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Archives for March 30, 2014

City Living: 5 Tips For a Healthy Window Garden

Photo: Maryanne Ventrice/Flickr

Photo: Maryanne Ventrice, Flickr

If you live in a city, the idea of personal outdoor space might seem like a luxury to you. Chances are much slimmer that you’re sporting a garden out back. But for those longing to see green space in their apartment, hope is not lost. All you need is a windowsill.

Read on to learn five tips for a healthy apartment window garden and how to make your landscape a bit more bearable.

1. Shape and space

Choosing what to grow in an apartment mini-garden is an important — and exciting — decision, but one that is determined by several factors. First up is determining the space you want to grow in. For many, this might be as simple as a window and windowsill, while others may be interested in expanding outside of their apartment and utilizing their fire escape or window bars. Though the latter is certainly possible, it’s important to remember to leave space for footpaths. Hanging planters on handrails is an option around this, should you be interested in putting plants solely outdoors. Once you’ve determined where you’ll grow, it will help you decide what to grow.

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Tips To Trim Your Garden

Home Lotus Plant Care Tips

While caring for these plants, you need to indulge in pruning and trimming techniques as well. This will ensure that the plants grow with the perfect structure which is essential. Here are a few trimming tips that will help you understand, when to trim and how to conduct trimming.

Individual Needs
This is something you need to remember when trimming the plants in your garden. The trimming needs for individual plants differ from the other. This is why you need to ensure that you are performing the right trimming as per the plant requirement. In case of a mismatch, you will be playing around with the structural integrity of the plant in question.

Use Sharp Tools
When looking for tips for trimming plants, you will find that most people suggest using sharp tools. When you use dull or rusty tools for this process, you might just affect the plant and injure it by pulling in too many efforts to trim the plant. You will need to make sure that your trimming and pruning tools are sharp just before the season begins. You have hedge trimmers, in case you have grown a hedge. For other purposes you will need to use sharp shears that will make both trimming and pruning as easy as possible.

Sterilize the Tools
Your plants are as prone to infections as you are! Always remember this! If you tend to use tools that are not properly sterilized you may cause infections in the plants. This infection can spread rapidly causing death of the plant. In case you want to avoid any such thing, it is always good to use tools that are sterilized to trim or prune your plants.

Remove the Diseased
You don’t directly begin working on the entire plant. You begin with inspecting the plant properly. You should ideally look out for the broken, damaged or diseased portions of the plant. This is where you will begin trimming your plants from. There are many plants that suffer broken limbs as they begin growing. For perfect growth, you need to remove this portion of your plant.

Check the Progress
While you are calculating on your trimming techniques to control the growth of your plant, you may want to check on the progress caused by the trimming. This is one of the most beneficial tips for trimming plants. You will need to step back and see how your plant looks. Is trimming necessary or it can be stopped? You will need to verify the technique you have implemented too. This way you would be aware of how the trimming technique is helping you.

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Spring garden tips: Rake, overseed, and prune

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Budding garden designers urged to pitch their ideas

TV’s Sarah Travers is calling budding local garden designers to pitch in and enter UTV’s The Magazine Show Garden Challenge for this year’s Garden Show Ireland event which takes place at Antrim Castle Gardens from May 9-11.

The Magazine Show Garden Challenge asks existing and budding garden designers to design a small garden which is fun, useful and easy to maintain.

Three lucky finalists will be featured on UTV’s Friday night show, The Magazine, as they prepare to be part of Northern Ireland’s premier gardening event where the finished gardens will be judged by the Garden Show Ireland judging panel.

The winning garden will be announced on May 9 at the Garden Show and will become the centre piece for filming for The Magazine which airs that evening. Plus, the winning designer will receive a prize of £2,500.

Sarah said: “Garden Show Ireland is a stunning show and we are thrilled to be involved and I cannot wait to see the designs as they progress over the coming weeks.“

Taking place in a brand new venue for 2014, an expanded new look Garden Show Ireland will include appearances by Channel 4‘s River Cottage team, Alys Fowler from BBC Gardeners’ World and Ireland’s world-renowned plantswoman Helen Dillon.

