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Archives for September 14, 2014

Home tour shows off design ideas for daily living in SF

Great design ideas often come from overcoming challenges like finding innovative solutions for traditional stacked housing, sloping hillsides and residential solitude on a bustling, mixed-use city block. These are the ideas celebrated at the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects’ annual Architecture and the City Festival. This year’s theme, Home: My San Francisco, showcases how architects and designers parlay their interpretation of home within the city’s urban fabric. The capstone of this monthlong festival is San Francisco Living: Home Tours, taking place Sept. 20-21.

With 10 residences split between two days, there’s an opportunity to explore a variety of trends in home design today, including accommodating busy family lifestyles, spa bathrooms as retreats and building spaces for collections, according to AIASF spokeswoman Helen Wong. “One of the defining features of our tour is a focus on inspiring work of architects and the opportunity to explore design solutions that address the current needs and desires of our daily lives,” says Wong.

Cole Valley’s FittyWun House was designed for a young family with three active boys and, according to architect Jonathan Feldman, they placed the big family room where everyone hangs out adjacent to the deck and yard. The fun and games can flow in and out while still being connected with the house’s kitchen, which serves as the central hub. “We opened up the core of the building vertically so that activities on different levels are in site of each other. The family always knows what is going on and what everyone else is up to,” says Feldman.

The majority of the homes on the tour reflect a modern and minimalist aesthetic, yet remain unique due to each resident’s passions.

For owners of the Buena Vista property, the opportunity to design a home around their art collection was a dream for both as they amassed an assortment of art over the span of their 16-year relationship.

“The house is void of color because the architecture and art are the color,” says George Bradley, principal architect on the project and co-owner of the home that he shares with husband Eddie Baba, a lawyer and board member for San Francisco’s Creativity Explored.

The 4,000-square-foot home fits well within the gently sloping hills of Corona Heights. Despite three levels, floor-to-ceiling windows and a rooftop deck that maximize the views of the city below, the home remains in scale with the neighborhood and exudes warmth from the reclaimed redwood-clad exterior, front door and interior/exterior wall that runs the vertical length of the structure.

With expansive, yet quirky, wall configurations, Bradley and Baba were able to mentally place each piece of art even before the walls were formed. Factors like sun exposure, flow and traffic and humidity were taken into account when determining where each piece would go. Even nooks like the one adjacent to the Heath tile-clad fireplace in the living room were built specifically for the first piece of art they purchased together at Creativity Explored: A yarn tapestry with subdued blues and greens that pick up the colors of the vistas outside.

“We have high and low art mixed together intentionally. Once you know and enjoy the art, you can’t tell the difference,” says Bradley.

The guest bedrooms, study and reading area downstairs house Baba’s collection of Legos and “Star Wars” memorabilia, all on display using specially designed shelving. Even the kitchen has shelving and a neutral color palette, specifically for Baba’s colorful collection of vintage Dansk cookware.

Home design trends

Some of the findings from the American Institute of Architects Home Design Trends Survey (2013-14). Several can be seen on this year’s tour:

— An increase in home size especially in home volumes like ceiling heights and two-story entryways

— Smaller lot size

— Open space layouts and flexible-use space

— Less formal living

— Improving accessibility like wider hallways and fewer steps

— More space devoted to kitchen activities

— Larger walk-in showers

— Fully furnished outdoor rooms and blended indoor/outdoor living

— Green property enhancements like low-irrigation landscaping and reusable water features

Sophia Markoulakis is a Burlingame freelance writer. E-mail:

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Syracuse home sellers can’t stop student rentals around nation’s No. 1 party … – The Post-Standard

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Vincent and Pat Tinto cared so much about protecting their 1917 Colonial on Livingston Avenue from flipping to student rental housing, they asked the buyer to sign a letter promising she would live there.

The buyer, Betty Lyons, signed a paper that said, “To whom it may concern: I have submitted a purchase offer on the above captioned premises. It is my intention to reside there as an owner occupant.”

An attorney notarized it.

The Tintos were so pleased, they left behind the antique doors, a beloved chandelier and the hostas the neighbors coveted.

“I felt like I was giving the house over to my kids,” Pat Tinto said. “That’s how we prepared.”

The day after the July 23 closing, neighbor Jane Hudson saw a woman move in who was not Betty Lyons.

Two weeks later, Joseph Tupper, a big landlord of student housing, filed an application at Syracuse City Hall to turn the house into a rental. He received the city’s approval the next day.

The Tintos feel as if they were tricked.

“Had we known, we wouldn’t have sold to her,” Vincent Tinto said. “Period.”

The struggle between town and gown is not new in the neighborhoods within walking distance of Syracuse University, where neighbors say students of the nation’s No. 1 party school (as rated by Princeton Review), are doing keg stands (a strenuous drinking game) on their lawns.

But the student march down the 800 block of Livingston Avenue just got real.

Their advance is what led the Tintos to ask for a signed letter of intent, which they knew wasn’t likely to stand up in court. They had hoped ethics would prevail.
Instead, suspicion and gossip surround the intentions of buyers and sellers.

