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Archives for December 26, 2014

Commonwealth to scale back projects in Fond du Lac

Louie Lange Jr. isn’t looking to start any projects in the city of Fond du Lac anytime soon.

Lange’s firm — Commonwealth Companies — took a beating on social media this past year, with posters accusing the company of everything from owning every apartment building in the city, attracting an unsavory demographic into the community with its affordable housing, to underhanded dealings with public officials in acquiring a historic landmark.

Some detractors even went so far as to create online groups on Facebook focusing on the alleged missteps or practices of the company, most of which Lange says weren’t true.

“How many local companies that do things for the community have Facebook pages about them?” Lange said. “Many of the people in these groups are misinformed, and when you try to inform them, they don’t believe us. Just think if every company in town had to deal with that? It’s really disheartening.”

When Lange set up headquarters for his redevelopment company in Fond du Lac, he was interested in finding a way to invest in the downtown area. Two of those investments materialized as the Commonwealth Coffee Co., an artsy deli and coffee shop on the street level of the Riverside Senior Apartment complex on Macy Street.

Sincere effort

The other project, Trinity Restaurant and Hall — a bistro-style eatery inside the re-purposed Immanuel Trinity Church building — is located in the heart of the downtown arts district.

“Our thought wasn’t to get directly into the restaurant business. We just wanted to create a great space, find an operator and lease the structure in a way where that person could be successful,” Lange said. “We never believed that this was going to be a big profit center for us by any means. It was a sincere effort on our part just to make the community a better place, especially in the downtown area.”

The company announced the closure of both businesses in November, citing the inability to meet customer expectations along with negative community sentiment and declining sales.

“First and foremost, Trinity failed because our service was terrible. We had a problem delivering the service that was expected and demanded by customers,” Lange said. “Customers give you one chance for sure, two maybe. And if you hit them on the third, you’ve lost them for good. We tried all different things to fix it and we just couldn’t.”

New course

In the meantime, Lange is optimistic that they have a party very close to signing a lease for the eatery. He also wants the public to know that Commonwealth’s only involvement in the operations at Trinity is holder of the lease.

“We’re more than happy to stand back and let them go. We don’t want anyone not going there because it’s part of Commonwealth,” Lange said. “It’s a great place and a great location and we want this person to succeed, so let’s make sure to get out and support that person.”

Lange said he also has had some interest in the coffee shop.

“It’s a perfect place for an owner/operator who works there that doesn’t have this baggage of being a business that did all these terrible things to the community,” Lange said.

Fond du Lac development

Lange says, in the wake of rumors and online attacks, the company has decided to turn its focus back to its core operations: Redevelopment and construction. Already the company has seven multi-family housing projects lined up out of state for 2015.

He says the company is still moving forward on an existing project in the city; the Retlaw complex and the gardening and landscaping project on the Wells site. Lange said Commonwealth hopes to take ownership of the Wells property next month following a lengthy demolition and clean-up process led by the City of Fond du Lac.

“We’re actually downsizing our plans for the Garten Center as a reaction to public sentiment out there that Commonwealth is trying to monopolize Fond du Lac,” Lange said. “Why fight it? We put the truth out there but you still see all these negative comments. I have to be honest, it’s wearing me down.”

While Lange has no intention of pulling up stakes in the Fond du Lac community, he has no plans for any new projects.

“We’re not abandoning Fond du Lac by any means. However, we do have other buildings in the downtown area that we had plans for, but instead will probably just put them up for lease,” Lange said. “We don’t think we’re going to be expanding here anytime soon. There’s other places more accepting of our efforts.”

More accepting

One of those places is Ripon. Recently the city held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of Commonwealth’s 24-unit Jefferson Street Apartment complex.

“There wasn’t one apartment available when the place opened up,” said Ripon Mayor Gary Will. “I think that speaks volumes for the need in our community and the support for the project.”

Will is also happy about the upcoming partnership with the Fond du Lac-based company in re-purposing the former Ripon Medical Center, which was vacated following completion of contruction of a new hospital. The perspective redevelopment project includes the creation of apartments and townhouses within the medical center.

