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Archives for February 26, 2015

Large crowd questions details of Skaneateles development plans

Skaneateles (WSYR-TV) – A proposal to transform the site of an old trailer park and abandoned gas stations in Skaneateles drew roughly 85 people to a public hearing on Wednesday.

The property owner, Gary Dower, who also claims co-ownership of Mirbeau Spa, took the floor to present his ideas.

The proposed redevelopment site covers 2.2 acres at the intersection of Route 20 and Fuller Street. A portion of the land is in the Town of Skaneateles, the rest is in the village with different zoning regulations.

Dower said plans include a new medical/professional office building, six small single family homes, walking paths, landscaping, and a driveway to Mirbeau, as well as a redesigned storm water management system that serves Mirbeau and others.

In order to streamline the process, Dower wants all of the property to fall under the same zoning regulations within one municipality, the village. First, the town and village boards would have to agree to an annexation of land within 90 days. A public hearing with both boards is part of that process.

While many people said they’d like they to see the land redeveloped, most of the crowd at Wednesday’s hearing expressed concerns about the long-term effects on traffic, safety, a taxed water drainage system, and future plans at the nearby spa. A banquet facility has been discussed as one possible expansion.

“I think it comes down to, what do we want that place to look like when we are done?” explained Tim Johnson who lives in the Town of Skaneateles. “You’re trying to make a determination on annexation and remove the town from the process before you have final plans on what you’re really going to do. We should know exactly what is going to happen before the town gives up the property.”

Johnson spent several minutes making his own slideshow presentation to town councilors and village trustees, countering Dower’s positive promises of tax relief and jobs.

“The whole point of tonight was to allow people the opportunity to not only learn the details of the project, but also to begin to form their opinions about whether the project meets their expectations or not,” said Dower.

Dower said he’s open to hearing feedback. If both municipal boards agree to annexation, then the village would consider rezoning the entire area. The process would also include environment impact reviews.

Comments leading up to an annexation decision will be accepted at the town and village offices until 4pm on March 9th.

Article source:

Top 6 Things to do in Bay County: Comedy for a Cause, ‘Casablanca’ on tap

1. Comedian Norm Stulz returns to Bay City for a benefit show dubbed “Comedy for a Cause Vision for Bay County” at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 5, at the State Theatre, 913 Washington Ave. in downtown Bay City.

Once again, the audience is to get an inside view of Stulz’s family life, with wife Sharon, along with his kids and grandchildren. But, says the Holly resident, don’t expect the same show he performed last October. There are always new stories to tell.

Money raised goes toward the Vision for Bay County program that began in 2009 and was the brainchild of Dr. Lee Newton, owner of Newton Eyecare Center, and his wife Mollie. The vision program helps area residents with eye care exams and glasses. A couple years ago Newton teamed up with Christopher Girard, president and CEO or Do All Inc.

“The Partnership with Do All has worked out well,” said Newton. “They evaluate the families and send them to me.” 

Newton is hoping to raise $5,000-$10,000 to help keep the program running.

Tickets to the show are $22 and are available at the theater. For more information, call 989-892-2660 or visit

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in a scene from the classic 1942 film “Casablanca.”

2. See the classic movie “Casablanca” at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 1, at the State Theatre, 913 Washington Ave. in downtown Bay City.

“Casablanca” is set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II where an American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

The movie stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid.

Tickets are $5.

For more information, visit the State Theatre box office, call 989-892-2660 or visit

The Bay County Home Builders Association hosts its annual Home Garden Lifestyle Show March 1 at the Bay County Civic Arena.

3. Attend the final day of the 39th annual Home  Garden Lifestyle Show from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 1, at the Bay County Civic Arena, 4231 Shrestha Drive in Bangor Township.

Presented by the Bay County Home Builders Association, more than 60 exhibitors are expected to showcase a wide variety of ideas, products and services.

Suppliers and area contractors are to provide information and products for construction and remodeling projects including countertops, windows and doors, siding, gutters, heating and cooling, insulation, kitchen features, landscaping and lawn and garden equipment.

