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Archives for December 19, 2014

Gardening Tips: The most from holiday plants for years to come

Matthew Stevens

Matthew Stevens

Posted: Friday, December 19, 2014 1:20 pm

Gardening Tips: The most from holiday plants for years to come

By Matthew Stevens

The Daily Herald, Roanoke Rapids, NC


With proper care, your poinsettias, amaryllis and Christmas cactus should stay colorful for several weeks, perhaps months into 2015. But then what? Too often, particularly with poinsettias, these fantastic holiday plants end up in the trash and the following year we reach into our wallets at Christmas time to buy more. Here’s how you can enjoy the same plant for many years.

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Friday, December 19, 2014 1:20 pm.

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December Gardening Tips from the UT Gardens

Gardeners garden all year long, even during the holidays!  Here are some tips from Jason Reeves, horticulturist at the UT Gardens, Jackson, to keep your garden fit as the year wanes.

  • If you think Christmas lights are the only way to brighten up your outdoor winter scene, you haven’t met some of our favorite plants. You will get natural holiday decorations for your landscape as well as a lot of excitement and winter interest from plants like possumhaw (Ilex decidua) and winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), and redtwig dogwood. In addition, Arizona cypress and ‘Grey Owl’ Juniper are beautiful blue conifers, and their golden “cousins” are attractive, too, for example Chamaecyparis obtuse ‘Crippsii’, ‘Fernspray Gold’ and ‘Vintage Gold’.
  • Small hollies, conifers, twisted willow and redtwig dogwoods make a great addition to winter pots and can be added to the garden come spring.
  • Check out the sale racks at your local garden center for bulbs that have been reduced in price. If they feel firm and are not moldy, they should still be good. Plant them as soon as possible, though. There is still time for them to get the winter chilling they need, but time is of the essence.
  • Winter officially begins December 21. Winter is a good time to lime your soil if it is acidic. Your local county extension office can provide you with instructions on how to gather soil samples and send them off for analysis. They will analyze your sample and send recommendations for the amount of lime you need to apply to your lawn and garden. It takes months for lime to react with the soil; so by applying now, you will help bolster your spring garden. Pelletized lime is the easiest and least messy form to apply. Contact your local county UT Extension Office or visit the UT Soil, Pest and Plant Center, online at
  • If you haven’t already winterized your irrigation system, do so right away to avoid broken pipes and costly repairs.

For more gardening tips, sign up for the UT Gardens free e-newsletter online at

The UT Gardens includes plant collections located in Knoxville, Jackson and Crossville. Designated as the official botanical garden for the State of Tennessee, the collections are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public.

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It’s winter; the garden is resting, and we should, too

CAN YOU leave the garden be? Now that darkness lingers in the mornings and closes in early, we can slip into the slower rhythms of deep winter and recover from the buzz of spring and summer. The garden is resting, so why is it so hard for us to follow suit?

It’s time to respect the garden’s quietude and cultivate our own.

Greg Graves, co-owner of Old Goat Farm in Graham, Pierce County, and one of the hardest-working gardeners I know, says, “We live in a climate where we can garden year ’round, but why would we want to?” I take this as profound wisdom and also as an excuse to stay inside, guilt-free, on rainy, windy, dark days. Of which we’ll have plenty, unless this is the most unusual Northwest winter ever.

It’s transplants from the East Coast and Michigan (yes, Dan Hinkley, I’m thinking of you) that enthuse over winter gardening. Those who have endured harsher winters seem goaded to action by our milder weather. But, surely, even those from the most severe climates must eventually get over mucking around outside in January.

It’s not that I don’t love my garden in winter, mess that it is. The ruffled flowers of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ glow white along the trellis. The light slants low through the garden, and on frosty mornings, even dying grasses appear freshly gilded. Robins, flickers and flocks of tiny chickadees rustle around in the duff on the garden floor. Skeletonized trees cast dramatic shadows when the sun breaks through the clouds. Austerity and decay have their attractions, especially when you know full well that beneath the soil, roots and bulbs are regenerating, preparing for spring. I duck outside between rainstorms and poke around looking for hellebore buds, cut bare branches and snippets of evergreens to bring indoors.

But that’s not gardening. It’s just inhaling fresh air while enjoying a brief and welcome connection with nature. For a sanity-saving plant fix, visit the fragrant witch hazels, blooming mahonia and colorful twig dogwoods going strong in the Witt Winter garden in the Washington Park Arboretum. The Seattle Japanese Garden in the Arboretum is an education in garden design when trees are bare, revealing elegance of line and form. Not the least of these gardens’ charms is that they’re beautifully cared for by others. You can stroll their paths, breathe in winter and return home with dry feet.

