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Archives for September 12, 2015

GARDEN MAIDEN: Tips for storing vegetables

GARDEN MAIDEN: Tips for storing vegetables

Holly Hughes

GARDEN MAIDEN: Tips for storing vegetables

Digging garlic on a dry day after withholding water a week or so by prying up surrounding ground with a pitchfork, then pulling the bulb from the earth, is the ideal way to harvest for optimal long-term storage.

GARDEN MAIDEN: Tips for storing vegetables

If you intend to store potatoes for winter storage, dig hills about two weeks after plants have yellowed and wilted to the ground on a dry day when you can “dry clean” them by brushing away dirt without washing.

GARDEN MAIDEN: Tips for storing vegetables

Once dug, lay potatoes in a single layer with plenty of ventilation for a period of at least two weeks at a temperature of 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and high relative humidity (85 to 95 percent) for two weeks to heal minor cuts and bruises and thicken the tuber’s skin, called curing.

GARDEN MAIDEN: Tips for storing vegetables

An initial curing period of garlic requires leaves being left on to send energy to the bulbs as they dry prior to a final trim to about one inch per bulb before putting in a bin for storage (up to six months) in the canning room.

Posted: Friday, September 11, 2015 10:06 pm

Updated: 10:57 pm, Fri Sep 11, 2015.

GARDEN MAIDEN: Tips for storing vegetables

Holly Hughes,, 815-433-2000


Thanks to Times reader Don, whose question inspired this column on optimal food storage.

While in recent decades, gardening has become more of a hobby, less than 100 years ago, growing your own food and storing enough to feed your family for the winter months were sheer necessities for survival. Root cellars and canning rooms, even summer kitchens were simple sections of the floor plan in every farm house across America. Yet, modern inventions such as refrigeration and massive food production that strips food down into powders and concentrates has eliminated any sort of urgency to store our own food.

Yet for some of us, the gratification of snapping open a jar of garden green beans or cubing potatoes dug several months earlier is motivation enough to plant plenty in our garden to enjoy our bounty well into winter months.

While visions of an underground cold storage bunker dance in my head each time Joel mows the natural ridge of our land, for now there is plenty of shelving in the canning room to fill for months to come. If you intend to store food for the winter, begin planning the day you select seeds. What you sow, how you harvest it and what you do before you pack it away all matter significantly for long-term storage.

First and foremost, it is worth a bit of research to grow varieties that are known for extended storage. Most seed magazines will include storage as a trait of the particular cultivar. Many hybrids are bred to increase skins, decrease moisture and combine other traits that ultimately increase the storage life of particular varieties.

Cabbage, onions and potatoes are examples of crops that vary greatly between cultivars in regards to storage life. Some onions only hold a month once they’re out of the ground, while others last up to six months when prepared properly for storage. I have a cabbage in my fridge that I’ve had wrapped in a dish towel since March. I’m making slaw for the family this weekend. (They will never know.) Take time to read the details in seed descriptions so you will know if you can toss em in a bag for a month or have them around next spring for replanting again.

Second, a few tips at harvest time will increase storage capacity significantly. I like to plant a row for fresh eating, and then have a separate row that I know is for storage. That way, I can withhold watering a few weeks just prior to harvesting so that the crops are already drying out, what I refer to as pre-curing crops such as onion, garlic, and potatoes prior to digging out of the ground. It is also helps if you dig these root crops while the soil is dry on an overcast day. Potatoes do not like sun. In fact, it makes them toxic.

Also, I never wash crops I intend to store at harvest time, leaving washing/peeling for food preparation step when I’m ready to use them in the kitchen. Yet, these root crops like to linger in the open air a few weeks to toughen up their skins and essentially prepare for long-term storage, a process called “curing” your crop. If you are going to use your vegetables quickly (four to six weeks) curing is less important than if you intend to hold on to your bounty for several months. Handle your food with care. As you sort through your crop, separate out bruised or sliced veggies that are better used fresh or slicing up to can or freeze.

