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Archives for September 10, 2015

Tips for making the most of your fall garden

Fall is in the air and that means there is a lot to do in the garden! Read on:

It’s still too early for chrysanthemums.

For best selection, now is the time to buy daffodils. Plant en masse.

This year, buy a high-quality leaf rake. The wider the rake, the less time you spend raking. Spend more money and get one with a lifetime warranty.

Find great deals on outdoor furniture now. Buy quality all-aluminum frames and outdoor fabric on cushions.

Fall is a great time for hardscape projects such as patios, walks and fireplaces. Checkout our website for more ideas.

Ornamental grasses like Pink Muhly grass are coming into their full glory. Now is the time to get the varieties that you think look good. Here are some tips about ornamental grasses:

1. Don’t buy or plant pampas grass.

2. Not all ornamental grasses are perennial, so check the labels.

3. Some ornamental grasses get big — really, really big — so read the labels before buying.

4. Plant them in full sun and well-drained soil only.

Todd Goulding provides residential landscape design consultations. Contact him at or 478-345-0719.

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Garden tips: Getting yellow jackets and mosquitoes under control

Buzz off: Yellow jackets spend most of the summer as beneficial insects, keeping pests at bay. But once temperatures begin to drop, they search out sugary treats for one last burst of energy — loving picnics and fair food. Their nests last only one season, so unless they are in a high-traffic area try simply to give them a wide berth. The colony eventually will die out on its own. If you must control them, use a powder labeled to control yellow jackets, spreading it according to directions, in the evening, at the entrance to their nest.

Skee-daddle: Keep away mosquitoes (and the viruses they carry) by getting rid of any standing water that could serve as a breeding ground. Dump out your birdbaths after rainstorms and clean them frequently. In addition to West Nile virus, which has been found in Pennsylvania, our newly arrived, daytime-feeding Asian tiger mosquitoes have been found to carry the dengue-like Chikungunya virus in more southern climes.

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Gardening and More: Garden fair to feature speakers, tips on best gardening

By Connie Stofko

We want to be kind to the environment, but we want pretty gardens, too. Can we do both?

Yes, and gardening expert Sally Cunningham will tell you how during a talk at 10 a.m. on Sept. 12 at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark St., Hamburg.

It is part of the Fall Garden Fair, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 12 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 13. The event will include vendors as well as speakers. Admission to the fair is free, but the cost for talks is $10 each or $25 for the full day. You can register at Lockwood’s website, or stop in or call the store at 649-4684.

Lunch can be purchased and eaten in the backyard food court where there is ample seating and shade. There will also be a free demonstration at 1 p.m. Saturday of the Four Thieves Vinegar recipe, a simple combination of herbs which, during the Bubonic plague, was believed to have saved lives.

If you want a garden that is friendly to the environment and pretty, too, use native plants such clethra, also called summer sweet. Get information on this and other topics at the Fall Garden Fair.

To have an environmentally friendly yard, the first thing to think about is insects, Cunningham said.

“Without insects, we have nothing,” she said, because they are vital to the pollination of plants. Though she has taught organic gardening for 20 years, Cunningham has become bolder in speaking out in our “insect-phobic and pesticide-oriented society.”

To help insects, one simple goal we can all aim for is to have 20 percent of the plants in our yard be native plants, she said.

But when you hear “native plants,” don’t think “weed.” There are many native plants that are attractive, she said. You may already be familiar with bee balm or monarda, a brightly colored flower that many gardeners love. Another suggestion is a fragrant shrub called clethra or summer sweet. Don’t forget that native plants can include trees, too. Sugar maples not only give us amazing fall color, but provide a huge home for hundreds of species of life, Cunningham noted.

While some native varieties of plants are better for pollinators than some hybrids, pollinators can get food from a wide range of flowers. Planting something, anything besides lawn, in your yard provides some diversity to the landscape.

“Cut back on the amount of grass you have,” Cunningham said. “We don’t have to be surrounded by golf-course-like swaths of lawn.”

Urban gardening with yards full of plants is now familiar to us on many garden walks, including Buzz Around Hamburg, and in gardens on Open Gardens. It shows how gardeners are encouraging butterflies and other insects.