Lyons insists that she intended at first to live in the Livingston Avenue home, and then decided to rent it instead. She said it’s nobody’s business and declined to discuss the situation on the record.

Tupper said Lyons’ change of heart isn’t the “aha!” moment that neighbors believe it to be.

Tupper, owner of more than 60 houses in the university area, said he hopes to buy the house from Lyons. He said it’s a coincidence that he has a connection with her — Lyons works for Peter Badera, the lawyer who handles closings for Tupper’s real estate deals.

“Landlords would like to buy as many houses as they can in the university area, and that’s perfectly legit,” said Tupper, a longtime biology professor at Syracuse University whose son, Ben, operates Tupper Property Management LLC.

Tupper said some of the people who stand up at neighborhood meetings to complain about landlords are the same ones who call him directly when they are ready to sell.

Tupper said sellers know he will give them a good price and a clean sale.

“I’ve had people sell me houses and they say, ‘Don’t you dare let anybody know we’re buying it until we’ve moved,'” Tupper said. “That’s the truth.”

Hudson, the Tintos’ next-door neighbor, now has students renting on both sides of the house where she has lived for 26 years. That’s a tipping point for being unable to sell to another family.

At least three other houses on the block have changed ownership from families to landlords in the past year, records show. Neighbors confirmed some sold directly to landlords without putting up a “for sale” sign.

The Tintos were once leaders in the South East University Neighborhood Association, which has fiercely defended owner-occupied housing.

Michael Stanton, the current president, said landlords have been targeting houses on the 800 block of Livingston Avenue because it is one of the last streets near campus with a mix of students and families. Stanton lives on Berkeley Drive, which has held out. (Tupper says the houses there are too big, with expensive utility bills.)

“We always thought we were magic because there were no rentals, but it’s clear that if something is not done, there won’t be homeowners within a half-mile of the university,” Stanton said.

Neighbors keep Stanton up to date on the details of their housing sales, developments with student rentals and their calls to police. There were reports recently of a girl standing on the hood of a police car outside a party on Comstock Avenue. Someone shared a photo of a house owned by Tupper’s son, Ben, part of the family business. The columns on that house, in a historic district, were painted blue and orange.

The first thing to go, they say, is the backyards – paved for more parking. The landscaping turns from decorative grasses to something that can be mowed once a week. They see lights in attic windows and wonder how many people are living in houses without fire escapes.

“What happens is parties, noise at night, garbage on the front lawn, furniture left on the front lawn,” Vincent Tinto said. “These things erode the quality of life.”

Tupper said complaints about parties and overcrowding are “nonsense.”

He said the decorative paint is “school spirit.”

Tupper and his son try to decorate the houses they own with some blue and orange paint along with Syracuse University or American flags. He said his son probably didn’t realize that house was in a historic district and he would repaint it if he made a mistake.

Tupper said he complies with city ordinances, which allow up to five unrelated people to share a single-family home. He does not carve the houses up into separate apartments. If more than five students shared a home, someone would notice and the students wouldn’t want to live that way anyway, he said.

“They are very nice houses,” Tupper said. “They’re expensive. We’re paying a quarter of a million dollars for these. They’re maintained. We don’t put that kind of money into them and (then not) maintain them.”

Tupper believes the city’s efforts to create strict zoning laws in the neighborhood are discriminatory. He argues that students do not put a strain on city services when they are away for the summer and because they don’t send kids to city schools.

He said his landlord’s group, the Syracuse Property Owners Association, at one time paid for extra police patrols and trash pickup. But in recent years, he said, the group has had to spend that money to fight city ordinances in court.

Tupper is so far winning the battle.

The city has twice put in place ordinances that limit the number of students who can live in each house.

One effort, in 2010, required one off-street parking space for every bedroom in a new rental property.

Tupper and other landlords filed a lawsuit and the ordinance was overturned.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said the city is gearing up for another attempt.

This time, the city is preparing to argue that student rentals use more than their fair share of city services for fire and police calls, trash pickup and code enforcement.

So far, she said, the evidence is anecdotal. The city has almost daily trash pickup in May, when students graduate and move out. City police are on almost every corner during an annual Mayfest event, she said.

Miner is designing a new ordinance that she said takes the best ideas from other cities in New York with similar issues.

“There is clearly a profit motive for business owners to buy these properties, take them from owner-occupied, make them places where they are charging healthy rents,” she said. “But what they’re doing is, it’s getting dangerously close to destroying the fabric of a neighborhood.

“Once they become student homes, it’s almost impossible, and I haven’t seen an example of where they go back to being owner occupied.”

New homebuyer’s letter to the Tintos, of Livingston Avenue by Michelle Breidenbach

Contact Michelle Breidenbach anytime: Email | Twitter | 315-470-3186.

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Ornamental grasses provide a different look

Eddie Seagle

Eddie Seagle

Eddie Seagle.