Third, remember that you are simply tricking your vegetable into believing it is still in the ground. Dark and dry or relatively humid is key for successful storage of whole foods. A dark spot in the garage or a covered box in the basement suits most crops. For crops such as beets that prefer cold, wet conditions, a barrel of moist sand covered with burlap is a common option for long-term storage.

When storing potatoes, choose varieties — such as thick skinned russets and gold varieties like Kennebec or Yukon Gold — known for extended storage capacity. Potatoes can last up to eight months when properly cured and stored.

For ideal storage, dig potatoes within a couple of weeks of the plant dying back. Curing potatoes requires a two-week period of laying out on newspaper or cardboard in a well-ventilated, cool (50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) area to toughen up the skin for extended storage. Choose a storage container that allows a bit of ventilation for your spuds. I like to use flat cardboard boxes to minimize bruising while handling the crop while pulling out a handful over the winter.

Simply layer your tubers gently in the box or bin and cover with cardboard or heavy burlap to eliminate any light and keep them from sprouting. The ideal temperate is 35 to 40 degrees, although they will withstand storage temperatures up to 50 degrees if you’ll be using them within a couple of months.

For onions and shallots,choose onions with an “excellent” storage rating such as Cortland F1 (yellow, long day) or Ruby Ring F1 (red, long day). Onions for storage should be harvested when at least half the tops have fallen over. I like to stop watering up to two weeks before harvest, depending on rain forecast.

Dig your onions and shake the dirt free and trim any slimy tops as high as possible. They prefer to be cured in a warm (80-degree), shady area for a week before trimming tops to about four inches and allowing to cure another two weeks or so. A final grooming of the top to leave just an inch on each bulb is ideal before packing into boxes or mesh bags in a cool, dry spot. Shallots for storage follow this same regimen.

Harvesting garlic when about a third of the lower greens have died is an ideal time when selecting bulbs for storage. Similar to onions, withhold water for at least a week prior to digging. Loosen the surrounding dirt with a pitchfork, then pull to limit damage to the bulbs and leave paper husk intact. Cure in a warm (80-degree) shady area for two weeks before trimming stalks to four inches. Cure another week before a final trim prior to storing in a cool place in mesh bags.

See other storage tips for your fresh cut and long-term storage vegetables and herbs at


Friday, September 11, 2015 10:06 pm.

Updated: 10:57 pm.

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Secret gardens: Alan Titchmarsh’s tips on creating a hidden hideaway

Living curtains

Then, instead of planting a conventional hedge or border in front of your panels, plant informal groups of tall, airy, see-through plants. They’ll create an extra layer between you and the outside world that leaves you feeling enclosed without casting shade or filling up big chunks of space. Go for a mixture of flowers and foliage – a winning trio is Verbena bonariensis, valerian and pendulous sedge (Carex pendula), which looks like a tall, weeping fountain of grass decorated with long, dangling green catkins.

If there’s room, bulk it out with coyote willow (Salix exigua), a shrubby tree with elegant, narrow, silvery leaves that flash as the wind catches them. If you prune it back hard every few years, it pops up as a plantation of short, bushy, silvery clouds.

Let your flowers self-seed among them – they’ll add blobs of colour and wave about in the breeze, creating a garden that’s more like your own personal nature reserve – a classy, natural-looking, low-maintenance planting scheme. 

Tight corners

If you don’t have much room, or you fancy a more formal look, then put up a decorative trellis screen – the sort with the undulating top and knobs on the posts – and cover it with climbers.

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum) is good if you live in a mildish area – it’s evergreen and the large, white, summer flowers are heavily scented. Clematis is brilliant and you can plant several different kinds in the same spot to provide a succession of different flowers from spring to autumn, and they don’t cast much shade. 

Or you could go for wall shrubs – all sorts are now being trained into fans and espalier shapes especially for this sort of job, so find a nursery with a good selection. Pineapple broom is superb – the foliage is greyish and architectural, with big, pineapple scented flowers. Although climbers and shrubs won’t make a peep-proof barrier, the airy effect lets light through and gives a cosy feeling. 