“As a collective group, we’re doing what we need to do for pollinators,” Cunningham said.

Here is the schedule of all the speakers:

       Saturday, Sept. 12

Tweaking Our Gardening Ways: Sally Cunningham, 10 a.m.

Cunningham’s new presentation analyzes how gardeners and homeowners can move toward permaculture and ecologically healthier yards, while keeping it beautiful.

Twenty Top Trees for Urban and Small Gardens: Dawn Hummel, 11:30 a.m.

This speaker from Oregon is known for her creativity in landscape design, she will present benefits and uses of beautiful, less known, or under-used trees for Western New York yards.

Gardening from a Hammock: Dan Cooper, 1:30 p.m.

Based on the new book by this Ontario garden writer, this presentation will focus on how to minimize weeding and cut down on the time spent on gardening chores so that you have more time to enjoy your garden.

Sunday, Sept. 13

Gardening from a Hammock: Dan Cooper, 10 a.m.

Plants and Pairings for a Great Spring Garden: David Clark, 11:30 a.m.

Learn about plant partners that will make your spring garden shine. David Clark of Hamburg, a nationally renowned horticultural educator, will discuss bulb care and selection, and great partners for them, with the focus on texture and fragrance.

Hostas, Arisaema and Their Shady Friends: Mike Kathy Shadrack, 1:30 p.m.

This Hamburg couple will show and tell about superior shade-preferring beauties. Mike is a photographer and author (The Encyclopedia of Hostas) and Kathy is an arum collector and author (The Book of Little Hostas).

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Tasty ginger can look good in the garden, too

In the Garden

Ornamental ginger will not only add a unique flair to your garden, it will add spicy ginger flavor to your stir fries and soups.

The ginger root we cook with is Zingiber officinale. It’s not hardy in our area, but it can be grown as a houseplant, albeit not a particularly attractive one. Zingiber mioga is also an edible ginger that is more attractive and hardy enough to grow outside in the Pacific Northwest. Zingiber mioga doesn’t produce the edible root, but the flowers and flavorful shoots are used in cooking, and considered delicacies in Japan. The species features upright shoots with glossy green 3-foot-tall stems, and if you’re lucky, a small, exotic creamy yellow flower will appear at ground level in the fall.

There are, however, variegated varieties of edible ginger that are much more attractive, while remaining every bit as flavorful. If you planted the variegated varieties in the past, you probably were disappointed. They were hard to come by, weren’t reliably hardy, and seldom came back the following spring.

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Piper’s Orchard Harvest Festival:

10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 19. Lectures by Sam Benowitz and other fruit growers. Tour the orchard, watch apple cider being made, enter an apple-pie contest, apple tasting, live music, kids crafts, orchard history. Free. Address: 950 N.W. Carkeek Park Road, Seattle.

Heronswood Garden Open and Plant Sale:

10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 19. Plant sale and lectures by Dan Hinkley and Clare Riley (free) and self-guided garden tours ($10). Address: 7530 N.E. 288th St., Kingston.

‘Refresh Your Garden Design’ lecture:

1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 20 at the Northwest Perennial Alliance annual meeting. Doors open at noon for plant and seed sales. Rebecca Sweet, garden designer, author and blogger, will explain and simplify traditional garden design concepts for home gardeners. NPA members free, nonmembers $15 at the door. Address: Bellevue Botanical Garden Education Center, 12001 Main St., Bellevue.

If you want to give it another try, look for Zingiber mioga ‘White Arrow’, available at local nurseries. This variety is purported to be hardy to -10 degrees. It has dark green leaves, edged and streaked with pure white, that produce an elegant tropical flair. With luck, it will produce the orchid-like flower in fall.

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Give this delicate-looking but robust clumper a moist (but not waterlogged) location in morning sun or light shade, and feed in spring with an organic flower food. Then get out the wok for a stir fry, if you can bear to cut off any of the gorgeous stems or flowers in order to eat them.

