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Archives for April 15, 2014

Biz Buzz: Developer has big plans for Ingersoll Avenue

The new king of Ingersoll Avenue says changes are coming soon to one of Des Moines’ most important Main Streets.

West Des Moines developer Richard Hurd has bought about 10 properties in the area in the past year, and he may buy more.

“They just all happened to come up for sale,” Hurd said. “We like Ingersoll, and it’s experiencing a renaissance.”

Hurd is pledging to “significantly upgrade” several properties, which would add momentum to changes already happening on Ingersoll. New apartments and businesses are opening, and neighborhood leaders expect to draw more businesses with a new special taxing district. Commercial property owners pay an extra property tax that is used to improve landscaping, maintenance and other street improvements.

Ingersoll is a hodgepodge of high-end stores, fast-food chains, locally owned bars and restaurants, medical and professional offices and apartment buildings — in a wide range of conditions. In his book “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid,” Bill Bryson called Ingersoll, compared with Grand Avenue, “the servants’ entrance of the street world.”

Hurd said he’s had properties on Ingersoll for years. In the 1990s, he owned a building that housed Blockbuster Video and is now restaurateur Jason Simon’s Eatery A, which will open April 22. Hurd likes the street’s proximity to downtown and its high density of retail.

Hurd Realty’s portfolio includes properties across the metro area, plus a few in Omaha, Las Vegas, Dallas, Arizona, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Hawaii.

Hurd may acquire a few other properties on Ingersoll. “We’re looking at other things, but we’re ready to be done with buying and focus on rebuilding and remodeling,” he said.

One cluster of properties Hurd owns is in the 2700 block. Last summer, he purchased the buildings that house Office Max and Dollar General, as well as a building at 2708 Ingersoll Ave. that had been the home to the Lime nightclub and a furniture resale shop.

Hurd said he plans to tear down 2708 this year. He said he’s not sure what it will become, but a strip retail center is a possibility. He bought the building from Andy Lee, a major Ingersoll landowner whose reluctance to sell or improve sites has frustrated neighborhood leaders.

Hurd has also put a stake down at the corner of 31st and Ingersoll, a busy intersection.

He bought 3025-3029 Ingersoll in November, a building that once housed Albright Lighting and Ancient Ways. Hurd is looking for tenants and plans to create a new storefront, preserving the building’s existing brick.

Hurd also owns several properties on the west side of the intersection, but he said he hasn’t decided what to do with the area. He said a strip retail center is unlikely.

He has a contract to buy 3111 Ingersoll Ave., and its tenants, which include Lockwood Jewelers and Studio TKO, have been given notice to move out. Hurd said the building cannot remain in its current condition, and he’ll either remodel it or tear it down.

Hurd owns the La Hacienda restaurant next door, including its large rear parking lot. He also owns five houses on 31st Street that abut the parking lot; he bought three of the houses in January.

Hurd said he hasn’t decided whether to tear down the houses, but owning them gives him more flexibility for green space and parking.

Hurd met with the North of Grand Neighborhood Association this month and said he would be sensitive to residential concerns, said Colleen Kinney, the group’s president. The association is waiting to hear more information on his plans, but residents were impressed with his “spirit of cooperation,” she said. “We wish there were more Richard Hurds out there,” she said.

D.M. native jumps into ‘Shark Tank’

Des Moines native Jordan Bookey Lloyd will pitch her tech startup on “Shark Tank” Friday.

Bookey Lloyd, who gave a Smart Talk Connected Conversations lecture at the Civic Center last month, and her husband, Felix Brandon Lloyd, will appear on the ABC show, which airs at 8 p.m. On the show, entrepreneurs try to persuade a panel of investors — including loudmouth billionaire Mark Cuban — to invest in their ideas.

Bookey Lloyd is the daughter of developers and philanthropists Harry Bookey and Pamela Bass Bookey of Des Moines.

The Lloyds founded Zoobean, an online service that selects books, apps and other resources for children — “an educational Pandora for kids.” According to the company’s website, Zoobean has attracted $573,000 in funding.

Insurance exec wins U of I alum award

A Clive insurance executive has been named the University of Iowa business school’s first alumnus of the year.