Other fun activities are planned and door prizes are to be given away.

Admission is $3 for adults and free for children.

For more information, visit

Support Helping Hands of Munger at a benefit breakfast on March 1.

4. Eat breakfast and support a good cause during the Helping Hands of Munger Benefit Breakfast from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, March 1, at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 320 S. River Road, Bay City.

Members of the Knights of Columbus cook up scrambled eggs, French toast, sausage, hash browns, bacon, fruit and homemade cinnamon bread. Coffee, milk and juice are also to be provided.

A bake sale also is planned.

Cost is $6 for adults and $3 for children under age 12. 

Proceeds benefit Helping Hands of Munger, a nonprofit organization that assists community members in need. 

For more information, visit

The Steve Drzewicki Polka Band is set to perform March 1 at Pulaski Hall.

5. Polka, polka, polka to the music of the Steve Drzewicki Polka Band from 4:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday, March 1, at Pulaski Bar, located at the intersection of Farragut and 26th streets in Bay City.

Food is to be available for purchase and a cash bar is to be offered.

Members of the Steve Drzewicki Polka Band are Steve Drzewicki on drums and vocals; Gary Mueller on trumpet, sax, fiddle, accordion, bass and vocals; Doug Lull on trumpet and vocals; Stanley Kowalski on accordion and vocals; Bill Treichel on accordion; Mark Durocher on bass; and Tommy Reder on clarinet, sax and vocals.

For more information on the band, visit its website at

Admission is $2.

For more information, call Pulaski Bar at 989-893-1465.

The Bay Concert Band performs Tuesday, March 3, at T.L. Handy Middle School in Bay City.

6. The Bay Concert Band performs a concert titled “From Stage Screen III” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, at T.L. Handy Middle School, 601 Blend St. on Bay City’s West Side.  

Listen to Broadway and movie show tunes, including music from “Crazy for You,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” The band also is to perform a medley of tunes made famous by Judy Garland and smooth and sassy big band favorites from Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies.”

Admission at the door is $7 for adults and $5 for senior citizens and children in sixth-grade and under. 

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EBMUD offers plant ideas, rebates to promote conservation – Ft. Bragg Advocate

OAKLAND — For longer than most Californians would like to remember, local water districts have been promoting water conservation and the East Bay Municipal Water District is right up there with the rest, stepping up its program to guide customers during the current drought.

EBMUD is continuing its program of offering rebates for residential landscape conversions. It has also developed new WaterSmart plant tags to guide consumers looking to convert to water efficient landscaping and is working closely with area nurseries.

“The plant tags are so customers who are in the process of converting their landscapes and are trying to make better choices of plants they are putting outside can figure out easily which are the ones that are more water efficient,” said Abby Figueroa, EBMUD senior public information representative. “They’re really to guide customers toward the best plants for the climate.”

Nine nurseries throughout the East Bay are using the tags sporting the message “I’m a WaterSmart plant,” including five in Alameda County: Encinal Nursery in Alameda; Westbrae Nursery in Berkeley; Thornhill Nursery in Montclair; Ace Garden Center Grand Lake in Oakland; and Evergreen Nursery in San Leandro.

The four Contra Costa County participants are: Tassajara Nursery in Danville; Mount Diablo Nursery and Orchard Nursery and Florist in Lafayette; and Annie’s Annuals in Richmond.

Customers can scan the back of the tags for information on water-wise plants and water-saving tips.

Each nursery determines its inventory of WaterSmart plants based on certain criteria.

The plant must be listed in the EBMUD’s “Plants and Landscapes for Summer Dry Climates” guide or appear in the state plant database, “Water Use Classification of Landscape,” as a low-water-using plant.

“Hundreds of plants qualify,” Figueroa said. “Drought or no drought, we have dry summers with warm temperatures throughout most of the year, so we really want to encourage people to pick plants that are going to be efficient.”

Rebates are another conservation promotion and EBMUD is offering rebates in three areas of landscape conversion.

The slogan “get cash for grass” refers to earning a rebate of 50 cents per square foot for removing a lawn.