With thousands of specialist plants, great garden shopping, garden designers and show gardens, a craft village, a free design pavilion, artisan food stalls, live music, garden gourmet, garden challenges, a dedicated kids zone and more, the event promises to be the ultimate garden show experience for gardeners of all ages and experiences.

Claire Faulkner, Director of Garden Show Ireland, added: “This new design competition is a great way of recognising the wealth of talent that exists in the world of garden design. Our desire is to help bring those talents to everyone with a garden, large or small. It is wonderful to have such tremendous support from UTV to make that happen.”

The 2014 Garden Show Ireland will run from May 9-11 at Antrim Castle Gardens and is open daily from 10am to 6pm with parking adjacent.

Adults are £10 (concession £8) and the event is free for children under 16. There is a reduced rate for online booking and for more information visit

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Designer Ian Barker shines at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden …

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”There are lots of leftover spaces that people have forgotten – it happens all over the world. For example the conversion of the High Line in New York from an abandoned railway line above the city into an aerial greenway. In a leftover space there’s a container and some rubble so I’ve designed the garden around that theory,” Barker says.

An aficionado of the perennial movement, ultra fashionable overseas at flower shows such as Chelsea, and ”making its way down south”, Barker says he chose many of the perennials for the romantic way they embrace autumn through their colours, whether flowers or foliage. Carpets of Coreopsis ”Rum Punch” is a prime example, starting off the season almost pale yellow and mellowing to deep burgundy in autumn.

Achilleas or yarrow have been used to maximum effect, their flat flowerheads a country addition to the meadow-like garden. Sedum ”Autumn Joy”, a classic perennial, also makes a strong appearance, chocolate-coloured Cosmos enhances the soft yet rich palette and Berberis ”Ruby Carousel” lives up to its name in the autumn garden. Creating a new green pocket doesn’t necessarily have to be about completely transforming a space but working with what is already there, reintroducing what existed in the past and combining this with new and pioneering design elements, he says.

”Hopefully this design will influence the future of urban landscape planning to create a healthier and more sustainable city.”

The show finishes on Sunday.

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An artful urban garden and desert views by design to be featured on Tucson …

John and Judy Murray say visitors have to be inside their Tucson Mountains-area home to fully appreciate their outdoor desert landscape.

Another natural landscape of sorts regularly brings surprises to the midtown garden of Rosie and E.Y. Hooper.

Both are among the six stops on this year’s home and garden tour led by the Tucson Botanical Gardens April 12. The escorted excursion includes refreshments and a bus ride to each stop.


The Murrays’ 2013 home showcases the lush desert view that was left nearly intact when the 2,550-square-foot home was built. It’s surrounded by tall, mature saguaros, several species of cholla, bursage, acacia and palo verde.

The couple, who moved from Washington, D.C., in 2011, added 10 ocotillo and a velvet mesquite, two desert species that John Murray loves but couldn’t find on their 3.6-acre lot.

Living in Egypt for a time drew the couple to the desert environment. “We decided that since we want to live in the desert, we’d actually live right in the desert,” he says to explain why they picked a remote location in Tucson.

John Murray likened their desire to live in the desert to Bedouins who roll up the sides of their tents during the day to blend the outdoor Saharan Desert with indoor living space. They become separated at night when the sides are unrolled.

Nearly every window in the Murrays’ modern home gives that similar feel of living in the midst of the Sonoran Desert. Architect Paul Weiner designed many of the windows specifically to frame the desert view to maximum effect.

Judy’s yoga room, for instance, has a glass wall that looks out on a giant saguaro. When she’s lying on the floor, another small window at that height allows her to see a palo verde.