And there are so many good reasons to stay inside. Seed catalogs are arriving in the mail. Time to contemplate and to dream. There’s a gorgeous new book just out from Phaidon Press that is hefty enough to claim many happy hours by the fire. “The Gardener’s Garden” ($79.95) is a masterwork. Perusing this 470-page global survey of gardens past and present is like taking a course in garden history that brings you up to the present moment. You could spend the winter just looking at the photos, it’s that beautiful. You can have the pleasure of staying put, warm and cozy, while traveling the world of gardens, seeking inspiration for your own.

Believe me, plants and toil await you. March and April will be here soon enough. For now, we may as well enjoy the warmth of the house and the pleasure of looking out the window, the gardens in our imaginations and in the pages of books.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Reach her at

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Regents Pizzeria unveils bigger restaurant design, beer garden

Regents Pizzeria has opened a new 4,100-square-foot restaurant in the Southern California coastal town of La Jolla. The restaurant features a new design, outdoor beer garden with 32 rotating brews on draft, and 25 artisanal pizzas made with dough recipes developed in collaboration with San Diego’s Bread Cie.

The brand also features hot wings requiring a signed waiver for consumption.

According to a news release, the restaurant was designed by Los Angeles-based Kelly Architects and includes a combination of communal and traditional seating, finished wood columns, subway tile walls and marquee signage.

The kitchen also more than doubled its production capabilities with eight traditional stone-deck ovens – all imported from the Italian city of Treviso. The Cuppone ovens are temperature-regulated, allowing for controlled distribution of heat on the top and bottom of each pizza, the company said.

“Our mission at Regents is rather simple in that it all harkens back to an underlying passion to transcend the traditional dining experience by delivering fresh, quality ingredients in an inviting atmosphere,” Co-owner Bill Vivian said in the release. “I firmly believe this commitment has been the key to our success and we now look forward to the expanded opportunities that lie within this new location.”

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9 things to consider when designing a landscape

Winter is the ideal time to curl up on the couch with your plant catalogs and sketching paper to plan your new landscape.

A new landscape can pay off both environmentally and economically. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects Homeowners Guide, you can add 15 percent to the value of your house with a 5 percent investment in home landscaping.

In your down time in the winter months, here are nine things to consider when you’re designing an ecologically sound landscape.

BASE MAP: To get started, it is helpful to find a site map of your yard. Use an existing property survey, if you have one. If your survey is not available, Google Earth can provide an aerial view in the form of a satellite photo. To create a map you can edit, trace the details using tracing paper overlaid on your survey or photo. Include existing structures like sheds, decks and pools. Also include any major existing vegetation like hedges or big trees you want to keep in your design.

SITE STUDY: In order to begin planning, you need to analyze your current site. Which areas get the most sun or shade? This will determine what plants you use and where. Water is also an integral component of a successful garden design. Determine how water flows in your yard. Are there particularly wet or dry areas or troublesome downspouts you should locate on your drawing? Once your site map is complete, it is ready to fill with your horticultural heart’s desires.

WISH LIST: Imagine your ultimate landscape design. Maybe it’s a play area for a child, a dog run, a butterfly garden, a fire pit or a more obvious path to the front door. Use another sheet of tracing paper to overlay sketches of these ideas. Don’t be afraid to try several sketches as you work on the design.

ECOLOGICAL GARDENING FUNDAMENTALS: Try to follow nature’s ways in your landscape practices and make your garden more than pretty; make it functional, too. Try some of the following techniques in your design:

COMPOST: Include an area in your yard for a compost pile. Make your own compost and add it to your lawn and beds instead of fertilizer. Just collect “greens” (green leaves and vegetable peels) and “browns” (twigs and old leaves). Mix the greens and browns together in equal parts and turn the pile every couple of days. If it is the color of chocolate and smells good, you have been successful. If it is smelly and slimy, start over. Compost is filled with beneficial critters that will help to sustain your plants.

MOW LESS: Look at your plan and consider how you can reduce your lawn area. Reflect on the considerable savings in money, time and energy if you decrease the size of your lawn. Contemplate planting a meadow, more garden beds, a tree or installing a patio.

USE WATER WISELY: Design your landscape using plants that require less watering and practice conservation by capturing runoff from your downspouts with water barrels. Also consider rain gardens as an element to solve water problems by slowing runoff and letting the water slowly penetrate into the ground, preventing silt and pollution in our streams.

RIGHT PLANT, RIGHT PLACE: Think about bloom color, foliage texture and series of flowering times to create interest across several seasons. Choose native plants that have adapted to your local environment. Some prefer sun, some shade, others wet or dry. Look at your drawing and discover the best place to locate them based on their needs and your garden conditions. Native plants have coevolved here and will support the birds, bees and butterflies. They require less water and are more adaptable if sited correctly. Don’t use invasive plants. Wildlife will eat their seeds, spread them around, and lovely wildflowers will be out-competed by them, decreasing biodiversity and reducing the capacity to support a wide variety of wildlife. Local nurseries and plant catalogs can provide ideas on plant selection. Mt. Cuba Center offers classes on native plants, composting and garden design that help home gardeners learn techniques for creating a naturalistic garden.

