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Archives for October 23, 2015

Countdown to Responsive: 12 Weeks, Four Days

It’s 12 weeks, four days, and just under 10 hours from about now until we join with the TRI Pointe Group’s Pardee Homes Las Vegas division to unveil the Responsive Homes at Inspirada  in Henderson, Nev., on Jan. 19, 2016. But who’s counting?

Of four things we’re sure about this exciting venture. One is that our two homes will be idea and learning homes in the truest sense of the words, a virtual clinic on how to ideate and build compelling design and functionality into single-family living for our vaunted newest crop of young adults–the Millennials.

Second is that they’re going to be completed on time, and be in just about perfect shape, inside and out, by the time we’re ready for our “15 minutes of fame” in mid-January, as we invite builders from all over the country to “shop” our homes for new concepts, brand new product installations, and innovative new livability solutions for today’s increasingly complex households.

That’s because our go-to builder on the project, Pardee Homes Las Vegas division president Klif Andrews, tells us as much, as he punches through some of the remaining finish details, and exterior landscaping ideas.

“It’s always down to the wire, but the interiors of the homes are very much on track, and we’re getting ready for the design installation,” says Andrews.

 Specifically, Andrews and his Pardee team report from on the ground at Inspirada that flooring is complete, the interior main body painting is complete, and counter tops, electrical plugs and switches, tile accent wall complete. There’s continued work on wall treatments, plumbing trim, can lights, and entry doors will go in by the end of the month.

The third thing we’re absolutely sure about is that visitors to the homes will get to see some brand new products, inventive functionality, and a highly exclusive “vision” for the living experience as rendered by our creative director on the project, Bobby Berk.

“It’s been great because we’re seeing some new finishes, new styles, and even kind of a new ethos around how you want a house to look and feel,” Andrews says. “Everybody will enjoy the freshness you get in these houses.”

As a builder, it’s a challenge to integrate a host of new finishes, new products, sometimes even new suppliers into the homes, “It’s a little off our normal pattern,” Andrews notes, “but that’s good.”

Fourth and finally, the homes’ blend and balance of contemporary and more traditional styling–that idea of fresh takes on timeless values–is a driving design theme of the homes, and offers some striking new looks, particularly for attainably priced production homes in the Las Vegas valley.

“In this market, where we’re not tethered to some traditional architectural styles, you’re seeing a lot of interest in contemporary architecture,” Andrews says.

The Responsive Homes’ goal, in part, is to stretch the limits and conventions in what would be considered affordable new homes in their market, leaning in on exciting designs that can catalyze young adults into action.

We’re so excited, as the clock counts down to the moment of the “big reveal” in
Las Vegas on Jan. 19, because we feel there are truly some new ideas at work here on how home builders can inspire Millennials to aspire to own a new home.

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San Diego drought lessons, straight from Israel – The San Diego Union

Desalination and drip irrigation. Appliance efficiency and ongoing education. A non-squeamish approach to wastewater and a bloodhound’s nose for leaks. The list of practices that make Israel a conservation role model for a parched world is long, impressive and, frankly, a little guilt-inducing.

Tzur Sezaf enjoys a pool at Shezaf vineyard in the Negev desert in Israel. Nationwide use of desalinated and recycled water has helped Israel meet its needs.Uriel Sinai

Tzur Sezaf enjoys a pool at Shezaf vineyard in the Negev desert in Israel. Nationwide use of desalinated and recycled water has helped Israel meet its needs.

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For all of Israel’s water-related triumphs, however, one of the country’s most powerful tools isn’t rooted in its innovative technology or forward-looking public policy. It is in the hearts and minds of its people, and it permeates everything.

“A lot of things flow from the idea that water is precious, and that trickles down to the way people in Israel are careful about the water they use,” said Seth M. Siegel, author of the new book “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World,” and the keynote speaker for the Jewish National Fund’s Water Summit series, which will be in San Diego in December.

“Even though Israel is a free-market economy, at its core it has a community-focused approach to the world. It is, ‘Yes, I have to worry about myself, but I also have to worry about my family and my community. We’re all in this together.’ I think the U.S. may have had that mindset during World War II, but not now.”

In our defense, signs point toward a water-saving sea change. As California soldiers through its fourth drought-plagued year, it appears that the message of personal sacrifice for the greater good is soaking in.