Posted: Saturday, September 13, 2014 9:20 pm

Ornamental grasses provide a different look

Eddie Seagle, Ed.D

“There is nothing lovelier than tall ornamental grasses, backlit and waving in a breeze. So when gardeners hope to capture some of that lyrical action for their own homes, it’s logical to assume that all one need do is stop mowing the lawn. Alas, that would be wrong. Harnessing the tousled romance of ornamental grasses is so hard that even experienced horticulturists factor generous time and space for trial and error into their approaches before they have, in effect, allowed the right plant to do its stuff in the right place.” Emily Green, The Dry Garden: Ornamental grasses, poetry in motion.

Ornamental grasses are exciting additions for developing multiple seasons of simple interest in the landscape. Their popularity has increased over the last few years through curb appeal and ease of maintenance. Whether grouped in clusters or planted individually as focal points, they add instant texture and form to the landscape in any season. The following examples are some of the ornamental grasses ideal for use in the landscape with final choices based upon size, color, features, and growth habits.

Feather reedgrass (Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’) is a very popular ornamental grass which tenders a distinct upright habit that looks great throughout the winter season. This hardy grass tolerates a wide range of conditions but performs best in a well-drained soil in full sun. It reaches upwards to 6 feet tall with good architectural shape.

Fountaingrass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) is an attractive, mounding plant offering desirable shape and form. It grows best in full sun with a well-drained soil. Reaching upwards to 5 feet tall, it exhibits a graceful, arching shape with attractive plumes.

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) has gray-green leaf blades that turn bold shades of purple, red, and orange in the fall season. It grows best in full sun in a well-drained soil. Growing to a height of 3 feet, it exhibits a beautiful blue coloring in summer, followed by its bold fall coloration.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) looks great during the growing season culminating with its showy plumes in late summer and fall. It grows best in full sun to part shade in a well-drained soil. Growing upwards to 5 feet, switchgrass is good for wildlife, has attractive fall color, and tolerates partial shade. Dallas Blues, among other cultivars has blue-gray foliage during the season which turns to brilliant shades of gold or red in the fall.

Blue oatgrass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) is a low maintenance grass with steel blue coloration. Reaching 4 feet tall with silvery blue color, it performs best in full sun in a well-drained soil. Also, it has a mounded growth habit with limited spreading which prevents it from recklessly dominating your landscape garden.

Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) has fine textured basal foliage (dark green glossy leaves) and airy inflorescence often colored pink, purplish red, purplish gray which dries to a light buff.  Growing to 3 feet tall, it prefers full sun to light shade in well-drained soils. It is drought tolerant and does well on hot dry sandy sites. Lenca (Regal Mist) is deep pink in color.

White Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana) has arching narrow green leaves with sharp edges and silver white plumes with a pink blush which remains attractive until mid-winter. It works very well in dried arrangements. Reaching a height of 6 to 10 feet, it grows best in full sun to part shade and tolerates a wide range of soil conditions (prefers fertile, moist, well-drained soils) and is drought tolerant. Rose Feder, Albolineata (Silver Stripe), Aureolineata (Gold Band), Pumila (dwarf pampas grass), Silver Fountain, Ivory Feathers, and Sun Stripe (Monvin) are effective cultivars.

Purple millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is a tough annual grass offering fantastic burgundy to rich purple foliage which looks like fuzzy cattails. Growing to 5 feet tall, the plants prefer full sun to part shade in a well-drained soil and provide the added benefit of attracting birds to the site.

Cordgrass (Spartina pectinata) is a spreading prairie grass which thrives quite well in moist or wet soils. Thus, its placement in lower areas, around ponds and lakes, and along streams allows it to perform at its very best.  Reaching up to 7 feet tall, it prefers full sun and moist soil.

Japanese forestgrass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) is a favorite low-growing grass offering a formal mounding habit of growth. Growing to about a foot in height, it likes part shade and well-drained soil. Variegated selections such as Aureola and All Gold have brightly colored blades which accentuate any shady situation.

Maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis) is a large, attractive and low maintenance grass offering narrow, arching foliage and silvery plumes. Reaching upwards to 8 feet, it grows best in full sun and moist, well-drained soils. Variegated selections are available.

Fiber opticgrass (Isolepis cernua) is a tender perennial (grown as an annual) with fine texture and low, mounding habit of growth. It prefers full sun to part shade and moist soil. Reaching to only 6 inches tall with unusual appearance, it is a good selection for small, restricted spaces.

Ravennagrass (Saccharum ravennae) is a fast-growing perennial with tall, silvery plumes reaching upwards to 12 feet. With a height like this, it is easily seen and makes a favorable impression in the autumn landscape. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil for best performance.

Purple fountaingrass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Purpureum’) is a tender perennial and brings burgundy-red to rich, deep purple foliage throughout the season to the landscape (used often in container gardens).  Growing to 3 feet tall, it likes full sun and well-drained soils.

Zebragrass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’) is a focal point in the landscape with its bold color (leaf blade exhibits a series of bright yellow bands) and upright habit of growth. Reaching 5 feet in height, it prefers full sun and moist, well-drained soils while functioning best as a perennial border.

Purple moorgrass (Molinia caerulea) has mounding foliage that turns brilliant gold in the fall season and tolerates part shade. Reaching 5 feet in height, it prefers full sun to part shade with moist soils.

Hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) is an evergreen grass in warmer climates with plumes of golden, silver, purple, and green and a pleasing mounding habit of growth. Reaching 6 feet tall, it prefers full sun to part shade in moist, well-drained soils.

Ornamental grasses are adaptable and can grow in weaker soils better than many other landscape plants. They require little effort to maintain and come in many heights, colors, textures and water requirements. Ornamental grasses provide a different look for fall color! The seed heads and foliage add fall and winter interest, and dried grasses have many decorative uses indoors and outdoors. They can be used as groundcovers, specimen plants, for erosion control, and as vertical design elements.

As you continue to plan your landscaping this month, think in terms of sustainability and maintenance. And, as always, remember to feed and water the birds!

[The Lord says,] “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014 9:20 pm.

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Virginia Tech research to help preserve Buffalo Mountain habitats

Work by Virginia Tech forestry researchers is expected to help protect one of the state’s most ecologically rich mountain preserves from a common invasive plant.

Tech forest ecology professor Carolyn Copenheaver and doctoral student Jeff Feldhaus studied the spread of Japanese spirea on Floyd County’s iconic Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve for two years under a permit from the Virginia Natural Heritage program.

Feldhaus did extensive surveys of spirea on the mountain in 2011, mapping its spread and studying the environmental conditions that foster its growth. The Tech team worked on the study from 2010-12, and published their findings in Natural Areas Journal in 2013. The team also submitted a report to state officials who oversee the 1,140-acre Buffalo Mountain preserve.

Japanese spirea, also known as Japanese meadowsweet, is a flowering plant introduced to the U.S. from Asia in the 1870s by the nursery industry, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Still widely available at garden centers, it appears in flower gardens and landscaping beds across the state.

But spirea is more than a garden beauty; it has been classified by USDA as an invasive species.

“Invasive species are one of the gravest threats to natural heritage flora,” said Ryan Klopf, mountain region steward for Virginia’s natural heritage program. “They monopolize resources in an area and destroy native habitats.”

The Tech team’s report on spirea on Buffalo Mountain “constitutes an invaluable first step in managing this invasive species,” Klopf said. “Good science is the foundation of good stewardship.”

Work to control spirea is expected to begin next year, Klopf added.

The Tech researchers surveyed spirea’s spread on the mountain, creating the first detailed map of its prevalence. Feldhaus said he found everything from small patches of spirea to an acre of the plant near the foot of the mountain. Mapping those areas will allow accurate monitoring, he added.

The Tech study also described the recipe for good spirea habitat, Feldhaus and Copenheaver said. The plant likes breaks in the tree canopy that allow light to reach the ground, and it tends to grow in areas disturbed by construction, such as power line cuts and roadsides. It likes moisture too, which according to Copenheaver may mean the mountain’s relatively dry and much loved grassy balds are safe from this particular invasive species.

The descriptions of spirea’s favored growth conditions have “helped us know what to look for,” Klopf said.

Using the team’s findings, Klopf said the state can now “use early detection and rapid response” techniques to control spirea, which he said is the most effective way to manage an invasive species.

Spirea is not the only invasive species on the mountain property, according to Klopf. Japanese stiltgrass and others share the slopes with the rare native flora.

The Buffalo preserve was established in 1996 and is home to 12 rare plants, two uncommon invertebrates (including the Buffalo Mealy Bug that is found only on this mountain) and six rare natural communities of plants and animals.

“That’s quite a lot for a preserve,” Klopf said.

Klopf oversees 11 mountain region preserves stretching from Giles County, south to North Carolina through Floyd, east to Halifax County and north to Rockbridge County.

But the Buffalo’s combination of unusual geography and climate increases its biological diversity from the balds to Eastern red cedar groves to magnesium-rich woodland seeps.

These seeps are particularly important “because they contain a large population of large-leaf grass-of-Parnassus,” Klopf said. This rare native flowering plant is imperiled throughout much of its range, including on the Buffalo.

In addition to its rarities, the mountain and its characteristic “hump” — reminiscent of a buffalo’s shoulder — dominates the landscape of Floyd County. Its summit is a popular hike for locals and visitors, offering sweeping views of the county’s rugged woodlands.

For Jack Price, whose 25-acre farm abuts the Buffalo Mountain preserve, climbing its trail is a way for an old Army ranger to play in the woods. It’s also a great spot for the grandkids to scramble across the rocks at the top, Price said.

Price said he fights spirea both on his own property, and as the self-described benevolent dictator of the 100-member Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve Volunteers.

The volunteers help with everything from clearing trees downed by storms to helping keep invasive species in check.

“We’ve had an ongoing program with several invasive species,” Price said.

Price said the volunteer work is important because it helps the state maintain the preserve in lean budget times.

The Buffalo and 60 other preserves across Virginia are administered through the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Natural Heritage Program, which was established by the General Assembly in 1989 to protect rare native ecosystems and species.

Today, the natural heritage program’s total annual budget is $2.5 million, with about $1.3 million going directly to stewardship of the preserves, said Rick Myers, natural areas stewardship manager for Virginia. That breaks down to about $2,100 per preserve, most of which pays for personnel.