Weiner, owner of DesignBuild Collaborative, measured how tall John and Judy are when they stand and when they sit. Then he positioned windows at the right height so that the views zero in on what they would see of the desert landscape and the Tucson Mountains beyond.

The long windows in the kitchen and garage accommodate their specific sightlines so that the framed view shows as much nature as possible.

The guest bedroom also sports a long window, which is positioned so someone lying on the bed will get a good view.

Participants of the April 12 tour will see plenty outdoors, too. The home includes two rain-harvesting systems as well as a gray-water system, all of which irrigate the plants.

The couple will introduce the tour to “The Old One,” a stately saguaro with arms bent downward; “Saguaro Island” with lots of cactus, and the “cathedral area” in which palo verdes encircle a fairly open area.

John also plans to point out how Weiner adjusted the design of the house to save an old saguaro.


The fenced yards around the Hoopers’ early-20th-century home provide natural views of a different kind.

The couple allows plants to establish themselves around the yards through natural reseeding or propagation.

Mexican poppies and other wildflowers have spread throughout the front yard. Rosie Hooper is nurturing a basil that suddenly appeared, probably a volunteer from her old herb garden. Mother of millions succulents crop up in many nooks and crannies.

“I like the plants to decide where they’re happy,” she says. “I do that rather than buy a lot of plants.”

She also saves on plant purchases by transplanting cuttings and pups of succulents.

The Hoopers’ gardens reflect what they like and what they find.

Rosie Hooper trawls sales and snaps up recyclables. She turned bargain wrought iron into wall hangings. Discarded stones were used to create walkways and planters. A neighbor’s leftover roof tiles cover the couple’s side-patio extension.

Sometimes materials sit around for a while. An inexpensive fountain bowl sat for years before the Hoopers made it a focal point for a seating area near a shade tree.

Hooper also adds many plants that have personal meaning. She loves roses. Queen Anne lace conjures childhood memories. Creosote defines the place as the Sonoran Desert.

“It means ‘home,’” she says.

Friends give the couple gifts of plants and garden art, all of which find spots.

The various sources of plants and decor give the gardens an eclectic feel. But because people get confused when Hooper calls her garden “organic,” she gives it another name.

“I would call this style ‘emergent,’” she says.

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Tar Heel of the Week: Mark La Branche’s calling was to save Louisburg College

Mark La Branche came to Louisburg College at a dark time – the college was on academic probation and in debt. It wasn’t far-fetched to wonder whether the two-year residential college was in its last days.

But La Branche figured the college had survived worse. In 1929, he notes, its main building was burned to the ground, its rebuilding delayed by the Great Depression. During the Civil War, the campus was taken over by Union troops and turned into an infirmary.

“You have to put things in perspective,” he says. “I think that our mission is important, and it will survive.”

In the six years La Branche has been president, the Methodist college has experienced an impressive turnaround, one that many credit to La Branche’s leadership and steady demeanor.

Louisburg was put on academic probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2006 because its financial situation put its programs at risk.

It regained its accreditation shortly after La Branche arrived and has continued to improve its facilities and programs.

Earlier this month, the college announced that it has raised $15 million in the past five years, meeting its fundraising goal two years early. The school has improved its facilities, revamped its library, and re-established its theater program.

Thanks to this renaissance and his other community work, La Branche was named this year’s Citizen of the Year by the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.

Lucy Allen, a college trustee and former Louisburg mayor, says La Branche had all the characteristics needed to do a difficult job.

“He had the temperament, the determination and the skills that were needed,” says Allen, who also represented her district in the General Assembly.

“It’s hard to take a ship that’s foundering and right it, but he’s turned this ship in a new direction.”

‘Called’ to Louisburg

La Branche, 55, was born in Connecticut and spent most of his youth in the Florida Panhandle, where his father was an executive at a photography company.

He was raised in his mother’s Jewish faith, though his father was Catholic. As a young adult, he converted to Christianity, joining the church of his wife, a Methodist.