Plant some magic in your garden

I’ve long been a fan of Lagerstroemia (crape myrtle). They bloom in late summer before displaying brilliant fall color, and their exfoliating bark adds interest to the winter garden. The only problem I’ve had with these gorgeous trees in the past is that some varieties have been susceptible to powdery mildew; however there is a new group of crape myrtles, known as the ‘Magic’ series, that are more disease-resistant. Also, they have colorful summer leaves that make a great backdrop behind their showy flowers.

‘Midnight Magic’ and ‘Moonlight Magic’ feature dark-purple foliage. The leaves emerge rosy red then turn dark purple, retaining the dark color all summer. ‘Midnight magic’ grows as a bushy tree, topping out at about 6 feet tall and wide. ‘Moonlight Magic’ grows in a more columnar form, topping out at around 12 feet tall.

Both the dark pink flowers of the former and the white blossoms of the latter look magnificent against the dark foliage.

Other crape myrtles in the ‘Magic’ series lack the dark-purple foliage, but make up for it with dazzling flower displays and brilliant fall color. ‘Red Magic’ forms a bushy tree that rarely exceeds 10 feet tall. The leaves emerge with a red tint before turning deep green in summer, then turn brilliant shades of red and orange in fall. A great profusion of fire-engine red flowers occurs earlier than other crape myrtles.

When it comes to unusual, showy flowers, ‘Ruffled Red Magic’ takes the prize. Maxing out at 12 feet with great fall color, it’s the iridescent ruffled red flowers, unlike anything you’ve ever seen, that make this a totally irresistible tree.

Crape myrtles in the ‘Magic’ series are hardy to about zero degrees. Buy this tree now so you can pick the flower color you like best. Then find the sunniest location in your garden for it; otherwise, you might never see the spectacular blooms again.

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Charlotte’s gardens are symbols of pride, culture

Gardens are part of the South’s history, pride and culture. So leaders at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden expected excitement from the community at the opening of Lost Hollow: The Kimbrell Children’s Garden. It’s the newest attraction at the Charlotte region’s premier public garden.

Still, ticket sales at the garden have been better than expected – up monthly by an average 75 percent – since Lost Hollow opened in October 2014, said Jim Hoffman, a spokesman for the Garden. That’s the strength of a family attraction and an investment of about $4 million for Lost Hollow’s 3-acre first phase.

“Moms pushing strollers (were not a phenomenon we had known,” Hoffman said.

Lost Hollow is the biggest attraction to open at the garden since a $10 million glass-and-steel Orchid Conservatory first welcomed visitors in 2008.

Attractions at Lost Hollow are centered around Moon Keep, which resembles the fortified structure on castles from the Middle Ages. Other attractions include Fireplace Cave and a 12-foot aviary, which once housed birds in the garden of the late Daniel Stowe, a textile executive who set aside 400 acres for the botanical garden.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: 6500 S. New Hope Road, Belmont; or 704-825-4490.

Other Charlotte-area gardens:

McGill Rose Garden

940 N. Davidson St., or 704-333-6497.

Visitors can see more than 900 plants, including about 200 varieties of roses, at this eclectic, gated city park. Henry McGill bought the property, a coal yard along the railroad line, in 1950. His wife, Helen, planted roses over the next three decades, working around the Seaboard Coastline rail car that remains today.

UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens

9090 Craver Road, or 704-687-8622.

The three-acre Susie Harwood Garden provides a year-round horticulture show. The features include an Asian Garden, rocks in many sizes and a pond with waterfalls. There’s also a 7-acre woodland garden called Van Landingham Glen. It’s filled with native plants of the Carolinas and one of the Southeast’s most varied collections of shade-loving rhododendrons.

Step inside the McMillan Greenhouse to see carnivorous and tropical plants, a dinosaur sculpture and the ever-popular orchid collection.

Wing Haven

248 Ridgewood Ave., or 704-331-0664.

Two gardens comprise the place known as Wing Haven. Elizabeth and Edwin Clarkson developed the first, a formal garden for songbirds, in 1927. The Clarksons preserved their gardens in 1970 by giving them to the Wing Haven Foundation. Brick walls surround the plants, which decorate almost three acres in Charlotte’s Myers Park neighborhood.

