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Archives for February 24, 2014

Four shortlisted in Paradise Circus landscape contest

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The ‘New Front Yard’ saves water, supports wildlife

Whether you’re in an area that’s been ripe with drought warnings and emergency declarations, or you’ve just seen your utility bill, you know you’ve got to do something to save water.

It’s time to rethink the lawn. But what will replace it in the New Front Yard?

Imagine a fertile greenbelt of colorful native flowers alive with hummingbirds and buzzing with bees. Picture a garden space ripe with home-grown fruit. See substantial water savings – and no more mowing.

Yet many homeowners are reluctant to take out the turf; they know what the grass looks like and aren’t quite sold on alternatives. But in Sacramento, Calif., city officials have voted to ask residents and businesses to slash water use by 20 percent, so many consumers will be pushed into action.

“This situation offers an opportunity here,” said water-efficient landscape expert Cheryl Buckwalter, executive director of EcoLandscape California. “It’s time to actually take action and do what we’ve been talking about. If people really started these things some time ago, we’d be in a much better position today. But if you start now, we’ll be in a better position in the future.”

Landscape irrigation accounts for about 65 percent of household water use in the Sacramento area, according to water agencies. Turf grass ranks among the thirstiest landscaping, needing 2 inches of water a week (or more) during hot summer months.

Even with cutbacks, that water use adds up quickly: A half-inch of irrigation for a typical front lawn uses as much water as about 104 showers, 52 baths or 52 loads of laundry, according to efficiency experts. Faced with rationing, do you want clean kids and clothes or green grass?

“Unless you have horses grazing in front of your house, there’s no reason to grow grass there,” said Sacramento radio host “Farmer Fred” Hoffman.

He saw the water savings firsthand at his own 10-acre property in Herald, Calif. Hoffman removed about 2,600 square feet of Bermuda grass and replaced it with fruit trees, blueberries and native plants. He slashed his water use for that former turf area by 88 percent.

“The sprinklers used 2 gallons a minute,” Hoffman observed shortly after the makeover. “The drip system uses 1 gallon an hour (once a week). It’s a fraction of the water and very low maintenance.”

The blueberries don’t need to be mowed, he noted, and they’re a lot tastier than turf.

Some homeowners assume that the best drought-minded alternative to turf is concrete or other hardscape; it needs no water at all. That worries Buckwalter.

“(Low-water landscapes) are not all cactus and rocks,” she said. “There are beautiful landscapes that are low-water use. People take out softscape and put in impermeable surfaces such as concrete and it can create a heat island effect (making the surrounding area warmer); you no longer have the cooling effect of plants. You need the softscape – the plants and mulch.”

What if you could replace that grass with plants that need no summer irrigation or just a trickle? That was the goal of UC Davis Arboretum horticulture director Ellen Zagory and the arboretum’s staff in compiling a collection of easy-care – and beautiful – low-water candidates for use in residential landscaping.

“We call it ‘The New Front Yard,'” Zagory said of the 41 recommended plants. “These are lawn alternatives, making it look nice but without a lot of resources. We’re creating a new regional model for plants for low-water landscapes.”

Several of these plants also have a major side benefit – they help wildlife. This is the time of year when birds really need our help, Zagory noted.

“Personally, I’m obsessed with our relationship to animals,” she said. “They’re suffering from drought, too.”

Instead of just pulling out the lawn, replace it with native or other low-water plants that can support the local ecosystem, she suggested.

“There is a new paradigm in the garden world, and the model is spreading,” Zagory said.

She cited a statistic from the U.S. Forest Service: “With more than 80 percent of the U.S. population living in urban and urbanizing areas, protecting and restoring wildlife habitat in our cities and suburbs has become a vital component of wildlife conservation.

“For those planning to convert a water-guzzling lawn to a low-water landscape, now is also a great time to take stock and plan changes to also support wildlife.”

Buckwalter agrees. “That’s one thing I’m so excited about with new landscape plans: You’re creating a wholesome habitat, a food source for wildlife.”

The New Front Yard collection relies on California natives that are favorites of birds, bees, butterflies and beneficial insects.

“Adding or converting to California native plants wherever possible strengthens your garden’s draw to native animals,” Zagory said. “Planting design, plant selection and maintenance practices all add up to the difference between a yard rich with living things and one without.