GARDEN FOR LIFE: Following these basic steps, you can create a healthy, enjoyable and highly functional landscape for your family, environment and the creatures around you, while saving time and money. Doug Tallamy, well known author of “Bringing Nature Home” (a book about how to sustain wildlife with native plants ) always signs his books “Garden like your life depends on it,” because it does!

For more information on including these practices in your landscape, explore the Sustainable Sites Initative at

Nature’s Landscapes is a monthly column by Mt. Cuba Center that focuses on the native plants of the Piedmont region, which lies between the Atlantic coastal plain and the Appalachians, stretching from New York to Alabama. Today’s column is written by Rick J. Lewandowski, director of Mt. Cuba Center.


The Self Proliferating Garden: Setting a Process in Motion

With Larry Weaner. Create dynamic, ecologically rich landscapes where nature does much of the planting. Learn to capitalize on your plants’ reproductive abilities, and encourage existing, planted and recruited species to populate your landscape. Case studies feature examples from small gardens as well as large properties.

Saturday, January 10, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Introduces key concepts and explores plant selection, spacing, seeding techniques, and strategies for assisting plant proliferation.

Tuesday, January 20, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

This lecture examines additional strategies for assisting plant proliferation, addresses management concerns, and describes how to influence the seed bank.

$35 per session.

Larry Weaner is a landscape architect with a national reputation for combining environmental sciences with garden design.

Environmental Landscape Design

With Jules Bruck.

Thursdays, from Jan. 22-Feb. 26

Section A: 3-5 p.m.

Section B: 6-8 p.m.


Design a basic plan for a garden that requires less maintenance, fewer input and is well adapted to your local conditions. Change your perspective, and increase the life in your landscape by decreasing space dedicated to lawn. Learn how to measure, inventory, and analyze your site, then make a conceptual design and planting plan.

Dr. Jules Bruck is an associate professor of landscape design at the University of Delaware and owner of Evolution Landscape Design, LLC. Her current research focuses on design-based learning and public perception of sustainable landscape practices.

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EXTENSION CONNECTION: Christmas gift ideas for the gardener

Does someone on your Christmas shopping list enjoy gardening, landscaping or the outdoors?

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Bookstore offers a wealth of books, DVDs and ID decks, as well as shirts, caps and other products.

Our resources include gardening, lawn and landscaping, as well as agriculture, wildlife, boating, fishing, health, nutrition, family and community subject matter. And they are specific for Florida.

Consider these:

●”Simply Florida: A Taste of Flavors from the Sunshine State”: This isn’t simply a cookbook — it’s a celebration of food in the sunshine state: sun-ripened fruits, fabulous beef, the freshest seafood and farm-fresh vegetables. Some of its recipes include grouper parmesan, spicy mango and avocado salad and citrus-marinated tomato salad over steak. $25.

●”Florida Wildflowers”: This field guide categorizes Florida wildflowers, not just by their color or family group but by the natural habitats in which they’re found. Over 500 color photos and detailed descriptions outline the major ecosystems of Florida and the wildflowers unique to each. It also includes a guide to identifying wildflowers, places to visit, a glossary and much more. Gardeners and naturalists or those interested in Florida’s ecology will find this guide indispensable. $29.95.

●”Florida Gardener’s Handbook“: Whether you’re new to the state or just new to gardening, let expert gardeners introduce you to over 300 Florida plants in an information-packed guide that’s almost as beautiful as the plants it features. Includes proven plant species, tips for water-wise gardening and to-do calendars to keep your garden lush and vibrant all year long. $24.99.

●”Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida“: Expertbotanist Ginny Stibolt and Master Gardener Melissa Contreras provide simple and accessible advice for successful, pesticide-free vegetable gardening. This fully illustrated book is an invaluable guide for everyday gardeners, as well as small farmers who wish to expand their operations to participate in farmers markets. $24.95.

●”Florida’s Birds: A Field Guide and Reference”: Birders will love this handsomely illustrated guide to Florida’s birds. Each of the state’s 348 bird species is represented with full accounts and three color illustrations. The book also includes information about breeding months, best habitats and times for birding, and a state map of 25 birding hotspots. Learn how to attract and feed wild birds and to care for sick, injured and orphaned birds. $21.95.

For more information, go to or call 1-800-226-1764.

Larry Williams is an agent at the University of Florida’s Extension office in Crestview.

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How can parents get their kids involved in environmental protection?