Installing drip irrigation earns 25 cents per square foot and rebates are also offered for installing a Smart, self-regulating irrigation control.

Single-family homes can earn up to $2,500 as a credit on their water bill. Conservation is gaining momentum and EBMUD has seen a huge jump in the number of people applying for rebates.

“Last year, at this time we had less than 50 customers in the queue for landscape rebates and this year we have more than 500 somewhere in the process of receiving their rebate,” Figueroa said.

“Customers must first apply and be evaluated by a water conservation technician before being preapproved, then they have six months to make their upgrades and submit the final paperwork for us to approve the rebate.”

California’s drought is definitely a serious situation and mandatory restrictions statewide limit outdoor watering to no more than twice a week.

Along with this restriction, the best way to conserve water is by finding and fixing leaks in irrigation systems and taking control of what is being watered.

“If folks can think ahead and do anything that will reduce their outdoor water use long term those are the best steps they can take to help out in the drought,” Figueroa said.


For more information on new plant tags:
For rebate information:
EBMUD ‘Plants and Landscape for Summer Dry Climates’ guide:
Participating nurseries: Ace Garden Center Grand Lake, 4001 Grand Ave., Oakland; Annie’s Annuals, 740 Market Ave., Richmond; Encinal Nursery, 2057 Encinal Ave., Alameda; Evergreen Nursery, 350 San Leandro Blvd., San Leandro; Mt. Diablo Nursery, 3295 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette; Orchard Nursery and Florist, 4010 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette; Tassajara Nursery, 2550 Camino Tassajara, Danville; Thornhill Nursery, 6250 Thornhill Drive, Oakland; and Westbrae Nursery, 1272 Gilman St., Berkeley.

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Memories of Pikake Gardens

_pikake1_Its gates are forever locked. The koi have died. A lonesome breeze blows through faded gardens overgrown with weeds. The waterfalls have ceased falling and even the roses have faded into wilted dreams.

Welcome to Pikake Botanical Gardens at 15515 Villa Sierra Road, once one of the wonders of the horticultural world, now reduced to ashes and memories.

A private botanical garden on nine acres, the project flourished from early 1999 to June 2006, thanks to the vision of Clyde and Connie Childress and the sweat equity of Vista landscape “environmental artist” Bryan Morse. He now operates Alta Vista Botanic Gardens with some of the old Pikake landscaping in a new location.

“We just wanted to do it, we could do it and we did it,” former owner Clyde Childress said this week. “I visualized what I wanted and when I was at a nursery one day I asked about a good landscape architect. They gave me Bryan’s phone number.

“I said this is what I envision,” Childress continued. “He came back with a lot of ideas and we went to work. I had an open pocketbook.”

We’ll take … everything

_pikake2_ Morse recalled the fateful meeting at Vista’s Ganter Nursery, where he had created an impressive demonstration garden at the time.

“Clyde was buying plants, asked who did it and got hold of me,” Morse said, picking up the tale. “I started building his dream garden. His wife wanted a rose garden and a jungle. He took me to the San Diego Zoo and said wanted it to look like this. They did it in phases over a 5-year period.”

Childress was a former Marine helicopter pilot with Vietnam War service and a Laguna Hills real estate broker before buying the Villa Sierra property in 1998 for a reported $430,000. “His wife’s family owned part of the Tropicana Orange Juice company,” Morse said.

“They had stock in a small family bank that was bought by a bigger bank that was bought by a bigger bank that was bought by a bigger bank,” Morse continued. “They all had $100 shares that became $10,000 a share.”

With money and a vision, the project continued in earnest.

“We’d go to various nurseries,” Childress said, “and said we wanted this and this and this. Word got out to the nurseries. They would see us coming and their eyes would light up. They’d say, get anything you want.”

The Childresses named the gardens Pikake. That was the sweet-scented Hawaiian flower, Jasminum sambac, once favored by Princess Kaiulani. It means “peacock” in Hawaiian. As it happened, a favorite family cat was named after the flower and the garden was named for the cat that recently had died.