That sinking feeling

Growing tall plants isn’t the only alternative when you want to create more privacy. You could, instead, dig down. Sunken gardens were a great favourite of the Edwardians (they were romantic types who clearly needed a secluded spot to conduct their liaisons). A sunken garden only works if you have well-drained soil with a high water table, otherwise it’s likely to flood each time it rains, turning itself into a temporary pond.

But if you have a suitable spot, dig down and throw the soil back to make raised beds or a grass bank round the edge. You can have a sunken rose garden, Edwardian-style, which traps the scent, or a more contemporary sunken shape – something like a 60s “conversation pit” with a table, seats and pots of plants.

Or try a crater with tree ferns planted in the centre so the leaves make a frond-thatched roof over the top. It’s a good way to take advantage of a natural hollow in the ground, instead of trying to fill it in. 

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Steven Sotloff Memorial Commemorated At Pinecrest Gardens

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PINECREST (CBSMiami) – The Steven Sotloff Pinecrest Memorial commemoration was held at the Pinecrest Gardens on Saturday.

“This memorial is very important because that will be a place that I will be able to go and pay my respects to my son,” Arthur Sotloff told CBS4’s News partner the Miami Herald.

Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner understands. Her husband Irv’s parents, like Shirley Sotloff’s, survived the Holocaust. The Lerners and Sotloffs are longtime friends. The Lerners’ oldest daughter, Jill, was a childhood friend of Steven’s, their birthdays a few months apart.

“When Steven was going back and forth and writing these stories, his parents were always very proud of the journalist integrity that he showed and the commitment he showed by being able to write about across-the-world crisis situations,” Lerner says.

The ceremony was held at 5:30 p.m. in Pinecrest Gardens located at 11000 Red Road.

The memorial is located under the great Banyan tree in a shaded area with nearby seating. The garden is centered on three water features, a long-time tenet of garden design, often referring to heaven, Earth and man.

The Sotloffs helped design the memorial by choosing the elements, plants and colors that would allow for meaningful reflection.

The public memorial, Lerner said, will be meaningful for the community.

“The design was something down to the types of plants and colors that Shirley and Art felt would allow for a thoughtful setting to think about Steven. The hope is that who he was and what his life meant to all of us is something that will hopefully inspire others to speak up for some of the tragic consequences of what goes on in the world,” Lerner says.

The Village of Pinecrest, in partnership with the Miami Foundation and Home Depot, will open the Steven Sotloff Memorial at Pinecrest Gardens.

Steven Sotloff was killed in September of 2014, beheaded by ISIS terrorists in the Syrian desert.

Shirley and Arthur Sotloff, along with family friends, created the 2Lives Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial Foundation to endow scholarships to students seeking careers in journalism.

The Sotloffs were thinking –  in addition to handing out journalism scholarships – of pairing with Diane Foley, mother of James Foley who was also killed by ISIS, to establish a hostage crisis center for families in the United States.

“The U.K. has a crisis place for families to go to. The U.S. has nothing,” Shirley says.

“Twenty years from now I want to make sure my son’s name is remembered by doing good things,” Arthur says.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)

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Ben Carson’s Immigration Plan Is Mostly Rational, With One Major Exception


Sep 11, 2015 11:36am

CREDIT: Screengrab

Ben Carson

In comparison to the extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric dominating the Republican presidential candidacy race, Ben Carson actually sounds rational. He wants to give guest-worker status to millions of undocumented immigrants without criminal records. But not so fast — his proposal could potentially make those people more vulnerable to employer exploitation.

During a conversation at the Commonwealth Club of California on Thursday, Carson said that he would secure the borders, allow undocumented immigrants without criminal records to become guest workers, and eventually let some of them apply for U.S. citizenship after they “go to the back of the line.”

“They have a six-month window and they can get registered, they can pay a back tax penalty, they can pay their taxes going forward, and they now exist aboveground,” Carson said at the event while detailing his guest-worker plan.

Meanwhile, he challenged some of the more radical ideas that have been floated over the last several months. Carson refuted current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s plan to deport all undocumented immigrants, saying it’s “naive” and would end up harming the agricultural and hotel industries.