Dear EarthTalk: Do you have any tips for helping me get my kids involved in environmental protection advocacy? —Jeanine Black, Charlotte, N.C.

earth_talk_logoThere’s no time like the present to teach kids to respect their environment and be willing to stand up to protect it. Of course, any good environmental education starts at home: parents should always keep in mind that they are role models for their kids, and should act responsibly. And most schools today incorporate issues of sustainability into their curricula. But kids who want to do more can sync up with one of any number of nonprofits focused on getting young people involved with volunteering and advocacy on behalf of the environment.

One of the best places to start is Youth for Environmental Sanity (YES!), a nonprofit that runs a national speakers’ and workshop tour around the U.S. and beyond as well as summer camps devoted to teaching kids how to take action on behalf of the environment. The group also runs JAMs, bringing together “young changemakers” from local communities to brainstorm ideas for solutions to local, national and international environmental problems. The YES! website features information on a wide range of environmental topics as well as videos focusing on organizing and coalition building around shared environmental goals.

Another great resource is the Center for Biological Diversity’s Generation Wild program, designed to help kids learn about and help protect local wildlife. The program’s website offers kids tips on things like how to write an effective and compelling letter to the editor for publication in a local newspaper, creating a backyard wildlife sanctuary, encouraging teachers and schools to undertake projects that help local wildlife, and spreading the word via social media.

Meanwhile, Earthforce, Inc. helps kids ages 10 to 14 develop citizenship skills and address both local and national environmental problems. Participants get hands-on, real-world opportunities to learn about the issues and develop skills that can help them become lifelong leaders in addressing them. Another leading youth environmental group is Tree Musketeers, which empowers kids to use innovative approaches in launching their own environmental campaigns where they live. Through its Young Executive program, the group provides resources to help kids learn the practical, logistical and personal skills to lead environmental actions and spread the word about the need to live more sustainable lifestyles.

Yet another nonprofit vehicle that helps kids get active is SustainUS, which focuses on sustainable development. Its Agents of Change program sends youth delegations to United Nations conferences on climate change, sustainable development, women’s issues and biological diversity — and its Lead Now Fellowship trains and supports young people in becoming leaders in advancing sustainable development.

Last but not least, TakingItGlobal is an international network of young people working to tackle global environmental challenges. Its Digital Youth Engagement, Global Education and Social Innovation programs focus on creating the next generation of environmental leaders around the world.

Young people can also get involved in environmental protection efforts right in their own backyards even without the support of a non-profit. Examples include organizing a local e-waste recycling drive, asking schools and businesses in the area to refrain from using noxious chemicals for landscaping, and coordinating carpools to reduce traffic-related greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, kids can learn a lot by finding a local green group and volunteering to help canvass for funds, clean-up a beach or waterway, or lobby local officials to take sustainability into account. Indeed, our common future may well depend on it.

 Contacts: YES!,; yesworld,; Generation Wild,; Earthforce,; Tree Musketeers,; SustainUS,; TakingItGlobal,

EarthTalk is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E-The Environmental Magazine ( Send questions to:

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Badger City

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How Becky and Bucky will shape Madison’s future

Chancellor Rebecca Blank is leading the town and gown relationship into the future


UW–Madison had already been a full-time resident for eight years when Madison incorporated as a city. But since that day in 1856, the two have been joined at the hip, inseparable entities essential to any definition of either.

There’s a name for the relationship: Town and Gown. It sounds quaint, doesn’t it? In a way it is. It conjures up images of robed and learned academics in hallowed halls in distinguished conversation with the titans of business; representatives of the flagship of the state of Wisconsin’s University System and its proud capital city.

Over time, the image expanded to include details like “economic engine,” “mutual interests” and especially “asset leveraging.” The relationship would reflect occasional tensions, maybe a turf battle here or there, or a little-too-obvious concern for one’s self-interests. However, for the most part the relationship was too important to both parties to mess with too much. And it still is.

But as both the university and the city grow and change, in a new and near-constant state of evolution in a constantly changing world, it may be time to refresh the relationship. It’s beginning to look like 2015 is that time, thanks to one person in particular, Rebecca Blank.


Rebecca Blank is not your father’s UW–Madison chancellor. Even more than her predecessor Biddy Martin, who at least had received her Ph.D. from the UW, Blank is a clean break from the team put together by former chancellor Donna Shalala, which included David Ward, John Torphy, John Wiley and a few others who led the UW for a quarter of a century. 

From a list of finalists for the job that consisted of four “outsiders,” Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce president Zach Brandon remembers Blank standing out. “The search committee came to the chamber [and other groups] and said, ‘Tell us what you want,’” says Brandon. “And our message was pretty clear that you needed to find someone who understands the intersection of education and the economy. When they chose Becky Blank it was an ‘of course’ moment. If the university’s self-concept is its role in shaping the economy historically and in the future of this state, and to be a problem solver for the world, she was the choice.”