“We have about $150,000 in non-personnel funding,” Myers said. Occasionally, the program qualifies for grants. But there is little money to pay for the labor provided by the volunteers, or the research needed to inform management of the preserves.

Myers said much of that research is done through universities, including Tech, and interested researchers like Copenheaver. The natural heritage program approves about 15 permits per year for such work, he said.

“They do good things,” Copenheaver said of the natural heritage program. And Tech, being Virginia’s major land-grant institution, requires its faculty to do outreach.

“This is how I do my outreach,” Copenheaver said.

Copenheaver said she’s gearing up for a new natural heritage project, this one in Giles County at the Clover Hollow Natural Area Preserve. That preserve is closed to the public, but underneath the land lie limestone caves that are home to rare species.

Copenheaver said some of her undergraduates will work this semester on proposals to improve the land above the caves that will eventually be submitted to Klopf.

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Master Gardeners hosting ‘Native Plants for Your Landscape’ seminar

Master Gardeners hosting Native Plants for Your Landscape seminar

Master Gardeners hosting ‘Native Plants for Your Landscape’ seminar

Photo by Ashley CrumEupatorium fistulosum (Joe Pye Weed) – attracts butterflies and beneficial insects to the garden.

Master Gardeners hosting Native Plants for Your Landscape seminar

Master Gardeners hosting ‘Native Plants for Your Landscape’ seminar

Photo by Linda CrumLiatris pycnostachya (Gayfeather) – blooms anywhere from July into fall. Butterflies and other pollinators flock to the flowers.

Master Gardeners hosting Native Plants for Your Landscape seminar

Master Gardeners hosting ‘Native Plants for Your Landscape’ seminar

Photo by /Strawberry bush fruit

Posted: Saturday, September 13, 2014 11:00 am

Updated: 2:39 pm, Sat Sep 13, 2014.

Master Gardeners hosting ‘Native Plants for Your Landscape’ seminar

By Linda Crum
Master Gardener

Houston Community Newspapers

With more water restrictions and possible continued drought conditions in Southeast Texas, residents have a renewed interest in landscaping with native plants. Native plants use less water and serve as a food source for wildlife. A hesitancy to use native plants may be lack of knowledge of how to landscape with them or a lack of availability in local nurseries.

The Montgomery County Master Gardener Association will sponsor a “Native Plants for Your Landscape” seminar on Sept. 20 at the Thomas LeRoy Education Center, 9020 Airport Road, Conroe, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Door prizes include native plant books, native plants and organic products. Everyone will receive seeds of native plants. Six speakers will be featured at the seminar.

Soil scientist, John Ferguson, will tell everything you need to know about soil biology and how plants depend on a healthy soil.

Jim Bundscho, licensed irrigator and Master Gardener, will cover watering techniques for native plants including convention and drip irrigation, contour management and passive rainwater harvesting.

AgriLife horticulture agent, Michael Potter, will help you choose the best native plant for the available sun or shade in your landscape.

Mark Bowen, horticulturist and author of two books — “Habitat Gardening for Houston” and “Southeast Texas and Naturalistic Landscaping for the Gulf Coast,” will give tips on landscaping with native plants.

Bob Dailey, Master Gardener and Water Awareness/Public Education Coordinator for Woodlands Joint Powers Agency, will enlighten us on the use of water in Montgomery County.

Diana Foss, wildlife biologist and native plant expert, will highlight and recommend specific native plants for a water-conserving landscape.

Go to to download the registration form for the seminar. Cost is $15 per person and lunch is included. For more information, call 936-539-7824.

Native plants are used in all the demonstration gardens at Texas AgriLife Extension. The garden on the north side of the Extension building is devoted exclusively to native plants. Come early to the seminar and take a tour around the gardens.

And do not forget to come to the 2014 fall plant sale on Oct. 4. The Master Gardeners will offer many native, well-adapted, vegetable and herb plants for your garden.


Saturday, September 13, 2014 11:00 am.

Updated: 2:39 pm.

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Gardening Tips: Spiders

Matthew Stevens

Matthew Stevens

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2014 11:20 am

Gardening Tips: Spiders

By Matthew Stevens

The Daily Herald, Roanoke Rapids, NC


It seems to me most people are afraid of either spiders or snakes. Personally, I am terrified of snakes but spiders don’t bother me a bit, while my wife is the opposite. The fear of these two creatures often leads to some confusion and misidentification when we encounter them. Many of us assume the worst, but most are helpful rather than harmless. Let’s cover spiders this week and next week we’ll cover snakes.

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Friday, September 12, 2014 11:20 am.

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Cold spell: Alan Titchmarsh on creating a colourful autumn garden

Summer’s drawing to a close – but don’t go leaving your tubs, troughs and window boxes empty once the show is over. Replant now, and you’ll have a great display for the autumn and winter months. Here are my tips for creating some stunning containers…

Pot chrysanthemums

Outdoor chrysanthemums are sold in full flower now, so just stand the pots in position for an instant effect. They’re only suitable for autumn displays, however, as the first proper frost will kill them off, but if you bring them inside – to an unheated conservatory or enclosed porch – they should continue to flower for a few more weeks.