_pikake3_ “Bryan did an outstanding job,” Childress said, “exactly what I wanted. It was world class. Everybody who came said it was magnificent.”

Garden for the ages

So magnificent was the project that within no time it was listed on the National Garden Conservancy Tour list. At its height, the gardens attracted 1,000 visitors monthly. It hosted large fundraisers and even an annual July 4 free community party attracting visitors from across the country as well.

The facility was rated with a 2,000-person capacity at its height, parking for 40-45 vehicles. While admission was free, donations were accepted. Larger groups paid $100 due to the water costs for the pumps. put annual revenues at around $56,000 with a staff of one. The “Jazz in the Garden” party raised $80,000 for the community center with private weddings also availing themselves of the lush garden settings.

Gardens included a rainforest containing 360 varieties of tropical and subtropical plants and trees, according to John J. Russell and Thomas S. Spencer in “Gardens Across America.”

Pikake contained a tropical fruit garden and a formal rose garden displaying 300 varieties of roses arranged in a series of concentric octagons. Facilities included a Mediterranean garden, built around an existing grove of mature olive trees featuring a walk lined with exotic citrus trees and other fruits interspersed with herbs and geraniums,

_pikake4_ The Protea Garden contained more than 100 varieties of proteaceae (a unique family of flowering shrubs and trees native to South Africa and Australia), and a desert garden, focusing on desert plants of unusual shapes, form and color.

The grounds contained a Pan-Asian Garden, a Japanese-inspired meditation garden; a prayer garden, employing a pallet of white flowering plants surrounding a life-size statue of a kneeling angel; an English garden, containing more than 200 species of plants, an arbor walk and a forest walk, according to Russell and Thomas.

Lying fallow

The beginning of the end came around 2004 as the Childresses sought to sell the property and move back East. Childress, 78, said he wanted to be closer to remaining family in his later years. They bought a 50-acre, lakeside property in Powhatan County, Virginia, a rural area west of Richmond where they reside today.

A Chinese couple called Li bought the property for a reported $1.8 million in 2006, according to Zillow. “The Li’s came down from L.A. with an interpreter,” Childress said. “They were from mainland China. Through the interpreter, he said it was a dream all his life to have gardens like those. They bought the gardens, not the house.”

The “lot” contained a 3.394-square foot single-family home with four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms built in 1980. The property was underwater, literally, valued at around $1 million today, withered gardens notwithstanding.

A Guatemalan gardener maintained the rose garden and a bit of the other property for a few years, then disappeared, said Morse, adding “I received a frantic call about a year-and-a-half ago from somebody telling me it looked like the new owners had abandoned the property.”

_pikake5_ As for the Li’s, the Roadrunner couldn’t find them last week.

The gardens may have faded, but memories are preserved online for those who care.

Morse has preserved the gardens in the clouds, a website devoted to photos and descriptions of the glory that was Pikake. It’s at

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Thawing out for Spring – the art of growing!

Plant enthusiasts will have the opportunity to learn innovative gardening and landscaping techniques from 26 of the state’s top home horticulture experts at the 39th Annual Rutgers Home Gardeners School on March 21.

Held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Cook/Douglass campus at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, the program features 35 different interactive workshops covering a wide range of subjects from composting and irrigation to beekeeping and canning.

For those who prefer to learn by doing, there are several workshops with hands-on activities, such as building a “pondless” water garden, creating a terrarium or learning the art of fresh flower arranging. This year’s Home Gardeners School offers 16 brand new workshops including color theory, bulb selection, meadowscaping, hydroponics and more. Attendees can create their own schedules by selecting the workshops that are most relevant to their gardening interests for a truly customized and exciting day of learning.

The expert speakers represent both commercial horticulture and landscape design firms along with faculty and staff from Rutgers Cooperative Extension and School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. They will provide homeowners with the opportunity to learn from the best in the business. The lunchtime program will feature a special presentation by Peter Pascale CCC, Executive Chef at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, who will be doing a live cooking demonstration featuring local Jersey Fresh produce.

