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Archives for July 24, 2014

gardening tips: how to grow Chinese greens

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Tips from the Brits for growing a good vegetable garden

As Canadian enthusiasm for local food increases so does our interest in growing our own.  Fruits, berries, vegetables and of course herbs are all taking their place at the front and centre of the garden.  In many cases we are integrating our food plants with the ornamentals and in other cases we are planting in containers to make them much more accessible.

If growing food on your balcony, rooftop or in your yard interests you I have no doubt that you will be interested in what the British have to teach us.  During my recent tour of great public British gardens with my daughter Heather we discovered some nifty techniques for food gardening that I would like to share.

Herbs off the ground

In many instances the ‘herb garden’ is not a garden as we think of it but a series of raised beds.  This provides advantages:

Accessibility: no more crouching down to ground level to meet the sage (or thyme or parsley).  The sage is brought closer to you.  I am always in favour of convenience, especially where food plants are concerned as the household cook is often in a hurry, with something boiling on the stove, when the need for some herbs arises.

• Drainage:  As I have said before here, most culinary herbs originated in the Mediterranean region where it is hot and dry.  A raised bed filled with herbs drains freely, especially if you pay attention to the quality of soil that you use.


Consider giving support to veggies besides the tomato plants with a stake, pea or bird netting, a trellis or what have you.  Here are some good reasons to consider staking this weekend:

• Double your crop:  Tomatoes are not the only food crops that produce more when they are supported off the ground.  The increased air circulation and exposure to the sun produces more accessible flowers to pollinators, less disease and fewer insect problems.

• Space:  Perhaps it goes without saying but the space required to grow your food is greatly reduced when you use the vertical space available to you.

• Screening a view:  Peas or cucumbers growing up netting look cool, are great discussion starters and can screen out an unsightly view.


We plant an apple or pear tree in the middle of the yard and there it sits, hopefully producing fruit.  Truth is most fruit bearing trees produce their best offerings every second year.  If I was to tell you how to grow five to 10 times the number of fruit trees in the same space as you would normally use to grow one, would you be interested?

A number of years ago I visited the gardens of Claude Monet at Giverny.  There he trained dwarf apple trees along a fence.  They looked very cool and the crop was maximized in the least amount of space.  I came home and did the same thing along a 70 metre (200 ft) stretch of my vegetable garden.  Six years later I can tell you that the amount of fruit it produces is astounding.  And it is the area of the garden most commented on by visitors (“you did WHAT?”).

We saw wonderful examples of this at Rosemoor Garden in Devon (Royal Horticultural Society) and the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall

Vermin proof your garden

It is astonishing the extent to which British gardeners go to avoid the interference of rabbits, birds and the like.  Berry bushes are completely covered with plastic bird netting; metre high fences are built around carrots and lettuce and anchored with pegs to prevent rabbits from digging under them. Most secure of all, I suppose, is the use of greenhouses.  There is nothing much safer than a shut door at night to keep out the raccoon.

Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40.  He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden.  Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at





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Small garden? Limited water? Tips for getting the most yield from your garden

How can you get the most yield from a garden where space is limited, and water is too?

Plant smart, and pay attention to the soil.

“Your garden is only as good as your soil,” says David Salman, chief horticulturist at High Country Gardens, a Santa Fe, N.M., catalogue that specializes in native and low-water plants.

Find out what nutrients your soil has — and what it’s missing — with a soil test, available through local co-operative extension offices at a nominal fee (home soil-test kits are less reliable, according to the Colorado State University Extension).

Encourage plant health by fertilizing with natural, organic fertilizers, which include fish emulsion and liquid seaweed, says Salman. Limit the use of chemical fertilizers because they don’t help build the soil.

“You will have more nutritionally complete vegetables if you have healthy soil,” he promises.

One trick Salmon recommends, especially for gardeners living in new housing developments, is adding a soil inoculant called mycorrhiza, a beneficial fungi. It’s found naturally in healthy soil, but often needs to be added to a new garden.

“New gardens in new subdivisions, their soil is scraped off as part of construction,” says Salman. “You need to put beneficial fungi back in.”

