and Maria, and their livelihoods depend on the functioning of these farms.

But today, we’re here to talk about the resource that’s keeping more and more California’s farmers and families up at night, and that is water — or the lack of it. 

As anybody in this state could tell you, California’s living through some of its driest years in a century.  Right now, almost 99 percent of California is drier than normal — and the winter snowpack that provides much of your water far into the summer is much smaller than normal.  And we could see that as we were flying in — Jim and Barbara and Dianne and I were flying over the mountain ranges and could see, even though there was a little bit of snow that just came in the last couple of days, that it’s nothing like it is normally.

While drought in regions outside the West is expected to be less severe than in other years, California is our biggest economy, California is our biggest agricultural producer, so what happens here matters to every working American, right down to the cost of food that you put on your table. 

And that’s why, last month, Governor Brown declared a state of emergency, directing state officials to prepare for drought conditions.  And together, our administrations launched a coordinated response.  Secretary Vilsack, who is here today, declared 27 counties as primary natural disaster areas, making farmers and ranchers eligible for emergency loans.  And over the past two weeks, his team at USDA and Mike Connor’s team at the Interior Department have released new funds for conservation and irrigation; announced investments to upgrade water infrastructure; and partnered with California to stretch the water supply as much as possible.

Today, I’m want to announce new actions that we can take together to help these hardworking folks.

First, we’re accelerating $100 million of funds from the farm bill that I signed last week to help ranchers.  For example, if their fields have dried up, this is going to help them feed their livestock. 

Second, last week, we announced $20 million to help hard-hit communities, and today, we’re announcing up to $15 million more for California and other states that are in extreme drought. 

Third, I’m directing the Interior Department to use its existing authorities, where appropriate, to give water contractors flexibility to meet their obligations. 

And fourth, I’m directing all federal facilities in California to take immediate steps to curb their water use, including a moratorium on water usage for new, non-essential landscaping projects.

A bipartisan bill written by your outstanding Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as your own outstanding Representative and almond farmer, Jim Costa, includes similar ideas.  And I hope that Congress considers the legislation that they have crafted soon, work through some of the concerns that have been expressed — let’s make sure that we’re getting some short-term relief to folks, but also long-term certainty for people who are going to be harmed by this drought.

These actions will help, but they’re just the first step.  We have to be clear:  A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher. Droughts have obviously been a part of life out here in the West since before any of us were around and water politics in California have always been complicated, but scientific evidence shows that a changing climate is going to make them more intense.

Scientists will debate whether a particular storm or drought reflects patterns of climate change.  But one thing that is undeniable is that changing temperatures influence drought in at least three ways:  Number one, more rain falls in extreme downpours — so more water is lost to runoff than captured for use.  Number two, more precipitation in the mountains falls as rain rather than snow — so rivers run dry earlier in the year.  Number three, soil and reservoirs lose more water to evaporation year-round.

What does all this mean?  Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend is going to get worse.  And the hard truth is even if we do take action on climate change, carbon pollution has built up in our atmosphere for decades.  The planet is slowly going to keep warming for a long time to come.  So we’re going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for; we’ve got to start looking at these disasters as something to prepare for, to anticipate, to start building new infrastructure, to start having new plans, to recalibrate the baseline that we’re working off of.

And everybody, from farmers to industry to residential areas, to the north of California and the south of California and everyplace in between, as well as the entire Western region are going to have to start rethinking how we approach water for decades to come.

And as I said when I was meeting with the town hall group, we can’t think of this simply as a zero-sum game.  It can’t just be a matter of there’s going to be less and less water so I’m going to grab more and more of a shrinking share of water.  Instead what we have to do is all come together and figure out how we all are going to make sure that agricultural needs, urban needs, industrial needs, environmental and conservation concerns are all addressed.  And that’s going to be a big project, but it’s one that I’m confident we can do.