During breaks, participants can browse gardening and landscaping volumes at the book sale or purchase a plant, knowing that all proceeds of the plant sale will support the Rutgers Gardens (plants can be held for end-of-day pick-up). They can also learn about soil health and purchase soil testing kits from the Rutgers Soil Testing Laboratory or expand their horizons with other organizations represented: Gardener News, NJ Farm Bureau, NJ Landscape Contractors Association, NJ Nursery and Landscape Association, NJ Beekeepers Association, Garden Club of NJ, Jersey Fresh, CoCoRahs, NJ Deer Control, Flower Station, and EcoBeneficial, to name just a few.

The registration fee is $60 until March 10; $75 after (with discounts offered to Rutgers Master Gardeners). You’re invited to bring your own bag lunch or purchase a $10 box lunch when you register. Registration is recommended; some workshops have limited seats. For more information, workshop descriptions or to register, please visit or call the Rutgers Office of Continuing Professional Education at 732-932-9271.

Welcoming spring through art

Somerset County Park Commission’s Leonard J. Buck Garden will welcome the coming of Spring by hosting the annual “Art Photography Exhibit” focusing on the beauty of the diverse moods and seasons of Leonard J. Buck Garden.

The exhibit will be presented in the Leonard J. Buck Garden Visitor’s Center at 11 Layton Road, Far Hills, and will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, now through March 13. Admission is free.

The works on display will feature the Leonard J. Buck Garden as seen through the eyes of a wide range of talented individuals, from dedicated hobbyists to working professionals. The photographs and paintings show the Garden from many perspectives including sweeping landscape views to portraits of individual flowers. Twenty-five artists and/or photographers contributed to previous annual exhibits.

Leonard J. Buck Garden is one of the premier rock gardens in the eastern United States consisting of a 13-acre alpine and woodland garden situated in the wooded stream valley. The garden contains a series of planted rock outcroppings, planting beds, a fern garden, and glimmering ponds and streams. Tucked among the rocks are rare and exotic rock garden plants. The wooded trails connecting the outcroppings are lined with beautiful wild flowers that have flourished and multiplied through the years.

For information on the Art and Photography Exhibit or other garden programs, please call 908-234-2677.

School Garden Conference

Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension and the Rutgers Master Gardener program of Monmouth County are hosting a School Garden Conference at their office in Freehold. The conference will be held from 8:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. on March 6. Presentations will include an update on the “Monarch Watch, Habitat Gardens: Monarchs and Milkweed — Perfect Together” from Cathy Griffin and Sue Schoenfeld; the “Farm to School Network and New Jersey School Garden Contest” from Beth Feehan; and “School Gardens and the Common Core State Standards — Lessons in the Garden” from Natalie Cassidy and Cindy Hedin of the Washington Elementary School in Summit.

Other garden demonstration topics available throughout the day include composting and worm composting (Vermicomposting), raised bed gardening, pea planting lesson, growing microgreens, and starting a shared garden.

Garden Tours, weather and conditions permitting of course, will include Rain Garden and Native Plant Garden; Plant a Row (PAR) Garden — Food Pantry Garden; Junior Master Gardeners Garden; Herb Garden; and Memorial Garden.

Capstone Speakers Bob Mellert and Ellen Simonetti will share their “Twenty Tips for Vegetable Gardeners” with their top tips for successfully growing ten common vegetables.

Registration is $10 and Professional Development Certificates will be provided following the conference. Please contact the RCE of Monmouth County for registration forms and other conference details at the Monmouth County Agriculture Building, 4000 Kozloski Road in Freehold, 732-431-7260 ext. 7262 or by email at

Rutgers launches mobile app

Announced first at the NJ Agricultural Convention in Atlantic City earlier this month by Director Dr. Larry Katz, Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) have launched an app for mobile device users to better access their online publications, news, events, county office locations, and more. The app, easily available from Google Play or the Apple App Store for both Androids and iPhones, lets users stay connected while on the go away from their desktop to Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, home of Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

Downloads are available online through the App home page at Rutgers, Just follow the links on the page to access the app on the Apple iTunes store and Google Play (for Android devices). You can also search for the app on both the App Store and Google Play by using the keyword: NJAES. Just follow the prompts to download, activate, and you’re ready to enjoy the app.

