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Archives for June 22, 2014

‘We as a town will stick by the Arkell family’

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BRENTWOOD — Community members with green thumbs and strong backs volunteered their time on Saturday for a garden work party at the home of slain Brentwood police officer Stephen Arkell.

“I am calling it an extreme yard makeover, without a bus,” said Karen Drapaniotis of Brentwood Gardeners, the group that organized the project.

Brentwood Gardeners amassed an incredible amount of workers and donated goods to complete projects that Arkell had started around his home and never got to complete, said Drapaniotis. The projects included finishing a blue paving stone patio at the rear of the home.

“When we’re done we are going to set up some Adirondack chairs and build a new fire pit, as a surprise,” Drapaniotis said. “Steve wanted to do this work and since he is not here, we are.”

The family was not at home at the time while the volunteers were working.

“They are doing well, as well as can be expected,” Drapaniotis said.

Arkell, 48, was shot and killed May 12 when he responded to a home at 46 Mill Pond Road to investigate a report of a verbal domestic disturbance.

Michael Nolan, the gunman who is believed to have killed Arkell inside the home, also died.

Steve’s wife Heather and his mother Marion are longtime members of Brentwood Gardeners,” Drapaniotis said.

Torie Freeman of Brentwood Gardeners said every year the group raises funds through an annual plant sale. The money is usually earmarked for beautification projects around town.

“This year we allocated it to the Arkell family,” Freeman said. “Steve was the real deal — as good a man as everyone is saying. He was always ready to lend a hand and he loved this community. We want to honor that because this is a close-knit community. It is shocking and tragic what happened for all of us, but we as a town will stick by the Arkell family.”

Work planned included revamping areas in need, creating a new garden bed, planting shrubs, trees and perennials, and spreading loam and bark mulch. Freeman even mastered the use of a sod cutter for the day.

Donations came from many area companies, including Field of Green Landscaping, Wellington Gardens, Granite Creek, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Churchill’s Garden Center, Magnusson Farm and Kevin Fuller Sons. Moe’s provided sandwiches at cost, paid for by Foy Insurance of Exeter.

Drapaniotis said everyone they asked either came to help or donated goods, no questions asked.

“He (Arkell) had such ideas and dreams for his home,” Freeman said. “We want to see them happen for his family. Seeing all the people who came out today to help really reinforces your belief in humanity again.”

A Web site was set up for donations to help the family at


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In This State: Artist makes earthbound medium soar

This freestanding stone circle was built in a farm field above Thea Alvin's studio and communal homestead south of Morrisville on Route 100. She builds wooden frames to support the shapes until the stones are in place, then knocks the props out. Photo by Andrew NemethyThis freestanding stone circle was built in a farm field above Thea Alvin's studio and communal homestead south of Morrisville on Route 100. She builds wooden frames to support the shapes until the stones are in place, then knocks the props out. Photo by Andrew Nemethy

This freestanding stone circle was built in a farm field above Thea Alvin’s studio and communal homestead south of Morrisville on Route 100. She builds wooden frames to support the shapes until the stones are in place, then knocks the props out. Photo by Andrew Nemethy

Editor’s note: In This State is a syndicated weekly column about Vermont’s innovators, people, ideas and places.

Thea Alvin has taken prosaic stones and turned them into gravity defying art forms with arches, circles and whirling shapes, She's spent 30 years honing her craft. Above she stands underneath an arch at her studio on Route 100 just south of Morrisville. Photo by Andrew NemethyThea Alvin has taken prosaic stones and turned them into gravity defying art forms with arches, circles and whirling shapes, She's spent 30 years honing her craft. Above she stands underneath an arch at her studio on Route 100 just south of Morrisville. Photo by Andrew Nemethy

Thea Alvin has taken prosaic stones and turned them into gravity defying art forms with arches, circles and whirling shapes, She’s spent 30 years honing her craft. Above she stands underneath an arch at her studio on Route 100 just south of Morrisville. Photo by Andrew Nemethy

Take Vermont’s most prosaic and prolific ingredient, mix it with equal parts artistic inspiration and bone-crushing labor, and then spice it with gravity-defying whimsy.

That’s the remarkable recipe that Thea Alvin has been cooking up for 30 years. And somehow the flavor keeps getting more delightful and satisfying, which is no small accomplishment considering Alvin works with stones. Plain old rocks. Boulders. Fieldstone.

Actually, “works” doesn’t do it justice. She creates with stone, bends it to her will and imagination, twists it, turns it, spins it into eye-catching, improbable shapes, taking our landscape’s most elemental pieces and lofting them as if they were nature’s snap-to Legos – albeit Legos weighing 50 or 100 or 200 pounds that will crush unwary fingers (something she’s experienced). Why does she do this?

