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Archives for March 5, 2015

Couple who lost farm at auction battle to keep second business

A Wisconsin couple who lost their farm at a foreclosure auction, and through a famous photograph became a symbol of a crisis in America’s heartland, are fighting to keep from losing a second business nearly three decades later.

Many might remember Kenny and Sue Massey from March 4, 1986, when their picture was splashed across televisions and newspapers worldwide — a young couple with their infant daughter on the steps of the Iowa County sheriff’s office as their farm was sold at auction.

Earlier, in September 1985, the Masseys’ struggle to keep their farm was highlighted by the country rock band Alabama at the first “Farm Aid” concert.

Following the concert, and the foreclosure auction, letters and money poured in for the young couple. They kept every letter but returned the money, saying they didn’t want handouts. Some of the letters were harsh, criticizing the couple for losing the farm and having five children.

The 350-acre farm had been in Kenny’s family for three generations. It sold for $45,000 at the sheriff’s auction where the photo of the stoic Kenny and his sobbing wife, Sue, was taken by Wisconsin State Journal photographer L. Roger Turner as the gavel came down.

“Snap. The iconic photograph was taken at that instant — at the lowest point in our life. The moment of death,” Sue wrote in her recently published memoir, “Letter from the Heart. The Real Story behind the Iconic Photograph.”

“I leaned into the collar of Kenny’s jacket, and from somewhere deep inside of me, I began to cry, cry uncontrollably,” she wrote.

The Masseys were poultry farmers, with about 15,000 egg-laying chickens, when feed prices shot up and left them in debt they couldn’t recover from.

A new start in landscaping

After the foreclosure auction, they struggled to make a living but eventually built a successful lawn-care and landscaping business on the west side of Madison.

Now that business, Massey’s Into the Earth Landscaping, is in trouble after having been dealt blows from the recession, a drought, and a mild winter when snowplowing revenue fell from $250,000 to $60,000.

The lack of control over their circumstances, similar to what they experienced when farming, is a familiar feeling for the couple.

“Our hope had been to have a deluge of snow this winter, which could have created working capital to assist in payment toward back taxes and spring start-up costs. Unfortunately, the snow didn’t happen,” Sue said.

They fell behind on their taxes as they struggled to keep the business going. Now most of their income goes toward paying that debt.

You can’t buy insurance to protect yourself from the uncertainties of running a small business, the Masseys said, and the taxes aren’t negotiable.

“For 40 years we have lived beneath a cloud of financial uncertainty. What saddens me is to think what we could accomplish as a family if we could duck out from under that low, always-looming cloud. We have so many ideas and so much energy… but we are held back by a lack of working capital,” Sue said.

The recession was tough on many landscapers, although mostly the business has recovered, according to Brian Swingle, executive director of the Wisconsin Nursery and Landscape Association.

“The phrase ‘the strong will survive’ certainly is appropriate in this instance,” Swingle said.

Recession hit hard

Some went out of business, and many downsized, as money from home construction and commercial projects faded. The drought worsened things because customers didn’t need their lawn cut as often.

Laid off from their jobs, many people also started lawn-care and landscaping businesses during the recession. Some only had a lawn mower and a pickup truck, but it put pressure on the established businesses, Swingle said.

The Masseys could fold their business but would still owe a large amount in back taxes. They believe that keeping the business alive gives them the best shot at paying the debt and continuing to do the work they love.

The couple, who married when Sue was 18, say they’re wiser from their experiences. Naomi, the infant girl in the famous photograph, is now involved in the business and has a young daughter.

“We are not the same people we were in 1986 when we stood on the courthouse steps and felt the final breath squeezed from the lungs of our family farm. As we stand today, we are better off fighting than folding,” Sue said.

The Masseys say they have a plan to keep the family business going, emphasizing areas such as creative landscape designs, but they need capital. As with farming, there’s always hope that spring brings a fresh start.

“You always believe next year is going to be better, so you just hang in there,” Kenny said.

Kenny is now 63 years old and Sue is 58. They worry about losing their home as well as the business.