Peas, beans and soybeans could benefit from legume inoculants, which are species-specific (a soybean inoculant cannot be used to improve peas’ growth). Read product labels carefully or ask your gardening centre for assistance.

“Your beans will do OK (without it), but if you really want to crank out the beans, you can do that with the inoculant,” says Salman. “It’s kind of a ‘grandma’s secret’ to growing great beans.”

Plants that can offer high yields with low watering include leafy vegetables such as kale, lettuce and spinach; beans, snow peas and sugar snap peas; and some varieties of cucumbers and squash, he says. Plant vining beans and peas if you have space or can grow them up a fence or trellis; plant bush beans and peas in large pots if space is limited.

Sarah J. Browning, an extension educator for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, suggests planting radishes, carrots, peppers, zucchini and summer squash for summertime bounty. Peppers grow well in dry conditions, says Browning, and root crops such don’t need frequent watering.

“If you watered them well and then mulched them, I think you could get a crop with fairly small amounts of water input,” she says.

Plant radishes early in the season or in part shade, and mulch them and other plants to retain moisture and combat weeds.

Browning recommends the cherry tomato cultivar Sun Gold and the slicers Big Beef and Celebrity as great-tasting high producers. Also look for disease-resistant tomato varieties, which are easier to grow. Browning refers tomato lovers to Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences Extension’s “Tomato Report 2011,” which lists the best varieties in its tomato trials.

Melissa Ozawa, a features editor for gardening at Martha Stewart Living magazine, recommends growing okra and Swiss chard; both are heat- and drought-tolerant. Melons also can handle less water once established because of their deep root systems, she says.

Not all vegetables grow well in all regions, so read seed packets, matching days to maturation to your region’s growing season, Salman advises.

“One of the big problems with horticulture in this country is everyone tries to be one-size-fits-all, and this is just too big of a continent to do that,” he says. “You don’t want to grow a 120-day watermelon in Denver. They can grow those in Texas, but the maturation period in Denver is much shorter.”

Prolific, water-wise herbs include basil, oregano, parsley, thyme and rosemary, says Browning.

Salman offers space-saving planting tips for herbs: Plant lavender and oregano along the dryer edges of your garden, since they’re the most heat-tolerant, and plant Greek oregano and dill, plus annual herbs such as basil and cilantro, among the root vegetables.

Try growing perennials such as rosemary, English thyme, tarragon and lavender in your ornamental beds. They don’t require your vegetable garden’s mineral-rich soil, says Salman.

Drought-tolerant flower varieties include coneflowers, hummingbird mint, salvia and blanket flowers, according to Ozawa. Other cutting-garden winners are cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers and larkspur, says Salman. His favourite late-season bloomer is the Mexican sunflower.

“If there’s a bee or butterfly in a 10-mile radius, they’ll find that Mexican sunflower,” he says.



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Garden Week: Landscaping tips

your lawn.. The landscaping experts say it’s important to make a plan. wdbj7 Mornin’s Alison Parker is live at Home Depot in Roanoke with how you can get started. All the research I’ve done has encouraged homeowners to start with small projects if you’re doing it yourself. Always have a plan, and talk it over with the professionals. I’m here with Kevin Harter, who works in the landscaping department at Home Depot. Tell us how people can get started if they want to make significant changes to their yard. (Correct before cultivating. There’s no point in adding pretty elements to a landscape that has unfavorable “pre existing conditions” you’ll waste time and money. Before buying any plants, take care of any pH problems, poor drainage, fallen limbs or dead trees that could sabotage growing conditions., according to hgtv) What are common mistakes you typically see in landscaping projects? Coming up, we show you how something as simple as mulch, rock and grass can make your yard look like new. Hundreds of teenagers from

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Flora Grubb: What makes a landscape award-worthy

From a lacy shawl of Japanese maples shading a Berkeley hillside to bold colors painting a Tiburon slope, beauty is in the eyes of the judges — and now of the voting public — for this year’s Considered Design Awards.

The nationwide online competition is sponsored by and to celebrate stunning home-interior and garden designs by professionals as well as do-it-yourselfers.

The sites’ editors received hundreds of entries in 17 categories for this second annual event. They opted to spread the judging around the country, seeking out a “roster of design-world luminaries” for the task.

