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Archives for June 30, 2014

Container gardening tips

· Planting in containers has several advantages. They allow you to use your landscape space more efficiently, can be portable for indoor and outdoor weather, and are ideal for smaller spaces like apartments, rental houses, balconies and patios.

· Anything that holds soil can be used as a container.
o Clay or terra cotta pots are porous and help prevent soil from getting too saturated but may need to be watered more often.
o Wood containers such as barrels or buckets can suffer from moisture problems so you’ll need to put another container inside of the wooden one.
o Plastic containers range from nursery pots to highly decorative versions.

· When choosing containers there are several things to consider.
o Good drainage is essential, so be sure the drainage holes are unobstructed. You can put gravel at the bottom of large pots to help.
o Make sure the container is big enough to allow root growth. Check the plant tag to get an idea of the plant’s mature size before planting.

· For a successful container garden, there are basic elements that should be included.
o Soil – Fill the container with quality potting soil up to an inch from the rim. Any more will wash out when watering.
o Water – More frequent watering is necessary for container plants. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Water until liquid runs from the bottom of the container.
o Food – Use diluted plant food. You can use slow-release fertilizer or a quick release form.
o Light – Provide light requirements as dictated by the plant tag. If mixing plants in the same container, be sure the light requirements are the same.
o Grooming – Prune, deadhead and pinch back as needed. Watch for disease and pests. Remove dead foliage and flowers to prevent fungal diseases.

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RHS in £100million investment plan days before Hampton Court Flower Show

The hope is to find a garden in the Midlands or North West England that it can take over to create another regional wonderland – as it has done with Wisley in Surrey, Hyde Hall in Essex, Rosemoor in Devon and Harlow Carr in Yorkshire.

As for the inner-city oases, these would be part of the RHS’s increasing interest in urban gardening.

At the moment the RHS runs Secret Garden Sundays aimed at Londoners in Lindley Hall near its headquarters in Victoria.

Free to members or £5 on the door, this Sunday’s (July 6) event includes local food producers, florists, beekeepers and artists plus talks and workshops on flower arranging, foraging, garden mosaics and terrariums.

The RHS Horticultural Advisory team’s Growing Together Club will focus on microgreens and there will be a Magical Poetry Yurt where Paul Evans will read poems and talk about writing garden poetry.

Meanwhile, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show starts next Tuesday (July 8) for a week of garden design heaven.

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Bacterial slime in lawns, garden party fundraiser and landscape design app: AM …

View full sizeView many different varieties of daylilies at the Cleveland Restoration Society’s garden party.  

GARDEN PARTY FUNDRAISER: The Cleveland Restoration Society is throwing a Garden Party, called For the Love of Lilies, to showcase more than 1,000 varieties of daylilies and other flowers at the home of Cynthia and Mark Druckenbrod in Moreland Hills. Cynthia Druckenbrod is vice president of horticulture at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.

Guests can also view the Druckenbrods’ 1940s-era Western Reserve-style home and their collection of art objects from around the world.

The party is 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 12, and tickets are $75. Attire is dressy casual, but women are asked to wear sensible shoes. The registration deadline is Saturday, July 5; the address will be provided when you RSVP.

BACTERIA BLOOMS IN LAWNS:  The humid, rainy days we experienced recently were perfect growing conditions for Nostoc algae, which is actually a photosynthesizing bacteria that creates slimy mats on soil, stones and concrete, according to the Buckeye Yard and Garden Line (BYGL).

The gelatinous Nostoc favors areas where soils are compacted and high in phosphorous fertilizers, says an article in the latest BYGL newsletter. Because Nostoc grows where grass in patchy, many gardeners think it kills the grass, but actually the bacteria is just taking advantage of a spot that’s already bare.

There are chemicals that can suppress the bacteria but there are no chemicals that kill it; ask at your local garden center for a product to try, according to the newsletter article. You can also cover the slimy mat with soil, but the only long-term solution is to improve soil drainage in the area where it grows. Read the entire article here.