“At this point in our life, after being business owners for nearly a lifetime, it would be difficult to find work that brings us the joy and thrill that creating one-of-a-kind landscapes for clients does for us. We could not afford to stay in our home, a home which means the world to us, and a home we anticipated growing old in,” Sue said.

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HGTV’s Dan Faires

HGTV’s Dan Faires

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Rite of spring blooms in Portland

PORTLAND, Maine — Trudge through the heavy industrial doors at Portland Yacht Services, and you smell spring before you see it.

Mulch, tulips, grass, dirt. Ahhh, the sensory hints of the season to come are about to bloom for the 18th annual Portland Flower Show, and not a nanosecond too soon.

“People need this now,” said Justina Marcisso-Hussey, administrative coordinator for the five-day show that opens with a gala Wednesday night.

About 14,000 people are expected to tour gardens and patios, attend lectures on lilacs and medicinal herbs, or just stop and smell the primroses during the horticultural celebration.

“The energy is high. People are very excited about color, other than white or gray,” Marcisso-Hussey said.

In cavernous bays typically used for servicing boats, Zachary Campbell and his wife, Katey, prepped their lush display. Playing with the show’s theme, “A Taste of Spring,” the landscape designers from Topsham planted the equivalent of a deer smorgasbord.

Purple and yellow tulips, hostas and cedars. A pink magnolia tree flowers in the corner. Lettuce, kale and swiss chard grow from hollowed-out logs. A deer would go to town on this display.

“We want this to be educational but fun,” Zachary said.

For weeks, the couple has been tending to their greens, shrubs and flowers in a greenhouse to force spring.

“Quite a bit of work goes into this,” Katey Campbell admitted. “Timing is everything.”

Speaking of timing, the exhibitors, who are judged by the public and a team of horticultural experts, have 4½ days to create a spring habitat.

Landscapers and hardscapers constructed ponds and pools, built retaining walls and laid down perfect patios. Greenthumbs got busy with hoes and rakes.

“People in Maine want their outdoor living,” Jon Snell of West Bath’s Jaiden Landscaping said.

Next to a pool his team was creating was an outdoor firepit with an expansive barbecue area and wine refrigerator. All the amenities of inside, outside. “Landscaping has evolved so much,” said Snell, who is eager to show off what his company can do as soon as the snow melts. “This is good for the industry. Holding it toward the end of the winter, when people are talking about spring, helps.”

Several landscapers forced early blooms in greenhouses; others ordered flowers and plants from southern states like North Carolina. “We are trying to trick Mother Nature,” Matt Shaw, owner of Picture Perfect Landscapes in Bowdoinham, said. “The whole goal is to create spring weather.”

To do that, he was building a deck with a pergola, creating a waterfall with river rocks and planting pink hydrangeas and primroses fast and furiously. “It’s a stressful 4½ days, but we are fired up for spring,” Shaw said. “Everyone is looking for color. Flowers are a welcome sight. Everyone is itching to get out in the garden.”

To scratch that itch, vendors will be selling seeds, garden equipment, everything you need to get out and dig in the dirt.

The cumulaitve message is winter is on its way out.

“People come from Texas, Vermont, Down East. Many people plan their ski vacations around this,” Marcisso-Hussey said. “I don’t care what is going on outside, this is a rite of spring. There is so much to see and do, people don’t want to leave,”

The Portland Flower Show runs Thursday through Sunday, Portland Company, 58 Fore St., Portland. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit or call 207-775-4403.

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Tips: 8 winter home maintenance to dos

Mid-winter is a good time to check for ways to reduce home energy consumption and prevent appliance and equipment breakdowns. Here are eight home maintenance tips to improve energy efficiency and keep appliances and heating systems running well.

•Pay attention to changes in appliance and heating and cooling equipment performance.

Changes in appliance and equipment performance are often warning signs of larger problems. Troubleshoot and complete repairs as needed to improve energy efficiency and avoid costly repairs later.

•Change the furnace or air handler air filter.