Part of the Climate Action Plan that I put forward last summer is designed to protect critical sectors of our economy and prepare the United States for the effects of climate change that we’re just not going to be able to avoid.  So, last week, for example, the USDA announced seven new “climate hubs” to help farmers and ranchers adapt their operations to a changing climate — one of which will be at UC Davis, focused on resilience for California’s specialty crops. 

The budget that I sent to Congress — the budget that I send to Congress next month will include $1 billion in new funding for new technologies to help communities prepare for a changing climate, set up incentives to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure.  And finally, my administration will work with tech innovators and launch new challenges under our Climate Data Initiative, focused initially on rising sea levels and their impact on the coasts, but ultimately focused on how all these changes in weather patterns are going to have an impact up and down the United States — not just on the coast but inland as well — and how do we start preparing for that.  And that has to be work that we do together.  This cannot be a partisan endeavor.

One of the great things about that town hall that I just came out of — not everybody agreed on anything — (laughter) — except people did agree that we can’t keep on doing business as usual.  That’s what people did understand — that there has to be a sense of urgency about this. 

And issues like the federal government helping states to build infrastructure to adapt and ensure economic development and that families and workers are able to prosper — there’s nothing new about that.  We just saw a photograph of President Kennedy and current Governor Brown’s dad building some of the aquifers that have been so important to the economy of this state for decades.  If we were able to do that then, we should be able to do it now.  It’s just a matter of us making sure that we’re not putting politics ahead of trying to get things working.

Our work with Governor Brown and his administration is going to continue.  Californians have all had to come together and already make sacrifices, big and small, to help your neighbors and your state get through this.  The good news is California is always on the cutting-edge.  Already you use water far more efficiently than you did decades ago.  You do it smarter.  Joe was explaining just how this drip irrigation that you see in this region has made many of these farms much more efficient when it comes to water utilization.  And so we know that we can innovate and meet this challenge, but we’ve got to start now.  We can’t wait.

So I want to make sure that every Californian knows — whether you’re NorCals, SoCal, here in the Central Valley — your country is going to be there for you when you need it this year. But we’re going to have to all work together in the years to come to make sure that we address the challenge and leave this incredible land embodied to our children and our grandchildren in at least as good shape as we found it.

So, thank you very much, everybody, for the great work that you guys do.  And I’ve already told the Governor as well as all your outstanding representatives here that our administration is going to stay on this and we are prepared to cooperate with local, state officials throughout.  And that’s not just in California, because we’re going to see some similar problems in places like Colorado, Nevada, some of the neighboring Western states, and so part of the conversation is also going to have to be a regional conversation. 

But this is something that I’m very committed to.  We’re going to make sure to get it done, working together.  Thank you so much, everybody.  (Applause.)

END                5:08 P.M. PST

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Purdue, Chrysler forge next chapter

Purdue students are arriving in Chrysler Group LLC’s Kokomo plants with ideas on reducing noise vibrations, improving the life of die sets, and new testing methods for welds.

Kokomo-area Chrysler workers are moving the opposite way down Ind. 26, heading to meetings with Purdue faculty and students in West Lafayette.

This week, the company and the university announced the latest installment in an ongoing partnership, a partnership Chrysler is now funding with $1.2 million for seven specific projects.

The projects, aimed at improving manufacturing processes at Kokomo Chrysler plants, come on top of internship and co-op programs for Purdue students at Chrysler Group facilities in Kokomo and worldwide, and distance-education programs for the company’s global employees.

“Turning Purdue’s research and teaching into more and better jobs is the purest form of the land-grant duty to be actively engaged with our state and its economy,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said in a release Wednesday. “We are excited about the new Chrysler relationship and see it as a prototype for many such partnerships to come.”

Internships, faculty visits to plants, visits by Chrysler employees to West Lafayette, and serious high-end research are all expected to be facets of the partnership as it continues to unfold.

Purdue’s colleges of engineering and technology, and faculty from the colleges of science, agriculture and the Krannert School of Management have all participated in laying the groundwork for the program, which Purdue officials say is well underway.