Dana Ramundt, a 1974 Iowa graduate, is president and CEO of the Dana Co., an independent insurance agency. Ramundt has had several industry leadership positions and helped establish the Emmett Vaughan Institute of Risk Management and Insurance at the university.

Meanwhile, Tom Niblock of Washington, D.C., was named the Tippie College’s young alumnus of the year for his work as a foreign service officer. Nib­lock, a 2007 graduate, serves in the Office of Taiwan Coordination in Washington, D.C., and previously served as the staff assistant to the ambassador at U.S. embassies in Beijing and Islamabad, Pakistan. He is also the author of “Tip of the Dragon’s Tongue: The Adventures of a Young American Diplomat in China.”

Other moves: Scott Raecker will split his time between Des Moines and Los Angeles after adding another role. Raecker will become CEO of the Josephson Institute, an L.A.-based nonprofit that promotes ethical decision-making, including its “Character Counts!” curriculum. President Michael Josephson has announced his retirement. Raecker, board chairman of the institute, is also executive director of the Institute for Character Development at Drake University.


Former Rockwell Collins chief executive Clay Jones will turn 65 today. Thursday’s birthdays include Jeff Russell, CEO of Delta Dental of Iowa, who will be 42, and William Kerr, former chairman of Meredith Corp., 73. Des Moines writer Jennifer Wilson will be 44 on Friday. On Saturday, state Rep. Peter Cownie, executive director of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation, will turn 34, and Ben Anderson, co-owner of T-shirt printing and graphic design shop 8/7 Central, will be 29. Rich Wilkey, a Casey’s General Stores board member and former Des Moines city manager, will be 74 on Sunday. On Monday, Dr. Dale Andringa will be 64, and Stanley J. Bright, retired chairman and CEO of MidAmerican Energy Co., 74.

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Teen citrus expert hopes to put the orange back in Orange Beach

ORANGE BEACH, AL – If a skinny kid with bangs neatly crossing his forehead and an adolescent smile bristling with braces motors up to your dock or rides his bike into your yard and starts talking about citrus trees, you might want to pay attention.

Austin Andrews, 14, has studied the trees Orange Beach is named for and all varieties of citrus. And don’t let the baby face fool you. He is not only an expert, he’s a businessman as well. He can tell you what you need to do to successfully grow citrus trees.

Andrews was invited to speak to the Orange Beach City Council last week and may enter into a contract to adorn city landscaping with citrus.

It all came about when Mayor Tony Kennon and bestselling author Andy Andrews of Orange Beach were talking about citrus trees.

“We got to talking about our desire to re-establish orange tree groves and citrus groves and he had an interest in it and thought that was a great idea,” Kennon told the gathering. “In our discussion he told me that his son Austin was a citrus tree expert. I thought he was kidding. We got to talking and got his paperwork and this young man is a citrus tree expert.”

His business is Sporty Citrus and can be reached at

“I’m interested in citrus and always have been,” Austin told the council and audience. “I’ve seen trees that haven’t grown the way they should and produce the fruit they should or just grow. I turned my hobby of giving people tips on their trees and built it into a business last year. The name is Sporty Citrus.”

As a lifelong resident, Austin said, he loves Orange Beach and wanted to see more of the trees the town is named on the landscape.

“One thing that kind of bothered me about Orange Beach, however, was there are no oranges here,” he said. “That’s where I think I can help.”

Austin said there are ways he sees right now he can help the trees on city property.

“I’d love to help Orange Beach’s citrus in any I can,” he said. “I’ve seen the trees outside this building and at the art center. They’re great trees but they need to be worked on.”

His services can come in the form of yearlong care and maintenance or one-time visits to give owners the instructions they need to make their citrus trees successful.

“What I will do is plant and manage trees under a yearly contract,” he said. “I’ll visit the tree weekly. I can fertilize the tree, I can remove any bad limbs or suckers that grow on it. Do just about anything that a citrus tree needs.

“Or I can do a one-time consultation where I will tell the owner of the citrus tree or the person taking care of it what they can do to make it better or the best it can be.”

While his job involves landscaping, Austin says his services are not what you would get from a typical landscaping company.

“The difference between me and a regular landscaper I just deal with the citrus and give them the specific care that they need,” he said. “A landscaper, with citrus, basically sticks it in the ground and waters it and fertilizes it.”