Blank, who turns sixty in 2015, was the acting secretary of the United States Department of Commerce on March 18, 2013, when she was recommended for the position of chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. When he later announced her resignation from the Cabinet, President Obama said he was not happy with the UW for hiring her away. 

Blank had served in the administration for four years. Prior to that she was the dean and professor of public policy and economics at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, a member of the faculties at Northwestern and Princeton and a fellow at the Brookings Institution. She’s an economist and she’s got chops, nationally and internationally. She’s comfortable working on a global stage and she will no doubt continue to do so on the UW’s behalf. The city of Madison will inevitably benefit from that work as well. It’s that relationship thing. Which Blank already gets and appreciates. 

“These two understand how important they each are to the other,” says Blank of the university and the city, “and seem to both work hard at making sure we have a good relationship and that’s true whether we are talking about community leaders, private sector leaders, elected leaders, and I hope it’s true across campus as well. I spent some amount of time at Northwestern University, and the relationship between Evanston and Northwestern University is incredibly acrimonious. They just don’t get along, and that’s to everyone’s detriment, and it’s just a delight to be in a city where folks understand that we can both be a whole lot more when we work together.”

There are dozens of entry points critiquing the current state of the town and gown partnership, many based on more than 150 years of their development. There are the obvious, often visual, examples like Camp Randall Stadium, UW Hospital and Clinics and the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, and less obvious, like the innovative entrepreneurship work at the UW Law School that gave us two of last year’s Madison Magazine Best of Madison Business Award winners, and the easily-taken-for-granted UW Arboretum. You could fill a book with examples of the importance of every one of them. But for the sake of focusing our consideration on how the UW and the city of Madison cohabit at the mid-point of the second decade of the twenty-first century, we examine two of the most frequently talked-about components of the relationship: the culture created by the two entities and how both feel about that culture, and the constantly—and I mean constantly—expressed necessity for Madison, and its business sector in particular, to “leverage” the resources of the university.

It’s important to acknowledge the sense of ownership the city of Madison feels about the university, a sense Blank says is justified. “The city has put a lot into this university,” she says. “It’s a stakeholder in the university, one of many. I’ve got a lot of stakeholders, but the city should feel some investment and some ownership in this university just as we should feel an investment and ownership in this region and the city and in Dane County.”

That ownership is certainly due in part to the extensive physical presence of the university. The UW is a major part of the city’s built environment, the skyline such as it is. While there are areas of the northwest isthmus where one clearly knows one is “on campus,” others are less clearly defined. As such the two can often blend into each other quite seamlessly. Blank says the UW is very much aware of its piece of Madison’s geographical footprint and is updating its Master Plan. 

“The last one was done about ten years ago, and it’s something you want to redo every so often. We are doing something we’ve never done before and [including] a landscaping piece of the master plan. I actually think this university does a great job in landscaping by and large, and it’s an important thing in terms of how we present ourselves to the community and what we add to the community that’s actually not irrelevant. We want people to drive by the university and say, ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ right?”

That sense of ownership and proximity carries with it some expectations of accessibility. And Blank embraces that as well. UW is, she says, a public university. The public should be welcome. “I was a faculty member at Princeton University immediately out of graduate school. I had spent my whole life at public universities and I was shocked to learn that the community couldn’t go into the library. How can you have a university library and not let people in? This is a public university. It is available to the citizens of this state, and particularly to the citizens of this community. I want them on the Terrace; I want them in the library. I want them at our events and invited into the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and wandering around the Arboretum. We are part of the community in a very integral way and I want people to feel like they are welcome here.” 

And it cuts both ways, says Blank. In addition to coming to a university, people who are coming to a place for four years or longer are looking at the community in which they’re going to live. She says, “They also want to know, ‘Is this a place that I can be outside, exercise, that if I do ultimate Frisbee that I can do that, are there great movie theaters, are there places to hang out with my friends?’ People come here not just because it’s the university. They also come here because it’s Madison. And Madison is known as a great place for students to be.”

In some ways, this shared sense of ownership results in some creative tension. It’s hard to imagine Madison without that dynamic, more so lately with a more diverse mix of people wanting to live downtown, and occasionally clashing with, let’s call it, student life. Chamber president Brandon says it can be a challenge. 

“Certainly there are things that go along with having that density of people,” he says. “Not every crime and drunken idiocy in downtown Madison is committed by a UW student. There are just some idiots who get attracted to the density of fun and bars and establishments. It’s not a perfect situation, but it’s certainly tremendously outweighed by the culture it creates. And we’re all better for having that diversity.”

Mayor Paul Soglin’s biography is tied as tightly to both the university and city as any person in the city’s history. He’s seen the relationship intimately from both perspectives. He says the changes of the last forty years (spanning his three terms as mayor) are only magnified today. “It’s about a different attitude about the role of the university in day-to-day life in the city,” says Soglin. “It’s much, much improved and we see it in a variety of areas.” 