This should happen every three months, or more frequently, depending on the region. A clean air filter is critical to home air quality and to the proper furnace or air handler operation. Homeowners should periodically check the condition of the furnace or air handler’s filter to determine the frequency necessary for changing the filter in their homes.

•Clean or replace the humidifier filter, if equipped.

•Make sure registers are obstruction free.

Drapes and furniture should be positioned at a considerable distance from the registers to enable proper air flow. Rugs should not touch the registers.

•Seal the exterior.

Gaps and holes in a home’s exterior will cause drafts and increased heating costs. Use expanding foam to seal exterior holes. Seal gaps around window and door frames with weatherstripping and caulking.

•Clean out dryer venting.

Use a long dryer vent cleaning brush to remove lint buildup from inside of the dryer through the outside venting. Lint buildup in dryer venting is an extreme fire risk. A thorough venting clean out should happen at least once annually.

•Thoroughly clean the refrigerator’s condenser coils.

Use a bristle brush to clear dust and dirt from the condenser coils. Dirty coils will cause the refrigerator to have to work longer and will lead to premature wear of key components.

•Replace the refrigerator water filter, if equipped.

Refrigerator water filters should be replaced every six months or more frequently.

Lamb is public relations manager for Repair Clinic. Go to for videos and more home maintenance tips.

Copyright © 2015, Daily Press

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Gardening Guru Tips – Agri

It’s hard to believe, but soon plants will be moving into the garden center and dreams of a beautiful and productive garden will be filling your head. But many gardeners find that when it comes to putting plans down on paper, they freeze. Perhaps just a little help is needed.

To begin, take a look at your favorite recipes and make a list of the ingredients you would like to grow. Include vegetables and herbs you use often, those that are cheaper to grow than to buy, and those that taste best fresh from the garden. Tomatoes, peppers and cilantro are just a few that come to mind.

Be sure to involve your family in this process. After all, if they help plan the garden, they might be more inclined to help weed, water and harvest it. But even if they don’t end up lending a hand, they will be much more likely to clean their plates when you make their favorite dishes with those homegrown fresh-from-the-garden vegetables.

Once you have your list of vegetables and herbs, it’s time to design your garden. Don’t let this step intimidate you. There are some terrific online tools like that provide planting plans to make this much easier for both new and experienced gardeners.

For example, in just one small space 4-feet-by-4-feet, Bonnie Plants’ Homemade Salsa garden plan allows gardeners to grow two tomato or tomatillo plants in cages in one row, one jalapeno pepper and one red bell pepper in cages in the next row, and cilantro and onions in the third row. If you need more produce for favorite recipes, just add another 4-x-4 section.

Or visit to plan your own garden. Their kitchen and garden planner, located under learn and share, allows you to design your own garden. And once planned you will have your own planting guide and know how many plants or seeds are needed to grow the garden you desire.

Boost your garden’s productivity even further with proper care and some space-saving techniques:

Water plants thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil is crumbly and just starting to dry. Also, be sure to mulch by covering the soil surface with a layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or weed-free straw. Mulching helps conserve moisture, suppress weeds and improves the soil over time.

Maximize every square foot by growing tomatoes and peppers in cages. In addition, train cucumbers and other vining plants up a trellis. Going vertical leaves more room to plant your other favorite herbs and vegetables.

Save even more space by growing fast-maturing vegetables like lettuce in between vegetables like tomatoes that take much longer to begin producing. This strategy, known as interplanting, allows you to grow two types of vegetables in one space. By the time the tomato plants become large and start to shade out the greens, the lettuce will be done producing. Not only does this save space, but it also reduces the number of weeds.

Now it’s time to start mapping out your plans for the growing season ahead.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author and columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written more than 20 gardening books. Visit for gardening videos, podcasts and monthly tips.

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Tips on attracting butterflies to your garden – Visalia Times

On a warm October afternoon, I was enjoying the view from our patio when a Monarch Butterfly floated through the yard. Silently moving from south to north, then moments later repeating its travel in the opposite direction, it finally landed on a shrub aptly named butterfly bush (Buddleia).