“One of my concerns as mayor was this vacant building would sit for years until at some point we would have to take it down,” Will said. “We’re very fortunate that Commonwealth has an interest in doing a project like this. We’re working to finalize things by this spring. I can’t ask for anything more for the city of Ripon to have the pieces of this puzzle falling together.”

Promoting positivity

Lange says he’s excited about the reuse of the AC Nielsen building by Marian University and Agnesian HealthCare. Lange sees the relocation of the university’s nursing program and Agnesian’s IT department as a catalyst for development in downtown Fond du Lac.

“My philosophy is to get more people downtown, and this will have a huge, positive impact on the downtown and its businesses,” Lange said.

In order for Fond du Lac to move forward into the future, it needs to become a community that’s more welcoming of new ideas, people, unique businesses or companies, he said.

“We need more advocates to support new and different things in town. We need to call out the people that are promoting this negativity,” Lange said. “We also need to celebrate the successes here and drown out those voices that tear down.”

Contact Colleen Kottke at (920) 907-7968 or; Twitter: @ColleenKottke.

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Christmas tree disposal in Hillsborough, Pinellas

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are offering several options to residents looking to dispose of Christmas trees.


Curb pickup: Remove all decorations, lights, and tinsel; cut tree into sections no larger than four feet long and six inches in diameter; place curbside on yard waste collection day.

Drop it Off: Solid waste customers can take trees directly to one of the following Yard Waste Processing Facilities:

— 346 Falkenburg Road in Tampa

— 13001 U.S. Highway 41 in Gibsonton

— 8001 W. Linebaugh Ave. in Tampa

The three yard waste sites are open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., with the exception of holidays. The sites will be closed on New Year’s Day.

Customers are required to have their current tax bill and photo I.D. to access the Yard Waste Processing Facilities, and they must be able to unload the trees themselves. Customers should also remove all decorations, lights, and tinsel. Artificial trees are not accepted at the yard waste sites. For any questions about taking trees to a Yard Waste Processing Facility, call Hillsborough County Solid Waste at (813) 272-5680.

Nonresidents need to pay a fee to dispose of trees.

Reuse: Residents also can just put the tree in their yard where it will provide a habitat for wildlife. To provide food for birds, you can hang suet or sliced fruit from the branches. You can also chop or grind your live Christmas tree and repurpose it as mulch around trees, shrubs, and flower beds. For more ideas and information regarding recycling and repurposing live Christmas trees, contact Lisa Meredith with Hillsborough County Extension Service’s Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program at or (813) 744-5519 ext. 54146.

For more information about Hillsborough County solid waste collection and disposal services, visit, or call (813) 272-5680.


It is important to not place the trees in a bag or trash can but rather leave them loose for pickup. For apartments and condos, residents should consult with their property managers for disposal instructions.

The following cities offer Christmas tree recycling:

Belleair: Curbside collection with yard waste on regular day. For information, call (727) 588-3769, ext. 401.

Clearwater: Curbside collection with yard waste on regular day. For information, call (727) 562-4920.

Dunedin: Curbside collection with yard waste on regular day from Friday, Dec. 26, to Saturday, Jan. 10. Residents without curbside yard waste pickup can plan a pickup day with their association property manager. For information, call (727) 298-3215, ext. 1328.

Gulfport: Curbside collection with yard waste on Wednesdays. For information, call (727) 893-1089. For multiple-dwelling units, trees must be placed near the dumpster without blocking access to it. Once processed, mulch will be available to residents at the Gulfport Neighborhood Center at 1617 49th St. S.

Indian Rocks Beach: Curbside collection with yard waste on Wednesdays. For information, call (727) 595-6889.

Largo: Curbside collection with yard waste on regular days. For information, call (727) 587-6760 or visit

Madeira Beach: Curbside collection with yard waste on Wednesdays. For information, call (727) 399-2631.

Oldsmar: Drop off at 107 Shore Drive W., across from Park Boulevard. Open from Friday, Dec. 26, to Tuesday, Jan. 13. For information, call (813) 749-1266. Drop off locations will be available seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Pinellas Park: Pinellas Park residents can drop off at 12950 40th St., Monday through Sunday, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., to be recycled or place at the curb to be processed at Pinellas County’s Solid Waste Facility. For information, call (727) 541-0711.