“It sounds really cool,” Carson said. “People who say that have no idea what that entails in terms of our legal system, the cost. Forget about that. And plus, where are you going to send them?”

“I was talking to a farmer in South Dakota, who has a 8,000-acre farm. He starts his workers out at $11. He said he could not hire a single American, not one. …That farming industry would collapse,” he added. “If they are hard-working people and they have a clean record and they are contributing, I don’t feel it’s practical to round them up and throw them all out.”

Carson’s move away from mass deportation may make his plan appear workable, especially when compared to how anti-immigrant the rest of the Republican candidate field stands. Trump, for example, is enthusiastic about getting people out of the country and having an “expedited way” of letting the “good people” back in. Chris Christie, another Republican presidential candidate, argued for tracking immigrants like FedEx packages. And on more than one occasion, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has told critics to “chill out” over his use of the slur “anchor babies” to describe U.S. citizen children born to undocumented parents.

Forgiving for a moment Carson’s generalized notion that undocumented immigrants are solely hotel workers or farmworkers (like him, undocumented immigrants can be future doctors, lawyers, or even journalists), if Carson’s immigration plan is anything like how the guest-worker program operates now, then millions of future employees can expect to be exploited to the same extent as undocumented immigrants.

According to a May 2015 Economic Policy Institute report, guest workers, like those sponsored through the H-2A or H-2B visa programs designated for agriculture and other similarly skilled programs, earn “about 11 percent less than” green-card holders and “their wages do not significantly differ from unauthorized workers’ wages.” Essentially, guest workers are just as likely to be subjected to low wages as undocumented immigrants. That’s in part because H-2 visa holders are tied to their employers to keep their visas valid, so they can’t change employers or jobs while working in the United States.

Under the H-2A and H-2B programs, employers are supposed to cover the cover the cost of travel, visas, and any associated costs of transportation from the housing to the job site. But employees occasionally find those costs taken from their paychecks.

They’re also not particularly treated fairly. Mexican H-2A visa workers filed lawsuits against a tobacco farm in Kentucky in June alleging that they were paid less than the guaranteed wage, housed in rat-infested conditions, and prevented from leaving. And a group of Mexican workers filed a complaint against a Mississippi-based landscaping company after they were fired for complaining about their conditions. And a 2013 Southern Poverty Law Center report found that guest workers are routinely cheated out of wages and held virtually captive by employers.

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Could Akron’s $1.4 billion sewer predicament actually save the city? Post …

AKRON, Ohio — For the next 15 years, Akron will be forced to pay for $1.4 billion in sewer improvements, required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to stop overflows into local rivers.

That predicament — the city claimed in a legal filing last December that recent 69 percent sewer rate hikes won’t be enough to pay for the project — could bring to a halt long-running investments to revive downtown.

Or, says one of the nation’s top urban planning experts, it could be the city’s savior. 

“You’re forced to spend this $1 billion, how are you going to do it?” said Lynn Richards, CEO of the Congress for New Urbanism, at Akron’s Greystone Hall Wednesday night. Her audience included several City Council members, Mayor Jeff Fusco and Planning Director Marco Sommerville. 

Before she led the congress, which advises cities on planning decisions, Richards spent 17 years working for the EPA helping cities green up their growth strategies.

Northeast Ohio Media Group is examining quality of life issues in Akron as the city prepares for its first mayoral election since Plusquellic abruptly resigned in May. The brash, bold Plusquellic ruled for 28 years, infusing the city — its government, business community and even its schools — with bold ideas.

One of Plusquellic’s yet untold legacies will be the outcome of the sewer project, which the city spent over 13 years negotiating, and its impact on the city’s finances.

The city is currently trying to renegotiate its agreement with the EPA to include more green project, like those described below. Whoever becomes mayor in the Nov. 3 election will inherit the task of convincing both the EPA and Federal Judge John Adams to let the city change its plans.

Speaking to Mayor Jeff Fusco, several City Council members and a room full of developers on Wednesday, Richards told the city how she thinks it should spend their sewer money.

Step 1: Move the money above ground

The problem that causes the nasty sewer overflows that plague Akron’s rivers could also be the source of a better solution, Richards says.