Kennon and city council members came away impressed by Austin’s presentation and said discussions about entering into a contract for him to start a citrus tree program for the city are upcoming.

“What a great example,” Kennon said, “a 14-year-old businessman with his own business in the city of Orange Beach.”

Other youngsters, Kennon said, are also running businesses in the town and he said he will bring them in in the future as well.

“We have lots of other young men and women who are inventors and have great ideas,” he said. “What I want to do is bring them in and let them present their ideas to the city.”

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Get help and save money on your big landscaping dreams

Have a big landscaping project you’re contemplating? You don’t have to do it alone.

Get help from YardShare. When you join the community, you’ll see landscaping ideas, pictures and helpful designs.

Find out how to build a backyard on a budget, put together a little front garden or dress up your fence with roses and flowers.

Ask for help, or give it, at the forum. When you’re done, share pictures of your successful project! It’s all fun!

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Leading the way in landscaping

The Garden of Eden may have been an earthly paradise inhabited by the first man and woman, but generally in today’s highly urbanised-world, a garden is a planned space to grow, cultivate and enjoy plants and other forms of nature, including artificial water features.

The late Aulus Cornelius Celsus, one of the greatest Roman medical writers, was interested in preventive medicine as much as in cures. His medical texts recommended a healthy lifestyle which includes walking in gardens, exposure to natural light and staying close to water.

Many researchers have shown the value of having in contact with nature, from improving academic performance to rehabilitation of mental health. In 1918, the US military initiated garden therapy for its soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder.

Recent studies also show that people with clinical depressions can improve their mental outlook by working with soil and plants.

As far as prevention goes, one does not need to wait until such dire states before getting in touch with nature.

Michael Lip Yoke Cheong, co-founder and director of Malik Lip Associates Sdn Bhd, along with other landscape architects, horticulturist and other professionals related to the design of spaces and landscapes in the country, has been part of greening the country, making it a better place to be in.

Amphitheater and terraces at Central Park overlooking the retention pond in ADDA Heights project, an up-market mixed residential development within the established and Tebrau Corridor in Johor Baru. 

With experience in designing landscapes for public and private projects, Lip said a landscape architect requires proper understanding of the surroundings, natural resources, its potential and above all, sensitivity to ensure the perpetuation of the natural heritage and identity.

“Our firm wants to make a difference in people’s lives. Through a sensitive expression of the arts, culture and tradition, coupled with humanistic and ecology concerns, the company strives to help make the world a better place to live in,” he tells Metrobiz.

Lip started the company in 1983 with his partner Nik Malik Nik Zainal Abidin in a house before renting an office in Taman Tun Dr Ismail.

They have been there ever since they bought the present shoplot during the 1980s recession.

Starting with their own savings, he says they kept their own salaries to the minimum to ensure there was enough money for the staff and overheads.

The firm's work includes the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya. 

“We did small to large landscape projects that came along. As clients get to know us through our landscape service and our completed projects, we were given bigger projects,” he said.

The company has since completed various projects, ranging from the landscape for the prime minister’s office complex in Putrajaya, Dayabumi, the National Mosque, Pelangi Beach Resort, Rivera Bay Hotel, The Datai, Istana Hotel to new townships, institutions and others.

Laying foundations

When he first came back from England, he said the designing of gardens was dependent mainly on nursery men, garden designers and horticulturists.

Designs were adhoc and mainly consisted of turfing and planting of fruit trees and selected shrubs.

“We were considered professional gardeners and spending more than RM10,000 was a luxury,” he said.

As part of the Government’s commitment to the long-term target of planting 20 million trees by 2020 and becoming a Garden Nation, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad made states and local authorities ensure landscaping was a mandatory element in all development projects, from housing estates, urban developments, tourist spots to industrial parks.

Meandering water and a bridge in the Jaya One lifestyle commercial development. 

Lip, who has a Master of Arts in Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, England said there is now a requirement to have a landscape architect sign the landscape plan for every building development.

“The field of landscape architecture was not well known in Malaysia in the 1970s. It is important in the development of residential, commercial, industrial and recreational areas as it combines elements of art and science and understanding this to build an environment for human life. Doing this keeps me alive,” he said.