Safety Harbor: Curbside collection with yard waste on Wednesdays. For information, call (727) 724-1550.

St. Petersburg: Drop off at a St. Petersburg brush site: 1000 62nd Ave. NE, 7750 26th Ave. N., 2500 26th Ave. S., 4015 Dr. MLK Jr. St. S., or 2453 20th Ave. N. Another option is curbside pickup. Place trees out by Friday, Jan. 9, for pickup on Saturday, Jan. 10. If tree hasn’t been picked up on Jan. 10, call 893-7398. Place the tree no closer than 3 feet beside the garbage container in the usual collection location such as curb or alley.

Tarpon Springs: Drop off at the yard waste facility at 898 S. Levis Ave. for a fee, or put out Christmas tree without bags for curbside collection with yard waste on regular day. For information, call (727) 943-4837.

Treasure Island: Curbside collection with yard waste on regular day. For information, call (727) 547-4575, ext. 253.

These cities do not offer tree recycling: Belleair Beach, Belleair Bluffs, Belleair Shore, Indian Shores, Kenneth City, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach, Redington Shores, Seminole, South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach. Trees will be picked up at curbside, but they will not be recycled.

Residents of cities that do not offer tree recycling or residents living in unincorporated Pinellas County can recycle a tree by dropping it off at Solid Waste at 3095 114th Ave. N. in St. Petersburg. The cost is $3 per load for a maximum of five trees. The cost for six or more trees is $37.50 per ton. The facility is open Monday to Friday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Throwing tree out not only option

There are many options for disposing Christmas trees.

Lowe’s Home Improvement suggests composting the tree or finding a recycler — who may be the person doing the landscaping in your yard — instead of putting it next to the dumpster and waiting for the garbage man to come.

On its website, Lowe’s also has other ideas for the old tree.

Those who have fish ponds can use pieces of the tree as natural refuge for fish as well as a good way to feed them.

Just cut up the tree and sink the pieces into the pond and you’re done, according to the website.

The site also lists standing the tree, or large pieces of it, in the yard and redecorating it with strings of popcorn, pinecones covered in peanut butter and fresh orange slices.

The birds will then have a place to keep warm as well as their own Christmas feast — and they are fun to sit and watch, too, as they reap the benefits of your gift, according to the site.

Other ways to recycle the tree include cutting the branches from the trunk and then slicing the trunk.

Once the slices are done, treat them to use as coasters, make more Christmas ornaments for next year or find ways to decorate the home as well as using the branches as temporary mulch around tree trunks, according to the site.

But, if you must throw it out for whatever reason, Lowe’s also suggests how to go about it.

After clearing off all the decorations, the website says to wrap the tree either in plastic or a blanket before taking it out.

Wrapping it, according to the site, helps prevent a large mess of needles and sap in the home.

For those who have the tools, cutting the tree into 4-foot pieces for easier pickup or to use as mulch is a good idea, according to the site.

Neil Schwendiman, district manager for Washington County Solid Waste, said residents also have the choice to bring their trees to the landfill at 325 N. Landfill Road, just off Telegraph Street and across from Coral Canyon.

Dropping the trees off is free for residents and the smaller pieces will be chipped into compost while the larger, whole trees will set to decompose, he said.

Schwendiman noted that commercial customers do have a fee for drop off.

Follow Therresa Worthington on Twitter, @TherresaW, and on Facebook at

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Downtown Bethesda could become ‘green’ community under next 20-year …

Downtown Bethesda soon could become the first “green” community in Montgomery County, with large swaths of energy-efficient buildings, more trees, and landscaping that would better control and clean stormwater runoff.

Through a pilot program that would be part of the area’s next 20-year development plan, Montgomery planners say they will try to ensure that one of the county’s most urban areas and biggest job centers becomes more “sustainable” as it grows.

Under the plan, two to three areas within downtown would be designated as “high-performance districts” with broader and more rigorous standards in three areas.

The “environmental” piece could include more environmentally friendly high-rise office and condo buildings, perhaps with renewable energy sources such as solar panels, and surrounded by more trees and green space. The “social” goal eyes more public gathering spots and better-connected paths to encourage walking and cycling. The “economic” goals could include more affordable housing and retail space.