The big announcement this week centered around Chrysler’s investment in the specific research projects, which bear titles such as “High Pressure Die Cast Process Optimization” and “Laser Cladding and Surface Treatment for Increased Die Life.” Purdue faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students are already hard at work on each project, laboring alongside Chrysler plant staff.

Purdue’s chief global affairs officer, Suresh Garimella, said the projects will expand to include Chrysler Group’s new facility in Tipton as well as the Kokomo and Tipton communities. Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight has also been a participant in the partnership talks, Garimella said.

The partnership was hatched about two years ago from discussions between Brian Harlow, Chrysler’s head of NAFTA powertrain manufacturing, and Garimella, who Harlow met at meetings of the Indiana Automotive Council. The council is part of Conexus Indiana, an advocacy group for the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics industries.

Garimella couldn’t say enough about Harlow’s contribution, calling the Tipton County resident a “big Kokomo enthusiast.”

From a decision last year to bring in Purdue landscaping architecture students to design spaces around the Tipton Transmission Plant, to being a booster for the area, Harlow has made an impact, Garimella said.

“Truly, in my mind, [Harlow is] trying to make Kokomo a better place,” Garimella said. “He’s been instrumental in the growth of Chrysler in Kokomo.”

Chrysler workers tend to share the affinity for Harlow, who played a key role in convincing Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne to build the new wave of 8-speed and 9-speed transmissions in Kokomo, rather than outsourcing the work to an original equipment manufacturer.

That decision not only saved more than 3,000 jobs at the Kokomo plants, but it also paved the way for a new wave of around 2,000 Chrysler local hires.

Harlow praised the partnership in Purdue’s release.

“Not only will we benefit from having access to a top engineering and research university, but we also will be able to give students real-life work experiences and develop the skills that companies like Chrysler will need in the future. This partnership demonstrates what is possible when education and industry come together,” he said.

Garimella said Chrysler officials are particularly excited about Purdue’s already established distance learning technology.

A big part of the Marchionne-led transformation has involved a commitment to a benchmarking and metrics-based system of management called World Class Manufacturing, and Chrysler employees are already engaged in distance learning between local plant sites and Chrysler’s WCM Academy in Warren, Mich.

The Purdue partnership could very well expand what Chrysler does in those areas, not only in North America, but worldwide, Garimella said.

“Because Chrysler — and Fiat — is all over the world, we think there’s a great potential for the things that we do here at Purdue to be available, all over the world, at Chrysler,” he said.

Garimella said Purdue’s aim in fostering partnerships with Chrysler and other companies is to become a comprehensive, strategic partner. The collaboration is about much more than summer internships for students, although that very well could be a component of the partnership. Rather, Purdue is seeking engagement with Chrysler “along a broad range of connections,” he added.

“If we can help Chrysler in a broad variety of ways, it will be a success,” he said.

Scott Smith is on Twitter @JasonSSmith1 and can be emailed at



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Seeds of ideas for spring today at Fellows Riverside Gardens



The weather may be wintry but many people, especially gardeners, look forward to spring.

Two activities that begin today at Fellows Riverside Gardens at Mill Creek MetroParks are sure to plant seeds of ideas for spring gardens.

The Seed Library and the Twice-Loved Book Sale are planned in the Maxcine Antonucci Horticulture Library at the D.D. and Velma Davis Education Visitor Center.

Keith S. Kaiser, horticulture director, said the Seed Library “is a new service.”

Volunteers at the gardens packaged seeds obtained from plants in the park and their own gardens. “It’s a way of sharing and exchanging what we have in our gardens,” Kaiser said.

Visitors at the horticulture library can “check out” packs of seeds that they will plant in their gardens, Kaiser said. The return comes when those gardeners collect seeds from the plants during the fall harvest and bring them to the park for packaging. That will “restock” the Seed Library for spring distribution next year.