Storm sewers, which collect water from streets when it rains, combine with the city’s sanitary sewers. When it rains too much, that rain can overwhelm the system and overflow valves open, sending stormwater tinged with raw sewage downstream.

Under the current plan, the city will spend $1.4 billion to drill below earth and build big concrete tanks. One will be 160 feet underground, several others will sit near the surface and will hold sewage and stormwater overflows like a giant toilet, flushing wastewater into treatment plants once storms subside.

Richards said that as much of that $1 billion as possible should be spent above ground, on improved streets, landscaping and something called bioswales, to slow the rush of water entering the sewers while simultaneously making the city look better.

On a big screen, Richards projected photographs of grassy sidewalks and meandering strips of green cutting through concrete urban areas. One example was Philadelphia, currently in the process of revitalizing downtown while under a sewer order similar to Akron’s — and Cleveland’s.

Philadelphia is spending 100 percent of the money to revitalize its consent decree on green projects, surface-level improvements that absorb water before it ends up in city storm sewers.

“They aren’t building a single piece of concrete,” Richards said. 

Step 2: Imagine streets of green

On another slide Richards showed a photograph of a new housing development in Denver, Colorado.

An aerial photo showed a standard series of apartment buildings, separated by some park space and sidewalks. But, from the street level, the apartment buildings looked much more like a lush forest.

“What you all should be interested in is, what does it feel like to walk down the street,” Richards said. “Do you feel happy, do you feel safe, do you feel secure?”

Those verdant berms of flowers and native grasses were not just an extraneous expenditure, but were part of a stormwater management plan that helped the development meet requirements to cut down sewer overflows.

Richards said the idea was to see the city as a complete picture, not just a series of tunnels and buildings. 

“You don’t worry about your mortgage at the end of the month. You worry about your mortgage at the beginning of the month,” Richards said. “Do you want a place that thrives, or do you want to live in a place that slowly dies over time? That is what we are deciding.”

Step 3: Find unused spaces

In another city trying to meet sewer control requirements, Portland, Oregon, simple plant boxes were added along the sides of a residential street.

“After they put one of these in, people on other blocks started to call and ask when they were going to get theirs,” Richards said. 

Those empty concrete spaces, when replaced with water-absorbent plants, helped the city slow the amount of water that was entering sewers and causing them to overflow.

One of Akron’s biggest advantages over other city’s, Richards said, is its abundance of open spaces: empty lots, parking lots, and a giant underused Innerbelt freeway.

Using rain gardens and green streets to absorb water, the city of Portland has been able to save $40 million on a single sewer line replacement. 

“It can be really significant. They really do work, depending on the topography and the infiltration rate of the soil. It can keep a lot of water out of the sewer system,” said Linc Mann, a spokesman for the city of Portland.

Step 4: Get everyone involved

In another section of photos, Richards showed city streets that had been modified, sometimes seemingly insignificantly.

In one example, Minneapolis, Minnesota, installed a 5.5-mile bike path lined with vegetation that soaks up rain water. 

In the same period that Minneapolis spent a few million dollars to install a bike path, private developers poured $450 million into the surrounding area, clambering to meet the biking and walking millennials that moved close to the bike trail.

“A walkable, bikeable space returns almost 12 times the investment,” Richards said. Those walkable spaces could be built with sewer money, if the improvements help control stormwater that currently spills into sewers.

If the city starts to invest in neighborhoods, private investors are likely to take cues and follow suit, Richards said. 

“Developers are looking for a signal from the public sector to say, this street, this neighborhood matters to us,” Richards said. “If the city invests in it, the public follows.”

Take lemons, make lemonade

An advantage for the city is that some of Akron’s biggest developers are already looking to double down on green investment projects.

Developer Tony Troppe, who has invested in the north side of downtown Akron, wants to demolish the last mile of the Ohio 59 Innerbelt freeway and turn it into a new downtown development.

That demolition project, which could remove hundreds of tons of concrete, might well help the city meet its sewer overflow goals. If the city can turn concrete into greener spaces that absorb stormwater, it could avoid spending money on more basins to store sewage.