While using the app, viewers can find the closest RCE office, view NJAES events, browse the Newsroom, view the NJ Weed Gallery, search publications, and more.

For FaceBook users, you can also follow the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) at, Rutgers Cooperative Extension at and stay up to date with the latest news, events, and happenings at the SEBS/ NJAES newsroom,

Nicholas Polanin is associate professor, Agricultural Agent II, Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension of Somerset County. Email him at

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Garden Life: Now is time to start whacking those weeds

photophotoRobb Rosser

Robb Rosser

If you want to win the war against weeds, begin now. The advice I hear most often in the name of weed control is to start removing weeds as soon as they appear in the garden. Unfortunately, weeding is not our highest personal priority in early spring. Our thoughts are focused on emerging bulbs and perennials. We are in the mood to add new plants to the garden, not to grub around for old weeds.

Sometimes the art of gardening comes down to cold, hard facts. Getting weeds out of the garden at the start of the season when they are most vulnerable will make your life easier in the long run. The longer you put off pulling weeds the more time you will spend playing catch-up to stay on top of weed production. The most important thing you can do now is to prevent more seeds from developing.

Weeding now keeps annual weeds from forming seed heads and it keeps perennial weeds from developing deeper roots. Annual weeds are little seed-making factories. If you have ever been shot in the eye while weeding nutsedge from the summer garden you know exactly what I mean. Get them out now before they have time to develop viable seeds and increase your workload for years to come.

Perennial weeds do not produce as many seeds, so to ensure their own survival they develop extensive underground root systems. Some of them send a tap root down into the earth while others fan out above or just under the soil surface in an intricate, spider web network of roots. Catch them young and they are easy to remove. Once established they can be difficult if not impossible to eliminate from your garden.

The best time to weed is shortly after a rain, which gives us one more reason to get to work now, well before our annual summer drought. I have friends who insist that hand-pulling is the quickest and best way to get weeds out of the garden. They even claim to enjoy the process. Whatever method you use, be sure you remove the entire weed, roots and all.

If you are thinking of adding any fruit, flowering or shade trees to the garden, this is the time of year to plant them. Most garden outlets receive their new selection of deciduous, bare root trees during the last weeks of winter and often as early as the first week of February. Because the trees are dormant, they transplant with a minimum amount of set-back. This is the time of year when you will find the best selection of bare root roses.

If you are selecting fruit trees, be sure to ask a certified nursery person which varieties are recommended for your area, so you get the one that will produce the very best-quality fruit. You can call the WSU Clark County Master Gardeners office (360-397 6060 ext. 5711) for the most up-to-date information on fruit trees recommended for disease resistance and fruit quality in your specific climate area. Taking the time to make the right choice before planting will pay off years from now when you are reaping the benefits of a healthy, productive fruit tree.

The Yard, Garden and Patio Show begins Friday and I am overjoyed by the prospect. The show runs from Friday through Sunday. In past years, this event was typically a reprieve from winter weather. This year, unseasonably warm temperatures have convinced us that spring has sprung early. I, for one, am ready to revel in all things gardening.

The Yard, Garden and Patio Show has long been recognized as the unofficial launch of spring in the Vancouver and Portland area. It features the latest ideas in new plant material, landscaping and related outdoor accessories. A series of showcase gardens provides visitors with ideas on how they can enhance their own personal landscapes.

This is our premier consumer gardening and landscaping event. It includes free seminars and demonstrations for every level of enthusiast. These speaking events feature local, national and international experts and celebrities in gardening and landscaping. Seminar topics include garden design, vegetable gardening, floral arranging, sustainable practices and plant selection.