One of the Bay Area finalists in the 2014 Considered Design Awards contest from is this stunning hillside of color in Tiburon, designed by

In the Bay Area, they tapped Flora Grubb, garden designer and owner of San Francisco’s chic Flora Grubb Gardens, to tackle the best professional landscape category.

We caught up with Grubb at the nursery — an oasis in the industrial Bayview district — to talk about what makes for an award-worthy garden, whether created by a professional or homeowner.

When we arrived, she was poring over photos to whittle down 29 entries in her category to five finalists, with the winner to be selected by the public in online balloting.

“It’s tough to judge because they’re all so impressive,” Grubb said. “These are beautiful gardens at what could be considered estates. It’s not going to be easy.”

She did manage to narrow it to five, however, selecting three Bay Area landscapes among the finalists — a modern Pacific Heights setting designed by Terremoto in San Francisco; a colorful hillside in Tiburon by Arterra Landscape Architects; and a calming “outdoor room” by Mary Barensfeld Architecture for a home in Berkeley. (See more on these gardens in an accompanying article.)

Public voting in all categories remains open through Aug. 8, and winners will be posted on the Remodelista and Gardenista sites Aug. 9.

Tough choice

In determining what makes for a prize-winning garden design among entries spanning a spectrum of climates across the country, Grubb said she had to briefly set aside her California water-wise sensibilities.

“In the West, we’re all about water use, about gardens that sip rather than gulp,” she said. “So when you deal with the whole nation, you have to consider places where water miraculously falls from the sky on a regular basis. Some (entries) are lush, water-gulping gardens and lawns and plants that would be out of the question in California.”

Grubb also addressed the tricky element of judging gardens from photographs. “To me, the most important thing about a garden is how it feels to be in that garden, and how it feels to the garden’s owner. Does it bring you pleasure and joy and a place to find rest?

“You can get a little of that from a picture, but — like … architecture — something can look very beautiful, but it doesn’t always feel great when you’re there.”

Even so, Grubb said the photographs allowed her to consider the composition of the gardens — “the way the whole thing hangs together,” as she put it, including “whether there’s a cohesive thread, if the garden provides a sense of respite, if it has some sun and some shady places, some structural elements, lots of planes of color in foliage, flowers, pottery and other elements.”

For home use

Though Grubb’s competition category is professional designs, she says those images can translate in practical ways for the home gardener and serve as sources of inspiration when developing or improving the landscaping.

“Most garden media is about helping the rest of us aspire to something greater,” she says, “just like in fashion, where we like looking at pictures of couture fashion. We might not go out and buy it, but it’s art, and we can get practical ideas from it.”

In fact, Grubb encourages home gardeners to collect images of appealing landscapes from magazines and Pinterest and take those to their local nurseries when shopping.

She also suggests taking a photograph — preferably printed, so it’s larger than a cellphone image — of the spot in the yard you’re planning to work with.

She said, “If you want two pots to go by the front door, bring in a picture of your front door. The folks at your nursery can help with how plants work with the architecture of your house.”

Staghorn ferns at Flora Grubb Gardens, photographed Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Nursery proprietor Grubb will be judging the Considered Design Awards, an


Other tips Grubb gave for home gardeners developing a landscaping concept include:

  • Focus. “Have a general idea of what you want your garden to look like. Some people love order, with really tailored gardens. Some love the chaos of wild and jungle-y. It’s whatever makes you happy. But once you settle on it, it will affect what kind of plants you choose (and) how close together you place them.”

  • Color. “One of the simplest places to start is to commit to a color scheme,” Grubb said. “Think about the color of your house, what elements are already there. Then once you’re in the nursery, don’t get overwhelmed with what looks beautiful (there). It might not work in your garden. “For me,” she said, “a pet peeve is grabbing a potpourri of flower colors — we call it the Home Depot six-pack. That works for gas stations and shopping malls, but give a little more thought to color scheme. When you achieve a harmonious thing with color, it just sings to you.”

  • Pottery. “The pottery is important too,” Grubb says. Plants come and go, but the pottery can hold down the design, the form, really give it structure.”