After watching the antics of the flutter by, I decided to make sure I had a yard that would provide food and protection for these bejeweled creatures.

Here are some general tips on how to create an appealing area and a safe haven for butterflies.

Grow brightly colored plants in a sunny place. In addition to the color palette we receive when planting flowers in our landscape, is the delightful reward when a beautiful, iridescent butterfly visits our space. By choosing plants butterflies prefer and putting them in sunny places, we get an opportunity to see them land on a flower to sip the sweet nectar provided by that plant.

In early spring, these drought tolerant plants attract butterflies: yellow bush sunflower, red buckwheat, and purple coyote mint (a native). Drought tolerant ground covers that attract butterflies include Bearberry and rockrose, in many colors from pink to rose to purple. Blanket Flower (Gaillardia) is a “plant and ignore” kind of perennial that attracts sulphurs, whites and swallowtail butterflies.

Grow plants that have blooms rich in nectar. There is a reason the buddleia’s common name is butterfly bush. In the summer, its beautiful fragrant flowers of blue, purple or white are usually covered with butterflies.

In spring you may choose water wise lilacs, which needs occasional watering once established, or common yarrow (a native), both of which comes in a variety of colors.

For purple flowers, try Mexican heather which requires a little more water, or drought tolerant lavenders and coneflowers. A few possibilities for this area during summer include yellow coreopsis, daisies, marigolds, and blue mist bluebeard, a shrub that has blue flowers in late summer.

Plants that prefer light shade, need little water and attract butterflies are monkey flowers (a native) and Shasta daisies. Select late bloomers like asters and chrysanthemums to extend your viewing time. Painted Ladies (a type of butterfly) feed on cosmos, hollyhock and Apricot Mallow.

And don’t forget butterfly weed (Asclepias), which is both a food source for the monarch and a host plant that provides food for their caterpillars. Butterfly weed also attracts many other butterflies and skippers. You can use resources like Master Gardeners’ plant lists and “Sunset Western Garden Book” to investigate more choices.

Grow plants in a variety of sizes and colors. Some butterflies desire a variety of species. They are attracted to red, orange, yellow and purple. If you create large swaths of color, it will be easier for the butterflies to find your garden.

Provide places of protection, especially from wind. Protection may come in the form of butterfly houses, which are similar to birdhouses however their openings are slotted rather than round. These can be purchased through gardening supply catalogs or online.

Provide some mud puddles so that butterflies may sip from them to supplant their diet with salts and minerals naturally found in the soil. If you place flat rocks in a sunny location you may observe butterflies warming themselves in the morning and resting.

There are many natural predators that prey on butterflies. Animals such as birds, spiders and lizards are a few enemies of butterflies. Insecticides that kill pests will also kill your butterflies.

If you feel the need to reduce the pests in your garden insecticidal soap, hand picking pests off the plants or using beneficial insects will provide a safer habitat for butterflies. Integrated Pest Management information found at offers details on these methods.

Providing food for the larval stage of the butterfly is important. Butterflies have a life cycle that includes four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The female selects a plant upon which she lays an egg. The caterpillar emerges to chew and chomp through the host plant and eventually the larva changes into a pupa or chrysalis.

What was once a worm-like creature emerges from the pupa case as a winged, colorful and lovely insect that seemingly drifts through the air. However, they do not travel aimlessly, they have targets: their food supply. The proboscis is a long coiled tongue of a butterfly.

This organ is used for getting the nectar, so they require flowers shaped so that they can get to the nectar they need. These winged darlings of the garden do not bite, sting, chase or harm anything. They are wonderful pollinators that flit from bloom to bloom.

Find a butterfly that you want to attract. Field guides may help you identify the many species of butterflies that inhabit our landscapes through the warm weather months. Visit the information booths at one of the Master Gardener Garden Festivals in your area to get a wealth of information on this topic.

If you provide the correct food, shelter and a safe place for them, you will not have to travel far to be a butterfly watcher.