“I practice stonework because it makes me happy,” is her simple answer.

How she came to work in what has traditionally been a man’s field is anything but simple. How she came to transcend the boundaries of the traditional stone-layers craft – creating free-standing arches and circles and balancing cairns – is a story of an artistic career derailed and delayed that eventually could not be suppressed. Or as she puts it, she finally found her career “when the artist in me came out of the box.”

Her early life is soap opera fodder – communes, hanging with the Grateful Dead, smashing up a car, shuttling between her divorced parents, elopement at 18 and pregnancy – and was lively chronicled in a New York Times story. Suffice to say island life on Martha’s Vineyard with her father felt stultifying, especially being conscripted to help him in his work as a mason.

At the age of 16, she found herself forced to earn her keep as his assistant, as the mule hauling stones and bricks for chimneys and fireplaces. It was brutal hot work. “I really resented it. As a 16-year-old I ran and ran all day long, and I wasn’t paid,” she says. But that unwilling apprenticeship taught her perseverance, she admits, and how to do hard labor. Her seduction in stone and art, however, would have to wait.

“I had visions of going to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) when I was in high school. I was very artsy,” she says. But eloping and having three kids and coming up to Vermont as a single mom buried that hope, well, like a ton of bricks.

“My dream of being an artist got stopped. Being an artist, being anything other than being a mother, was not possible,” she explains.

As her children grew older, though, she eventually got back to work doing landscaping and some stonework. In her early 30s, she entered a sculpture competition in Burlington, though “I hadn’t any idea what I was going to do.”

She ended up studying arches and after some trial and rock-collapsing error, figured how to build them. The rest is history, writ in stone across the continent and abroad, often combined with teaching the stoneworkers art. She has left her stone signature in China and England, Canada and France and Mexico and all across the U.S., and in a historic Italian stone village near Varese in the alpine foothills north of Milan. (Photos and details at

An artist to her core, Thea Alvin has many other pursuits besides creating giant stone sculptures, including working with modeling clay, above, in her studio. Photo by Andrew NemethyAn artist to her core, Thea Alvin has many other pursuits besides creating giant stone sculptures, including working with modeling clay, above, in her studio. Photo by Andrew Nemethy

An artist to her core, Thea Alvin has many other pursuits besides creating giant stone sculptures, including working with modeling clay, above, in her studio. Photo by Andrew Nemethy

Recently, she was profiled for Oprah Winfrey’s TV show, but spend some time with Alvin, and it’s clear all this publicity has not gone to her head (speaking to a visiting friend, she dismisses the idea of publicists and “media manipulation.”) Though she is widely traveled and does her art in tony places such as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Boulder, Colorado, pull into her yard a couple miles south of Morrisville on Route 100, and you’ll find a very laid-back Vermont scene. There’s an old 1810 barn that is her new studio gallery and a compound that is a unique mashup of Old MacDonald’s farm, a hippie commune and an artist colony. She herself is not exactly sure what it is, admitting, “it’s a little tricky.”

The theory, she explains, is communal living with everyone contributing, which right now means five people, among them her partner, Michael Clookey, who is a sculptor, and her daughter Robyn. Chickens and goats roam, and to let you know this is no ordinary farm, along with the head-turning 35-ton stone composition in her front yard called “Triple Helix,” which snakes across the grass as it spins three coils into the air, there’s a dying butternut tree festooned with old bicycles. Whether that’s Alvin‘s humor or art may depend on one’s view.

As if to punctuate the point that her brain takes the earthbound and mundane and soars with it, the name of her gallery “Rock, Paper, Scissors” is composed of scrolled wood letters dotted with what turn out to be shiny beer bottle caps.

But back to her life with the stones. She talks about her relationship with them as something almost mystical. Stones speak to her, she is their translator and interpreter, and their medium, carrying out their weighty message.

“It’s a very spiritual, earthy whole process, because you’re creating and you’re using one of the most primitive materials,” she explains. Her satisfaction comes in “bringing all these pieces together into this one wall,” while the art comes into play in the transcendent shapes into which she wills the stone.

“I love for stone to look like it’s water, to look like it can flow,” she says, adding that it feeds the human urge to “challenge ourselves with things we think are impossible.”

The practical and physical side of her art – all self-taught – is just as remarkable as the whirls and arches she creates. It takes extensive skill and practice to manipulate and fit stones, knowing how to use levers and stone chiseling hammers (she has dozens, painted pink so they don’t get lost). To create her circles and arches, she taps into Fibonacci math ratios to ensure her designs are stable and feasible, supporting them with wooden framing until the final keystone locks all the stones in place and the frame can be removed.