He started out his career studying to go into medicine, and earned a certificate in respiratory therapy at Pensacola Junior College. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and master’s and doctorate degrees in theology, and served as a pastor at several churches for 18 years before returning to education.

He says he considers himself “called,” intent to follow the path God sets for him. And that path brought him from the church to higher education, and eventually to Louisburg.

Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama was already in trouble when La Branche started there as a chaplain and director of church relations. In a series of what he calls “battleground promotions,” he ended up a vice president of the college who was intimately involved in its turnaround.

Seeing his potential for further leadership, the president at Huntingdon sent him to a conference meant to groom presidents for Methodist colleges. When the Louisburg job came open, La Branche was asked to apply.

“It was not a career decision but more of a calling,” he says. “I felt like it was meant to be, we’ll see where it leads.”

Refining the mission

It was January 2009 when he came to town, during what he calls a long, cold winter. The recession was just beginning to hit in full force, and the college had racked up $5 million in debt.

Huntingdon, which had similar problems spurred largely by financial strain, had called in a group of consultants based in Burlington. La Branche brought them on board at Louisburg.

He set about hiring people for key positions, several of which were vacant when he arrived. He told all of his hires that their jobs would require passion as well as skill.

“I told them they were running into a burning building,” he says.

He was active in raising funds, and also played a big part in fixing another problem: sagging morale. He said he strived to exude compassion and confidence.

“I tried to be that non-anxious person,” he says, adding, “at least in public.”

In meetings, he asked the college’s vice presidents to each share a good news item before getting down to business – a practice he has continued.

He also helped the college refine its mission. Some felt that the college should transition to a four-year university, but La Branche says that after some research, he instead led the college community to embrace what makes it unique.

“We determined that this was a niche that was important for higher education,” he says. “People here knew in their hearts that it was good, but they had lost confidence in the model. It was important to re-establish that.”

Students often come to Louisburg because they didn’t get into their chosen school, giving them two years to beef up their academic resume in a nurturing environment. Graduates regularly go on to earn degrees from state universities.

Others come to join its well-regarded sports teams. All enjoy small class sizes, a spiritual component, and a chance to start college as leaders.

Fixing broken windows

Renovations on campus were an important piece of the puzzle. The college’s main building, dating to 1856, had plywood on more than a dozen windows; it took them three years to replace them all.

The college spent roughly $3 million a year renovating and modernizing its buildings and landscaping its grounds, mostly funded by donors and the church.

Two large initial donations started turning around the financial tide, then others followed.

“Once you start to see a renaissance, people that ordinarily would not have invested in something that seemed to be ailing began to come to the table,” La Branche says.

The college recently earned a $2.2 million federal grant aimed at strengthening its programs – a sign, he says, that outside bodies now see the college as a good steward.

La Branche has sought to interact regularly with students; an avid runner, he can sometimes be seen jogging across campus with a group of them.

La Branche has also forged strong ties with the community, both personally and through the college. In Alabama, he served on the local school board. In Louisburg, he is on the board of the local hospital and helped get several programs started through the local United Way.

Another of his ideas meant to bolster this connection is the Tar River Center for Culture and History, which is based at the college.

La Branche is proud of his work, but is cautious not to be too satisfied. Asked how he approaches the future, he offers two words: “productively paranoid.”

Know someone who should be Tar Heel of the Week? Contact us at or find Tar Heel of the Week on Facebook.

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Stanislaus County cities not tightening water rules – for now

Despite a drought that has wracked much of California, city residents in Stanislaus County could see little change in outdoor watering rules this year.

Officials surveyed by The Modesto Bee last week said they likely can get by with the rules already in place, including bans everywhere on watering in the afternoon. A few of the nine cities will not make final decisions until later in spring, but for now, no cuts have been ordered.

How could this be, at a time when some parts of the San Joaquin Valley have zero water for growing crops and others have reduced supplies?

Officials said groundwater, the main source for the cities, is in fairly decent shape, thanks in part to recharge from wet years that preceded the current three-year drought. They also cite water meters, which are being phased in under state law and tend to cut demand by about 20 percent.