Kaiser said seeds for vegetables, annuals and herbs are available. There are marigolds, chives, peas, beans, morning glories and annual vines to name a few.

Some 1,200 seed packs are available and will be distributed until they are gone.

Kaiser cautioned eager gardeners not to plant too early. In Mahoning County, the frost-free date is about May 20. To grow plants from seed, they can be directly sown in the garden or started indoors then transplanted outside.

Kaiser said the Seed Library also is offered by Akron Public Library and Licking County Public Library. He’s hoping the idea takes off at the Antonuuci library at the park and becomes an annual activity.

And if you need help learning how to collect seeds from plants, the park’s book sale and library has the information. A variety of books and magazines on gardening, nature, herbs, crafts, nature photography, landscaping and cooking will be sold.

The book sale is today through Feb. 23. Hours for the Davis Center are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Kaiser said some of the books for sale come from “weeding out” the park’s library and others are donations from volunteers. Proceeds from the book sale benefit the Antonucci library.

For information on the seed library or book sale, call 330-740-7116.

Article source:

Petunias: Low care, but much variety – Tribune

Petunias have come a long way over the years. Originally native to South America, today’s hybrid petunias provide the garden with a broad diversity of colors, growth habits and flowering styles. Petunias have been planted in gardens since the 1700s, when European breeders really began to develop new varieties.

Typically grown as an annual, petunias are actually perennials, surviving for many years where the climate is warm and winters never drop below freezing. This member of the potato family has a lot going for it. Not only are petunias easy to grow and relatively pest-resistant, they offer a long season of bloom and seldom require deadheading.

Though I’m not a big fan of their sticky leaves, I always find a home for a few petunias in my garden each year. I’m partial to using the newer, trailing varieties in my window boxes and containers. I also love the smaller-flowering types planted on the edge of my perennial border. Petunias are drought-tolerant and very easy to find at most local garden centers. If you’re lucky, you can even find petunia varieties that emit a light, sweet fragrance in the evening.

Petunias enjoy full sun and thrive even in less-than-perfect garden soil. In recent years, more hybridization has occurred, resulting in some pretty-stellar garden varieties with bushier growth habits and an increasing range of colors and color-combinations.

Large-flowered petunias, known as grandiflora types, have blooms that measure 4 or more inches across. They come in solids and stripes, and some even have a variegated edge. In my experience, grandiflora types are a bit fussier than other petunias, but they are beautiful, nonetheless.

My favorite petunias are the multiflora types. Though their flowers are a bit smaller, only 2 inches across, they bloom quite prolifically from May through September. Some have single flowers, while others are double. I love the striped ones and those with a contrasting “eye� at the center of each bloom. Nurseries often sell mixed six-packs of multiflora petunias with a range of colors mixed together. Lovely! Miniature petunias bear blooms a mere 1 inch across, but they are completely slathered in flowers all season long. They are great for containers and hanging baskets and do not require pinching.

But my favorites, by far, are the spreading types. They are very low-growing, but each plant can reach up to 5 feet in width. Spreading petunias grow quickly and are excellent bloomers, even during summer’s intense heat. They make a beautiful ground cover, smothering the soil with blooms or tumbling out of containers.

By and large, petunias require very little care. Pinching the stems back every few weeks results in more-compact growth and continuous blooms. Many of the newer cultivars, however, are bred for compactness and don’t require pinching. Check the tag if you aren’t sure which type you have. Watering, of course, is necessary during extremely dry spells, and adding some liquid fertilizer to the irrigation water every few weeks will keep them looking their best.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners� at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control� and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.� Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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Tom Karwin: New Sunset garden book plants fresh inspiration

Click photo to enlarge

I’ve been pouring through the new edition of “Sunset Western Garden Book of Landscaping: The Complete Guide to Beautiful Paths, Patios, Plantings and More.” This book is hot off the press, published just this month. It complements “Sunset’s New Western Garden Book” (ninth edition, February 2012), which is about plants.