“This is one of the greatest opportunities we have been presented with,” Troppe said after Wednesday’s speech. “If we plan this right, we will be again on the map as a city of invention that took lemons and made lemonade.”

Troppe wants to build a water feature to absorb stormwater, complete with a riverwalk or boardwalk that would attract investment.

“We are rolling out the green carpet for progressive thinkers who can choose anywhere in the U.S. to live,” Troppe said. “Why will they choose Akron? Because we embrace these green principles, we embrace smart growth.”

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Sights set high for new Bay Bridge landing

As the Florida Department of Transportation gears up for construction on a new Pensacola Bay Bridge — one of the most impactful road projects in the area’s history — one local group is setting its sights on bettering the roadway’s entrance into Pensacola.

Grassroots citizen group Vision Pensacola is proposing what its designers say is a more functional, attractive bridge landing at Bayfront Parkway and 17th Avenue, with a goal of making it an iconic part of the community for years to come.

A roundabout, a suspended bridge extension to Gregory Street, bicycle and pedestrian connections, and landscaping and water features are among the group’s ideas for the intersection, which sees more than 43,000 daily trips combined between 17th Avenue and Bayfront Parkway, or U.S. 98.

Traffic on the Bay Bridge, the corridor joining Pensacola and Gulf Breeze, is projected to increase from its current 53,000 daily trips to more than 71,000 vehicles daily by 2040, according to FDOT.

“Some of those trips are coming here for the first time,” said Alan Gray, president of First City Development Group and co-founder of Vision Pensacola. “And when you come here for the first time, and you see something like this, this lets you know you’ve arrived somewhere. This is a place that’s got vision.”

Gray and Steve Dana, a landscape architect and vice president of Jerry Pate Design, have brought their proposal to FDOT, also meeting with local organizations and residents to gain support for the idea in recent months.

The preliminary concept from FDOT essentially replicates, with additional lanes, what drivers currently see at 17th and Bayfront, but FDOT spokesman Ian Satter said the design is just a basic footprint until the intersection is more thoroughly studied.

Construction on a new six-lane bridge is scheduled to begin in 2017, an approximately $650 million project that has been considered by FDOT for more than 10 years.

“When we start getting a final design of the bridge, we’ll have a better idea of what we’re dealing with at the intersection of U.S. 98 and 17th and how the design of the bridge will impact that,” Satter said.

Satter said Vision Pensacola’s concept will be included, along with other alternatives, in a Project Development and Environment Study for the intersection, which is set to begin in 2016 and take about two years to complete.

“With this being such a grand scale of a project, I can see why there’s such a large interest for organizations in the area to have something they view will better their community,” Satter said. “So we need to look into all of those things to make sure we’re making the best choice for the area.”

The department will also consider factors like traffic impacts and needs, environmental impacts and the effect any changes will have to the general public, as is the case with any PDE study.

In addition to aesthetics, Dana said Vision Pensacola’s concept focuses on safety and accessibility after major storms and hurricanes, with the elevated bridge extension allowing for quicker connectivity for emergency vehicles and residents.

“If this intersection gets washed away, we can still make this bridge two-way traffic, and we can still function as a community,” Dana said.

The Bay Bridge replacement is a separate project than the intersection of 17th and Bayfront, and Dana stressed that further study of the landing will not delay the bridge project or negatively impact funding.

Gray and Dana said their involvement has been on a volunteer basis, and they will not be on the winning bid teams for the contract, but they are hoping to gain community support as they continue promoting the design for the gateway into Pensacola.

“We saw this as a chance for a legacy bridge to come to our city and to be done in such a way that’s iconic, done in such a way that in the next hundred years, we’re very proud of this landing,” Gray said.

More information

For more information about Vision Pensacola, search “Vision Pensacola” on Facebook. For information from FDOT about the Pensacola Bay Bridge project, visit

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Wandering whimsy in Jarrettsville

One Valentine’s Day, Bob Farmer gave his wife, Betty, a 3-ton boulder.