This sculpture, called Moongate,  was just finished by Thea Alvin in Marion, Illinois. It took only four days to build and contains 45 tons of stone. Photo courtesy of Thea Alvin.This sculpture, called Moongate,  was just finished by Thea Alvin in Marion, Illinois. It took only four days to build and contains 45 tons of stone. Photo courtesy of Thea Alvin.

This sculpture, called “Moongate,” was just finished by Thea Alvin in Marion, Illinois. It took only four days to build and contains 45 tons of stone. Photo courtesy of Thea Alvin.

As she creates, Alvin wades through tonnage like so many grains of sand. She just finished a “moongate” in Marion, Illinois, creating a wall and central circle that used 45 tons of stone. It took her just four days. She dispensed with 90 tons of stone for a wall and circle at Duke University, 400 tons in a stunning chapel and walled garden she built in Morristown. As she puts it, “Size matters – I love big sculpture.”

A stone chapel, part of an extensive wall and garden enclosure in northern Vermont, ranks as one of Thea Alvin's most elaborate and stunning projects. Reflecting stonework from the English countryside, it was built with help from a crew, students from Yestermorrow in Waitsfield, and a rock pile that measured 400 tons. Photo courtesy of Thea AlvinA stone chapel, part of an extensive wall and garden enclosure in northern Vermont, ranks as one of Thea Alvin's most elaborate and stunning projects. Reflecting stonework from the English countryside, it was built with help from a crew, students from Yestermorrow in Waitsfield, and a rock pile that measured 400 tons. Photo courtesy of Thea Alvin

A stone chapel, part of an extensive wall and garden enclosure in northern Vermont, ranks as one of Thea Alvin’s most elaborate and stunning projects. Reflecting stonework from the English countryside, it was built with help from a crew, students from Yestermorrow in Waitsfield, and a rock pile that measured 400 tons. Photo courtesy of Thea Alvin

Yet Alvin herself? She’s small and compact, with small hands, intensely defying the stereotype of stoneworkers as tall burly men with large mitts. But in today’s parlance, she has a strong “core” and is every bit the endurance athlete, able to pick up 200 pounds of stone and slide it into place, enthralled by the process of “destroying stone, smashing stone, tiring your body by moving tons of material.”

Working at her creations, she says she gets in a stone zone, and never has to think which piece goes where; she just knows what will fit just by looking at.

“When I’m on the wall, it’s very hard to get me off the wall,” she says.

“People have said I’m a stone whisperer, which is funny, because I’m certainly not, but I do understand their language.”

Thea Alvin (left) chats with a visitor to her studio in an old 1810 barn on her homestead. The sign is made of carved wood and decorated with bottle caps. Photo by Andrew NemethyThea Alvin (left) chats with a visitor to her studio in an old 1810 barn on her homestead. The sign is made of carved wood and decorated with bottle caps. Photo by Andrew Nemethy

Thea Alvin (left) chats with a visitor to her studio in an old 1810 barn on her homestead. The sign is made of carved wood and decorated with bottle caps. Photo by Andrew Nemethy

Andrew Nemethy is longtime journalist, writer and editor from Calais, Vermont. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Flea market vendors not all on board for move

The proposed relocation of a Rutland flea market from Centennial Park to Highway 33 isn’t sitting well with some of its vendors.

A majority of people who sell used and new items at discount prices at the long-established market are said to be against the move.

Some of the 100-plus vendors worry there isn’t enough space at Roxby Park to accommodate the market, and others just don’t see why the market should move from its long-established spot in the park.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of the people here about this idea, and I think the majority of them don’t like it,” Bill Henderson, a market member for the past decade, said Sunday.

“The market’s been here so long, everybody in Rutland knows about it, and it’s successful,” says Henderson, who used to help organize the weekly market. “Why should it have to move?”

City council will today consider a staff plan to re-christen the flea market as the Rutland Community Market and move the enterprise over to Roxby Park, at the corner of Roxby Road and Highway 33.

Plans are to spent $133,000 on changes to Roxby Park to accommodate the market. Electrical upgrades, new lighting, landscaping, and signage are proposed.

The Rutland Community Market idea is city staff’s suggestion arising from the Our Rutland contest, a city-led initiative earlier this year to burnish the image and reputation of Rutland.

More than 100 ideas were submitted from the public, and staff settled on the new public market proposal as the most cost-efficient and significant way to spend the allocated money.

The owner of a restaurant adjacent to Roxby Park said she wasn’t aware the city had plans to transform the public space into the year-round home of the current flea market.

But Leora Rupert, of My Neighborhood Restaurant, said the relocation might be good for her business and others along Highway 33.

“The market’s pretty popular, and I’d like to see more things happening in this little park,” Rupert said. “Bringing the people that go to the market over here where more businesses are, that makes sense.”