The book provides more than 600 color photographs of gardens in the western states, with ideas for home gardeners and landscape professionals. It is organized under five headings: Gardens, Structures, Plants, Finishing Touches and Planning. Each section visits numerous topics, illustrating each in pages of comments and captioned photographs. The text identifies almost all plants that are shown, and the excellent index lists them all, as well.

Each topic could motivate the reader to seek detailed information in other sources.

Editor Kathleen Norris Brenzel notes that the book is primarily about inspiration, with an underlying theme of earth-friendly, sustainable design. In a brief introduction, landscape architect William R. Marken defines sustainability as basic to the “new golden age of landscape design,” which has grown out of Thomas Church’s four principles:

· Unity of house and garden;

· Function, serving household needs;

· Simplicity, considering both costs and aesthetics; and

· Scale, relating the parts of the landscape.

Sustainability involves judicious uses of water, fertilizers and pesticides, as well as native plants, earth-friendly materials and attention to the landscape’s climate, topography, soil and exposure to sun and wind. This book endorses sustainability, but avid gardeners will need other sources for practical advice.

The book’s greatest strength takes the form of striking photographic vignettes of exemplary landscapes. The photos show mostly nicely groomed small areas and even individual plants. Every garden has shortcomings from time to time, but why would we want to see those?

The scenes shown in the book are consistently contemporary and relatively upscale, many with pools, lakesides and beachfronts Rather than presenting a documentary exploration of average landscapes, the book offers glimpses of inspirational settings that a reader could translate into his or her own environs.

Consider Church’s scale principle when installing an assertively modern element in a traditional garden. (A friend recently persuaded me to install a huge surplus mirror in my garden. I like it, but I’m still reflecting on the aesthetics.)

This book is a great source of forward-looking ideas for your home’s landscape, and could encourage a fresh approach to your garden.

Tom Karwin is a Santa Cruz resident, a UC Master Gardener, a member of several garden groups, and vice president of the UCSC Arboretum Associates. Contact him at

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Gardening Tips: Consider heirlooms for your garden

Posted: Friday, February 14, 2014 11:41 am

Gardening Tips: Consider heirlooms for your garden


With snow on the ground yet again, not many of us have our mind on the garden, but I find a cold winter day to be a great time to take a look at a seed catalog. There’s always something encouraging and hopeful about flipping through the pages and thinking about what I might plant in the garden in the spring. I’ll find some old favorite varieties I bring back year after year, and some new ones that catch my eye for the first time. When browsing the catalog, my attention usually goes first to the heirloom tomatoes.

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Friday, February 14, 2014 11:41 am.

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Style tips from FT gardening columnist – and budding fashion guru

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New home? Tips for getting to know the garden

Gardening-Inherited Gardens

Gardening-Inherited Gardens

In this Oct. 8, 2011 photo, new property owners temporarily added some whimsical yard art to the entry while moving their goods into the carport and house in Langley, Wash. There’s more to relocating than unpacking boxes after moving day. Many landscape designers suggest you deal with safety issues first — leaning or diseased trees, uneven walkways or litter that harbors garden pests. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick)

Gardening-Inherited Gardens

Gardening-Inherited Gardens

This Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2013 photo shows a new home owner’s pre-built Sunshine GardenHouse made from a kit that he added to his yard, to greatly extend the growing season in the cool coastal climate of Whidbey Island, in Langley, Wash. It’s being used for everything from seed starting and growing tomatoes and sweet corn to relaxing with a good book on days when it’s too wet to garden. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick)

Posted: Friday, February 14, 2014 10:23 am

New home? Tips for getting to know the garden

Associated Press |


 Americans are a restless bunch. They change locations with a frequency that would tire a migrating songbird.

But there is more to moving day than unpacking boxes; there’s also learning to care for that garden inherited with the new home.