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Garden: Tips for planting in shade

Q: I am hoping you can give me some suggestions as to what to plant in a newly created bed that is almost in the shade during the summer months and spans about 12’ (4.7m)

Brian Cronkhite,


A: Sarcococca humilis has very early spring bloom and small white, very fragrant flowers Winter colour from red berries can be had from skimmias. You need a male and a female skimmia to get berries.

Dwarf rhododendrons would succeed beautifully under trees. I’d suggest the Yakushimanums which are generally various pinks, some quite pale with a deeper pink bud. All are excellent plants and many kinds are easily available.

There are many lovely purples among small-leaved rhododendron hybrids. These include Blue Diamond and Ramapo as well as whites and pinks. Garden centres have a good selection in spring.

For good spring bloom, brunnera has a long flowering season. Some varieties have gold-splashed leaves. All have small, blue forget-me-not flowers. Another good, long spring bloomer is pulmonaria with flowers which can be variably pink, blue or white with pale green or silver blotched or splashed leaves. Both brunnera and pulmonaria self-seed abundantly.

So does Helleborus orientalis which buds early in the year. After flowering for many weeks, the cup-like flowers morph into large seed-heads. They self-seed prolifically.

Over the summer, columbines and astilbes thrive in shade. For fall flowers and silver-dappled winter leaves, Cyclamen hederifolium makes a lovely low-growing plant.

Hydrangeas also enjoy shade. The lacecap ones might grow to conflict with your trees but Hydrangea macrophylla with its large mopheads stays compact.

With a presence which gets more emphatic each year (Fuchsia magellanica) begins flowering about the end of July and continues to frost. It’s popular with hummingbirds.

Clematis would flower well if it could get up your trees into the sun. Very vigorous ones can be hard to control. The shorter clematis should be easier to handle.

The one vine-like plant that flowers persistently in 100 per cent shade is Jasminium nudiflorum which has yellow (scentless) flowers through December to February. It’s not self-supporting so must be tied onto a frame and it does need drastic pruning after flowering. But it flowers for many weeks at the most needy time of year.

Q: I have a kalanchoe plant that has finished blooming. I have cut back the flower stems. How do I get it to bloom again?



A: Now that you’ve cut back the flower stems, the way to encourage reblooming is to put the plant in a dark place for 14 hours each day – then put it in bright light for another ten hours each day. Since kalanchoes are small plants, it should be easy to pop them in and out of a cardboard box.

This light variation should last for about six weeks and during that time it’s best not to water them or fertilize them. It should be a completely dormant time.

When you see buds on your kalanchoe, it can return to having a normal life again.

Some people apparently keep kalanchoe going strong for years by this method.

Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to her via It helps if you give me the name of your city or region.

© 2015 Vancouver Courier

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Garden Tips: Learn about lawn care, landscaping, gardening March 14

Local News

Manatee County School Board to vote on 2015-16 calendar with half day on Good Friday

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Revealed: Boris Johnson’s duplicitous handling of London’s garden bridge

It was billed as a miraculous no-strings-attached gift to London, a fairytale forest on a bridge that would be entirely paid for by private sponsors. But this sparkling new “tiara on the head of our fabulous city”, as Joanna Lumley, cheerleader for the garden bridge, has called it, is turning out to be a rather costly crown. In a confidential letter obtained by the Guardian it has emerged that the public will be liable for the bridge’s annual £3.5m maintenance bill in perpetuity – on top of the £60m of public funds already committed to the project.

The news goes against everything London’s mayor has pledged to date. On Tuesday, Boris Johnson again denied that further public money would be lavished on the scheme. “The maintenance cost will not be borne by the public sector, I’ve made that clear,” he told LBC radio. Yet in a letter from one of his senior staff to the Garden Bridge Trust, he appears to have made other plans.

“The mayor has agreed in principle to provide such a guarantee … to secure the ongoing maintenance of the proposed bridge,” writes Fiona Fletch-Smith, director of development, enterprise and environment at the Greater London Authority, who adds that Johnson is “fully supportive” of the project. If the garden bridge can’t meet its own costs, Londoners will be forced to foot the bill.