LANDSCAPE DESIGN APP:  Landscape designer and author Julie Moir Messervy has released an updated version of her Home Outside Palette landscape design app. The app now offers all of the necessary tools for designing a landscape, across most major devices and platforms such as iPhone, iPad, Android and tablets.

The app’s new features include the ability to import an image as your background and an option to share completed designs on social media.

The basic app is free but comes with a $9.99 package that includes drawing and measuring tools that use GPS technology to allow you to outline the proportions of a rectangular outdoor space inside the app. The packge also contains graphics that represent shrubs, perennials, grasses, containers and lighting.

View information about the app here.

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Coachella Valley groundwater pumping holds steady

Facing one of the worst droughts in California history, Gov. Jerry Brown in January urged people across the state to cut water use by 20 percent. Those calls have been echoed by mayors, city councils and water districts. But the Coachella Valley, like much of California, remains far from reaching that goal.

In fact, data from the Coachella Valley’s five public water agencies show that their combined pumping of groundwater has changed little, increasing slightly during the first five months of this year as compared to the average in those months during the previous three years.

An analysis of public water agencies’ data by The Desert Sun found that the amount of water pumped from the ground by those agencies valley-wide increased 1.1 percent from January to May 2014 as compared to the average in those five months from 2011 through 2013.

Data from five of the Coachella Valley’s public water providers show that despite Gov. Jerry Brown’s call to reduce water rates by 20%, rates in the valley remain virtually unchanged.
Daniel Simon/The Desert Sun

RELATED: Database: Groundwater pumping in the Coachella Valley

The data largely confirm what is plain to see driving around the Coachella Valley: In many areas, sprinklers continue to soak large patches of grass on medians, roadsides, front yards and the gardens of condominium complexes. While some areas have successfully pared back water use, others are using as much water as ever.

“People are conserving, but obviously the numbers show that there’s more that needs to be done, and there’s always more that needs to be done. But the fact that we’re getting such a great response to our conservation programs I think shows that people are interested and they are trying, and hopefully we’ll start to see some better numbers soon,” said Heather Engel, director of communication and conservation for the Coachella Valley Water District, the area’s largest water agency.

Engel pointed out that the water district’s lawn buyback program, which provides homeowners with up to $1,000 to cover the costs of taking out a lawn, has led to the removal of about 3 million square feet of grass since 2009. Tiered rates that reward those who save water have also helped the water district reduce per-capita water use by 15 percent since the state set an earlier goal in 2008 of reducing water use by 20 percent.

RELATED: Water in the desert series

Despite those long-term water savings, this year’s drought doesn’t appear to have prompted any big change among the bulk of CVWD customers. The water district pumped about 3.4 percent more water during the first five months of this year as compared to the 2011-2013 average.

The data show that some agencies have fared better in reducing their pumping of groundwater. In the city of Coachella, water production declined by 6.7 percent. The Indio Water Authority saw a decline of 6.1 percent.

In Desert Hot Springs, groundwater pumping by Mission Springs Water District decreased 1.3 percent. And in Palm Springs and parts of Cathedral City, the Desert Water Agency pumped 0.1 percent less groundwater.

Officials at water agencies say the figures understate per-capita water savings because they don’t take into account growth in population and tourism during the past several years.

The figures also don’t precisely reflect water consumption. For instance, leaks and thefts of backflow devices can increase the amounts of water pumped. Those sorts of factors could be pushing up the amounts of water pumped by CVWD; the agency’s domestic water use rose by a smaller amount, 1.4 percent, during the first five months of the year.

RELATED:Erin Brockovich: Protecting lives top priority for chromium-6

But managers of water agencies acknowledged that in much of the Coachella Valley, there has been a largely flat trend in groundwater pumping this year.