If you were thinking ahead, you asked for an inventory of the plants and accessories that came with the house.

“There’s no problem with asking owners for a list of landscape items and for an explanation about the plantings,” said Shirley French, an agent with the Woodstock, Va., office of Funkhouser Real Estate Group. “Usually, the owners are more than happy to give you a list. In fact, if they know the purchasers are interested, that will make for good feelings on both sides.”

Gardening priorities are determined mostly by the seasons. You won’t be mowing the lawn in February, although you might be combing the seed catalogs.

But where to start with a newly purchased property?

Michael Becker, president of Estate Gardeners Inc. in Omaha, Neb., suggests that putting safety first.

“Check out the dangers,” said Becker, a spokesman for Planet, the Professional Landcare Network that certifies green industry professionals. “Are the retaining walls stable? Are any trees leaning or diseased with dead branches?

“Assess the hardscape,” Becker said. “Is anything heaving, creating tripping hazards? Examine the drainage around the house. More often than not, it isn’t correct and may be damaging the structure. Bring in some professionals to help sort things out.”

As for plantings, be patient with the perennials.

“Go through the seasonal changes,” Becker said. “Learn what things look like in your yard. Determine if it’s aesthetically what you want, or if it’s so high-maintenance you won’t have the time to care for it. Most perennials need pruning and deadheading.”

Other things to consider when dealing with an unfamiliar landscape:

— Make note of the average frost dates. Do soil tests. Map the yard for sun and shade. “If you live in the city and all you have is a porch or a patio to work with, where is all that water going to go that you’ll be putting on plants?” asked Josh Kane, president and head designer at Kane Landscapes Inc. in Sterling, Va. “Also, where do you get the water? You’ll have to figure out how to care for everything.”

— Water fixtures. “Look for care instructions when dealing with special features,” Kane said. “A lot of people get put off or are scared of things like koi ponds, pools and fountains that require startups, maintenance and attention during the seasons.”

— Don’t try to do everything the first year. Mulching will keep the weeds down. Composting will improve the soil. Bringing in some annuals for window boxes, hanging baskets or containers will provide instant color. “Nothing gives you as much impact in a garden as planting annuals,” Kane said.

— Anticipate. Avoid planting trees or shrubs near sewer or water lines, to prevent root damage. Study the plat map for restrictions that could prevent expansions or additions. “A lot of people might want to build a big outdoor room or pool and find they can’t do it because of an easement on the property,” Kane said.

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Friday, February 14, 2014 10:23 am.

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All white now: Alan Titchmarsh on growing snowdrops in your garden

That said, peaches and apricots grown on walls do flower early in the year so it will be worth keeping an eye on them and draping the branches with muslin or old net curtains on cold nights to help preserve a degree or two and give them a better chance of setting fruit.

As for the snowdrops, as soon as they finish flowering they are in the best state for digging up, dividing and transplanting. I’m not suggesting you do this on a regular basis. The great thing about snowdrops is that once planted they can be left alone – no amount of overcrowding seems to worry them, they just keep on spreading which is what most of us want. But if you want to make more plantations, planting them “in the green” rather than as dry bulbs in autumn is a more reliable method of ensuring their survival.

Dig up a clump as soon as the flowers fade and divide it. Don’t waste your time separating the single bulbs, but break them into clusters of half a dozen or so and plant these mini-clumps about a foot apart, and at the same depth as they were growing before, in any half-decent soil in dappled shade or between shrubs. Or naturalise them in a corner of the lawn, planting them in the turf; they will wilt and look sad for a while but then they should pick up and eventually the foliage will die down and disappear.  

Next year, just when you had forgotten where you planted them, up they will push and cheer you in the darkest months of the year. And hopefully next year they will push up in the more normal fashion, starting to flower at 4in high instead of at ground level. Well, you can’t say we don’t get variety!

Don’t miss Alan’s gardening column today and every day in the Daily Express. For more information on his range of gardening products, visit

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