Just as a plant grows with various cells working together to create photosynthesis, Lip’s company has four major departments working together to bring a landscape design to life.

These departmentas cover areas such as project management, design, quantity surveying and environmental planning.

Proper project management ensures the proper implementation of “hard” and “soft” landscape elements. Hard landscape elements are non-living elements such as the pavements, pools, rocks and so on, whereas soft elements are living elements such as trees, palms and grass.

“This department is also responsible for landscape submissions for approval and supervising the construction and maintenance of the completed project,” he said.

The design department uses computer-aided drafting (CAD) equipment or conventional drafting station to produce designs and working drawings.

They draw rough and detailed scale plans for foundations, buildings and structures based on preliminary concepts, sketches, engineering calculations, specification sheets and other data.

The drafters also coodinate with consultants from the field of structural, electrical and mechanical engineering and determine a method of presentation to graphically represent the building plans.

Another vital department is the quantity surveying and contract department, which prepares the cost estimate and bill of quantities required for a landscape project. They are also involved with preparing tender documents and reports.

“This department will prepare the tender documents based on specifications and quantity of required materials,” he said.

As the human population continue to expand, so does the need to occupy more space. The impact of human activities in an existing ecosystem has to be planned to ensure sustainability and minimise disturbances to existing habitats.

The company has an environmental planning division that does environmental studies including environmental impact assessments before a project commences.

“This includes analysing the existing flora and fauna and whether it can be retained. We then prepare a professional recommendation for the town planners,” he said.

Going global

The invitation to do landscaping for Berjaya’s Le Morne Resort Casino in Mauritius in 1994 was irresistible for Lip despite the underdeveloped landscape industry there, which he lightly said was “similar to Malaysia’s landscape industry in 1970”.

“They had only a few small nurseries. We taught interested owners how to set up the nursery properly and what to do at various stages of landscaping contract work,” he said.

Since then, the award winning landscape architecture firm has done landscaping work in Brunei, the Middle East, Uganda, India and Vietnam. Some of these works include hotel and resorts, theme parks, zoos and residential projects.

Lip says each country is unique and the firm has to find ways to address the limitations with soft and hard landscaping materials, lack of knowledge and different work ethics of the various people they work with.

“The experience is rewarding as we learn from them too besides sharing our landscape knowledge,” he said.

Having been involved in the landscape industry for over 30 years both locally and abroad, it saddens Lip when he finds that a landscape deteriorating due to poor maintenance after a project has been handed back to clients.

“Much effort and money is wasted due to poor landscape maintenance. Authorities and private developers can come together to make landscapes sustainable and an asset to our nation,” he said.

He also says that training at all levels of the industry has to be given priority with proper talent management.

Having said that, after being through three recessions, he believes the landscaping industry continues to have growth potential.

Having worked on various themes, from tropical landscape to modern contemporary landscapes, he said they have to have a keen eye of detail to the needs where the landscape is situated.

“In tropical Malaysia for example, the requirement for shade from sun and rain is paramount and we are able to use the abundance of unique local flora with other local materials, products and talent to bring out the best in our landscapes for our clients,” he said.

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Garden club marks milestone

She planted all sorts of plants, gravitating to weeping trees, shrubbery with unusual shapes and flowering trees and bushes. Two islands were built along the Fox Lake and filled with more plants.

Then in October she came home and found a little letter on her door.

It was from the McHenry Garden Club, which had chosen her yard as its garden of the month.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” Homa said. “It was just so nice for me to think that these people who are garden experts like our yard.”

Two signs went up in her yard – one on the street side and one on the river – and Homa decided to join the McHenry Garden Club, something she had thought about doing before but never thought she was qualified for, and now serves on the committee that picks future garden of the month winners.

“I’ve really enjoyed it so far,” she said. “I look at it as a place to learn because I am certainly not an expert.”

Over the 10 years the garden club has existed, it has grown beyond its monthly meetings, during which guest speakers tackle different topics.

Its members plant and maintain the vegetable gardens and other landscaping at Petersen Farm, club President Judy Walter said. A lot of the bushes around the house came from members’ gardens.

They also maintain some of the landscaping at city parks, in particular around the entrance signs.

They landscaped and built four raised beds for a vegetable garden for the veterans housed at New Horizons transitional living facility in Hebron, showing them how to plant, what to plant and what to watch for, Walter said.