To understand the thoughtfulness of the gift, you’d have to sit on the rock in summer under the shade of large trees. In just the right spot, you can peek through the sweeping tendrils of ornamental Japanese maples to catch a glimpse of water in the stream that slips through the Farmers’ 5-acre garden. The boulder is the perfect place for Betty Farmer to enjoy morning coffee or an evening glass of wine.

Spider webs aren't a problem, but they could be a sign of one

The Farmers’ Jarrettsville garden is full of small nooks for sitting — there are almost 25 seating spots — and vignettes to discover, a landscape that gently meanders and is full of surprises. There’s a peaceful pavilion, built in the perfect place to hear the trickling stream, and a footpath through ornamental trees that rounds a corner to reveal gigantic stone turtles across the lawn.

It is a garden for wandering, which is perhaps why Farmer said his favorite place in the garden “is wherever I’m standing at that time.”

Like nature, but better

Forty years ago, this landscape was barren. The Farmers acquired 15 acres when they bought a gristmill as a fun rehab project. The landscape design started as a traditional English cottage garden, but the look didn’t seem to match the site. And, Bob said, he’s more interested in the natural look of Asian-inspired gardens.

2015 Sun Garden Contest winners

2015 Sun Garden Contest winners

Whether they are tending to an acre lot in western Howard County or beautifying a formerly vacant rowhouse lot in the citys Pigtown neighborhood, the winners of this years Baltimore Sun garden contest have found that gardening strengthens friendships and connects neighbors.

Whether they are tending to an acre lot in western Howard County or beautifying a formerly vacant rowhouse lot in the citys Pigtown neighborhood, the winners of this years Baltimore Sun garden contest have found that gardening strengthens friendships and connects neighbors.

Read more stories –>

Farmer didn’t start out as a horticulturalist, but rather as a hairdresser. Yet, in some ways, the act of landscaping isn’t far afield from cutting hair.

“When I’m called for a consultation on a landscape, you talk about what stays, what goes, where things will go,” he said. “It’s the exact same questions I’d ask if you’d sat in my chair. It’s just a medium change.”

Like a good haircut, Farmer’s approach to his large canvas was in sections, with an emphasis on textures and the play of light and shadows. He planted material in layers to achieve a soft look, like Mother Nature — only a little better.

“If you have every piece of plant material and hardscaping screaming, the whole garden looks a mess,” he said. This is also why he trims all his plants by hand. “The worst thing you can do is start trimming things with a hedge trimmer; everything starts looking like a lollipop.”

He used this layering technique on a hillside that was once covered in towering white pines. When they threatened to fall on the mill, Farmer took down 52 trees.

“That gave me a clean palette to work on,” he said, noting that even the most established garden is always evolving. Now, at just 4 years old, the hillside garden is lush with textures and plants of differing colors and heights, including umbrella pine, Hinoki cypress and a form of maple called Ryusen that he’s trained to cascade over boulders like a groundcover.

This is also a four-season garden. In spring, there are huge rhododendrons and tiny stands of purple iris. In summer, the garden is mostly in shade, with sunlight dappling through the purple-green leaves of weeping beeches and breezes stirring the delicate tendrils of purple smoke bush. Autumn’s tricyrtis and anemones fade until, in winter, the conifers and berry-bearing hollies and viburnums stand out against the cold landscape. Trees and shrubs with unusual bark, like the paper bark maple, offer year-round interest. No surprise, given the nursery’s stock, Japanese maples feature prominently throughout the garden.

Off-beat additions

Despite Farmer’s knowledge of rare plants, he’s no plant snob.

“You have to have fun with landscaping — you can’t take it too seriously,” he said.

He has a mailbox next to his pond, for example, where he keeps fish food for the koi. And rather than bemoaning the death of a cypress, he turned the old stump into a trellis for climbing vines. He also threw a prickly pear — a cactus hardy in this region — into one of the garden vignettes because “you have to throw in something offbeat now and then.”