The news was greeted with outrage by London Assembly members, as another example of reckless use of public transport funds. “It’s scandalous,” said John Biggs, Labour chair of the budget and performance committee, which recently published a critical report on the viability of London’s sponsored transport schemes. “Boris Johnson has been caught red-handed lying to Londoners. This fiasco, promising that maintenance costs won’t be borne by the public sector while at the same time drawing up plans to do exactly that, shows how little his word is worth.”

‘It will set hearts racing and calm troubled minds’ … or will it be a burden to the taxpayer for years to come? Image: Arup/EPA

It is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga that has seen Thomas Heatherwick’s £175m bridge over the Thames transform from a sponsored gift to a burden on the capital’s strained transport funds. In June 2013, Transport for London (TfL) commissioner Peter Hendy said that public money would cover no more than the “enabling costs” of £4m and that the bridge’s “construction and ongoing maintenance costs would be funded by third parties”.

In December 2013, the Treasury announced it would donate £30m towards the project, a figure then matched by TfL. In six months, the public contribution had gone from minimal to £60m. A year later, it has shot up to a potential £150m, with the maintenance costs capitalised to an additional £90m over the next 125 years.

“It’s outrageous to be spending this amount of the transport budget on something that is simply not a transport scheme,” said Biggs. “It’s a tourist attraction, in a place where there are already bridges … London is crying out for crossings further east, as well as at Pimlico to Nine Elms. Boris’s focus has always been on glitzy vanity projects rather than what London actually needs.”

He compares it to the Barclays-sponsored cycle hire scheme, originally planned to come at no expense to the public, but which has since been found to cost the taxpayer £11m a year, making it the most heavily subsidised form of transport per user. “These schemes are always fast-tracked and justified without a full appraisal, because ‘they’re not going to cost us anything’,” said Biggs. “But there’s a track record of sponsored infrastructure not quite living up to its promise.”

The controversial bridge was hurriedly granted planning permission by both Lambeth and Westminster councils at the end of last year, after the Garden Bridge Trust said that work must be completed by 2018, to make way for construction traffic for the Thames Tideway Tunnel. In its planning conditions, Westminster insisted on a third-party guarantee to underwrite ongoing costs, out of fear of the council being lumbered with the bill for years to come, suggesting TfL could take the responsibility. When the assembly’s transport committee chair, Lib-Dem leader Caroline Pidgeon, asked the mayor if TfL would foot the bill, his answer was categorical. “I can confirm that no such agreement has been made,” he said. “Nor will I make any undertaking to do so.”

“It is concerning that only after the mayor has given planning permission to the scheme that he comes clean and admits a financial guarantee has also been provided,” said Pidgeon, on hearing the news on Wednesday. “He should have been clear months ago that far from being a private and charitable initiative, the garden bridge is actually a major drain on public funds. Everything about the funding and decision-making process relating to the proposed Garden Bridge has so far been as murky as the water that flows down the Thames.”

‘A tiara on the head of our fabulous city’ … But could it end up being a costly crown? Image: AFP/Getty Images

The mayor’s office was quick to stress that the guarantee is only intended as a last resort, if the Garden Bridge Trust fails to meet its annual fundraising target of £3.5m.

“The mayor is fully supportive of the approach that is being adopted by the Garden Bridge Trust and is of the view that their business plan is robust,” said a spokesperson. “However, in order to discharge the planning obligation imposed by Westminster, the mayor has agreed in principle to provide such a guarantee. The mayor is absolutely clear that the provision of such a guarantee does not replace the primary focus of the Garden Bridge Trust, which is to secure the upkeep of the bridge in perpetuity. The Mayor will be seeking the necessary assurances from the Trust that this will be achieved.”

But many have questioned the ability of the trust to meet its ambitious jackpot year after year. According to its draft business plan, seen by the Guardian, the organisation plans to raise the annual £3.5m target through a combination of corporate membership, temporary catering and souvenir stalls.