Soglin says the city is no longer just a place to study for various colleges and departments but is also “a place to do good.” 

“When we first launched our health initiatives in the ’90s on the south side,” says Soglin, “we had some difficulties and challenges engaging the folks in the health area. Now it flows more naturally, and it’s not just in the health sciences. I’ve seen it with faculty and grad students in the area of social work, and the collaboration with us on food, and that could be one of the most exciting things.” 

Soglin goes on, “What I’m emphasizing is this: When we approach the subject, our instinct is to go to technology and biotech, but it’s much bigger than that, and Chancellor Blank gets it. This is not about computer sciences and the business school, it’s about every department. Now whether or not each department will be engaged, that’s going to be up to the leadership of that individual academic department, but Chancellor Blank understands that the breadth and depth are big.”

Yes, she does, both in terms of her own personal and professional roles and those of the rest of the university community. She’s a member of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce Board, the Madison Region Economic Partnership Board, and she recently agreed to co-chair United Way of Dane County’s Delegation to Create Economic Stability for Young Families. Oh, and she’s a member of Town and Gown. Of course. In other words, if there was any question about an “outsider,” with a national résumé and a world view genuinely integrating herself into the community, that question’s been answered. 

But Blank clearly defines community involvement more broadly than the chancellor’s board service. She says she’s personally excited about opening a university office in the Villager Mall on South Park Street, which will include not just office space for volunteers but research and community education efforts as well. “I think that’s going to be a great opportunity for the university to be in the community and closer to some parts of the community than we are if we do everything on campus,” she says. 

Blank points to the growth of the Morgridge Center for Public Service (the UW’s student service-learning department), the Odyssey Project degree program for low-income adults and new collaborations on teacher training with the Madison Metropolitan School District as examples of community partnerships. The latter amounts to $1.5 million over three years to address issues of inequities and outcomes in public schools. “My sense is that it is our community and we have to figure out what we can do to make a difference in that area. It was such a major community debate, we had to be more involved in it than we were.”

That “major community debate,” as everybody is now painfully aware, includes racial disparities, described in the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families’ Race to Equity report as the worst in the nation, and they, too, are present in equal measure on the campus as well as in the city. Blank does not shy away from the challenge. “We live in the state of Wisconsin,” she says. “We can always be better on diversity than we are. Wisconsin is a more white state than many other places and our population reflects that. We have to work harder at attracting a more socio-economically diverse group and a more racially and ethnically diverse group.” 

But while the Race To Equity-directed focus on elementary and secondary school achievement, employment and household income disparities and disparate incarceration rates deserve attention for their impact on the environment of the broader Madison community, Blank sees diversity as crucially important to the university as well. 

“If you are going to train students to go out into the jobs and the communities of this century, they have to be able to work with a wide group of people,” says Blank, “and if they don’t get that in college they’re not ready for the workforce. I take diversity as central to our educational mission.”

The old “marriage” cliché is admittedly tired, but it’s easy: Madison and the UW are comfortable together. Though there are still some surprises—a good thing, right?—they know each other. For many a person questioning Madison as a place to live, play, start a business or study, the town and “U” finish each other’s sentences. The most obvious changes, and either support for or resistance to those changes, will therefore likely come not in respect to new campus buildings, student protests, more luxury boxes at Camp Randall or more bars on State Street,  but from a rapidly changing economy and the elements on which that economy is based, locally, nationally and globally. The University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the city of Madison, both have big plans and big expectations, and hence the need of big collaboration. 


Neil Heinen with UW–Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank.

If you were to find yourself at any point in the last ten years in the back of a room hosting a discussion of strategic economic planning for this city, county or region, you would inevitably have heard the word “leverage,” as in “we have to better leverage the resources of the University of Wisconsin.” 

After a while, although completely understandable given the history of the UW’s role as an “economic engine,” another ubiquitous term, it begins to smack of a dependence bordering on unhealthy. Chamber president Brandon has a different way, a twenty-first-century way, of reframing the discussion. 

“You hear me and a lot of younger economic development practitioners or startup founders use the word ‘ecosystem’ a lot,” he says. “[We] have to think of ourselves as symbiotic in an ecosystem that says one will not survive without the other and that what makes either one of these things special or unique is the fact that it is in proximity to the other.”  

One of the many benefits of embracing the concept of an ecosystem is the necessary breadth it requires. In other words it’s bigger than Madison Town and Gown. This is a good thing for a number of reasons. First, as Chancellor Blank rightly points out, the Wisconsin Idea is not limited to service to the city of Madison. It’s been statewide since its inception and now is unarguably global. 