A neighbor – writer and garden designer Elizabeth Lawrence – started a much different project outside her home in 1948. Lawrence wanted a living laboratory where she could study plants and practice garden design. A pool is a focal point. Paths along the property make borders for the plant beds. Wing Haven took over the Lawrence property in 2008.

Though modest in size, the two gardens are well-known throughout the Southeast.

Demonstration gardens

Two gardens created by Mecklenburg County’s N.C. Cooperative Extension master gardeners illustrate best practices for growers and plants that thrive in our region. Each has different offerings:

▪ The garden at Freedom Park, 2435 Cumberland Ave., is ornamental, filled with lush landscape plants.

▪ The demonstration garden at Independence Park, 1418 Armory Drive, includes beds for vegetables and others for flowers.

Karen, who covers local news for the Observer, is a former Mecklenburg County master gardener.

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Growing beyond hostas: Enliven your shade garden with something new

Hostas are the workhorses of the shade garden. Once they’re established, they’re pretty much low-maintenance plants. They tolerate periods of drought, and they are reliably hardy in areas that freeze during winter. They often sport big beefy leaves with interesting textures and colors that range from chartreuse and gray-blue to lemon-splashed green.

But a giant carpet of hostas — especially those with solid green leaves — can be boring. So we’ve asked a horticulturist, an artist-gardener and a plant breeder to share their favorite shade garden plant combinations.

Rockridge Kitchen Tour spotlights eight distinctive homes

OAKLAND — From quaint Storybook Cottage to classic Tudor Revival, the 2015 Rockridge Kitchen Tour on Sept. 20 presents a peek inside eight architecturally distinctive homes featuring a recent kitchen remodel — each a unique reflection of the owner’s style and imagination.

“We really encourage people to come to this fun event and see how people update their kitchens to the 21st century, while still maintaining the charm of their Craftsman homes,” said Leonora Sea, a board member with the Rockridge Community Planning Council, a nonprofit that organizes the biennial tour. “It’s our primary fundraiser. In the past proceeds have funded landscaping at Rockridge BART plaza, improvements to Frog Park and tree plantings along College Avenue.”

One of the eight homes on the self-guided walking tour is the historic Morse House on Margarido Drive, overlooking the Claremont Country Club golf course. The entire 4,620-square-foot home, designed by locally known architect Geoffrey Bangs and constructed in 1936, will be open for view during the tour.

“It’s a beautifully restored Tudor-style home that has kept a lot of its original features,” Sea said. “It’s a wonderful house with spectacular views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Another gem on the route is the “modest mansion” on Ross Street, designed in the 1920s by architect Walter W. Dickson, who became known for his Storybook cottage homes with charming gables, turrets, arches and vaulted ceilings.

“The family wanted to retain that Storybook feel, but bring the kitchen up to date and open up to the backyard,” Sea said. “They retained the traditional open beam ceilings and beautiful archways typical of W.W. Dickson and repurposed glass and metal doors from other parts of the house for the cabinetry. They replaced the hardwood floors but repeated the original pattern in the kitchen and sunny breakfast nook — it’s all beautifully done.”

A docent on the 2011 Rockridge Kitchen Tour was so inspired by what she saw that she revamped her own kitchen on Ayala Street — which is part of this year’s tour.

“Her old kitchen was a very inefficient use of space with too many steps,” Sea said. “The remodel features a compact cooking area with lots of storage space as well as a small office area with a desk. Since the owner works part-time at home, the work space is very helpful.”

Sea quoted the Ayala Street owner as saying, “It’s easily the most functional space I’ve ever worked in — I barely have to take more than two steps when doing anything.”

New to the Rockridge Kitchen Tour this year is a Kitchen Expo from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 18, when advance ticket holders can chat with architects, designers and contractors and perhaps garner ideas for their own home remodels. The free expo will be held at the Rockridge Branch Library, 5366 College Ave.

In addition, Berkeley Mills, which specializes in fine custom cabinetry, furniture and kitchens, will host a seminar on the entire process of planning, designing and installing a kitchen remodel.