“To look at a month-to-month basis I don’t think is very productive. I just think that you’ve got to look at water use over a much broader period of time,” said David Luker, general manager of the Desert Water Agency. He noted that annual water use by DWA customers has decreased more than 17 percent since 2007.

In its new budget, DWA boosted spending on water conservation programs, including a $1 million program to provide incentives to homeowners and homeowner associations that remove turf. Two DWA staff members recently traveled to Las Vegas to study how the water agency there has designed its successful turf removal program, and they plan to present a proposal to the board in Palm Springs on Tuesday.

RELATED: Climate change series

“We’re moving pretty darn fast,” Luker said. “We’re well on our way.”

The Coachella Valley has long had some of the lowest water rates in California, and also some of the highest per-capita water use in the state.

Heavy pumping of water from wells has for decades led to declining groundwater levels in much of the Coachella Valley, despite deliveries of imported water that are used to replenish the aquifer.

A portion of the water drawn from the ground is sprayed out on golf courses. The Coachella Valley has a total of 124 golf courses, and those that rely on wells consume an estimated one-fourth of the groundwater used in the area.

In January, representatives of golf courses pledged to cut their water use by 10 percent. It’s not clear how far golf courses, farms or other private well owners have gone in reducing their water use in recent months.

A statewide survey released earlier this month showed that the Colorado River region, which includes the Coachella Valley, has been trailing most areas of the state in cutting back on water use this year. The State Water Resources Control Board found that statewide urban water use declined 5 percent from January through May this year as compared to the average for those months in the past three years. In the Colorado River region, water use declined by 1 percent.

RELATED:Water agencies say chromium-6 rule to push water costs

Some water managers say that because the Coachella Valley has already made significant strides in saving water, the governor’s latest call for drought cutbacks is a tall order.

“All the agencies have already been working toward this. To ask for another 20 percent is actually pretty difficult,” said Kirk Cloyd, general manager of the Coachella Water Authority.

Customers of Mission Springs Water District have already surpassed the state’s earlier goal by reducing water use more than 20 percent, said John Soulliere, a spokesman for the water district. “That’s the problem with these sweeping goals. It doesn’t take into account how far we’ve come.”

In other areas, such as Palm Springs, city officials have been talking about how much more needs to be done. Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet has set a goal of reducing the use of water on city parks, medians and other facilities by 50 percent — a goal the city is just starting to work toward.

In the Palm Springs neighborhood of Deepwell, where the streets are lined with green lawns and tall hedges, a sign has gone up on one lawn that is starting to turn brown. It reads: “I’m ditching my grass; You should too!”

RELATED:Calif. chromium-6 limit sets off major debate in valley

Richard Oberhaus, a political consultant and a DWA board member, has decided to replace his lawn with desert landscaping.

“We’re trying to set an example,” he said. “Everybody needs to meet the goal of reducing their water usage by 20 percent.”

Ideas for cutting back on water use go beyond converting to desert landscaping. Some promote more recycling of wastewater in the Coachella Valley. Others suggest converting more sprinklers to efficient drip irrigation systems.

Oberhaus said that it makes no sense for streets to be lined with wide patches of grass, and that he hopes to see the city of Palm Springs move forward with its plans.

“The city of Palm Springs waters more asphalt, concrete and cars than anybody else in town,” Oberhaus said. “I want to see grass on the soccer fields, in the playground areas, but we can ditch all the grass that’s in the medians and stop watering the asphalt.”

Ian James can be reached by email at and on Twitter at @TDSIanJames.

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Blended house works well for brother, sister in Winston-Salem

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — When Carol O’Keefe’s husband, Dennis, died from cancer in 2008, she decided it was time to relocate from the Boston area. She was an office manager with Staples, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I asked my (financial) advisor one day if he thought I could retire. He said I was in good shape financially and there wouldn’t be any problem,” O’Keefe said.

Since Dennis and Carol had no children, it seemed like a good idea for Carol to move closer to family. That family was John Farmer, her brother, and Kristin Farmer, her sister-in-law, who have a home and organ-restoration company on six acres on Fraternity Church Road.