My favorite exhibit is the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon’s “Plants for Winter Interest” display. Plants from members’ gardens are on display to show exactly what can be in bloom in your garden at this time of year. Please join me in supporting this premiere garden event and be sure to give me a shout-out if our garden paths should cross. For more info on the show, see

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5 tips for eco-friendly gardening

As the season approaches for cleaning up flowerbeds and planting vegetable gardens, you may love the idea of all the blooms or produce you’ll create but dread the annual fight for control over weeds. There’s no need to go wild on chemicals to reduce all that pulling and hoeing.

“The healthier your soil is, the fewer weeds you will have,” says Suha Kaidbey, owner of Le Printemps in Washington, D.C. “Buy a kit from your local hardware or gardening store to test your soil’s minerals and pH.” Then once you know your soil’s composition, you can talk to your local nursery or Master Gardener about how to increase its health, or plant flowers and vegetables that will thrive in what you have.

Once you’ve got that garden going, however, here are some Earth-friendly and money-saving tips for keeping it beautiful.

1. Try natural weed control.

There are plenty of do-it-yourself ways to control weeds in your gardens without resorting to chemical-laden weed killers. Use corn gluten meal, a nontoxic weed control that is safe to use around children and pets and 98 percent effective after the third application. Mulching oak leaves over garden beds in the fall can control weeds the following year, and for spot treatments (if you’re not up for hand-pulling), try a spray bottle of white vinegar, which will kill everything from dandelions to crab grass.

Time investment: If you’re consistent in fighting weeds and don’t let them get out of hand, two or three rounds of one of the above methods will greatly reduce the weeding you need to do in flower gardens, as will mulching your gardens every season, according to John Toepfer, vice president of content for He says when mulch is applied to the top of the soil, it can prevent weeds from germinating.

Why to do it: It will easily save you a couple hundred dollars a year. A 20-pound bag of corn gluten meal costs about $30, and a gallon jug of white vinegar is only $2. Depending on your location, you may be able to get a pickup truckload of mulch for $20 to $40 per scoop.

2. Water less frequently but more deeply.

While it might seem counterintuitive, watering plants less frequently makes them stronger. Instead, water deeply starting early in the season. Roots will grow deeper and reach for water as the hot summer weather dries out the surface, according to Kaidbey. Water early in the morning or in the evening so the soil can soak up the moisture before the sun does. Kaidbey also says you’ll know you have the right balance of water when your soil is fluffy but moist — that makes weed-pulling easier and discourages weeds, which tend to favor dry, compacted soil.

Time investment: If you’re watering less, you’ll obviously be spending less time setting up your sprinklers.

Why to do it: You can probably cut your water bill in half, if not more, particularly if you establish deeply rooted plants that don’t require watering even in the driest summer conditions.

3. Try composting.

Most homeowners have a tendency to overfertilize, whether that’s with lawns or gardens. To get your gardens off to a healthy start each spring, begin by adding a quarter-inch layer of compost to garden beds early in the season when the ground is soft. Kaidbey says if you have small gardens, it’s easy to compost right from your kitchen by putting all your food scraps in the soil. As they decompose, they’ll fill the soil with minerals and attract worms, which keep the soil aerated. Just avoid strong, odorous foods like onion, garlic and broccoli.

Time investment: A weekend day in early spring to spread and rake compost into beds.

Why to do it: Depending on the size and number of your flower and vegetable gardens, you can save anywhere from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars (if your habit is to use a professional landscaping service) by skipping the chemical overload; plus, you’ll be doing a big favor for Mother Earth and making your gardens safe for kids and pets who wander through them.

4. Skip the fertilizer.

Bel Airs Natural Gatherings sells handmade crafts sourced from owners garden

Bel Air’s Natural Gatherings sells handmade crafts sourced from owners’ garden Kit Waskom Pollard In a narrow hallway on a high shelf, a sign sits next to an intricate wreath of looped vines, feathers and dried flowers. Flowers feed the soul, it says. In a narrow hallway on a high shelf, a sign sits next to an intricate wreath of looped vines, feathers and dried flowers. Flowers feed the soul, it says. ( Kit Waskom Pollard ) –>

Annette Pelleccio, founder and CEO of The Happy Gardener Inc., in Ashland, Va., says it’s best to get your soil tested to see whether you really need fertilizer in the first place. If your soil’s pH is 5.5 or higher, you don’t. If you do feel your gardens needs some extra support, try organic fertilizer like animal manure, or add a quarter-inch layer of compost to your garden early in the season when the ground is soft. “Compost is one of the best soil conditioners for lawns,” Pelleccio notes.