“Designers, engineers and cabinet makers will walk guests through the entire process,” Sea said. “There will be three model kitchens on display to give people ideas about what’s possible for their own kitchen.”

The seminar, which costs $25 (in addition to cost of tour ticket), will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sept. 19 at Berkeley Mills, 2830 Seventh Ave., Berkeley, CA 94710 and is only open to advance ticket holders.

“The tour is a very popular event — we’ve had up to 500 sign up for prior events,” Sea said. “It’s not only fun, it raises money for community projects that enhance the Rockridge neighborhood.”

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Landscaper Greg McHenry helped make hometown beautiful

One of Wichita’s most respected horticulturalists has died, leaving a void in the city he helped to beautify with numerous landscaping projects.

Greg McHenry, a second-generation owner of Hillside Nursery, 2200 S. Hillside, died unexpectedly on Saturday, according to his son, Mark McHenry. Mr. McHenry was 69.

A Wichita native, Mr. McHenry completed numerous notable landscaping projects around the city. Some of his most visible projects included displays at Exploration Place, Via Christi Hospital St. Joseph and St. Francis, the Downing Gorilla Forest at the Sedgwick County Zoo and, most recently, Wichita Eisenhower National Airport.

“Out of all of his projects, Dad was really proud of Exploration Place,” Mark McHenry said. “He was way ahead of the curve with how he thought of landscaping. His ideas came way before homeowners association covenants and how people think about beautification now.”

Another landscape that was special to his father, he said, was the project Mr. McHenry worked on at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Wichita.

“He had a special affinity for the military,” Mark McHenry said. “He was a member of the Air National Guard, and that was important to him.

“He really loved Wichita, too, and thought this was a great place. He was of the opinion that Wichitans always had an inferiority complex, and he didn’t think we needed to take a backseat to anywhere.

“He thought if you had a good fire department and police department, good schools and a good library, you had a good city, and it was his canvas to help make beautiful.”

Hillside Nursery was started in 1925 and was taken over by Robert McHenry, Mark’s grandfather, in 1948. Mark McHenry, who serves as vice president of Hillside, said that his father took over day-to-day operations of the nursery sometime in the early 1980s.

He said that he didn’t want to discuss the leadership of the company moving forward until after Mr. McHenry’s services.

A funeral Mass for Mr. McHenry is set for 10 a.m. Friday at St. Mary Catholic Church in Derby, 2300 E. Meadowlark St.

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United Way’s ‘Day of Caring’ event in Sonoma County draws 1200 volunteers

Wearing bright orange T-shirts and armed with paint brushes, garden and power tools, brooms and mops, a corps of 1,200 volunteers fanned out across Sonoma County on Wednesday for the local United Way’s massive Day of Caring event.

At 50 different locations, many of them nonprofit organizations, the volunteers from 30 local companies and groups as well as government employees donated their time to paint walls, erect fences, spread mulch, install drought-resistant plants, and clean creeks, trails and residential streets.

“I brought my team out today to give back to the community,” said Daryl Schmidt, manager of manufacturing and test engineering at L-3 Sonoma EO, an aerospace and defense engineering company that contributed a half-dozen employees to the annual effort.

Many of the volunteers participated in a ceremonial kickoff at the Sonoma County administration headquarters in Santa Rosa at about 8 a.m. After the rally, the volunteers quickly dispersed to various projects throughout the county.

At the newly expanded offices of the California Parent Institute, or CPI, a force of more than 60 volunteers rooted about 500 drought-resistant plants, laid 1,500 feet of drip irrigation tubing and spread about 31 cubic yards of fragrant redwood mulch.

The project consisted of general landscaping and a new garden for CPI’s New Directions school for troubled kids and the Parent Education Center. The project, which CPI said would have otherwise cost up to $20,000, cost the nonprofit group only about $5,000 for materials and prep work.

“We would not be able to do a project like this without volunteers,” said CPI spokeswoman Tiffani Montgomery.

Montgomery said the giving goes beyond those who volunteered their labor. She said Firma Design Group provided landscape design and on-site supervision, while the plants and other landscaping materials were donated by Santa Rosa area companies Emirsa Gardens, California Flora Nursery, United Forestry and Driwater.