And then there are the permanent rules, enacted in response to previous droughts and left in place even in wet years. Most cities limit watering to a few days a week, and ban wasteful practices such as washing a car without a shutoff valve on the hose. Violators can be fined, but warnings and educational programs get the message across, too.

The take-home for residents? “Continue to conserve water,” said Juan Tejeda, water conservation specialist for the city of Modesto. “Keep doing what you’re doing.”

What they’re doing won’t be terribly hard in the next several days: Last week’s storms have delayed the need for watering, and more rain could be on the way.

Careful water use in the cities eases pressure on aquifers that also supply rural domestic wells and much of the irrigation water for farms. And it reduces the risk for everyone in case 2015 is dry – or we get something like the six-year drought from the late 1980s to early 1990s.

Modesto depends on the Tuolumne River for part of its supply, which will be reduced this year in proportion to the cuts for farmers in the Modesto Irrigation District. Conservation by city residents could help maintain a carryover in Don Pedro Reservoir for next year.

Modesto resident Velda Lowe said the not-so-dire outlook for city water should not mean backing off on efforts to save. “Seeing the dams and how short of water they are, this rain isn’t going to do much good,” she said.

Lowe was among the readers who responded to a Bee request for ideas on reducing outdoor water use. She suggests rebates for people who take out lawns in favor of landscaping that’s less thirsty.

Jim Holden of Modesto uses a pair of 50-gallon containers to catch rain from his roof for reuse outdoors. He also saves water that condenses from his air conditioner – as much as 2 gallons a day. He, too, said conservation must go on.

“Nature cannot conserve water, but we are the ones that can use what nature provides in a wise manner,” he said.

The cities enacted the permanent rules because of the climate in Stanislaus County. Storms blow in from fall to spring, abundantly in some years, not so much in others. Lawns and farm fields make it through the hot, dry summer with water stored in aquifers and reservoirs.

Tejeda said Modesto has enough groundwater this year to withstand the expected reduction from MID. This system also supplies Salida, Grayson. Empire, Del Rio, Waterford, Hickman and small parts of Turlock and Ceres. Rules for Modesto would apply to them, too.

Turlock, which relies entirely on wells, could tighten the rules later in the year if agricultural pumping in the region stresses the city supply, said Michael Cooke, director of municipal services. That could mean fewer hours in each watering day, or fewer watering days each week.

Ceres has seen a 37 percent drop in per capita water use over the past four years thanks to meters and conservation, said Jeremy Damas, water superintendent and deputy public works director. Tighter rules are always possible, such as allowing two watering days a week instead of three, but nothing is in the offing, he said.

Cities typically issue warnings if violations are seen by staff members or residents who file complaints. People who do not comply can be fined.

Patterson’s fines are typical of the region: $25 for a first violation, $50 for a second, $100 for a third. “Our community is really good about sticking by our rules,” said Maria Encinas, water conservation coordinator and management analyst for the city. “We haven’t had to fine anyone yet.”

Many of the violations around the county happen on hot summer afternoons, but officials said a few involved automatic watering systems that turned on amid last week’s storms.

“With the rain, residents are able to turn their sprinkler systems off and utilize the water from the heavens,” Damas said.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or (209) 578-2385.

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Neighborhood conference discusses strategies for happier, safer La Crosse

Learning about ways to better their neighborhoods was the goal of more than 100 La Crosse-area residents who gathered inside of the Black River Beach Neighborhood Center Saturday.

The first La Crosse Mayor’s Neighborhood Conference began at 8:30 a.m. and included presentations by the La Crosse Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, Couleecap and the city’s planning department.

Richard Kyte, director of Viterbo University’s D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership, also addressed civic engagement during a special keynote address. Social capital — a measurement of civic engagement — is defined as a network of relationships that help communities bond and build trust and cohesion.