  • Use. “Think about how you will really use your garden. My boyfriend and I eat in our garden, so we have a table out there. And recently we hung up a hammock, which completely altered the way we use the garden area,” Grubb said. “When we have guests, we’ll often have a lot of kids, and they’re all over that hammock, hanging from it, swinging on it. It’s a point of entry for them. So think about how you use the space for yourself, how you use it for guests. Think about a sense of place. Do you like to sit in the sun? In the shade? On a San Francisco evening, it’s freezing. So you’re not going to have dinner there, but maybe coffee in the morning. Things like that.”

  • Hide flaws. “One of the basics of design in small gardens is to think of what you don’t want to see and how to get rid of it — an electrical box on the side of your house, or the neighbor’s fence,” Grubb says. “There are fast-growing plants you can put in that can screen.”

  • Help. “Ask for help. Talk to the folks at your nursery, and also ask your friends who have gardens that you love,” Grubb said. “Believe me, the best amateur gardener really wants to give advice.”

    Follow Angela Hill on Twitter @GiveEmHill.


    Vote online by Aug. 8 in this nationwide competition, with 17 categories, sponsored by (for interior designs) and (for garden and landscape design). Three Bay Area gardens are among the finalists in the best professional landscape category, judged by Flora Grubb of the San Francisco nursery Flora Grubb Gardens and by Gardenista editors.

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    Tom Karwin, On Gardening: Thematic garden designs yield both aesthetic …

    Click photo to enlarge

    Book for thematic designs

    Zone-appropriate Plants

    ‘The New Western Garden Book’ (Sunset, 2012)

    Mediterranean Plants

    ‘Plant Life in the World’s Mediterranean Climates’ (Dalman Ornduff, 1998)

    California Native Plants

    ‘California Native Plants for the Garden’ (Bornstein, Fross O’Brien, 2005)

    Native Plant Communities

    ‘Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens’ (Keator, Middlebrook Faber, 2007)

    Designing a garden bed around a theme yields practical and aesthetic benefits.

    The aesthetic benefit of thematic garden design rests on the relationships among the plants: They are linked by being members of the class defined by the theme. In that respect, a thematic group is more coherent, aesthetically, than the ever-popular “grab-bag” approach to plant selection.

    The practical benefit is a plan for selecting plants from the hundreds of thousands of available varieties. Once the gardener has chosen a theme, he or she has reduced the universe of possible plants to consider. This one action narrows the selection task and supports close evaluation of options.

    A garden design theme is simply a concept to which plants relate. This definition embraces a very wide range of possible themes. It could be a single color or combination of blossom colors, a plant genus (rose, iris or daffodil), size (miniatures), or bee or butterfly friendly.

    For today’s topic, consider a progression of four themes for low-maintenance gardening.

    THEME 1 GT;GT; Zone-appropriate plants. Every gardener should know the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone in which his or her garden exists. The Monterey Bay area is in USDA Zone 9b, where minimum temperatures are in the 25–30 degree range; plants marked for Zone 9 should survive cold spells in that range. A great many plants are that hardy, so this theme excludes only plants that are vulnerable to cold and therefore high-maintenance. Nurseries also use UCDA zones to indicate the preferred zone for given plants. Plants that are rated for Zones 10 or 11 usually will thrive best in very warm climates, not in Zone 9.

    THEME 2 GT;GT; Mediterranean Climate Plants. These are plants that have evolved to grow well in the world’s areas that have dry summers and moderate winters. These areas (again) are native to the central coast of California, the central coast of Chile, the southwestern coast of Australia, South Africa and the Mediterranean basin. A large number of plants are suitable for this theme, but this category still is significantly smaller that Theme 1.

    THEME 3 GT;GT; California Native Plants. This theme is within Theme 2, of course, but it stands apart from the others because includes plants that are both suitable for the Mediterranean climate and the soils and fauna of this state. Soil chemistry and symbiotic relationships with birds, mammals, insects and microbial life contribute significantly to the growth of plants, and, ultimately, the success of the gardener.

    THEME 4 GT;GT; Native Plant Communities. A great variety of plants are native to California, and many have evolved to grow best in specific environments within the state, and in communities with specific other plants. An oak woodland plant community is certainly different from one that occurs naturally on coastal bluffs and cliffs. For the ultimate in low-maintenance gardening, adopt a thematic design for a California native plant community that would be appropriate for your garden setting.