Sheila Scott, who described herself as the longest-established flea market member, said she was ambivalent about the possible move.

“I don’t care about the location so much, as what might happen to this park if we move,” Scott said. “There’s already a lot of drug use around here when the market’s not on, and that would probably just get worse.”

The flea market is not a society unto itself. It’s an offshoot of the Rutland Parks Society – owners of both Rutland Centennial Hall and Rutland Centennial Park – which has already endorsed the move.

Also in support of the market’s relocation are the Rutland Residents Association and the Uptown Rutland Business Association.

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32nd Annual Junior League Garden Tour benefits Fort Collins women and children



















Fort Collins community members weaved through gardens in the City Park neighborhood full of seasonal blossoms, local artwork and music Saturday, June 21.

 The Junior League of Fort Collins chose the theme of “Art in the Garden” at the 32nd Annual Terrace and Garden Tour this year.

“Every year is a little bit different and a little bit better,” McBride said. “This year we are featuring local artists and musicians in the backyards.”

Junior League past President and longtime member Sonia InMasche has seen the Garden Tour come far over the years. In 1982, tickets were sold for only $5 and Junior League raised just over $1,400. This year tickets were $18 each, and with an expected turnout of 18,000, $32,000 was hoped to be raised.

“Junior League and this fundraiser is always reinventing itself, making it better than it was the year before … this year all the houses featured are very close together, making it very accessible,” InMasche said.

This year, the Garden Tour highlighted six outdoor gardens within walking distance from each other and City Park. in previous years, the tour has been more spread out, and the League chose a different approach for ease of attendees.

Each of the homes had a different take on gardening, which were eyeopening for viewers. Individuals saw different landscaping techniques for the plethora of flowers, herbs and grasses on display.

CSU University Honors Program Director Donald Mykles was one homeowner selected for the tour, and beamed as he watched passersby look at his garden.

“I really love bulbs, but I do what is easy and what works well here,” Mykles said.

Located on the corner of Oak Street and Jackson Street, Mykles’ garden gets a lot of shade, but he works with what he’s got, he said. His garden featured lollipop lilies, Lady’s mantle, a variety of iris, along with a Victorian playhouse he hopes one day his grandchildren can play in.

“The playhouse was made by a carpenter for one of his children in 1920, ”  Mykles said. “The previous owners of this house brought it here in 194. It is very Victorian.”

Merely a block away at House #6, yet another Victorian playhouse attracted attendees, along with their flourishing gardens.

Bluegrass duo Jill Vesty and Mike Moxcey played their Colorado-inspired jams while onlookers got to explore the herb, patio, flower and shade gardens surrounding the Brokish house.

“Our favorite place is our patio garden,” said homeowners Jim and Marica Brokish. “We can see it from the kitchen and we spend a ton of time there. We eat many meals out there.”

Throughout the day, Fort Collins Nursery employees were available to answer questions and given gardening tips to attendees.

“We answer questions about the growing conditions, about the plants themselves, and are here just in general to help,” said Mary Pineda, a Fort Collins Nursery employee. “We are one of the largest sponsors of the event.”

After touring the gardens, visitors could sample the complimentary rhubarb punch, Butter Cream Cupcakery cupcakes and  the Human Bean beverages that were provided in City Park.

The Garden Tour is the biggest fundraiser the Junior League puts on each year and a lot of planning goes into the process said Kari Hogden, League chair member and homeowner of one of the six venues in the tour.

“In order to put on the event, we must select an area to put on the garden walk, make the brochures, find sponsors and advertisers and then figure out the rest of the logistics,” Hodgen said.

According to Vice President Stacy McBride, proceeds from the Garden Tour and other Junior League events benefit women and children in Northern Colorado through the Career Closet and the Poudre District Snack Program.

The snack program provides snacks to elementary schools with students who qualify for free or reduced lunches in the Poudre Valley district. According to McBride, profits from the last Garden Tour enabled the Junior League to give over 16,000 snacks to local elementary schools.

The Career Closet, located at 151 S. College Ave., Unit I,  is one of Junior League’s largest projects, which focuses on supporting the economic stability of women in Northern Colorado. This past they year helped over 300 women become more financially poised.

“The Career Closet is a boutique shop for women to get outfitted with professional clothing they can wear to interviews and at work,” McBride said.

Lisa Wehunt, a new Fort Collins resident, loved the opportunity to give back to the town.

“I’m really enjoying Fort Collins — what a way to support women and the community,” Wehunt said.

Collegian Senior Reporter Josephine Bush can be reached at

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Landscaping with Hawaii’s native plants

Throughout the United States, there is a strong movement to landscape with native plants. Some regions are extremely rich in easy-to-grow native plants.