“Social capital is correlated with all of the good things that we want,” such as a safe and welcoming neighborhood, he said. “When we focus on one thing, social capital seems to be the key.”

The key factors of increasing social capital include volunteering, commuting, “third places” and natural beauty, Kyte said. Therefore, people that volunteer their time and resources regularly, spend minimal time commuting, feel welcomed and accepted in a place other than their home and work, and live in a place of natural beauty will be happier and more engaged in their communities overall.

People that don’t volunteer, commute for several minutes every day, aren’t involved in a “third place” and aren’t aesthetically pleased by their surrounding won’t have a good social capital, he said.

“La Crosse is the fourth in the state of measured cities for social capital index,” Kyte said. “We have some of the highest social capital in La Crosse than anywhere in the nation.”

By maintaining — and improving — social capital, the safety and character of a community will advance. But there are other ways La Crosse residents can promote a secure neighborhood.

Phil Ostrem, a representative of the Powell Poage Hamilton Neighborhood Association, and Lisa Barrix, community policing officer of the La Crosse Police Department, informed event-goers on how to prevent crime by improving the appearance of their home. If a home is well groomed and maintained, a criminal is less likely to strike, Barrix said.

“The biggest thing is if people see that you care about your property and it’s taken care of, people see is as less of a target,” she said.

Barrix also encouraged residents to build relationships with their neighbors and watch out for one another.

“No one group can reduce crime by themselves,” she said. “Everyone needs to work together to make La Crosse a better place to live.”

The event was designed with the goal of bringing local groups and associations together to share ideas on how to reduce crime and enhance the quality of life and welfare of residents in La Crosse.

By spotlighting the possibilities of a safer, more welcoming place to live, it’ll encourage people to get involved in their neighborhood and get to know their neighbors, said Janice Hauswirth of the Washburn Neighborhood.

“It’s important to become involved in your neighborhood,” she said. “You think you alone cannot make a difference, but you can.”

Plans for next year’s conference are already in the works, said Mayor Tim Kabat. Meanwhile, he intends on continuing working with local neighborhood associations and encouraging other residents to become involved.

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Spring blooms at Home & Garden Show

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DURHAM — A winter-weary crowd flocked to the Whittemore Center Arena Saturday to catch a glimpse of the promise of flowers and warmer days.

The 20th annual Seacoast Home Garden Show held at the arena on the campus of the University of New Hampshire continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. While the outside surroundings still held on to the bleakness of the previous season, attendees enjoyed seminars on gardening sponsored by Churchill’s Gardens of Exeter, cooking demos and more than 200 exhibitors showcasing their latest products and services for the home.

Roberta Williams of East Kingston said she was enjoying the show and getting a lot of information to take with her.

“I’m interested in some vinyl railings for my deck,” she said.

A couple from Berwick, Maine, said they were interested in looking at air conditioning options and solar panels. And Ken and Lynn Smith of Kittery, Maine, said they were having fun “just looking around.”

The lobby and concourse had displays of greenery and plants and featured an artisan marketplace where people could try local food products and purchase seeds, planters and garden decor. The main floor offered exhibits on building and remodeling, kitchens and bathrooms, as well as on green living and landscaping.

Todd Derby of Piscataqua Landscaping and Tree Service, based in Eliot, Maine, said it was the fifth year the company set up a booth at the show.

“We do get some new customers each year from this,” he said.

Portsmouth chefs Kevin Fitzgibbon of Michelle’s on Market Square, Julie Cutting of Cure Restaurant and Ian Thomas of The District three of six chefs who offered cooking lesson throughout the day. Sunday’s line-up of chefs includes Craig Spinney of Tavola and Justin Bigelow of Mombo.

Gardening seminars on Sunday include container gardening, introduction to trees and shrubs and planting for the best presentation.

There will also be clinics on powering with solar photovoltaics, home energy audits, homeowner’s coverage and do it yourself home improvement.

Visit for a full schedule of Sunday’s events.


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