Tina Schneider, a senior environmental planner for the county, said planners want to “push the envelope” to make downtown Bethesda a “really vivacious, desirable place that’s seen as being innovative and technically advanced.”

“It would be doing more good for the community and the ecosystem rather than doing less harm,” Schneider said. The designated areas, she said, would “function in a way that’s not depleting our resources but perhaps even improving them.”

The idea of planning entire neighborhoods or communities, rather than individual buildings, around the idea of environmental and economic sustainability is part of a growing trend nationwide, planning experts say. While cities in Europe have embraced the idea for years, they say, it began gaining momentum in the United States about five years ago.

Cities such as Baltimore, Phoenix and Philadelphia have embraced or are exploring the concept. Since last year, the District has had an “ecodistrict” in a 15-block area of Southwest just south of the Mall, where planners are trying to revitalize an isolated area of mostly federal buildings into a more livable neighborhood.

This year, four towns in the Bladensburg area of Prince George’s County became a state-designated “sustainable community.” The towns catch and clean more stormwater runoff than the county requires, run some government buildings on solar and wind power, and have urban farms and gardens.

“We’re environmentally sensitive because we’re so close to the water” of the Anacostia River, said John Moss, Bladensburg’s town administrator.

In downtown Bethesda, Schneider said, planners are considering two to three potential sites for “high-performance districts.” Those include Woodmont Triangle and the area around the Bethesda Metro station. The 20-year Downtown Bethesda growth plan covers both sides of Wisconsin Avenue, from about Bradley Lane on the south to just north of Battery Lane.

Schneider emphasized that the plan is preliminary, and many details have yet to be worked out. A key question: Whether developers and county environmental and permitting officials will buy into a proposal that ultimately must be approved by the County Council. If the idea works, Schneider said, it could be expanded to other parts of the county.

Tim Eden, managing partner for Chevy Chase-based developer Starr Capital, said he doesn’t see how Montgomery environmental standards could get much more stringent. By the time developers meet state and county regulations, such as for green roofs and stormwater runoff, most buildings meet the requirements for a silver LEED certification as a “green” building, he said.

Developers already design environmentally friendly buildings because investors routinely require LEED certification as part of the financing terms, Eden said. Developers also cater to tenant demand, including from many millennials who want “green” buildings for their offices or homes. Developers are convinced, he said, that the marketability, environmental benefits and long-term savings in lower water and energy bills offset higher construction costs.

Developers in Montgomery also absorb the costs of meeting county requirements that new residential buildings have bike racks, bike storage areas and up to 15 percent of units as “moderately priced” housing.

“The development community is already meeting fairly strict standards for environmental sustainability,” Eden said. “I don’t know what else we could do, frankly, to raise the bar.”

Schneider said planners are beginning to seek developers’ input on what the new “high-performance districts” might entail. She said any new standards probably would be encouraged, rather than required, by offering developers tax breaks or additional density.

If done correctly, the districts could make downtown Bethesda a “green urban model,” said Veronique Marier, executive director of Bethesda Green, a nonprofit public-private partnership of businesses, government and residents that promotes sustainable living practices.

“I think this plan is a good start that we can support, so we can push the envelope to a greener Bethesda,” Marier said. “The trick will be to make sure there are the right incentives for developers.”

The Montgomery planning board is scheduled to review a draft of the Downtown Bethesda sector plan in April.

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Recycling your tree can be gift for the environment


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    Christmas is over. Xmas tree, gifts, wrapping paper and lights in the trash ORG XMIT: MIN2012122614565983

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    Several years back, when I worked for a medium-size daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D., I wrote a story about a local fishing group that asked area residents to donate their real Christmas trees for a fish habitat project. The group collected more than 100 trees and used concrete blocks, among other nifty tricks, to submerge the trees in three locations in a nearby lake.

    Like many prairie watersheds, the lake had very little “structure” (it was basically a bowl with water in it) and needed a little boost. The goal was less about providing spawning habitat than it was about attracting — and concentrating — sunfish, crappies, bass, walleyes and other fish in a particular area to improve angling. The project — my first introduction to using Christmas trees for wildlife habitat projects — worked well as a so-called “fish aggregator,” though for little else.