They also put together flower arrangements to take over to the hospice patients at Alden Terrace of McHenry each month.

They host educational programs at the McHenry Public Library and donate books, mostly on gardening, to the library.

But as a former high school math teacher, Walter’s favorite is the two to four scholarships they provide each year to McHenry students majoring in horticulture.

“It feels like this club goes overboard gardenwise to benefit the community,” said Walter, who joined in 2008, a couple of years after she moved to McHenry.

The club is a “wonderful mixture of women,” both young and old.

“We are not – I repeat we are not – old ladies sitting around eating crumpets,” Walter said. “We get our hands dirty.”

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Bee helpful: Avoid mowing, raking, pesticides and other gardening tips to help …

Some good news about bumblebees: Insect hunters in Washington and Oregon have spotted and photographed several western bumblebees in locations where they had vanished.

The Xerces Society, an organization that helps conserve invertebrates and their habitat, has a citizen-led project to track North America’s bumblebee species. To participate, visit

“Once you start seeing bees, you get pulled into it. You can spend hours sitting around and watching the bees on your plants,” says Matthew Shepherd of The Xerces Society in northeast Portland. Read more about spotting bees here.

National Wildlife Federation writer Laura Tangley offers these tips to gardening to help bumblebees:

  • Provide pollen and nectar for food: Bumblebees prefer flowers that are purple, blue or yellow as well as perennial versus annual plants. Native plants are best, see recommendations at
  • Ensure bumblebees have nesting sites: Habitats like compost piles and unoccupied birdhouses help bumblebees, as does minimizing mowing and tilling that destroy nests and potential future nest sites.
  • Provide overwintering habitat: Queens seek shelter over winter in small holes just below or on the ground’s surface or sheds, rock walls and woodpiles. Leaving leaf litter, downed wood and uncut bunch grasses provides additional options. If you mow, do so with the mower blade set at the highest safe level. When spring arrives, avoid raking or mowing until April or May to protect hibernating queens.
  • Avoid or minimize pesticides: The Xerces Society recommends that you “choose targeted formulations with the least-toxic ingredients, follow the manufacturer’s directions, apply the pesticide as directly and locally as possible and apply when bumblebees are not active” either after dark or during winter.

— Janet Eastman

Join the conversation at Homes Gardens of the Northwest on Facebook or in the comment section below at

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Gardener: Do this, plant that: Productivity tips in the garden

Every day that I’m not on the road, I look out my office window toward the garden, and walk the property at least once or twice. My mind never stops turning with all the projects and to-dos I see for my landscape. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

My dream is to someday experience the term coined a few years back – “staycation.” The concept applies to the notion of staying home in an environment that is so pleasant, you feel like you’re on vacation. In theory, I love the idea. But in reality, it’s another story. Fortunately, for the lawn and garden, there are some pretty helpful ideas along with a number of undemanding plants that can get us a few steps closer to a truly relaxing staycation in our own little corner of the world.


These are a few of my favorite tricks for getting a little bit closer to nirvana.

– Soaker hoses: Keeping up with watering can rob many hours of precious free time. An easy way to cut down on this time consuming event is to make sure your plants are getting water right where they need it by using soaker hoses. These porous hoses allow water to seep out slowly and deeply. Roots have time to absorb the moisture and there is less risk of over-watering.

– Automatic timers: Simplify watering duties even more by using automatic timers. Use these in conjunction with soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems and put your watering woes on autopilot. The timers can be set to come on automatically from several times a day to once a week. Then, whether you leave home for weeks or want more carefree time in the hammock, you won’t have to worry about your plants or lawn not getting watered.

– Mulch: Usually the most dreaded task in any garden is the weeding. One simple solution to cutting down on the amount of weeds your garden will have is to use mulch. A three-inch layer will block the sunlight most weed seeds need to germinate. The added benefit of mulch is that it keeps your soil cooler, cuts down on moisture loss and helps suppress disease. It even looks great and really shows off the plants.

– A garden mailbox: Even the most organized gardeners find themselves running back to the shed or garage for that must-have tool for the job at hand. Placing a mailbox or similar storage box in the garden can eliminate those unnecessary trips back to the tool shed. Fill the mailbox with your most important small tools and you’ll always have them close at hand. Consider adding a trowel, plant labels, waterproof pen, twine, scissors, pruners, insect spray and bottled water. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference.