The company has been featured for its work restoring the Hook Hastings Organ at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Winston Salem. The inaugural recital will be in November.

“I thought I would buy some land nearby and build a home over there,” said O’Keefe, pointing to the east side of the home. But John told her that he would rather walk downstairs to pick her up than roll down the hill in a wheel chair to help her.

The siblings have lot in common — including a sense of humor and the same birth date, Jan. 4. John is 64 and Carol is 69.

So Carol lives in the lower level of the Farmer home. She worked with the John, Kristin and the contractor, Lawrence Cline, to re-imagine the area. Stored organ pipes had to be moved to a barn.

Some plumbing had already been installed in the lower level. John had been thinking of inviting his mother, Mildred, who had Alzheimer’s, to stay with them. But she died in 2001. When Carol moved to North Carolina in 2011, she stayed upstairs with the Farmers while the remodel was designed and executed.

She worked with the plumbing that was already in place. She has a large walk-in shower and no bathtub. “I don’t take baths,” Carol said.

She has an office with built-in bookshelves and a computer set-up with a half curtain covering utility boxes. In one corner of her lower-level home she has curtained off an unfinished area for storage and a work space for her bead-jewelry hobby.

Her bedroom, with a large bay window, looks onto a sloping lawn below. With its bright lemon yellow and gold walls, paneled windows, modern granite countertop kitchen, living room and dining area, her new home defies the word “basement.”

The two households have melded but still retain unique identities. Upstairs is the three-bedroom home designed by John and Kristin, who doodled their ideas on a paper pad before starting the construction.

The couple are empty nesters with two daughters living in Asheville and one daughter in Silver Spring, Md. They have a 3-year-old grandson, Andersen, evidenced by the red high chair in the dining area.

The house is a Southern farm style with red-cedar siding and porches on every side.

“With the covered porches, the upstairs is about 4,000 square feet. The downstairs is around 1,400 square feet,” John said.

Pinewood floor boards are secured with square nails. The upstairs has a lodge-like feel with white-oak posts and beams secured with mortise, tenon joints and oak pegs. John did much of the construction himself. The home is evidence of a craftsman who makes his living in wood building and restoring wooden cases for organs.

Throughout the upstairs are samples of Kristin’s craft — faux painting — a skill that is also key to the family business.

Two pine stair cases are painted to look like marble. A metal door is painted to look like mahogany. The give-away is a metal clip that clings to this surreal “wood.”

Kristin uses her skills in faux painting and stenciling when the company gets a commission to restore 19th-century organ cases and pipes.

Created in lower-weight pine wood, many old pipe organs were faux-painted to look like more expensive woods.

Sharing the same home has its advantages.

“When one of us goes on vacation, the other one watches the dogs,” said Carol. Her dog, Jasper, and the Farmer’s dog, Jack, roam with abandon on the rolling landscape around the home — a happy life for two rescue dogs.

“And when we entertain, it’s usually together,” John said. “We might start with drinks and hors d’oeuvres in Carol’s home and then move upstairs for the main course.” On ordinary days the three may share cooking duties and sit on the lower-level patio outside Carol’s home enjoying the view of her gardening skills.

“We are not yard people,” said Kristin Farmer. They told Carol she had a blank slate.

Carol, a member of the Advance Garden Club, has designed and planted two large, rock-encircled gardens on the lawn, a rock garden near the patio and an herb garden near the barn where Kristin works on pipe restoration.

She planted a mini orchard with blueberry bushes, pears, plums, figs, persimmon, bush cherries, goji berries and mulberry.

Carol pays her portion of the electric, cable and phone bills — and for all of the landscaping. She paid for a barn to be built so the organ pipes that were stored in the basement would have a new home. She financed her remodeled home downstairs and does not pay rent.

Inside and outside, upstairs and downstairs, the house is filled with plants. Some sit on Carol’s porch waiting to be planted.