“Many people don’t realize that the winter garden is home to a variety of both resident and migrating bird species,” she added. “Winter blooming plants provide sparkle during dreary winter days but also provide nectar and pollen for resident creatures, like hummingbirds and native bees.”

The old lawn may have been flat, but its replacement can have height, she noted. Consider such native shrubs as currants (Ribes malvaceum, Ribes viburnifolium), manzanitas (Arctostaphylos) and silktassel (Garrya elliptica). In the shade of oaks or other trees, the currants can live with almost no summer irrigation once established.

“Incorporating evergreen shrubs, including conifers, and growing thick hedges provides birds with shelter from inclement weather, places to hide from predators and a place to nest,” Zagory said.

For example, migrating cedar waxwings love toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia).

“I’ve seen flocks of cedar waxwings devouring the berries,” Zagory said. “I led a tour recently (of an arboretum garden) and saw several toyon bushes wiggling around. I shook a bush and out flew all these waxwings. It was really fun.”

Think like a hungry bird when picking out low-water plants, she suggested. “Incorporating plants for berries and seed production will set the table where birds will dine.”

Don’t forget oaks, she said. “Native oaks provide acorns for jays, but also host a wide variety of insects eaten by birds.”

If weather returns to normal, the New Front Yard will still thrive, but those water savings will continue to add up.

“There are always going to be more people and that puts more pressure on our water supply,” Zagory said. “No matter what happens with the weather, we’ll always be under pressure to save water.”


Garden designer Cheryl Buckwalter, executive director of EcoLandscape California, teaches river-friendly and water-efficient landscaping and gardening techniques. She urges homeowners to come up with an “action plan” including:

– Take out lawn. It doesn’t have to be the whole lawn, but start reducing turf and convert it to more water-efficient landscaping. Water savings may not be immediate but will add up over time. Remember that any new plants (even drought-tolerant natives) need regular, deep irrigation until established.

– Turn off the automatic sprinklers. “I still see them going, every single day,” Buckwalter said. “It’s not like the middle of summer; in winter you need less water. There’s less evaporation and less heat.” Even traditional landscapes need irrigation only once a week in winter. Before switching on the sprinklers, check the soil. If it’s still moist two or three inches deep, wait a little longer before you water.

– Plant natives. Not all natives are drought-tolerant, but many were meant to grow in your area and adapt well to long periods with little rain. They also attract beneficial insects and support birds and bees.

– Mulch. If you do nothing else, add an insulating layer around trees, shrubs, perennials and bedding plants. Mulch maintains soil moisture levels, keeping roots hydrated and healthy. You’ll use less water, too. Depending on the size of your landscape, an inch or two of mulch potentially will save thousands of gallons a year.

– Convert to drip irrigation. Put water where plants need it most – at the roots. Drip systems also keep runoff to a minimum and can encourage deep root growth – necessary for surviving drought. Where appropriate, convert traditional sprinklers to water-efficient rotary-style sprinklers. Some water districts offer rebates and other incentives for installation of “smart” controllers, moisture sensors, sprinkler retrofits, drip systems and other efficient makeovers.

– Need ideas? Check out a gallery of water-efficient landscapes (and get more tips) at See more plant suggestions at For more tips, visit

– Debbie Arrington

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BETWEEN THE AISLES: Is passing tax reform in Kentucky a tall order? – State

Nearly three weeks have passed since Gov. Steve Beshear unveiled his $210 million tax reform package, and leaders in the House and Senate are about as close to an agreement now as they were then.

Beshear said Thursday he has met with leaders in both chambers “on a pretty regular basis” since announcing his wide-ranging proposal, which has been met with some criticism among legislators.

But they’re not quite at the negotiating table. Beshear has said he wants leaders in both chambers to come to a consensus on tax reform before voting.

“Obviously we’re in the beginning stages of it, and right now it’s an educational process in terms of the different parts of the proposal,” Beshear said. “But we’re having some good conversations.”

Passing a comprehensive tax reform plan more than halfway through the 60-day session seems to be a tall order, though. House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the issue “doesn’t appear to have any legs at this point” and may be too complex to address this session.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, reiterated one of his concerns with Beshear’s proposal: collecting a sales tax on services such as landscaping, custodial labor and auto repair. Expanding the state’s 6 percent sales tax to those areas could yield some $244 million in new tax receipts, according to estimates from Beshear’s office.