    Once the egg nog is gone and the holiday season officially ends, an estimated 500,000 Minnesotans who purchased real Christmas trees will have to decide how to dispose of them. Environmental groups, state officials and others say old Christmas trees can be reused or recycled for many purposes, though using them in Minnesota waters is strictly prohibited without a special permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

    “They’re not trash and really shouldn’t be treated like trash,” said Katie Fernholz, executive director of Dovetail Partners, an environmental group based in Minneapolis. “The Christmas season is going to end, but that doesn’t mean your tree doesn’t have a purpose beyond the holidays. They came from nature and they can go back into nature. Real Christmas trees, which are biodegradable, are the ultimate renewable resource.”

    Fernholz and others say Christmas tree recycling and mulching programs are a growing trend in the Twin Cities and beyond. Most jurisdictions will collect the trees during regular curbside trash pickup, typically for two weeks following Christmas. Be aware that some haulers may charge an additional fee for the service and may have certain requirements. In addition, many cities and counties have free or inexpensive drop-off locations for Christmas tree recycling. If you can’t transport the tree yourself, some Boy Scout troops and other nonprofits offer pickup services for a small donation.

    “Depending on where you live, in the Twin Cities or outstate, the services and requirements for recycling can be different, so you should contact your local hauler or the city or county in which you live and find out what’s available,” said Fernholz. “Mulch has a lot of uses. It’s great for gardens because it traps moisture and suppresses weeds. A lot of people will take off the tree branches and chip the tree themselves as a first step in a compost project. One of the most common uses for mulch is for walking trails at parks or even at your home as part of a landscaping project. It’s good natural material for trails and paths.”

    Jan Donelson is the executive director of the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association in Clear Lake, Minn. She said real Christmas trees have other “natural” uses beyond recycling. One example: Use it to create a bird feeder and sanctuary. Donelson recommends putting your Christmas tree in your back yard, on your deck, in your garden or any other location that’s “conducive for bird-watching.” Fresh orange slices and “strings of popcorn” will help lure birds, Donelson said.

    “Christmas trees provide great shelter for birds in the winter, too.” she said. “Some people I know take pine cones and roll them in peanut butter and bird seed. The birds seem to love that.

    “People in Minnesota and the Midwest in general have a strong tradition of using real Christmas trees, and overall that’s good for our environment,” Donleson added. “The good news is that a natural tree has many uses after the holidays. They’re just beautiful as bird feeders.”

    Donelson and Fernholz say many communities, private landowners and habitat conservation groups use Christmas trees for sand and soil erosion barriers, particularly along lake, river and stream shorelines.

    “Christmas trees can be used as anchors, as a way to stabilize shorelines and reduce erosion into our waterways,” said Donelson. “What you’re doing is creating a temporary barrier until the natural vegetation takes root. Less soil erosion means better overall water quality.”

    While real Christmas trees have many uses, Fernholz, who is also a certified forester, said they should never be used as firewood in a fireplace or a wood stove. “Christmas trees get dry very quickly and flare up surprisingly fast,” she said. “Conifer resin is also highly flammable. If you decide to burn your tree instead of recycling it, you should have a large property where burning is allowed. You can never be too careful.”


    Tori J. McCormick is a freelance writer living in Prior Lake. Contact him at tori

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    It’s time for gardening resolutions

    2014 is winding down, and 2015 is near. When we think of resolutions for the coming year, most of us include losing weight, being more organized or simply an overall “being better.” Resolutions are good goals to have.

    Gardeners are no exception to wishing for the better – better gardens, better planning, better record keeping, etc. Here are five resolutions – with a few modifications – that our friends at the National Garden Bureau recommended a few years back. They would certainly be appropriate for Louisiana gardeners to consider in 2015.

    To start, don’t blame yourself for gardening failures. Oftentimes, Mother Nature is not our friend when it comes to gardening. Or life gets in the way. We do not want you to despair. Simply try again and learn from experience. Your garden, and your gardening friends, are both extremely forgiving.

    “I will not be afraid to ask questions” is a great gardening resolution. How else can you learn? Take advantage of the experience of your neighbor, your aunt, the garden center employee, Louisiana Master Gardeners or the local extension agent. They will appreciate your interest and be flattered that you want to learn from them. You cannot learn by sitting back.