Bedding cyclamen

The cyclamen we’re talking about here are not the hardy ones, but miniature florists’ cyclamen that are sold in trays or small pots for autumn bedding. To create your display, stand the pots inside a larger container – don’t tip them out or disturb the roots as that brings flowering to an early end. As with the outdoor chrysanthemums, these are killed by the first hard frost, but they will last all winter if moved indoors to a conservatory or cool room.

Blooming pansies

Various kinds of pansies and violas are sold in flower during autumn. Many stop when conditions turn cold, but real winter-flowering pansies will keep blooming until late spring, with only short breaks during very cold spells. The best varieties are the most expensive – so don’t penny-pinch. 

Flowering heathers

These are my top choice as they handle bad weather well and have a long flowering season, from November to March. They come in various colours, including white, pink, mauve and purple, while varieties with orange or golden foliage are also available. Winter heathers team well with evergreen shrubs, including berrying kinds. After flowering, replant in the garden if required.

Ornamental greens

Decorative brassicas that form rosettes of plain or frilly foliage – such as cabbages and kale – make a useful foil for winter heathersand last late into winter/early spring. 

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5 tips to aging in place: Future-proof your home and garden – The Oregonian

By 2030, almost 1 out of every 5 Americans — some 72 million people — will be 65 years or older, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institute on Aging

Are you ready to age in place?

Amanda Davis, whose students at Portland Community College earn a Design for Accessibility and Aging in Place Certificate, will be presenting information about making homes and gardens accessible to people needing balance and walking aids at the free Accessible Garden Tour of SE Portland from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13.

Davis will be at Larry Cross’ Southeast Portland house, but each of the five sustainable gardens on the tour accommodates visitors with physical injuries or disabilities. There are smooth, wide paths, sturdy railings and high raised beds that don’t require kneeling or bending to reach.

Davis offers these five concepts to aging in place, also known as accessible design or Universal Design:

Equitable Use. Design all features of an environment to serve all abilities. Accessible design is part of the practice of sustainable design. Environments should be safe and inclusive, not hazardous and exclusive.

Create healthy indoor air quality. Make sure spaces are vented appropriately. Use materials that do not off-gas hazardous compounds.

Focus on circulation. There should be 36-inch-wide doorways, wide hallways and wide staircases. This is especially important for first-responders if there is an emergency. Also, if a lift is to be installed some day, stairs need to be at least 36 inches wide. Select furnishings with aging in place in mind: Chairs should have tall backs to hold onto and rugs need to be secured to the floor to prevent tripping.

Focus on convenience. A well laid-out kitchen is key. Storage and light switches need to be easy to access. Create a place to sit in the shower. Think of design this way: The environment should serve the users.

Future-proof your design. Create shower walls that can accommodate grab bars later when desired. Reinforce walls along stairs for a lift one day. Design the framing of a home for an elevator) in a multistory house.

–Janet Eastman

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

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Alan Titchmarsh tips on growing New England asters

What they do have in common with their less spectacular forebears is that they will grow in almost any ordinary garden soil, provided that it is not waterlogged, and they will multiply in size over the years to improve the display season after season.

So keen are they to expand that after a few years the centre of the clump can die out – and that’s when you need to dig them up. Chop the living parts of the clump into chunks slightly larger than your fist and replant them in soil that has been enriched with garden compost or well-rotted manure. Throw away the dead centre of each clump and replant the divisions about a foot apart. Do this in late autumn on sandy, well-drained soils, but wait until March on heavier ground, so the plants don’t sit in cold, soggy earth all winter.

The taller varieties will need staking, either with twiggy pea sticks or bamboo canes and twine, but the shorter kinds are self-supporting and these are the ones to choose if you would prefer to spend your time on other gardening pursuits. Either way, not all Michaelmas daisies are dull as ditchwater. Some of them are as bright as Joseph’s coat of many colours.

Don’t miss Alan’s gardening column today and every day in the Daily Express. For information on his range of garden products, visit

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London’s Garden bridge: barking up the wrong tree?

How could anyone not like this? A garden over water, “a chance to walk through woodlands”, as Joanna Lumley has put it, “over one of the greatest rivers in the world”. “For commuters,” she breathed, in the promotional video, “it will provide a quick and beautiful route… for dreamers a quiet place to linger among trees and grasses to look at the views.” It is the creation of a fascinating and adorable actor and two lovable moptops, Boris Johnson and the designer Thomas Heatherwick, creator of the Olympic cauldron, who has been described as the Leonardo da Vinci of our times. The mighty engineers Arup and the garden designer (and Observer writer) Dan Pearson are also involved. Yet the more you look at the proposed Garden bridge over the Thames, the less sense it makes.

Within the next few weeks, the proposal is be considered for planning permission by the committees of the London borough of Lambeth and Westminster city council. It appears to be the philosopher’s stone or holy grail of contemporary urban intervention, which is to do something as phenomenally successful as New York’s High Line, one of whose virtues is uniqueness, without looking too much like the High Line. There are projects all over the world, including at least two others in London, that lay claim to the magic of Manhattan’s railway viaduct turned park, but rarely as convincingly as the Garden bridge. It has the winning combination of being improbable and graspable at once. Anyone can get the idea. A child could get it. It is bound to be popular.