Nestled deep in the garden, a footpath emerges into a clearing where three limestone warriors — exact replicas of figures from China’s famous terracotta army — hold court in a curving alley of ornamental trees. A distinctive monkey-puzzle tree stands erect with the warriors and other rare specimens like a columnar “Monumentale” sugar maple. It is here that Farmer’s garden reaches the apex of its intersection between special plants, whimsy and wandering that gives this landscape a magical quality.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun

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Tips for water use, pollution control at landscaping workshop


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Creating fire-resistant landscaping – The San Diego Union

Due to a unique combination of climate and terrain, California will always suffer from wildfires. But with appropriate planning, planting and maintenance, these fires won’t be devastating to homeowners.

A large portion of our state is a Mediterranean-type climate, situated in a region close to the sea with hot, dry summers, recurring winds and mountainous terrain. All of these create favorable conditions for fire. In drought conditions, the risk of fire is even greater.

If not stopped quickly, wildfires can ferociously destroy everything in their paths. It has been shown time and again that the proper selection of landscape plants and good maintenance will go a long way toward reducing fire danger. Second only to roof type, the plants surrounding a house have an enormous influence in determining a home’s survival during a wildfire.

“Vegetation will either lead a fire to a structure or stop it,” says firescaping expert and author Douglas Kent.

One of the greatest impacts a homeowner can have on protecting property and personal safety is to create and maintain a fire-resistant landscape. Planning ahead and consistent maintenance can help stop devastating property loss and even loss of life. With careful planning, a home garden or landscape can be both fire-resistant and water-wise.

As you make plant choices for fire-prone areas, it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a fireproof plant—only fire resistant ones. Just about any plant will burn if temperatures get hot enough. Also keep in mind that it takes about a year for plants (water-wise, fire-resistant, or not) to become established. Only when well-established are plants truly water-wise.

Prevention steps

• Understand which plants are fire-resistant. Research their fire retardant abilities as well as their drought tolerance.

• Remove any dead, diseased or dying trees or shrubs.

• Flammable trees and shrubs should be replaced even if they have adapted to require little water.

• Keep brush and dried grass removed from the perimeter of your property so you have a firebreak.

• Keep shrubs and trees thinned out. Dense brush leads to dead debris buildup and more fuel. Keep skirts removed from palms.

• Keep irrigation systems in good working order, and regularly check for adequate coverage. Even in a drought, don’t stop watering. Water within the guidelines and restrictions of your city.

• Keep your landscape in good condition. Feed with organic fertilizers. This will reduce quick, soft growth that often results from high-nitrogen chemical fertilizers.

Keep plants free of pests and diseases, reducing damaged or dead growth.

Keep yards and gardens free of weeds.

• Reduce thatch buildup (dead leaves and stems) on ground covers like ivy and lantana. Mowing every two years will keep the dead material removed.

• Keep roofs and gutters free of dead leaves and other debris.

In Zone 3, drought-tolerant plants can create a barrier to slow a wildfire.

In Zone 3, drought-tolerant plants can create a barrier to slow a wildfire.

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Zone defense

As you plan your water-wise, fire-resistant garden, think in terms of four zones. Each planting zone is designed around a particular purpose.

Zone 1 is the garden zone, the space next to your home outward to 30 feet. It’s best to keep this space open. Plants in these areas will be the highest water users of your low-water palette, a typical practice of Mediterranean-climate gardens. Plants in this zone need to withstand embers. Simple designs and large open spaces are best, so firefighters can move around freely. Landscape should be watered and kept green.

Moving away from your home from 30 to 70 feet is Zone 2, where plants should be able to stop a ground fire. Plants chosen for this zone should reach a height of only 18 inches and be able to resist embers.

Zone 3 is a transition zone and is designed to slow fires. It’s approximately 71 to 120 feet from the house. It’s composed of drought-tolerant plants and is typically unwatered once established. For example, it might be comprised of a barrier planting of shrubs such as rockrose that can survive on rainwater alone.

For residents whose gardens adjoin foothills or natural, open spaces, these natural areas comprise Zone 4. If your home and garden is surrounded by other homes, you won’t have a Zone 4.

Jones is the chief horticulturist at Armstrong Garden Centers. Email him your gardening questions to

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