In the past two years, CPI expanded into the metal warehouse structure across from its original offices at the site. The building, formerly a tile warehouse and showroom, now is home to parents and kids learning new life skills.

“With all the new landscaping, it’s going to feel a little less industrial,” Montgomery said.

About 30 employees from Sonoma Raceway were at work on the CPI project. The raceway, which has participated in the annual volunteer event for more than a decade, also sent employees to the Sonoma Valley Teen Center.

“It’s just a really great way to leave a lasting impact on some of the nonprofits in our community,” said Sonoma Raceway spokeswoman Diana Brennan.

The event, which launches United Way’s charitable fundraising season, also gave those who benefit from local nonprofits the opportunity to show their appreciation.

Reymundo Sandoval, 17, and Kyle Jones, 24, are both leaders in Youth Connections, a high school diploma and workforce development program run by Community Action Partnership.

“We’re just out here trying to make this place look beautiful,” said Sandoval, who along with Jones was lending a hand at the CPI site.

Jason Carter, program manager of Youth Connections, said volunteer work is a big part of the program.

“We want them to give back to the community that supports them reaching their college and career goals,” Carter said.

Other organizations that benefited from volunteer work Wednesday included the Redwood Food Bank, the Earle Baum Center of the Blind, Friends House, CERES, Catholic Charities, the Boys Girls Clubs of Greater Santa Rosa, Russian Riverkeeper, Food for Thought and the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter.

As in previous years, one of the biggest participants in the Day of Caring was Keysight Technologies, formerly Agilent. With 400 employees out at 26 different sites, Keysight supplied nearly a third of the total volunteer roster. Another large batch came from the county of Sonoma and city of Santa Rosa, which together contributed about 300 employees to the effort.

“This is one event that our employees really love,” said Jeff Webber, a spokesman for Keysight.

At Samuel L. Jones Hall, a homeless shelter in Santa Rosa, Keysight employees took part in the facility’s biggest one-day cleaning event.

The work included touch-up painting, scrubbing of dining tables, reorganizing of food and linen storage areas and tidying up the library.

Val Peterson, an electrical engineer for Keysight, found himself cleaning a shelter hallway with a rotating floor buffer. Peterson quickly mastered the task.

“I haven’t buffed floors since I was in college, but it’s fun,” he said, adding that his participation as a volunteer is part of a culture at Keysight of giving back to the community.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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Replanting after a fire: Greening ghost gardens (photos)

No one thinks to grab a cutting from a beloved honeysuckle bush when told to evacuate because of a fire. And yet, when a home burns down, so does the garden that surrounded it.

What once was green is now ghostly gray.

Homeowners’ insurance coverage and organizations like Habitat for Humanity focus on getting four walls back in place to shelter a shaken family.

Replacing landscaping is an afterthought. Or at least placed on hold until kitchens are restocked and beds are back in place.

But why should flora have to wait?

No one disputes that greenery wards off erosion, especially after a fire has denuded the land. Some people even think plants and trees help ease the pain of losing possessions to uncontrollable flames.

“If there’s a plant living, there’s hope,” says Judy Grillo, a member of the Phoenix, Oregon Garden Club, who came up with what’s now known as the Re-green Weed Project.

On Sept. 15, 2014, Grillo – and a worldwide audience – saw news reports of the arson-ignited Boles Fire incinerating a third of the houses in tiny Weed, California, just south of the Oregon border.

Left in ashes were 147 houses and gardens.

“We were all struck by the terrible loss,” Grillo says. “The Phoenix Garden Club takes the loss of trees and garden life very seriously.”

Soon afterward, Grillo and her group got busy.

The two dozen club members have been growing starters to give to Weed’s fire victims. They are also pulling together donations of plants, soil and money to buy gardening supplies.

The all-volunteer group plans to caravan in donated trucks – filled with donated fuel – the 75 miles from their Southern Oregon homes to the devastated mill town in the shadow of Mount Shasta.