Companies can become a supporter of the bridge for £20,000 a year, which will allow them “to host a ‘Breakfast on the Bridge’ for entertaining”. A gala fundraiser and private hire of the bridge 12 times a year are hoped to raise a further £900,000, while the rest is planned to be covered by “pop-up type events”, inspired by concessions along the High Line in New York, and a “discreet range of merchandise, including T-shirts, stationery and bags” – which is optimistically projected to generate up to £200,000 a year.

“Their business plan is ludicrous,” said Michael Ball, director of the Waterloo Community Development Group, who has launched a judicial review against the planning permission. “Maybe they will attract enough private sponsors for the first year, but will all these people stump up money for the second year – let alone year 20 or 50? The public sector will have to step in very soon indeed. Either that, or they’ll be forced to start charging for tickets to cross the bridge.”

Given that they are expecting 7 million visitors a year, the total costs could be covered by a turnstile-charging 50p a pop. But the trust insists that “there is no intention to charge … and there will certainly not be any sort of ticketing system”. How long that policy lasts remains to be seen, particularly given that there will be a requirement for groups of eight or more to register in advance, in order to discourage protesters.

Elements of the bridge design, meanwhile, are turning out to lead strange double lives. The deck of the new raised podium where the bridge will land on the south bank is designed to handle queuing crowds of up to 2,500 at peak times, to ease pressure from the already crowded riverside walk. But the business plan also says the terrace will be rented out for events every weekend from May to October.

“With any other project of this scale, this stuff would be nailed down before planning permission was given,” said Ball, noting an agreement to take down the London Eye if it ever became unprofitable. But with the garden bridge there are no such conditions. The public is going to end up paying through the nose for a very long time.” £3.5m is an extraordinarily high upkeep cost, he added, given that the Hungerford Bridge’s two pedestrian crossings are maintained for £800,000 a year.

Questions have also been raised about the bridge’s origins, after the Architects’ Journal published letters from Lumley to Johnson, dating back to his election in May 2012, in which she talks of the plan for a bridge “to bring great loveliness to the Thames,” and signs off with “please say yes” and “thanks for the tulips”. In a BBC interview a year later, when asked how she has managed to push the bridge proposal so far, Lumley replied: “I’ve known Boris since he was four, so he’s largely quite amenable.”

“It’s far too cosy,” said Wai-King Chung of Thames Central Open Space, the campaign group that has launched a crowdfunding appeal to support the judicial review. “It’s Auntie Joanna asking little Boris for a new toy. The letter highlights the covert way the whole project has come about.”

A spotlight has now been focused on the procurement process, after it emerged that TfL issued a private invitation to tender in February 2013 to Heatherwick Studio, along with just two other firms – experienced bridge designers Wilkinson Eyre and London Eye architects Marks Barfield. The tender document asked for submissions of previous experience, but not a completed design. Miraculously, one team already had a worked-up scheme.

“The process is absurd,” said Ball. “For a major piece of infrastructure, the project should go out to OJEU (EU-regulated international tender), like the new Nine Elms to Pimlico bridge, and be a real international competition.” Peter Smith, a procurement expert and editor of the Spend Matters blog, has described the process as “sketchy”, adding that Heatherwick had a clear advantage ahead of the bid.

As more details emerge, former supporters of the bridge are jumping ship. The London Wildlife Trust has now joined the RSPB and Metropolitan Public Gardens Association in withdrawing its support. “The location and design of this bridge seems to reflect personal vanities rather than any meaningful attempt to connect Londoners to the capital’s rich natural and horticultural heritage,” said Carlo Laurenzi, chief executive of the trust, joining the RSPB’s claim that the bridge “falls short for wildlife”, by providing less than half a football pitch of green space. “This huge investment of public funds would be much better spent on improving communal green spaces across London,” added Laurenzi, “benefiting Londoners of all ages at a local and accessible level.”

But that would require a long-term commitment to improving the city, something for which our mayor has little concern. “Boris is like Macavity, the mystery cat,” says Biggs, referring to TS Eliot’s mastermind criminal feline, who is long-gone by the time the trouble arrives. “The bills will arrive after he’s safely left office – and he’s more than happy to leave a big IOU for whoever comes in next.”

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