When it comes to high-impact, low-maintenance plants, here are three of my favorites. Just keep in mind, even the least demanding plants deserve our attention every now and then.

– Knock Out roses: This is the un-fussy rose. If you’ve been intimidated by growing roses in the past or are tired of the work necessary to keep them disease and pest-free, this is the rose for you. Knockout roses are prolific bloomers and are very resistant to black spot and mildew problems typical of so many other roses. Provide full sun and well-drained soil and this rose will reward you with months of carefree beauty.

– Daylilies: They’re so easy, you can practically lay a daylily on the ground and watch it grow. Daylilies are beautiful and deer resistant with thousands of varieties in a rainbow of colors. They bloom all summer and return the next year thicker and fuller than before. The only work you’ll have to do is to divide them every 3 to 5 years.

– Hostas: If you’re looking for a showstopper for the shade garden, hostas are it. From miniature to massive, these plants known for their bold foliage are available in thousands of varieties. Hostas offer many shades of green, from lemon-lime to blue-green and every shade in between. The bonus with this easy care plant is that some are highly fragrant and all do well in containers. Unfortunately deer resistance is not one of its strengths.

Joe Lamp’l is the host and executive producer of Growing a Greener World on national public television, and the founder of The joe gardener� Company, devoted to environmentally responsible gardening and sustainable outdoor living.

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Tips and Tools For Your Lawn and Garden

New Lawn Equipment

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Wildlife-friendly, drought-tolerant gardens on ‘natives’ tour in Contra Costa …

While taking a garden design class, landscape designer Kelly Marshall once heard a professor say, “There will be wars over water someday.”

That stuck with her over the years.

Marshall, owner of Kelly Marshall Garden Design, has been removing her thirsty lawn, in stages, since 2005; now it is entirely gone.

“We wanted to transform our boring, thirsty front lawn into a water-conserving, native plant haven for wildlife,” she recalled. “The challenge was to come up with something that still fit in with the neighborhood.”

Marshall selected a hardy and colorful array of natives that could take Clayton’s hot summers, added a fountain and strategically placed seating areas and paths, and the front garden became a place enjoyed by everyone in the family, and even the neighbors.

Wanting more planting ‘real estate’ and disliking the water-hogging back lawn more and more, Marshall recently convinced her husband, Mike, to finally let the lawn go. In its place she created a drought-tolerant meadow of bunchgrasses and flowering native perennials.

“I believe it’s easy to have a low water consuming, sustainable garden here in California, if you choose the right plants to begin with,” she said.

Registration is open for the free Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour, which will take place Sunday, May 4, at various locations throughout Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

Participants on the free, self-guided event can choose from 35 showcase native plant gardens, and purchase plants from a dozen native plant nurseries.

More than 50 talks will be offered throughout the day. Registrants can learn how select and care for California native plants, lower water bills, design a low-maintenance garden, attract butterflies, birds and bees, and garden without using pesticides.

Inspired by the gardens they had seen on the tour, Clayton residents Karen and Jeremy Amos decided to sheet-mulch away their large, water-hungry front and back lawns. Much to their delight, they discovered that doing so cut their water bill in half. Marshall designed their new low-maintenance, water-conserving garden.

“We were thrilled to receive a $500 rebate from the Contra Costa Water District’s ‘Lose the Lawn and Grow a Garden program,'” said Karen Amos. “And since we installed the new garden ourselves, the cost of transforming the garden was pretty reasonable.”

Carpenter bees are attracted to the sages in the Amos’ new garden, while other native bees gravitate to the local milkweed.

“A family of quail live in the back garden,” Karen Amos pointed out. “Our family loves watching the chicks parade along the boardwalk, then forage for seeds under the native shrubs.”

The quail are protected from neighborhood cats by the family’s dog, and a thicket that provides them with shelter.

The more than 100 species of native plants in Marshall’s garden, the sound of splashing water, ample pond, and the diversity of seed-, berry- and pollen-bearing plants attract a variety of wildlife, from quail, owls, woodpeckers, bluebirds and more. To keep the birds safe, the family cat is kept indoors.