“These” she said, pointing to bee balm and other nectar-producing plants, “are going into the bee garden.”

If you have an idea for a home that could be featured, please send an email

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Readers weigh in on Veterans Affairs, Ross Perot and President Obama

VA health system

I wonder why anyone in the print or electronic media fails to recognize that the problems we’re now seeing with the Department of Veterans Affairs medical systems are a harbinger of what we can expect if our government takes over the nation’s medical care with a single-payer system.

Or maybe it’s not such a mystery, given that those in the same media are totally in favor of the government taking over our health care and loathe to express any opinion that might be critical of it.

You can be sure that when that same bunch of bureaucrats are faced with a similar but many times bigger responsibility, there will be delays, lost or nonexistent paperwork, indifference and a lack of responsibility.

It will cause us to look back to our present medical system with great deal of nostalgia.

Robert Reimers


Roberts must debate

Hey, Sen. Pat Roberts, why don’t you get out of your recliner in Dodge City, Kan., and debate your GOP opponent in the primary, Dr. Milton Wolf? Are you afraid you might have to actually move to Kansas?

Vivian Martin


Ross Perot memories

I certainly agree that we have have a pathetic bunch in Washington, D.C. However, once upon a time, the Democrats needed a sacrificial lamb to run against George H.W. Bush, so Bill Clinton surfaced.

That’s cool, but unfortunately a very successful “American businessperson with some common-sense knowledge, decency and an agenda to get us back …” (5-30, Letters) came along as the third-party candidate. Enter Ross Perot.

The non-Democratic Party-type people really loved this guy, especially corporate people who knew that the crew in Washington would bankrupt any private company. All during the campaign, from people across the country, I heard nothing but, “We need a change. I’m voting for Ross.”

But a strange thing happens when you get into the voting booth. You don’t want to take a chance on voting for a loser.

Only the committed take it on. Most Ross Perot votes came from people like me who didn’t really trust either party.

So, Bill Clinton won on the votes cast for Ross Perot. Bill never did thank me.

Neil Simmons

Bates City, Mo.

Governor wrong

I don’t care what party your political alliances lean toward. It is so wrong for the governor to hold state funding for education hostage to get his way on vetoes of tax breaks, or any issue for that matter (6-25, A1, “Nixon freezes school funds”).

The education of our young people is essential for the success of our country. How can uneducated people be expected to be informed voters, let alone succeed in life?

Any politician who is going on this road should be impeached, or at the very least not be re-elected.

Leanna Kryzck

Blue Springs

VA oversight faulted

Everyone has been throwing rocks at Eric Shinseki, former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. But how about some for the 25 members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs?

According to their own website, they are tasked with “oversight responsibility, which means monitoring and evaluating the operations of the VA.”

The noun “oversight” has two listed meanings:

1. An intentional failure to notice or do something.

2. The action of overseeing something.

It makes one wonder which action this committee or any congressional oversight committee is actually doing.

Tom Burgess


Teachable moment

Those who bash President Barack Obama for announcing the date of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan have not considered that the alternative is an unending commitment of our people and money in a war that is unwinnable.

The American people typically lose patience with an endless war, as we did in Vietnam.

Foreign powers waging war in faraway countries usually lose those wars because their troops can always come home.

Guerrillas (or insurgents) typically win their wars because they are already at home and have no other place to go.

The Vietnam War taught us this, and not having learned our lesson, Iraq and Afghanistan are teaching it to us again.

James Obertino

Warrensburg, Mo.

Feeding hungry kids

When the powers that be figure how many food stamps a recipient is going to receive, do they figure all the qualified family members and three meals a day?

Some people have raised concerns over children going hungry during the summer because they don’t get free or reduced-cost meals at school.

Foolish me, I didn’t know that the taxpayers fed schoolchildren more than one meal a day. Everyone is involved in feeding the children — Harvesters, church groups and U.S. taxpayers.