I recently participated in the International Palm Conference in Miami. It was exciting to see the results of hundreds of millions of dollars spent to landscape parks, roads, airport and coastal beaches with native trees, such as mahogany, sea grape, oak, magnolia and many species of indigenous palms. They are using mangrove trees in fresh and salt water gardens.With the emphasis on natives, we did notice the lack of flowering plants such as the Cassia showers and their hybrids, hibiscus, plumeria, strelitzia, heliconia and many other flowering plants that brighten our Hawaii landscapes.

In Hawaii, we are also using many more natives than in years gone by, but we have incorporated many flowering plants to add the color that has become part of the local culture. Can you imagine Hawaii without orchids, bromeliads, anthuriums, plumeria and all the rainbow colors of the flowering trees brought here from around the world?

We are somewhat limited in the palette of tough, easy-to-grow natives.

Some of the most difficult areas to reforest are the dry forest zones of our islands including those of West Hawaii, Ka‘u, Kohala and Puna. These lands have been grazed for decades and have become rocky grasslands. Great efforts have been made in places like the new West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery. I had driven by the area many times but did not until recently notice the work of hundreds of volunteers planting natives on Puu Oo over the last several years.

Most folks are now on the bandwagon of protecting our native plants. However, protecting these valuable resources is easier said than done. One way is to get involved with projects like the veterans cemetery. According to Dr. Stevens, longtime advocate for native plants, veterans, students, community groups and interested individuals are continuing the efforts near the cemetery by planting a forest. So far participation from the University of Hawaii Center-West Hawaii, UH-Hilo, West Hawaii Explorations Academy and other schools plus kokua from the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, Kukio, New Moon Foundation, Hawaii County, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Pohakuloa Training Area, Ironman and many others is greening this once barren hill for all to enjoy. The coordinating organization is the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery Development and Expansion Association.

Volunteers will be learning what native plants will thrive in this micro environment. The reason location is so important is many native plants have specific requirements. If you think coconut palms, kukui, bananas, taro and ti are natives and seem to grow easily, then it is time to rethink.! These plants are alien species brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians as they migrated across Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

Our state tree, the kukui, originated in what is now Indonesia, it is believed. Our state tree probably should be the loulu palm because it is definitely not only indigenous but endemic. The loulu palms evolved here and are found growing naturally only in Hawaii. At one time, there may have been many dozens of species, but with the introduction of the Polynesian rats, and pigs, many must have disappeared. Later, the introduction of grazing animals did further damage so that now there are only remnants of what were vast populations of the loulu.

It is a shame that many of these species have declined in number to the point that they are almost extinct. Luckily, folks are beginning to plant these palms in the landscape. Some palms are being replanted in national parks and state forest reserves.

Kona loulu is one of the species being planted in abundance at the veterans cemetery. The Kona loulu is becoming more popular in the landscape. Pritchardia affinis or P. maideniana prefer sunny, dryer locations but has been grown at elevations as high as 3,000 feet. Another rare loulu is named after George Schattauer, Kona kamaaina. A few trees are found above Kaohe, Honomalino and Hookena. This specie and Pritchardia beccariana from Kulani Prison Road near Volcano are being distributed on the Big Island.

It’s important to the survival of native species to use them in our gardens. Unfortunately, most nurseries do not carry the native loulu, and seed of some species are difficult to obtain. Laws set up to protect these palms make it complicated and confusing to those who want to propagate and distribute endangered species such as the loulu.

However, you may propagate loulu if you can located seeds. Plant fresh seeds in flats or shallow boxes filled with soil. Cover the seeds with 1 inch of soil.

Keep the soil in the flats moist but not wet. Damping off fungi are likely to ravage the tiny seedlings if the soil is kept soggy.

Seed flats may be covered with clear plastic to keep in warmth and moisture. This will speed up germination. Be sure to keep seed and seedlings protected from rats. Germination time of palm seed varies widely with the species and requires patience. They may not peek out of the ground for several months following planting.

Pot the plants into 1-gallon containers after they have sprouted. A suggested potting mixture is equal parts of soil or cinder and rotted compost. Fertilize monthly with a complete fertilizer. When the seedlings are 1 to 2 feet tall, transplant them into 5-gallon containers or plant them in the ground. Loulu palms are well-suited for planting in groups, as specimens, or for lining driveways. Young palms require coddling until established, then they thrive with very little attention, other than sun, fertilizer and water.

Remember, if folks begin to show interest in native trees such as the loulu, our nurseries can then afford to carry them as part of their regular stock. To do your part in saving our native species, use them as much as possible in your garden.

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Great without grass: 16th annual awards recognize water-efficient landscapes – Las Vegas Review

Who says you can’t grow things in the desert?