    Consider a thematic design for each garden bed or each large area of your garden. Plant selection will transform a random process to a purposeful activity.

    Tom Karwin is vice president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and a lifetime UC Master Gardener. Visit for sources of plants for these four thematic designs. Send feedback to

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    UPDATED: Strathclair Farm preparing for the future


    For more information on the Horse and Pony Club, visit



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    Construction underway at new army training site in Branford

    BRANFORD Crews have begun moving earth off of East Main Street at the future site of the Bridgeport Army Reserve Center, as a Mississippi-based construction company secured a $13.5 million contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    Army Corps spokeswoman Carol Labashosky said Wednesday the project, which includes building a 37,000-square-foot training building expected to house classes for 300 weekend reservists at the 15-acre site, is expected to be completed in January 2016.

    “It should be weeks before construction workers break ground on the building itself,” she said.

    Carothers Construction of Oxford, Mississippi, secured the contract.

    First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove said the payloaders and backhoes that can be seen moving dirt along the side of the road are prepping the facility’s entrance.

    The property itself is part of what once was Bittersweet Farm, home to thousands of chickens. In the late 1980s, the sprawling property was used as a mecca for artists and was dubbed the Branford Crafts Village at Bittersweet Farm.

    Planning and Zoning Commission meeting minutes from April 2014 indicate that a 400-foot road will connect the training facility with East Main Street.

    The property is located at 777-779 E. Main St., roughly one mile east of the Leetes Island Road exit off Interstate 95.

    Labashosky said the site was the top choice out of more than 75 potential locations in the Army Reserve’s Bridgeport zone.

    In March, the federal government bought the 15-acre property for $3.7 million, according to the Proto Group, the firm that brokered the sale. The entire farm property consists of 135 acres. The farm itself was completely razed in 2002 after 88 acres’ worth of the property was bought by former biotech company CuraGen for $2.3 million. CuraGen had plans to build a corporate campus but those fizzled as the biotech industry floundered.

    Town assessor records show that a Hamden-based limited-liability company named Bittersweet Partners and owned by Michael Belfonti bought the 88 acres in 2005. Meeting minutes show that Belfonti and Alfred Secondino, who owns the other 48 acres of the former farm’s 135-acre property, won unanimous approval in April from the Planning and Zoning Commission to build the 400-foot road.

    Town Planner Jose Giner said Wednesday that the Army Corps was not required to go before the commission for approval to build the training facility.

    “The federal government is exempt,” he said.

    Other features of the project include the construction of a 7,600-square-foot maintenance shop and a 20,000-square-foot parking lot.

    “Physical security measures will be incorporated in design including maximum standoff distances from roads, parking areas and vehicle unloading areas,” the project’s synopsis states. “Berms, heavy landscaping and bollards will be used to prevent access when standoff distances cannot be maintained.”

    The overall project cost is listed in the synopsis as ranging between $10 million and $25 million.

    Call Evan Lips at 203-789-5727. Have questions,feedback or ideas about our news coverage? Connect directly with the editors of the New Haven Register at

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    Community garden ideas sprouting

    The city’s environmental sustainability manager Michelle Gairdner is co-ordinating the current community garden, now in its fourth year.

    That garden has yielded more than just vegetables. The benefits include family outings, community sustainability education and fresh produce donation to charitable groups.

    But Gairdner is working on a different plan. At the request of council, she is preparing a feasibility study and new policies for a garden plot model that is more about producing food for Grande Prairians without green space of their own, such as apartment dwellers.

    “We have to figure out how it’s going to work, how administration could manage it and handle requests,” she said.

    Gairdner is putting the next few weeks into researching community garden models, and expects to present an early plan to council by mid-October.

    The motion to explore the idea was put forward by city councillor Chris Thiessen.

    “I suggested we move forward on this. I think if we start by developing parks with an edible landscape that’s a place to start. Where you would plant a tree, maybe plant an apple tree,” Thiessen said.

    “Or blueberry bushes. And then when a family goes to the park, for at least part of the year their snacks are provided by nature.”

    Beyond the edible green space, things get more complicated. Thiessen said one big challenge facing a formal community garden program is infrastructure.