Has anyone seen the party that should be responsible for feeding and caring for the kids — the parents?

John Lovelace


Leawood libraries

As a resident of Leawood for more than 20 years, I couldn’t agree more with the city’s ordinance that prohibits structures such as Little Free Libraries (6-25, A1, “Little libraries out of circulation in Leawood”).

I for one do not want people wandering the streets of my neighborhood looking for reading material.

How soon will it be before we have a proliferation of crackheads aimlessly walking up and down the blocks of our city searching for a Danielle Steel fix?

And what about the public health risk? Where have these books been and what germs do they carry?

Could one of Bill O’Reilly’s books about a murder (Lincoln, Kennedy, Jesus) be a weapon of death itself, with traces of the bubonic plague in its pages?

And what about the idea of reading books? That could lead to imagination and ideas, dangerous concepts that could threaten our moral fabric.

Finally, what about the structure itself? What will the signage be?

Will there be proper drainage and landscaping that pass the city’s codes?

These are questions that need to be asked and answered in a public hearing so our city government (especially Jim “Where do you draw the line on front-yard structures?” Rawlings) can realize how ridiculous they are.

Jeff Nessel


Use trails for runs

There are nearly 1,000 miles of trails in Missouri state parks and many great trails in Kansas.

Our taxes pay for these trails, and as an Eagle Scout, I’ve been on some of them and can tell you from experience that they are excellent.

These trails lie empty every time there is a marathon in Kansas City.

Urban marathons block traffic, shut down half the city, harm businesses and create an enormous traffic jam, which takes all afternoon to navigate, delaying the buses, making people late and ruining groceries.

Few will dare to address the problems caused by urban marathons because of the worthy causes people are running for, but that is no excuse when there is a superior alternative that would be better for both the city and the runners.

Even aside from the logistical nightmare that the urban marathons create, our city can never compete with the fresh air and greenery of our state parks, no matter how many fountains we build.

The urban marathon events are a terrible waste on both aesthetic and practical efficiency grounds, and they should be moved to the wonderful dedicated trails of our state parks.

Benjamin McLean

Kansas City

Going after speeders

Kudos to the Kansas City Police Department for cracking down on speeding drivers.

For way too long the police have let drivers get away with breaking the local traffic laws.

The streets were getting dangerous with impatient and reckless drivers.

I hope police officers will start to focus on drivers who don’t stop at stop signs or don’t come to a complete stop before turning right on red lights.

The situation has gotten out of hand.

This means the police will need to have more of a presence on the streets of Kansas City — something that seems to have been a rarity in recent years.

Larry Bilotta

Kansas City

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Just add water: Summer evening conversations at the Natural History Museum

jc-mg-200-names.jpgJon Christensen writes: We talk a lot about water here. This summer you can join the conversation on Thursday evenings at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

I’ll be moderating a series of conversations with a wonderfully diverse cast of characters discussing gardening and landscaping, the LA River, the fight for clean water, where our water comes from, the art of water, and the future of water with climate change. The museum’s nature gardens will be open for strolling and chatting, along with the art exhibition “Just Add Water.”

If you’re interested in water and all of the stories, controversies, struggles, and problems and opportunities that flow with water in Los Angeles, I hope you can join us. For more information and to reserve a spot, visit the museum’s web site.

Here’s the lineup:

waterglass2.JPGThursday, July 10th: Splendor in the Grass. From our backyards to the metropolis as garden, we look at how to create habitat for people and nature, and the lessons we can learn from other Mediterranean lands. Panelists: Carol Bornstein, Director of the Nature Gardens at the Natural History Museum; Emily Green, Journalist and Blogger of “Chance of Rain”; Pamela Berstler, Founder and Managing Member of G3, Green Gardens Group.