Plenty of Las Vegas homeowners have front and backyard landscapes that do not rely on grass or water-gulping plants. Some of those yards were entered into the 16th Annual Southern Nevada Landscape Awards competition, which recognizes those with aesthetically pleasing desert landscaping. The Springs Preserve Botanical Gardens and the Southern Nevada Water Authority sent judges to each finalist’s location and announced the winners June 5.

Randy Mendre won for his front yard, a 2,000-square-foot space landscaped with various types of cactuses and his version of a terrace. Most of his plants were not purchased but rather were cuttings taken from existing plants.

Mendre prides himself on recycling and repurposing items, and, while he is not an artist, he enjoys working with metal and making the sculptures that dot his yard. He said he lets the plants and sculptures tell him where they should be placed.

“I’m constantly having people — strangers — stopping to take pictures,” he said. “My kids will say, ‘Dad, there’s somebody in the front yard again taking pictures.’ … I even had a production company for movies and TV commercials come by and talk to me. They said they’d like to use it in something one day.”

Sahara West Apartments, 2301 Redwood St., took second place for its outdoor common area.

Lauren Wright, the property’s community director, said the site previously featured tennis courts that had fallen into disrepair and were seldom used. Instead of spending money to restore them, the apartment complex decided to provide a relaxing retreat for residents with an entertainment plaza, a fireplace, a fountain feature and a “kitchen” with a granite countertop.

“It was really exciting, winning an award like this,” Wright said. “It was a major project, took months to do. We were thrilled with the outcome, and to all of a sudden win an award for it was just fantastic.”

The project was finished in October 2013.

“(Residents) love it; they use it all the time,” Wright said. “In the winter, they come up and sit around the fireplace. It’s a double-sided fireplace with chairs on both sides of it. And the outdoor kitchen has a barbecue, so, of course, that gets used a lot.”

Winners in the competition were treated to a breakfast ceremony June 5 at the Springs Preserve Botanical Gardens, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. The Gardens presented the awards along with Star Nursery, the Water Authority, the Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Southern Nevada Landscape Association.

At the awards ceremony, a vegetable garden was dedicated to the memory of Linn Mills, a local horticulturalist who worked with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, the Springs Preserve and the Las Vegas Valley Water District. Mills’ column appeared regularly in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He died Feb. 28.

The judges based their decisions on the landscapes by scoring for: overall beauty, water efficiency, plant selection and overall layout design.

Properly irrigated, water-savvy landscapes can use up to 75 percent less water than turf. Since 1999, thousands of residents and businesses have upgraded to water-smart designs. As a result, they’ve converted more than 163 million square feet of lawns to water-efficient landscaping, collectively saving roughly 8.8 billion gallons of water a year.

Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at or 702-387-2949.

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Adaptive gardening ideas for people with physical challenges

Pat Patterson, a Master Gardener trained by the Oregon State University Extension Service, does not let a bad back or an artificial knee keep her from her garden.

The enthusiastic 75-year-old maintains a 2,000-square-foot mixed ornamental and vegetable garden, a four-acre wildlife area and a Japanese garden at her property between Noti and Cheshire with the help of three friends and her husband.

“I would be at a loss if I couldn’t garden,” Patterson said. “I would have planted at least sprouts in a pot or African violets on my windowsill, but I really wanted to grow food, and lots of it.”

What allowed her the freedom? A concept called “adaptive gardening” involves making small modifications to accommodate a gardener’s physical injuries or disabilities.

In her case, she has built high raised beds that make access easier. She also uses an extensive trellis system. Favorite tools include an Asian plow-hoe, a Hori-Hori soil knife and an aluminum trowel with finger indentations for a better grip.

“We call it gardening smarter, not harder,” said Patterson, who has been sharing her knowledge with the public as a Master Gardener volunteer since 1976.

View full sizeThe OSU Extension Service’s demonstration garden in Salem features adaptive gardening techniques.  

Patterson chairs the adaptive gardening committee of the Master Gardeners’ Association of Lane County. Committee members give talks and help such institutions as assisted living centers make gardening more accessible to everyone.

The OSU Extension Service offers gardening advice for the visually impaired. Here are a few of the tips from various publications available online, including one on adaptive tools:

  • Mark changes in the direction of path segments with shrubs or with different textures of the path material.
  • Make flower borders and planted beds no more than three feet across so the gardener can reach the plants while kneeling and working with short-handled tools.
  • Install wind chimes, moving water and scented plants to help the gardener find special parts of the garden.
  • Arrange bedded plants in groups of three to five in straight rows to make them easier to locate.