Time investment: A weekend day to spread it if you choose to do it yourself.

Why to do it: Manure offers safe and natural fertilization at substantially less cost than chemical fertilizers, and you should need to do it only once a season, according to The Farmer’s Almanac.

5. Go native.

It’s important to buy locally adapted plants, meaning plants that will thrive in this region’s climate and soil conditions, whenever you can. That doesn’t mean you can only sow native plants if you want a healthy flowerbed. But you need to pay attention to the conditions required by plants and make sure those conditions match the environment of your home. The rules are really common sense: Don’t plant shade plants in full sunlight, for example. Stressed plants are the most vulnerable to pest infestation and drought.

Time investment: Minimal. Ask your local Cooperative Extension agent for advice, or go online and so some research on plants native to the region or plants that can thrive in your soil and climate conditions.

Why to do it: Native plants are more resistant to local pests and less vulnerable to being overtaken by weeds. Plus, you’ll be encouraging the regeneration of plants native to the Chesapeake Bay region.


More Resources

Cooperative Extension: For gardening advice specific to this region and your individual needs, seek out the expertise of your local Cooperative Extension office. This national network of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will generally provide guidance for free. Many extension offices maintain their own websites with loads of downloadable information on lawn care, gardening and pest control. Find a Cooperative Extension office near you at

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Garden Tips: Pea shoots, microgreens add to repertoire

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How to design your own garden pond

So the first thing to do is to choose a site in your garden, where it won’t be in the way but will be somewhere that you can sit beside or see from inside your house.

The size will depend on what you want to get from your pond: you may want to grow aquatic plants, keep fish or encourage wildlife, but each has slightly different requirements.

Aquatic plants such as water lilies and rushes are large plants that grow quickly and will dominate your pond, so choose a range of plants that like different conditions.

For instance bog garden plants don’t like too much water, but marginals like to be in shallow water and water lilies are deep-water plants that root on the bottom of the pond.

If you want to keep ornamental fish you will find they don’t mix well with too many plants: they can’t breath if the surface is covered with water lilies, for example.

It’s also worth remembering that water lilies don’t grow well in moving water, so they don’t mix with fountains.

Probably the easiest type of pond to look after is a wildlife pond, and these are also the most beneficial to the animals in your garden such as birds and frogs.

A wildlife pond does not need much in the way of hard landscaping – no retaining wall or fancy brickwork – because it needs a gentle slope into the water so that the wildlife can get in and out.

The classic way to decide on the shape of a garden pond – unless you want a geometric square, oblong or circle – is to use an old length of hosepipe and lay it on the ground to create the desired affect.

You can peg it down with tent pegs then dig out the top layer inside the hosepipe shape.

Once that is done you just need to dig down in layers or sweeping curves, to create a series of depths.

If you want to keep fish, the pond needs to be 2metres deep, and even deeper for koi fish.

The best liner for a pond is butyl liner because pre-moulded liners are usually small, and you can’t choose your own individual shape, while concrete is very permanent and tricky to fix if it cracks.

Make sure all stones have been removed from the bottom of the pond then cover with a thick layer of sand before you lay the liner down.

Ask for help in calculating how much liner you will need when you buy it, but remember you will need to know the length, width and depth of the pond.

Once the liner is down weigh down the edges with bricks or smooth stones, and fill the pond with water using a hosepipe.

Leave it to settle for a day or two, to make sure there are no air pockets under the liner, then trim it if necessary or just cover the edges with soil, gravel, and rocks or turf.

Then the fun part starts and you can begin planting it up and waiting for your own private collection of newts and frogs to arrive.

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