“I don’t think it’s fair to just place a tax on certain services because they don’t have the voice here,” Stumbo said. “I mean, the people who repair automobiles aren’t organized; they’re not up here lobbying. Why is it fair to tax them for their service and not tax others who have lobbyists here — lawyers, doctors, people like that?”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said lawmakers have respected Beshear’s request to examine the dynamics of individual pieces of the tax reform plan. 

“We’re still gathering information about certain ideas and certain individuals in his administration are being made available to us and discussions are ongoing,” he said.

Beshear has assumed the role of mediator on his tax plan, but leaders in both chambers will need to settle their differences on the proposal eventually if there’s any hope of progress this session.

“This is a proposal he (Beshear) has brought forth and initiated and I was hoping he was having some discussions with the speaker, and I just raise that question,” Stivers said of a conversation with Beshear Thursday.

Beshear said he wants lawmakers to fully grasp his tax plan before moving forward.

“Then we’ll be moving into trying to find that common ground to see if we can’t come to some good conclusion on it,” he said.

Up in smoke

Beshear wove two of his legislative priorities — a statewide smoking ban and increasing taxes on tobacco products — into a campaign to improve Kentucky’s health rankings in a number of categories, including smoking, by 2019.

If those issues fail to pass this session, Beshear said he expects the push will continue next year. He sees “growing popularity all the time” in anti-smoking initiatives, he said.

“Many of these issues are difficult to address, and it takes a period of time and education before you finally get there,” he said. “But I’ve seen a lot of strong movement in both of those areas. As a matter of fact, we’ve raised the cigarette tax once since I’ve been governor and I’m hopeful that we can do it again before I go out as governor.”

The prospects of a statewide smoking ban are up in the air. The only bill gaining any traction thus far is Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom’s House Bill 173, which has been ready for a vote on the House floor since Feb. 13.

Back from the grave?

It’s been about two weeks since House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark declared that expanded gaming wasn’t dead yet, but simply at the funeral home.

If that’s the case, some have been working behind the scenes to make sure the issue isn’t rushed to the morgue anytime soon.

A closed-door Senate GOP caucus vote held earlier this month that essentially killed the chances of a constitutional amendment starting in the chamber was “a setback,” said Beshear, who has pushed for expanding gambling since taking office.

Beshear said he has been in “constant communication” with stakeholders and lawmakers in an attempt to move legislation forward.

“It’s still too early to know exactly what may happen on that issue,” he said.

There’s a chance for expanded gaming this session, Stumbo said, but it will take action from the Senate first. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said after the caucus vote that there’s “no chance” the Senate will act first on a constitutional amendment on gambling.

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Miracle-Gro Wants More People to Try Their Hand at Gardening

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Sunset residents give new life to formerly paved front yards with drought …

San Francisco’s Sunset district is going against the grain of a long-standing residential culture.

After decades during which residents paved over their front yards, some have decided to replace the concrete with drought-tolerant gardens.

In 10 spots around the neighborhood with newly placed soil, District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang and volunteers, along with San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and environmental officials, planted the first shrubs and cactuses Saturday.

The Front Yard Ambassadors Program took root to relieve excess contamination from The City’s aging sewer system by installing front-yard gardens to collect runoff and rainwater. During its first year, the program is expected to break at least 2,500 square feet of concrete in six to 10 blocks and keep 30,000 gallons of stormwater out of the sewer system.

“Over the years, our office has received a lot of complaints of neighbors paving 100 percent of their front yards,” Tang said. “Instead of coming up with more punitive measures for residents, we wanted to incentivize them to not only help us in our efforts to alleviate the burdened sewer system, but to get to know each other and take pride in their neighborhood.”

Maureen Barry, spokeswoman for the SFPUC’s sewer system improvement program, noted that 63 percent of the Sunset watershed has impervious surfaces. “So this is an effort to break those down and make planted gardens the whole neighborhood can benefit from.”

At the kickoff Saturday, more than 40 people gathered at three blocks of the district where 10 residences had agreed to be part of the pilot program launched last fall. Four residences participated on Ortega Street between 24th and 25th avenues, three on 37th Avenue between Judah and Kirkham streets, and three on 47th Avenue between Pacheco and Quintara streets.