Another Extension guide offers advice for adapting gardening tools for people with physical challenges, including people with arthritis, heart or lung problems, or who have trouble gripping or lifting. One guide recommends the following:

  • Use plastic handle extenders to improve leverage and keep you from having to bend over. Or use long-handled tools, which are available in many hardware stores.
  • Garden from a chair or kneeler to add comfort if you have knee problems.
  • Build raised beds or containers whenever possible to minimize bending.

You can see such examples of adaptive gardening techniques like whiskey barrel planters, accessible table-top beds and extra-tall raised beds at various demonstration gardens maintained by Master Gardeners, including those in Benton, Douglas, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion and Washington counties.

— Denise Ruttan

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Joel Karsten’s tips to create a straw bale garden



This is a garden of straw bales created by Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens. Photo by Tracy Walsh – PoserDesign

By Doug Oster / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It was a childhood observation that changed the life of Joel Karsten, and in turn revolutionized the way many people grow vegetables.

Mr. Karsten, 44, author of “Straw Bale Gardens” (Cool Springs Press, $19.99), started the straw bale gardening phenomenon. Since the book was published in March 2013, thousands of gardeners from just about every country in the world have tried his techniques, which he pioneered shortly after receiving a degree in horticulture from the University of Minnesota.

“Necessity is the mother of all invention,” he said in a phone interview. “I was broke because I was young, right out of college and I just bought a house.”

He said he couldn’t afford to buy compost to amend the thin layer of top soil covering “this awful construction fill” at his new house. He got the straw bale idea from the thistles he saw growing out of broken bales on the dairy farm in rural Minnesota where he grew up. As a horticulture graduate, he knew the nutrients that tomatoes and peppers require are similar to what thistles need. He began to experiment.

“I’ve been doing this for 21 years. For the first 14, nobody really cared a whole lot,” he said with a laugh.

Then he was discovered by a local television reporter. First, it was local garden clubs asking him to lecture. Soon it was gardeners from across the country. Now his book is translated into 12 languages and is one of the most popular garden titles in the world.

In my own garden, I gave straw bale gardening a try last year with mixed success. After talking to Mr. Karsten, I realized I did just about everything wrong.

The first step is to condition the bale(s) with water and a high-nitrogen fertilizer such as what’s used for lawns. Organic gardeners can use blood meal. High-nitrogen fertilizers work because that’s what bacteria really eat, he said.

The bale is soaked every day for 12 days with the diluted fertilizer mix.

“You’re building up bacteria inside the bale and those bacteria are going to colonize the inside of the bale,” Mr. Karsten said. “They are going eat the straw and turn it into soil.”

At the end of the 12 days, it isn’t straw anymore. It’s pretty much the beginning stages of soil or compost. The idea is to maintain a sterile environment for new plants.

“We have no weed seeds, no disease (and) no insects from last year’s garden,” he said. “As long as you never put a shovel of soil on top of that bale, you’ll never introduce those issues to your bale.”

The system works with one bale, or many. Mr. Kartsen likes to arrange five bales end to end. Whatever number you use, be sure to leave the strings on. He said compressed straw decomposes faster. He also recommends finding the heaviest, tightest bales available; they will usually last two seasons.

“It’s raised-bed gardening without the raised-bed price,” he said.

The first year he grows crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, greens and just about anything you could plant in a conventional garden sans sweet corn. The next year, he focuses on root crops and others that grow inside the bale.

Mr. Karsten grows in both the tops and sides of bales. To create a planting hole in the side, “take your rake handle and punch right between the two strings at a downward angle,” he said, adding that herbs work well in the sides of bales.

He has a few other tricks up his sleeve. With tomato plants, he’ll cover the top with a thin layer of sterile planting mix and plant a whole packet of basil seeds. As they sprout and start to form roots, he moves them to the sides of the bale. The same technique could be used for greens, too, especially later in the season as things cool off.

During the season, he highly recommends using a drip irrigation system hooked up to a timer to water the bales. They need 1-2 gallons of water a day when it gets hot and there’s no rain. The key is to keep the bale consistently moist.

Mr. Karsten said he never imagined he would be traveling the world, showing people how to garden. He also has a website,

“It is a dream come true for a little country boy.”


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Compleat Gardener: Garden tips for tomatoes, basil, roses and shrubs

Cat-face got your tomatoes? This is a condition where the blossom end of a tomato or squash will crack and rot. Cat-facing is caused by irregular watering, which results in a lack of calcium available to the tomato. So here’s a tip: Take an empty 2-liter soda bottle and use a push pin to poke six holes into the bottom and sides of the plastic. Now dig a hole next to your tomato, squash or cucumber plant and sink the bottle into the hole so that at least half of it is buried. Fill the buried bottle with water and the surrounding soil will pull water from the bottle as the plants need more moisture. Do this now and you’ll be ready to leave your tomatoes for a long weekend with an automatic supply of water.