Too often, bridges are seen purely functionally, as routes from A to B, rather than spaces in their own right – the Millennium bridge in front of Tate Modern, for example, is designed for brisk motion rather than lingering. There is a special poetry about structures that project the city over water, like the Rialto or the Ponte Vecchio. If Old London bridge still stood, the one with shops, homes, chapels and much seething humanity above the churning Thames, it would be one of the wonders of the world.

The fascination of this idea means that there have been previous attempts at it. In 1996, the Royal Academy ran an ideas competition for a habitable bridge in the same location as the current proposal, with two winners, the French architect Antoine Grumbach and Zaha Hadid. Lumley has been promoting her vision of a garden bridge, originally as a memorial to Princess Diana, since 1998. She has been lobbying mayors at least since 2002, when she had a meeting with Ken Livingstone on the subject.

So you have to be a real Grinch to oppose the Garden bridge. Paul Morrell, the distinguished construction expert who has decided to help realise the project, says that “it is impossible to hear Joanna Lumley talk about it without being seduced by her vision of what it might be” and that he got involved because “we all want to make a difference in this world”. But Grinches there are.

It’s partly about money. When the design was unveiled in June last year, it was widely reported to cost £60m, which by July was £100m and in December was £120m-£150m. It’s now put at £175m, which Morrell promises is “a genuine bottom line budget”. It includes such things as VAT and “real-estate issues” that weren’t there before. “It was never a £60m bridge,” he says. That figure came from “someone who looked at the bridge for Thomas – it was a very early number for construction only”. Lord Davies of Abersoch, the chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, insists that he has always known that it was at least £150m. Yet the speculative lower figures somehow got into the public domain and weren’t corrected when they were reported.

It was also promised that the public contribution to the project was minimal. Everything would come from private sponsorship. In June 2013, the London transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy stated that the public would meet no more than the “enabling costs” of the project of £4m, and that “its construction and ongoing maintenance costs would be funded by third parties”. In November, Boris Johnson said that “the Garden Bridge Trust has been set up to raise the funding necessary to build and maintain the bridge in future. The trustees, not TfL [Transport for London], will be responsible for putting together the overall funding package and will decide how best this is done.” Which seemed to suggest little change from Hendy’s position.

In December, the chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, announced a government donation of £30m. Johnson applauded Alexander for “wielding his gigantic chequebook in favour of the Garden bridge”, without mentioning that he had himself authorised, in contradiction of Hendy’s promises, a further contribution of £30m from TfL funds. This detail had to be teased into the daylight by a parliamentary question from the shadow transport secretary, Mary Creagh.

In six months, the public cost had gone from minimal to £60m, with limited transparency, on the basis of wavering cost estimates. These facts were not made available at the time of the public consultation on the project in November 2013, which said no more than “the project will only proceed” if the Garden Bridge Trust “is able to raise sufficient funding to build the new bridge and maintain it in the future”.

These rapid changes of position caused Caroline Pidgeon, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the London Assembly, to spot a pattern. The mayor’s statements on the bridge had been “totally false, just as with his past claims about the funding of the cycle hire scheme and the Thames cable car”.

They also prompted a different Lord Davies, of Oldham, to denounce the bridge as “a very expensive piece of public art, a vanity project of the mayor – and we know where his vanity projects have gone and what they have cost the country”, he said.

Such worries were brushed aside by Lord Deighton, the commercial secretary to the Treasury. “The key to the Garden bridge,” he said, “is that it will be two things for the price of one; it will be a garden and a bridge, and will combine the benefits of both.” This is not strictly accurate. The going rate for Thames pedestrian bridges is about £39m-£63m, which is the estimated range for a bridge proposed near Battersea power station. A public garden of 6,000 sq m, which is the area of the Garden bridge, might cost £3m-£4m at most. At £175m, the Garden bridge is therefore not two for the price of one.

If the footbridge aspect of the budget is worth about £50m-£60m, to put it another way, it costs a further £120m or so to make it garden-y, or an amazing £20,000 for every square metre. It could be argued that this is a matter for the trusts, corporates, philanthropists and private individuals who, it is hoped, will fund the balance, in return for such things as naming little gardens and inscribing handrails – the trust insists that the name of the bridge itself is not for sale. But this is money that could be spent on other good causes, so it is still important that it is well spent.

At this point, the Grinches are vulnerable to Oscar Wilde’s quip about cynics. Who would care about the price of the bridge, if its value is incalculable? But the project’s unnerving sketchiness about public funding raises doubts about other aspects. When Lambeth and Westminster decide on the planning application, they need to be sure that it really is as great as it seems.

When Lumley calls it “a walk through woodlands”, she should be challenged. The bridge is narrower than Temple Garden, a pocket of green near to the Garden bridge’s planned northern landing point. This garden is pleasantly peaceful, but a strip this wide will never – even with Dan Pearson’s plantsmanship – be woodland. She also calls the bridge a “vital link”, but there is no great evidence that, in an area already well served by bridges, it is.