Thursday, July 17th: The River Runs Through It. We explore the L.A. River–the vibrant, diverse, concrete and green, watery centerpiece of the new L.A. of the 21st century and its changing relationship to water. Panelists: Lila Higgins, Manager of Citizen Science and Live Animals at the Natural History Museum; Lewis MacAdams, Co-founder of the Friends of the Los Angeles River; Allison Carruth, Associate Professor in the Department of English at UCLA and author of “Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature of Food.”

Thursday, July 24th: Chinatown, Revisited.Take another look at where our water comes from, how imported water transformed L.A., and the current impact of the statewide drought on our lives. Panelists: Lauren Bon, Vice President and Director of the Annenberg Foundation and Metabolic Studio; Jim McDaniel, Senior Assistant General Manager at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; Rob Reynolds, Artist.

Thursday, July 31st: Water Wars. We learn about the people and struggles that have made our water systems cleaner, healthier, safer for all, from Mono Lake to South and East L.A. Panelists: Mark Gold, Associate Director, Coastal Center Director, and Adjunct Professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability; Elsa Lopez, Manager Public Affairs, Water Replenishment District of Southern California; Mary Pardo, Professor of Chicana/o Studies at California State University, Northridge; Ed Reyes, Former Los Angeles City Councilman.

Thursday, August 7th: Some Like It Hot. How to survive and thrive in a hotter L.A., and adapt to climate change and increasingly stressed water supplies, all while creating a more livable, vibrant city. Panelists: Alex Hall, Professor at the UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; Frances Anderton, Host of KCRW’s “DnA: Design Architecture”; Dr. John Harris, Chief Curator at the Page Museum and Head of Vertebrate Studies at the Natural History Museum.

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Couple creates sustainable garden over the years

In Ed and Cynthia Powers’ tree-filled front yard outside Roanoke stands a rustic wooden sign reading “Wildlife Habitat.”

It could be seen as a joke about the retired couple’s relaxed gardening style – “benign neglect,” Ed calls it.

But it’s also a reflection of the couple’s serious and lifelong approach to the environment – it was earned as an official designation from the National Wildlife Federation decades ago.

Ed, 76, and Cynthia, 75, were “green” long before most folks even knew what it meant. When they were young in the 1970s, they – well, mostly Ed – built their house themselves. They say they were inspired by articles in the Whole Earth Catalog, a counterculture magazine of the time.

So, when the two heard of a new program of the Purdue Extension’s Allen County office to certify sustainable gardens, they were soon on board.

“We enjoy wildlife and birds, and we wanted to promote sustainable living,” says Cynthia, a master gardener and master naturalist who continues to teach about wildlife at Fox Island County Park.

The couple say they were a bit intimidated when they received a nearly 50-item checklist of sustainable practices. But they easily accumulated 61 points – the three-star, or next-to-highest, level – without having to do much of anything different or additional, Cynthia says.

Use compost as mulch or fertilizer in gardens or lawns? Check. Remove or replace a problem tree? Check. Interplant flowers and vegetables? Check. Have raised-bed gardens? Check.

Include native plants in landscaping? Check – and immediately apparent from the bright-orange cluster of flowering butterfly milkweed in a bed at the end of the driveway.

Master gardener Pam Snyder of Fort Wayne, a coordinator of the certification program, says best gardening practices relative to the environment have been changing rapidly. She says members of the local extension committee that drew up the certification checklist wanted to promote their wider use.

“We wanted to go beyond things like just recycling,” she says. “We wanted to see more people getting into other things, like encouraging people to compost, grow native plants, use low-phosphate fertilizers, rain barrels and things like that.”

She and the committee began two years ago to research sustainable practices with the certification program rolled out this year.

With minimal publicity, eight homes and businesses in Fort Wayne and Allen County have been certified, says Ricky Kemery, horticulture educator for the extension and program adviser.

The “modest goal,” he says, is certifying 10 properties in the first year and aiming for additional homes and businesses and neighborhood organizations in upcoming years.

“What we’re seeing is that a lot of people are interested in being sustainable,” he says. “And we find that people are a lot more sustainable than they think they are.”