    “When I talk about infrastructure with gardening, it’s really the people I mean, they make it work,” said Thiessen.

    Thiessen said with a project like a garden plot that requires attention and care, even when it is community based, it requires someone to take ownership and be a driving force behind it.

    “My goal in terms of crafting this new framework is to have the infrastructure built in,” he said.

    “First thing that jumps to my head is schools. They have a lot of accessible pliable green field that isn’t going to be developed… To keep that infrastructure so its sustainable, you build it in. Into the school, the curriculum, the school board, but also through partnerships like neighbourhood associations and individuals who want to partake in it.”

    Thiessen’s take on it is one of many.

    The town of Sexsmith just recently established a plot-for-rent community garden after receiving an Eco Connections Grant from CN. The town matched the $25,000 grant in March, and proceeds went towards building 10 three-by-six raised garden beds.

    Nell Martell, director of Family and Community Support Services with the Town of Sexsmith, said the beds are available for $25 annually, in addition to a $25 deposit for a water key.

    “It’s already filling up,” she said. “But if by some weird twist they don’t fill up, we will give what’s left to foodbank families.”

    In terms of people-based infrastructure, the gardens were a collaborative effort between Sexsmith Family and Support Services, Sexsmith Christmas Hampers, and the town.

    In addition to the rentable garden beds, the town also planted new chokecherry trees, apple trees, and plans are in the works to turn even more green space edible.

    “The ground beds we want to see replaced with vegetables and herbs,” said Martell.

    Gairdner, for her role, has visited West Vancouver where garden plots are sectioned off and people in dense urban living situations rent small sections in raised beds.

    The area is home to dozens of locations with as many as 200 plots. Some are on an annual rental rate, some are free to use.

    Gairdner is weighing the options and looking for the public to weigh in.

    “It would be so interesting to know what people really want,” she said. “Is it raised beds, edible landscaping? What would people like to see?”

    Anyone with feedback to offer can email her at or call (780) 538-0385. 

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    Meijer Gardens looking at East Beltline site to expand parking – The Grand Rapids Press

    Fans listen to Jennifer Nettles, best known as half of the country pop group, Sugarland, as she performs at Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park earlier this summer. ( photo)  

    GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP – Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is seeking approval to expand parking to accommodate ever-increasing attendance at its popular summer concert series.

    David Hooker, the garden’s president and CEO, said the added parking is needed as estimated attendance this summer could reach 55,000 concertgoers at the 1,900-seat outdoor venue. The gardens is seeking approval from Grand Rapids Township to demolish a building once used by the Gerontology Network at 800 E. Beltline Ave. and replace it with a 232-space parking lot to accommodate the increased demand.

    “We’re probably going to grow at least 3,000 people this year over the 30 concerts,” Hooker said. “It’s just been so well received by the community.”

    Hooker noted the garden’s amphitheater is scheduled to host 30 ticketed events this summer in addition to nine Tuesday Night Music Club concerts. Meijer Gardens is seeking approval for an amendment to its current special-use permit, allowing it to demolish the building on the southeast corner of E. Beltline Avenue and Bradford Street along with rezoning 1.8 acres to residential so it’s the same as the rest of its property.

    Grand Rapids Township has set an Aug. 26 public hearing on the request. Attendance at the summer concert series has grown steadily since the amphitheater opened in 2003, reaching 42,477 in 2012.

    The new parking lot would have 232 spaces and 20 more for buses for special events. Hooker said the building’s existing parking lot already is used during some ticketed events but the added spaces created by removing the building are needed.

    Access to the lot from Bradford would be used only for traffic exiting the gardens after concerts during the vast majority of events, Hooker said. Plans are to install landscaping along E. Beltline Avenue to hide the parking lot from passersby on the road.

    “The plan is that the landscaping we’ll have there will draw your eye to our main entrance and the beautiful garden we have there,” Hooker said. “The parking lot would not be visible from the East Beltline.”

    Two Planning Commission members expressed concerns about the safety of pedestrians walking across the wide expanse of parking lot given the amount of traffic expected on concert nights. They suggested some type of marked walkway for pedestrians, but Hooker said pedestrian safety hasn’t been a problem in the past.

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