It is argued that the bridge will liven up the area around Temple underground station, one of the few parts of central London still to be on the quiet side, without asking why it should be so important to energise every fragment of the city. Perhaps there can be value in sleepiness. The southern end of the bridge, by contrast, hits the overactivated South Bank, which, as some local residents have pointed out, hardly needs another sugar rush of visitor attraction. Here, it is different from the High Line, whose purpose was to transform a neglected part of New York.

At either end the bridge will have a significant impact on the conservation areas and listed buildings near its ramps and stairs, but it’s hard, given the available information, to know what these will be. There are distant views of the bridge, and there is a picture available of its (clunky) intersection with Temple tube, but not a great deal else.

It could be questioned whether Heatherwick’s design best serves the vision of the bridge. It’s a characteristically expressive work, with two stalks rising from the river and spreading out to join each other, their curves emphasised with prominent ribs. In plan, there are assertive zig-zags running across the deck. But does the bridge need so much designer-y gesticulation? If the wonder of the Garden bridge is in putting plants above water, nature over nature, shouldn’t the architecture have the modesty to hold back, and not compete for attention? Here, it could again learn something from the High Line, part of whose genius is in the simplicity of its detail.

A subtler design might also have found a way to include a cycle track, whose absence Pidgeon laments. “To spend lots of money and not allow cycling is madness,” she says. TfL says that cyclists will be well cared for by such things as the city’s proposed new superhighways. Morrell points out that to have cyclists “barrelling up and down” would destroy the serenity of the gardens. He’s right, but Pidgeon suggests a track at a different level, which a different design approach might allow.

The High Line in NewYork
The High Line in New York, which was created to transform a neglected part of the city.
Photograph: Alamy

Perhaps the biggest question is whether the bridge can reconcile its apparently contradictory ambitions, to be at once a commuter route, an attraction with 7 million visitors a year and what Johnson has called “a bridge with no purpose other than to recreate the soul – with bosky nooks and bowery corners such as Kubla Khan might have called into being in Xanadu”. Lumley has said it will be “the slowest way to cross the river” but also “swift”. Paul Morrell says it can be both, and it will partly be a matter of timing – there will be busy times and quiet times.

He might again be right. But on all such questions the information so far offered has been on the sketchy side, and it’s premature that the Garden Bridge Trust should be asking for planning permission, and that parliament and the mayor should be dishing out millions, when so much of what is crucial to the project is shrouded in river mist, and when the fast-changing budget stories cast doubt on anything coming from Johnson.

Nor are Heatherwick projects always glitch-free. His B of the Bang sculpture in Manchester was dismantled after it dropped a potentially lethal piece of metal, and threatened to drop more. His Routemaster is much more handsome than other recent buses, if over jazzy, but it is expensive and has suffered from overheating. This seems to arise from a conflicting ambition not unlike the bridge’s fast/slow problem: it wants to be modern and therefore have air conditioning and no opening windows, while also restoring the old-fashioned open platform, which doesn’t go well with mechanical ventilation.

Heatherwick is talented and inventive but, as has been pointed out a few times, he likes finding amazing solutions to problems that you didn’t know existed. “Can you squeeze a chair out of a machine,” he has asked, “the way you squeeze toothpaste out of a tube?” It turns out he can, but why stop there? “Can you make a submarine out of bottle tops?” you might also ask, or “Can you make an inflatable microwave?”

The point is that the location of this project is important. It occupies the middle of one of the great views of London, towards the City from Waterloo bridge. Normally, a proposal of the scale and placing of the Garden bridge would get a flat no from the planners. It is only being entertained because the concept is enticing, in which case it matters that it really will be what it says and won’t have an undesirable effect on its surroundings. It truly must “recreate the soul”. If it is not woodland, it must be more than a crowded walkway with planting. It must be more than an inflatable microwave for London.

It needs to prove that it is worth its £60m of public money, over and above other deserving projects. Other crossings, both in Battersea and downriver, are more obviously needed. The nearby Southbank Centre, for the want of these sorts of sums, has had to put on its fishnets and lipstick, and tout for trade from whatever passing retail chain might want a bit of action. Wouldn’t it be better to sort this out first? Johnson, Mary Creagh says, “spends too much time listening to luvvies at dinner parties… His focus should be on a new crossing in east London to boost jobs and growth.”

Danny Alexander has said that the government’s largesse depends on “a business case demonstrating that the project represents good value for money”. I hope he’s true to his word. But, business case or no, the more I contemplate this project the less sense it makes. Part of the joy of walking on to Waterloo bridge is the release it gives into emptiness; the Garden bridge manifests an urge to fill voids, the belief that open space must be exploited and made busy. It’s too Vegas and too twee for what the Kinks called, in their immortal Waterloo Sunset, the “dirty old river”. Lumley calls it a “tiara”, but would a shiny headpiece really look good on Father Thames?

This project perpetuates the idea that you can plan a city by headlines, stunts and novelties, a culture of I’m-a-celebrity-build-me-some-infrastructure, rather than addressing what it really needs. It’s hard to say this in the face of the genuine enthusiasm of Morrell, Davies and other believers but, sorry, I’m a Grinch.

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