Sunset residents with at least five homes on their blocks that are interested in participating can apply by March 31 on Tang’s supervisorial website for the second round of planting. The program has $85,000 in funding — $75,000 from the SFPUC and $10,000 from District 4 funds. Applicants pay a permit fee ranging from $182 to $245.

“This is the first in the entire city, so we hope that other neighborhoods will take notice and hopefully emulate that,” Tang said.

The program’s growth comes shortly after the SFPUC completed plans for installing green infrastructure features such as permeable pavement and rain gardens in The City’s eight urban watersheds. One of them, the Sunset Boulevard Greenway, may include rain gardens allowing stormwater to soak into the landscape before it enters the sewer system.

“We hear, ‘It’s great what you’re doing with green infrastructure, but what about the areas that have been paved over?’” Barry said. “So this is a way to turn that around.”

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UTC Hosts Third Annual Native Plant Symposium March 8

Chattanooga Police Officers responded to a person shot call at 1932 Central Ave., on Monday, at 9:52 a.m.  Officers found Derrick Lee Thornton, the victim, sitting in his vehicle. Mr. Thornton had several gunshot wounds to the face, arm and chest area. Mr. Thornton was transported to a local hospital for the gunshot injuries and is listed in critical condition.  … (click for more)

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The Eastern Coyote

Posted: Monday, February 24, 2014 10:51 am

Updated: 10:51 am, Mon Feb 24, 2014.

The Eastern Coyote

By Bob Beyfuss
For Columbia-Greene Media


First of all I want to wish a very Happy Birthday to George Story on Feb. 22. I think he is either 93 or 94 years young and he has inspired at least three generations of gardeners, including me! Story’s nursery in Freehold remains one of the premier garden centers in the region. A visit to their greenhouses on these cold, February days is a sure cure for cabin fever! It is too cold and snowy to think about plants this week, so I will share some information about one of our local wildlife species. Most of this column is taken from a publication prepared by SUNY Syracuse.

There are some people who live in the Catskill/Hudson Valley region who have not seen this somewhat shy, local resident, but once they hear them, they will never forget the sounds. The Eastern Coyote is considerably larger than its southwestern cousin that most of us have seen on TV. The largest individuals are as big as smaller timber wolves. Adults may range from 35-45 pounds and some large males may exceed 50 or 60 pounds in body weight. Eastern coyotes have a German shepherd-like appearance, which sometimes leads to confusion about their identity. A small percent are black or reddish-blond, the latter being the more common deviation. Coyotes can be distinguished from most dogs based on their habit of carrying their tail at or below a horizontal level when traveling. At a distance it is more difficult to tell coyotes from wolves.

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Monday, February 24, 2014 10:51 am.

Updated: 10:51 am.

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Growing a Bee-Friendly Garden

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Some drought gardening tips

John Fleck has written about science for the Journal since 1990. His specialties include nuclear weapons work at Sandia and Los Alamos labs and the federal budgets that drive them, along with New Mexico’s tenuous water situation and the climate issues that underly it. He’s worked as a newsman since before he could drink legally, covering NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory before moving to New Mexico to work at the Journal.

He’s been a fellow and contributing editor at Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, where he worked on water issues with the center’s Rural West Initiative. He’s the author of A Tree Rings’ Tale, a University of New Mexico Press book for young people about the science of climate, water and weather.

Email John | Twitter: @jfleck

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How to create a Japanese garden in Britain

Large, flat stones are used as small bridges (MMGI / MARIANNE MAJERUS)

These other gardens being admired are not Zen gardens but possibly dry
landscape gardens or courtyard gardens designed to give a relaxing, calm and
comforting feel to the often tiny but intricate spaces around the ryokan.
They have a few serene plants, often carefully pruned and shaped, pillows of
mosses and maybe water, and the composition of rocks, pebbles and gravel is
considered and ordered.

The whole surroundings of these inns are intensely soothing. As soon as you
enter you feel you have arrived in a different, highly restful world. You
can glimpse different views of parts of various mini green gardens from
inside to captivate you further. The contrast is heightened when you compare
the soothing, cool inn with the jostling, hot streets just a few steps away.
Many of these gardens are just a few square metres in size.