Q. What causes roses to change color? I planted a yellow rose and it bloomed well the first few years but now it has turned into a red rose and looks like it is also becoming a very tall climbing rose. — R.R., Kent

A. Arm yourself now with pruning shears because you need to stop the hostile takeover of your yellow rose now. Hybrid tea roses can be overtaken by their own grafted root stalk when vigorous shoots emerge from below ground. Follow the new cane and dig into the soil if you must to cut out the shoots at their source. If you don’t see any yellow blooms at all this summer than perhaps you have already lost the battle. Either dig out this wild rose or learn to love the small blooms and mildew prone foliage of the invader.

Q. I made a cute herb garden by planting herb plants into an old dresser with drawers. It is outside on a covered patio. The mint plants look great but the basil looks wilted with the lower leaves turning yellow. I water the basil and it still looks wilted. — T., Email

A. Your basil sounds depressed from too much water and not enough heat and sunshine. A wilted plant that does not perk up after watering is most likely suffering from root rot caused by poor drainage. Uproot that basil plant and replant into full sun in the warmest spot of your garden such as against a west- or south-facing wall. Use a small clay pot or raised bed for better drainage. Snip out the top one third of the plant to harvest the foliage and encourage new roots. Do not water basil until the soil is very dry to the touch. If your basil plant continues to pout, churn it into pesto and buy another plant.

Q. I tend to kill plants because we have lousy rocky soil and I never water. What shrub would you recommend for my sunny front yard? I just pulled out some dead rhododendrons. They took a few years to slowly turn yellow and die. — R.W., Bonney Lake

A. There are plants for every garden that any gardener can keep alive. Dry, rocky soil is great for barberries and there are colorful new varieties of barberry that grow in narrow, columnar forms or compact dwarf shapes that never need pruning. Look for orange Rocket barberry, the compact yellow Golden Nugget barberry or the wide and purple and pink Rose Glow Japanese barberry. Lavender, lamb’s ear, sedums, artemesias, yucca and junipers are other plants that will thrive in your dry and rocky soil.

Send your gardening questions to Marianne Binetti at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw WA 98022, enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply. Or visit

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6 gardening tips from Portlanders featured in the Foster-Powell Garden Tour …

Urban Portland neighborhoods are known for their bustling summertime streets, with  neighbors chatting on the sidewalk and families biking the lanes.

Foster-Powell neighbors took that liveliness to the next level Saturday, inviting strangers into their backyards to behold the vegetal spectacles (and share lemonade, cheese and other treats).

The seventh annual Foster-Powell Garden Tour featured nearly 20 yards this year. The event is funded by the neighborhood association.

We asked several participating gardeners for their best tips. Here’s what they had to say:

Donnie Palermini has a unique garden neighbors call “the jungle.” He likes big, invasive species, such as bamboo and banana trees.

Gardening tip: Go the Portland Nursery and buy something you normally wouldn’t. Find out what kind of soil it wants and replace the soil with that. Also, invite your artist friends to come over and help with the design.

Kathy Ireland likes a little whimsy in her garden creations. The landscaper incorporated a number of toys into a Foster-Powell resident’s garden, including a plastic camel and a little rock climber.

Gardening tip: Use boiling water to kill weeks instead of Roundup. You can use vinegar, too. Use epsom salt on your yard to make it green — but only put it out when the yard is dry, or you’ll burn it.

Joe Weisensee and Elaine Simer retired to the neighborhood two years ago and got to work on their garden right away. The space produces foods varying from kiwi to lettuce, and there’s also a tipi for the grandkids to enjoy.

Gardening tip: If you raise beds for produce, you don’t need as much space as you think you do. You can get a lot in there. (Weisensee)

Beth John, who has been in the neighborhood for 4 years, scatters ornament alliums throughout her yard for a whimsical touch. She likes plants that “bring life to the garden” by attracting birds and bees.

Gardening tip: The most important thing is that the soil is good. (She uses composted manure and Black Forest mulch.)

Caren Marre’s garden is a 21-year work in progress. She works at home, and having a quiet place to escape outside is important.

Gardening tip: Perennials are a wonderful investment. They give and give. It’s OK to really hack away at them when they get too big. Cut them back, don’t be shy. Also, incorporate your family as early as possible.

Blake Kincaid moved into the neighborhood 2 years ago and saw the boring, withered back yard as a blank slate.

Gardening tip: Don’t be too fussy. Pull things out if they don’t do well. They feel like children, but it’s OK to rip them out. You want to get a plant in there that will do well as early as possible.

What’s your best gardening tip? Share your ideas in the comments section.

— Melissa Binder

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