“It’s paradise,” said Marshall, whose garden is just two miles from the Amos stop on the tour. “I never thought our garden could be so beautiful, and also so easy to maintain.”

  • Saturday, May 3, Markham Arboretum, 1201 La Vista Ave., Concord
    10:30 a.m. — Top 10 plants for a native plant garden” by Kelly Marshall of Kelly Marshall Garden Design
    noon-1 p.m. — Michael Thelen will play guitar and sing songs from ’60s and ’70s, like The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Diamond, John Denver

  • Sunday, May 4
    Karen and Jeremy Amos’ garden, Clayton
    11 a.m. — “Save money, save time, and save water: How to lose your lawn, get a garden — and get paid for it, too!” by Chris Dundon, water conservation supervisor from Contra Costa Water Conservation District
    noon — “How to maintain a native plant garden” by Karen Amos
    Kelly Marshall’s garden, Clayton
    “How to transform your front garden into a place that is beautiful, water-conserving, and acceptable to the neighbors” by Kelly Marshall, of Kelly Marshall Garden Design
    Native plant sale

    May 3-4. Visit Preview the Gardens at to read garden descriptions, view photos, download plant lists. Workshops offered throughout spring

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    The Organic Rotation Garden: Four Square Design

    In 2009, when the Obama family planted a kitchen garden at the White House, it re-ignited a trend that had been largely dormant for the past century. The simple act of tilling up the lawn and sowing seeds inspired thousands of families to dig up their own back yards and plant vegetable gardens. This return to our agricultural roots resonates with what Thomas Jefferson once declared, as “the noblest pursuit” and the Obamas set the stage for Americans to rediscover the simple pleasures of growing their own food.

    For some, growing food is a welcome alternative to the high cost of packaged foods purchased in supermarkets. For others, it is a way of life that provides healthy exercise, and engages all of the senses through a rich tapestry of colors, fragrance, and flavors.

    When you cultivate a vegetable garden, you actively engage with your source of food, and integrate with your natural surroundings in a way that far surpasses the experience of purchasing food at the market. Growing your own food is truly the next logical step beyond “local.”

    When I planted my first vegetable garden, I began with the four square system, which is one of the oldest and most practical methods that goes back seven centuries. The design has evolved through the ages, and in its best form, combines classic design with the principles of organic gardening. A four square garden simplifies the process of figuring out where to place your plants every year, since you are grouping plants based on plant family, while naturally building the soil to improve productivity.

    When plants are grown in the same location year after year they can be weakened by soil borne diseases. In the four square garden, you are creating a garden that will be self sustaining as well as self improving every year. You are working with nature to constantly upgrade the natural balance in your vegetable garden. Start by dividing your garden into four equal squares, and designate each bed marked by the plant type and what they need nutritionally.

    Lettuce and other leafy greens, are grown in the bed marked “Nitrogen”.

    Mark another bed “Potassium” for the root crops, to sow the carrots, beets, and onion family. Another bed will contain the “Phosphorus” loving crops, or anything that forms a fruit such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Finally, you will have “Soil Builders” which represent the legume family, including beans and peas, which release nitrogen back into the soil. At the end of the season, rotate the crops so the leafy greens will be planted where the legumes had grown, and the legumes where the root crops had grown, etc.

    Growing food for your family and friends is one of the best ways we can effect positive change in our communities. When we bring our families together around the table to share our love for good homegrown food, we are cultivating a healthy choice that spreads beyond our own back yard. Teaching basic skills such as how to build a compost pile to keep waste out of landfills, how to encourage natural pollinators like honeybees, and how to cook with simple, whole foods harvested seasonally may seem like small steps, but when we learn to become responsible consumers, we also reclaim our health as a nation.

    Grow a garden this year, and learn more about how this four square system works at my free workshop on Thursday, April 17th at 7PM, hosted by Alan Benoit’s Sustainable Living series and held at The Northshire Bookstore. A detailed four-square plan can be found in my book, The Complete Kitchen Garden.

    Ellen Ecker Ogden is the author of The Complete Kitchen Garden and co-founder of The Cook’s Garden seed catalog. She is a garden consultant, and will be teaching a four square garden design workshop at the Northshire Bookstore on April 17. For more information, please visit:

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