When the Japanese design a dry landscape garden they will usually start with
the stones and rocks. Today these cannot be simply purloined from the wild,
and they are usually recycled or reclaimed from elsewhere. The shape, size
and colour of these raw materials will dictate the way the garden develops,
and they will be arranged according to the fundamental concept of Japanese
gardens to create the feeling of a landscape. The rocks may symbolise land
or an island, other carefully selected stones may be positioned skilfully to
represent a waterfall, and smoothly raked gravel designed to represent the
sea, broad river or lake surrounding it.

The plants are then chosen to accompany the hard landscape; for instance
irises may be planted on the “banks” of the water. The growing material
comes in as a secondary stage.

In Yoko’s parents’ garden a stone represents Mount Fuji; there is also a tree
that is carefully pruned twice a year. This is a specialised job for
professionals and is expensive. Many trees are regularly shaped (there are
different styles of pruning, with Japanese names) not just to maintain them
to the confines of these often restricted spaces but to bring out the beauty
of the tree, and to show off its trunk and branch structure. If you cannot
afford this high maintenance, you leave out the tree. Yoko now lives in
Cardiff with her British husband; she prefers the trees pruned, he likes
them natural.

Parts of the garden are kept hidden from view (MMGI / MARIANNE MAJERUS)

Three common elements that we Britons put into our “Japanese” gardens are
tea-houses, red lacquered bridges and stepping stones. Often our tea-houses
are too high and narrow. Proportions are cultural, though: the authentic
tea-houses are raised off the ground, so you view the garden from your knees
while you drink your tea. They are broad and lower than the proportions we
use. Our buildings are often used as focal points, whereas in Japan you come
across them, carefully placed in partial view initially, discreet and then
slowly revealed. Our red bridges pop up in quite small plots here. In Japan
they will only feature in quite large gardens – such as “stroll” gardens,
which started as aristocratic gardens in the 18th and 19th centuries – where
they may be used to cross a ravine. These gardens are designed to be walked
around, enabling you to admire a series of framed views, and you can stand
back and glimpse the bridge from various cleverly sited points. In a smaller
space, a simple, large flat stone would be used to get over water, real or
imaginary, wet or dry.

Stepping stones always lead somewhere in Japanese gardens. Yoko remembers
visiting a “Japanese” garden in Liverpool and the stepping stones ended up
at a herbaceous border; she was puzzled. “Are we meant to walk through
this?” she wondered.

The planting in traditional Japanese gardens is much calmer than we are used
to and the palette is more restricted. Camellias, azaleas, Prunus mume
(Japanese apricot) with its intense pink or white blossoms around February
or March, cydonias and cherries are popular, but on the whole there is less
colour and more foliage, giving that restful, verdant feel.

Japanese gardens favour blank space, with carefully raked gravel or sheets of
moss and occasional plants. Part of this is that it is thought to make the
garden look more spacious. When you are working with a plot just three
metres by five metres or smaller, which is the size of many courtyard or dry
gravel gardens, this is important.

Stone features are used inside pavilions (MMGI / MARIANNE MAJERUS)

There are many situations here, such as roof gardens, tiny low-maintenance
spaces and basement gardens, where features of a Japanese garden would work
brilliantly. So how to approach the design? Yoko recommends adding Japanese
elements. Many Japanese people now love roses and other plants that give
colour, herbaceous plants especially. Yoko has added peonies to hers, but
she has used them in a more Japanese way by positioning them near her shed,
so she cannot see them from her kitchen but “discovers” them when she pops
down the path to her garden building. The winding path, too, with its curvy
route rather than going directly from A to B, is more Japanese. And does it
have lots of empty space to make it look larger? “Oh no. I am quite
undisciplined – I just like to cram lots in!” she says.

Modern gardens are changing in Japan, too. Previously, gardens were often
designed to be viewed (or walked through on certain routes) and not
physically used. But now they are starting to eat, sleep and entertain in
their gardens as we do.

It seems that quite a lot of British influence has rubbed off on Yoko, too.
“The point of a garden is to have it so you enjoy it and it makes you
happy,” she says.

*’Japanese Zen Gardens’ (Frances Lincoln, RRP £30) and ‘Serene Gardens:
Creating Japanese Design and Detail in the Western Garden’ (New Holland,
RRP £12.99), both by Yoko Kawaguchi, are available from Telegraph Books at
£26 and £11.99 respectively, plus £1.35 p+p (0844 871 1514;

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