    “I will try new plants” is a popular resolution. This is kind of a no-brainer, right? Have you ever met a gardener who didn’t want the newest of the new – for bragging rights, if nothing else? But what about really new … like a new growing style or completely new crop of vegetables. Cruise around on Pinterest, and you’re sure to find something irresistible that’s out of your usual comfort zone. Try an LSU AgCenter Louisiana Super Plant that you have not planted before.

    “Sharing my passion for gardening and landscaping” is another suggested resolution. We’ve done and seen studies that show many of today’s gardeners got their start by learning from someone else, usually a parent or grandparent. Can you be that mentor? Will you be the reason your son or daughter serves homegrown vegetables to your grandchildren? Can you be the reason your neighbor plants window boxes for the first time? Perhaps you could become a Louisiana Master Gardener.

    Finally, consider embracing nature and garden for the birds, the bees and the butterflies (and the bats, too). One of the most enjoyable benefits of having a garden is being able to enjoy the beautiful creatures who visit it. So plan your flowers and vegetables with that in mind, then sit back and enjoy the show.

    The National Garden Bureau at is a great place to find gardening information. The group is a national nonprofit association dedicated to improving the quality of life and the environment through increased use of seeds and plants. Their overall purpose is to educate, to inspire and to motivate people to increase their use of plants in homes, gardens and workplaces by being the marketing arm of the gardening industry.

    The LSU AgCenter wishes all gardeners and landscapers in Louisiana a Happy New Year.

    You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by visiting the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station or Facebook/LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station

    . You can find an abundance of landscape information for both home gardeners and industry professionals at both sites.

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    Garden Club gets decorating tips

    Recently, Fredericktown Garden Club members gathered to decorate their “adopted pole,” and dine out while visiting with each other. 

    The Garden Club then visited the Country Lane Florist where Tina presented us with a program regarding trees and bows. One of the Christmas tree tips included decorating with ornaments by using the bigger ones closer to the trunk and smaller ones outward.

    One fun activity included learning to make bows, one thing none of us were very good at. With Tina’s instructions, by the end of the demonstration we were making bows that really looked like bows. 

    The next day I went out and bought wire and ribbon and went to work. It was an evening enjoyed by all. The Garden Club wishes you all a Merry Christmas and happy New Year. 

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    Garden tips: Caring for your holiday plants


    Cyclamen, in an 1826 botany illustration.

    Posted: Thursday, December 25, 2014 8:00 am

    Garden tips: Caring for your holiday plants


    Remember, cyclamen do well in sunny areas where the temperatures dip below 65 degrees at night. Poinsettias should be kept away from drafty areas. They prefer sunlight, but not direct sun. They don’t like to dry out between waterings, but also can be killed by soil that is too soggy. Try to water with warm water, and keep them in temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees.

    And another reminder: Poinsettias are not poisonous, but mistletoe, amaryllis and narcissus are, so keep these plants away from curious children and animals.

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    Thursday, December 25, 2014 8:00 am.

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    Garden Life: Seasons bring gift of change to garden life

    Robb Rosser

    Robb Rosser

    One of the greatest gifts the garden has to offer is a seasonal reminder that change is part of life itself. The natural transition from autumn to winter begins with lowering temperatures and shifting weather patterns. The continuing consequences of wind, rain, sleet and snow have an obvious effect on the environment in which we live. Recognizing the effect these changes bring to the garden can be an eye opening experience.

    With a change in external temperature, the plants in our gardens transform themselves to better survive the elements. Beginning in early autumn, the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs react to the arrival of colder weather by ceasing to produce chlorophyll. As a result, the color green declines and the inherent reds, oranges and yellows emerge on the surface of plant foliage. The next leaf stage is to wither and drop to the ground, leaving bare branches.

    By working in the garden with an awareness of nature, we can be sure that all of the work we do has a positive impact now and long after our work is done. As an active gardener, I try my best to follow nature’s cue and stay in step with the vagaries of each new season. Falling leaves that cover the surface of the ground in late autumn are a tangible reminder to begin adding a layer of mulch to beds and borders, protecting tender plants as well as enriching the soil.