People qualify for certification by gathering points in three checklist categories: Vegetable and Flower Gardens, Lawn and Landscapes and General.

In the latter category, points can be garnered for patronizing a farm market or Community Supported Agriculture grower, buying organic produce, joining a local environmental organization or using the Extension services.

The former two categories include more land-specific practices.

They include not using cypress or dyed mulch, leaving grass clippings on the lawn, mulching leaves into the lawn or garden plots, planting drought-tolerant species, using low-phosphorous and/or corn gluten lawn and garden fertilizer and removing invasive plants.

Homeowners are sometimes asked to provide documentation of their practices in the form of photos, bills or receipts. And an evaluation team from the Extension visits the property before certification is issued.

The certification form comes with a sheet of definitions and resources for homeowners to use in making changes.

So far, the main reward for participation is bragging rights, Kemery says – and a nice plaque. But certification also offers other incentives – free or discounted perennials at Riverview Nursery in Spencerville, a guide to ACRES Land Trust preserves and a map of Eagle Marsh Trails.

“We’re encouraged by our visits,” Kemery says. “People are very proud that someone is recognizing that they’re trying to be sustainable. We’re hoping that more folks see that and get on board with the program.”

Cynthia Powers says she can’t imagine a reason not to be on board. As she leads a visitor around her yard, she points out a busy hummingbird feeder and a bee box on a pole – a home for small native pollinators.

“Look,” she says as a couple of tiny bees buzz around her head. “There’s one. They’re definitely using it.”

She shows off the native Virginia creeper she uses as ground cover between her hosta plants and the wild ginger that grows without a lot of encouragement. A native prairie mix she sowed in one of her raised beds is growing tall.

Then there’s the native redbud that was recently planted. And there’s where invasive honeysuckle used to grow – before Ed, a retired engineering company draftsman, pulled it out.

In the couple’s 40 years on the property, she says, the two, both avid birdwatchers, have documented more than 120 species of birds on or over the land.

“I think it’s very important to get children interested in nature,” Cynthia says. “I think if people’s backyards are managed in ways that to favor nature and attract wildlife, people will get more interested in it and want to take care of it more.”

Ed Powers – who, 40 years ago, recycled maple wood out of Portland Forge and Foundry for his kitchen cabinets and incorporated passive solar principles into his family’s house – decides to add his two cents’ worth.

“Why do this? Stuff isn’t infinite,” he says. “And it’s an interdependent web we live in.”

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Lowell garden walk features impressive gardens

Seven locations will be featured as part of Lowell Garden Club’s 18th annual garden walk.

There are six homes and one business on the walk, including several who return to the walk for the first time in about a decade, said Terry Smutniak, a past president of the club and the walk committee chairman.

The walk will be June 28 and 29.

Featured gardens include a 1895 Queen Anne Victorian home whose garden keeps with the time period of the home.

Other gardens include an angel and rose garden as well as an ornamental culinary garden. Other gardens include a small pond and an abundance of hummingbirds, as well as a four-tiered garden that includes perennial favorites and native flowers.

One of the gardens is the Gardens at Niemeyer’s Landscape Supply, which was formerly known as Gardens of the Prairie. That is also the location of the walk’s luncheon, so walk patrons can stop and eat amid the beautiful gardens there, she said. 

“It’s a great addition to the walk, and it will be great to eat under their pavilion, have great food and enjoy their gorgeous gardens,” she said. 

She said gardens are selected by driving around and stopping at houses who appear to have interesting landscaping. Other times, garden walk houses are suggested by club members.

“We like gardens that have a pleasing flow, some architectural structure, color and are pleasing to the eye,” she said. 

This year, many gardens are including antiques as part of their decorations, she said. 

“They incorporate a really nice watering can, or sprinklers, or things like that,” she said.

Money raised goes to support the club’s philanthropy, which includes beautifying town gardens as well as providing magazines for the library and scholarships for seniors interested in horticulture.

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