The second is actually a problem, but it’s a shared problem: Some folks, mainly in the state legislature, are reluctant to acknowledge the city of Madison as a job-growing, wealth-producing, economic engine for the state. Those same folks are equally reluctant to acknowledge that same set of factors for the university, especially when they are imagined to be disproportionately visible in the city of Madison. Brandon says explaining both as simply essential parts of a much broader economic ecosystem can build acceptance, even support, while furthering the interests of both.

Blank is keenly aware of the need to raise awareness of the UW’s impact on the state’s economy beyond the “spillover effects” of 22,000 faculty and staff, 43,000 students and $1 billion annually in federal research funds. “What can we do,” Blank asks, “to grow entrepreneurship, to grow jobs, to attract businesses both into this area, as well as into the entire state? It’s something that I take very seriously; I think it’s our responsibility as a public university in this state to be part of that economic development conversation.” 

She says that increasingly companies are developing partnerships with the researchers in academic institutions rather than “doing their innovation in-house.” Second is the growing need to get ideas spawned on campus, or from campus startups, into the marketplace. A new venture called D2P, or Discovery to Product, she says, “is really designed to support people with ideas that are close to commercializable, to give them the legal, the business, the financial and the entrepreneurial mentoring support to either launch those products on their own, or to get them to a point you can spin them off and sell them.”

There is strong interest in all kinds of leveraging, and not all of it is “new economy stuff.” Mayor Soglin is very direct when he says the UW can play an important role in helping meet the needs of the manufacturing sector, saying, “I do think this thing about helping us fix the state’s economy as it relates to manufacturing, the mismatch, the geography questions, the training questions, that’s the kind of thing where the university could be very helpful.” But for now, most would agree the bang for the buck is in emerging technologies. 

“I think that leveraging the relationship is establishing these public-private innovation partnerships,” Blank says, “making sure that we have the infrastructure around this town to support new business startups.” 

That infrastructure casts what Brandon says is a necessary shadow. “You are hard-pressed to identify world-class businesses that didn’t grow up in the shadow of a world-class university,” he says. “Being in the shadow of a world-class university gives us the potential to be a world-class city and have world-class companies. Whether the university solves the world’s problems, or these companies end up solving the world’s problems, that’s where we’re headed. And having someone at the helm who understands that and can navigate the intersection of those two things is an asset.” 

Again, listening to Blank, it is clear she very much understands. She also knows navigation will take some work. “I grew up in the upper Midwest,” Blank reminds us. “You know this is a more isolated, more homogenous area of the country. I won’t tell you how old I was until I actually met people of substantially different backgrounds. I thought diversity meant inviting non-Lutherans to an event. That makes it more challenging for places like Madison to have a global outlook.”  

Blank says that means it’s not just the university that needs to have a welcoming culture, “it means this whole community, if they want to be globally competitive and growing and the hub of technology and all of these things that people would love to see Madison do, they have to have that type of open culture that invites people in and attracts the top talent from anywhere in the world and helps nurture that talent. This is something that the entire upper Midwest needs to work on at some level, and it does mean changing who we are to a certain extent.” 

Actually, the importance of re-evaluating the relationship between Madison and the UW is the result of a “changing who we are,” that is already occurring. 

Mayor Soglin sees it in who is moving here, who can find work here and how this mix of citizens functions as neighborhoods and communities. 

Chamber president Brandon sees it in the talent expressing an interest in doing business, but perhaps more importantly in the talent that is suddenly interested in staying here rather than moving to one of the coasts or one of the other bastions of creativity and innovation in the U.S. or in the world. 

And we can’t forget those who are hoping that Madison does not change too much or too fast, who worry about density and traffic. For them, a city and university that they have known, managed and easily navigated for decades are becoming too big, too different, too much like the Moloch of Ginsberg’s Howl, powerful, mighty entities requiring great sacrifice.

One question, unexplored here, is whether the University of Wisconsin–Madison even needs Madison anymore. A university that operates on a global scale, with more and more virtual access—a Wisconsin Idea that is now digital—is certainly less dependent on a physical place. 

But if Chancellor Blank buys even a smidgeon of that, she didn’t bring it up. Quite the opposite. Blank sees Madison the city as a tremendous asset, a selling point for students and faculty alike, and increasingly for investors in the ecosystem articulated by Brandon. 

As for living in Madison, Blank has taken to it. “I love Madison, I love the lakes and [being] from the upper Midwest, it’s culturally familiar,” she says. “I’m also deeply impressed by the quality of the food in this area. I have yet to walk into a restaurant where I didn’t get a meal that I sort of said, ‘Wow.’ Not true in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I’ll tell you that!”

Interestingly enough, the chamber’s Brandon also mentioned food as a draw, pointing out that international students support international restaurants, and those restaurants can be powerful selling points for international visitors thinking about starting a business here or investing in an existing business. Maybe the connection is more than happenstance. 