    Bare branches remind me to slip on a sweater before beginning my morning chores. At the same time, newly transplanted trees, shrubs, perennial divisions and hardy bulbs continue growing roots under the surface of the soil, drawing on available nutrients and the moisture around them. Earthworms and various microbes in the soil continue to process the organic materials they find. Even on the dreariest winter days, there is too much to experience in the winter garden to sleep away the season.

    Open your eyes to the magnificent sight of a Douglas fir in silhouette against the muted evening winter sky. Marvel at the delicacy of frosted rose hips in the early morning light or the first blooming hellebore of the season. Allow yourself to venture out in the elements under a protective cloak of warm woolen gloves, a hat and sweater, knowing you are only a step away from a toasty warm kitchen and a cup of tea.

    As a participant in the creation of your own garden, you play a key role in making sure the garden brings delight with every change of season. With each new garden lesson you learn, it’s more likely that you will one day achieve your garden ideal. Unlike the sculpture or composer, who completes a piece of art and then moves on to the next, few gardeners consider their work done at any specific point. We continue to revise throughout the life of the garden as well as the life of the gardener.

    Imagine visiting a neighbor’s garden in winter and coming upon a scene where freshly fallen snow has gathered in the branches of the shimmering, mahogany-red bark of a Tibetan cherry tree (Prunus serrula). Any gardener can go out and find that same tree for his or her own garden and then, one snowy day in a future winter, delight in the sensation of an idea come to life. Just as artists choose between oil paints and watercolors to help express their ideas, we make choices in garden style, design and plants.

    Gardening is an extension of your individual personality. If an impressionist painting of a field of red poppies lifts your spirit to high heaven, by all means, cast a handful of poppy seeds to the wind. Some of us garden traditionally, following long established guidelines that we have come to trust. Others are more willing to take chances, challenging old theories or simply taking risks with color and plant selection. Neither method is right nor wrong; they are simply different forms of expression.

    Every new garden lesson is a gift; another opportunity to learn and grow. In the process of creating a garden, we all make mistakes and there will be occasional failures and low points. In time, however, most of us learn to adjust and continue gardening as long as it is physically possible. Gardeners of every level persevere and come to love gardening more by doing so. The most satisfied gardeners seem to be the ones who learn, from year to year, how to use the medium of gardening to express a personal vision of the rich, ever changing life we live.

    Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener.

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    Writtle student shortlisted for prestigious garden design award

    A Writtle College postgraduate has been shortlisted for a major student award for her garden design which aims to support those facing mental health issues.

    Jiyoung Kim, who is studying for an MA Garden Design, has been shortlisted for the Student Award from the Society of Garden Designers – the only professional association for garden designers in the UK.

    The 32-year-old, from South Korea, was shortlisted alongside five other students and will find out on January 30 whether she has won the accolade.

    She said: “I still cannot believe that I am a finalist for such a major award; it has certainly boosted my confidence and I will focus on my design work even harder than before.

    “My shortlisted design was a huge challenge for me as I approached a deep subject by touching on philosophy and contemplation, aiming to give comfort and to help people suffering from mental health issues.”

    Jiyoung’s garden design, called Deep Simplicity, represents the notion that underlying all of life’s chaos is a simple order based on Heidegger’s philosophy that humans should be aware of life and death.

    “Humans can regain the simple truth of life through deep thought and contemplation, even though we may lose our direction in life.

    “The infinity symbol within the design is to promote hope and order in people’s minds; a metaphor of infinite thoughts and coexistence with other living creatures.

    “This garden is proposed as a place for finding the true nature of existence, accomplished through experiences of walking and contemplating.”

    The judging panel included renowned garden designers Sarah Eberle and Philippa O’Brien as well as Arabella St. John Parker, from Homes Gardens magazine.

    The panel was looking for outstanding design skills and, importantly, a clear demonstration of an understanding of the brief provided for the project.

    The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony at the London’s Millennium Gloucester Hotel.

    Dr Saruhan Mosler, Jiyoung’s MA dissertation supervisor, congratulated her, saying: “We congratulate Jiyoung on her success with the project.

    “Jiyoung worked hard on this challenging subject that was also part of her MA Garden Design dissertation.

    “Competitions offer an excellent opportunity to students as they help them to build their portfolio and gain experience within the design industry.”

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