Oct. 9 is the scheduled delivery day and anything can happen between now and then. But don’t think it will stop this troop of garden lovers.

They were already temporarily halted in their plans by government red tape and requests.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture needs to approve the plants before they can cross the border. The club’s Master Gardeners are creating an inventory list with the plants’ scientific names.

Then the club was asked by the Weed city council to wait until fall to deliver the plants.

Fire victims need time to prepare their land – some properties had a half foot of topsoil hauled away – and elected officials hope by October that rain will take the burden of watering the new plants off their region’s drought-stricken shoulders.

No matter the hurdle, Grillo and crew are cheerfully moving forward.

Grillo, who ran an engineering company before retiring, had never even visited Weed, a dot on Interstate 5, until she watched it burn.

She visited for the first time in the spring and returned for the third time on Sept. 2 to see the progress being made in the scorched neighborhoods.

Her guide was Sue Tavalero, who once lived on a ridge overlooking the historic mill.

Tavalero considers herself lucky: While her husband Scott Tavalero, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, was chasing flames flying in 40 mph gusts on another hill, she was able to safely evacuate her home of 21 years and save their dogs.

When Tavalero returned to the site the next day, all 15 homes on the cul-de-sac were gone and the ground was still hot. The heat that reached 3,000 degrees made the concrete foundation brittle.

Still, a lone maple tree stood amid ashes in her front yard.

Almost a year later, with Grillo by her side, Tavalero points to one sprig sprouting from the trunk.

“This looks like life to me,” says Tavalero.

She smiles as she scans her neighborhood. Some houses are being rebuilt. Other lots remain barren except for blackened tree trunks that have been chopped up and neatly piled on rocky dirt, what used to be lawn.

A burn of this intensity works like this: It consumes vegetation, destroys roots and heats the soil high enough to turn it red, says Jeff Hatten, an assistant professor at Oregon State University College of Forestry.

During a fire, nutrients are lost and the pH is lower. Later, rain pounding on water-repellent soil leads to erosion.

In addition to flames, firefighting methods and materials in the structures damage the soil.

When fire retardant gets hot, it binds with organic matter to prevent oxidizing and some plants can be chemically burned, says Hatten. Firefighting equipment, and later large construction machinery, compacts the dirt.

Fire victims wanting a garden need to rebalance the pH before planting certain species. They also need to add mulch or barriers to prevent slope erosion and rinse retardant off plants that survived, says Hatten.

Matters were worse in Weed. The 1910 mill cottages were built with asbestos and when many of those structures sizzled to the ground, the land became contaminated. Six inches of topsoil had to be scraped off.

Today, rocks lay where there once were flower beds.

John D. Bailey, Hatten’s colleague at OSU College of Forestry, says the asbestos cleanup probably damaged the soil more than the intense fire.

Some owners just walked away. Rebuilding a house lost in an instant is hard enough. Trying to think of trellises and tomato plants can be too taxing.

Tavalero understands why there are many house-less lots around her with only a scattering of stone steps or parts of a chain-link fence. These are the ghost gardens left by fire.

The cost to replace landscaping is typically covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy but there are limits, says Kenneth Palfini, a Farmer’s Insurance agent in Mt Shasta and Mayor Pro Tem of Weed.

“You won’t get $1,500 to replace a mature tree,” he says.

To bring some color to Weed, volunteers planted daffodils, a garden club from Orland donated garden kits and a club from Colusa gave garden tools.

Funds are being collected by the city-sanctioned Weed Long Term Recovery Group to help people buy landscaping necessities.

“Even if we could get enough topsoil to fill the holes for trees and shrubs, it would help,” says Brenda Duchi, the volunteer coordinator for the recovery group. “But yards are going to have a hard time growing lawns without it.”

Grillo hopes Weed, and all neighborhoods blasted by fire, find help.

“Garden groups should adopt a residential fire area,” Grillo says, standing in her Phoenix backyard near hundreds of containers of shrubs, fruit bushes and flowers that will be trucked to Weed.

“We are all stewards of the land,” she says, “and we can have an impact.”

— Janet Eastman

To contact recovery support volunteers:

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