Madison in 2015 is growing its reputation as a city with an exciting, innovative food system. Same with music. Same with health-related technology startups, bio-tech discoveries, sustainable energy research, maker spaces, gamers and more. You can see it on East Washington Avenue and you can see it on University Avenue. It’s an important time, says Brandon. 

“I feel like we already have this special place that is the university, which creates this special place which is Madison, [and now] we have this special person who’s been chosen to be at the helm and a bridge between those two places,” he says. “   If you want a world-class university and you want a world-class city that sits in the shadow of a world-class university, then you have to show that you are solving world-class problems, and that’s what this university does.” 

And what this city aspires to do. 

And that’s Town and Gown 2015.

Neil Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine

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This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Madison Magazine

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Green gift ideas for the gardener in your life

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn.- If you have a gardening family member or friend and you’re looking for gift ideas, Heidi Heiland, owner of Heidi’s Lifestyle Gardens, has green gift ideas for you.


Hori Hori Knife- $20

No Blister Trowel- $13

Kitchen Composter- $40

BOOKS – all from local experts

Pollinators of Native Plants by Heather Holm- $24

This is the first comprehensive book to illustrate the specific relationships between native pollinators and native plants. Organized by plant communities, the book profiles over 65 perennial native plants of the Midwest, Great Lakes region, Northeast and southern Canada and the pollinators, beneficial insects and flower visitors the plants attract.

Beautifully Sustainable by Douglas Owens-Pike- $18

A comprehensive field-guide to converting your landscape into a sustainable ecosystem that will utilize the natural resilience and beauty of native plant communities. Learn to convert your lawn to a more sustainable habitat, build a rain garden, attract pollinators, and so much more. Based on 25 years experience in sustainable landscaping, this important book moves us a long way towards establishing a new landscape based on succeeding ecologically.

Integrated Forest Design by Dan Halsey and other-s $30

This book from local author in Prior Lake is the first, and most comprehensive, guide about plant guilds ever written and covers in detail both what guilds are and how to design and construct them, complete with extensive color photography and design illustrations. Dan holds many different workshops and certificate courses as well.


-Bay leaf tree to decorate for the holidays, but do not toss it out when you are done! Winter is the perfect time to make soups and stews and the leaves of this houseplant will bring fresh flavor to your meals. Come summer, install this herb into the landscape.

-Honey from your hive!

-Decision to “Live Green”……gift certificate for services by HLG

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Garden Club: Shrub shapes and uses

Shrubs are the quick and easy answer to many landscaping questions. Quick because most shrubs grow rapidly and bloom or spread within the first season after they are planted. Easy because many are hardy enough to withstand minimal care and even drought. Yet they are graceful year after year with only occasional pruning.

Informal shrub borders frame a house and separate it from neighbors. A lower planting under windows, with a slightly higher one near the door, emphasizes the entrance because of the contrast in heights.

Foundation planting, those around the base of a house, can bring out the best features of your home and make it blend with the surrounding landscape. The basic rule for foundation plantings is to develop strong corner groupings, with accent plantings placed at either side of the doorway. In general, place plants where strong vertical lines meet the ground.

For the front of the house choose upright, rounded, or pointed evergreens, such as junipers, yews, and clematis. Use short hedges around corner plantings to unify the house and to form a textured background for a flowerbed.

Low-spreading, quick growing species are useful on slopes where soil erosion could become a concern. Step-up planters with spreading evergreens can change a problem slope into an easy-care area.

Shrubs also can soften the stark, often blank and rigid look of walls. To make a high wall appear lower, group shrubs of similar height along the wall’s base.

For informal borders, use rounded forms. Most mature plants in this group will spread up to six feet, so give them plenty of room when you plant to make pruning easier and faster.

Vertical lines characterize erect or upright forms making them perfect accents. They can be used as narrow hedges but need careful pruning.

With graceful, fountain-like silhouettes, arching shrubs add a restful touch to the garden. Use them for shrub borders or specimen plants, or to highlight the ends of narrow hedges.

Large spreading types, with branches extending to provide horizontal lines, accent the architectural features of the home, making them useful as foreground plants. However, for small gardens where you want a variety of plants, choose upright, medium-size plants, and not many sprawlers and spreaders.

These features, along with size and texture, are used to adjust the proportions of a garden by making a short one appear longer or a long one shorter. Broad-leaved and bold plants in the front, with small-leaved, delicate ones farther away make the view seem longer. Light and bright colors advance or stand out, and dark colors seem to recede. So use light, bright foliage shrubs in the foreground, those with silver, bluish tinges, or yellow. Toward the back, use deeper tones, purples or deep greens, to give the illusion of space.

The Red Bluff Garden Club is affiliated with Cascade District Garden Club; California Garden Clubs, Inc.; Pacific Region Garden Clubs and National Garden Clubs Inc.

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