According to the latest figures from the State Water Resources Control Board, Californians reduced their water use by nearly 27 percent during August. It is the third straight month we have exceeded Gov. Jerry Brown’s 25 percent conservation mandate.

In San Diego, long- and short-term conservation has been so successful, our water supplies are at 99 percent of normal. And there has been so much saving going on across the state, some cash-strapped water agencies will be charging more for the water we do use. So yes, sacrifice is happening.

“Up until the mid-1980s, the mindset here was there will always be enough water to support growth and to support an aesthetic that looks like the Midwest in a Mediterranean climate, and we have learned that is not the case,” said water-resources consultant Ken Weinberg, the recently retired water resources director for the San Diego County Water Authority. “I think you are seeing a mindset change now. We need less turf, and we need more landscaping that fits the climate. I think people are understanding that, and they are responding.”

Even as we inch toward a more drought-savvy lifestyle, there is still a lot we can learn from Israel. How did a country that is 60 percent desert build up a surplus of both water knowledge and actual water? Siegel’s instructive and highly readable book counts the ways, starting with history.

In 1939, the British government issued the British White Paper, a government decree designed to limit Jewish immigration to British-ruled Palestine. Eager to prove that the area could hold and sustain millions more people than the Brits thought it could, and that the water resources were more substantial than anyone suspected, the Zionist leadership began laying the groundwork for what became the State of Israel’s pioneering water efforts.

In his book, Siegel has a timeline of important dates in Israel’s conservation history that reads like a California drought to-do list. Except that Israel started tackling the challenge of desert living nearly 80 years ago.

In 1939, the Zionists began developing a plan for national water self-sufficiency. In 1947, deep drilling led to the discovery of water in the Negev desert. Drip irrigation equipment became available in 1966. The Shafdan wastewater treatment plants opened in 1969. Now, more than 85 percent of the nation’s sewage is reused, much of it for agriculture.

“They have smart governance. They are bold in trying new ideas. They go all out and all in when they come up with an idea that they think works, and they look to make sure everybody more or less carries a similar burden and everybody carries more or less the same benefits,” said Siegel, a lawyer and writer who blogs about water issues. “And they have very long-range plans for their water needs. The plan they are finalizing right now is a plan for the year 2050.”

In California, governance, infrastructure and other water-related civic duties are dealt with by the state as well as individual cities and counties, a crazy-quilt organizational strategy that makes Israel’s centralized pursuit of solutions a neat-freak’s dream that can never come true.

Factor in Israel’s necessary embrace of multifamily housing and low-water landscaping, its real-market water pricing and an obsession for finding and fixing leaks, and it’s hard to see how we could ever catch up.

But there’s hope. The new Carlsbad desalination plant, built by a team that includes Israeli desalination experts IDE Technologies, is expected to produce 50 million gallons of drinking water a day when it comes online later this year. More and more thirsty lawns are giving way to drought-appropriate landscaping. And the ambitious Pure Water San Diego program plans to use purified recycled water to provide more than one-third of the city’s potable water by 2035.

Israel is far away, but some of its drought-survival solutions are within reach. With the possibility of a drenching El Niño in our future, our next challenge could be hanging on to them, even as we clutch our umbrellas.

“Israel has developed a long-term conservation ethic. We are doing it short-term, and not everyone is conserving,” said Steve Erie, political science professor at UC San Diego and the author of “Beyond Chinatown,” an examination of water, growth and the environment in Southern California. “Israel is a besieged country, and it has a besieged mindset. We don’t have that, but we need to cultivate the mindset that we live in a desert. And we need to see water as a public good, and we are not all the way there yet.”

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State opposes Governor Street route for Pulse buses – Richmond Times


Leading group of cyclists make their turn from Governor Street to East Broad Street during third turn of Men’s Elite Road Circuit of UCI Road World Championships in Richmond on Sunday, September 27, 2015.

Upcoming Pulse meetings

GRTC Transit System is planning two public meetings to provide updates on its plans for bus rapid transit and to solicit feedback. 

The first will be held Monday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Library of Virginia, 800 E. Broad St. 

The second will be held Tuesday from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the main branch of the Richmond Public Library, 101 E. Franklin St.

Posted: Friday, October 23, 2015 1:00 pm

State opposes Governor Street route for Pulse buses

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Richmond Times-Dispatch

State officials say they oppose a suggested route adjustment to the Richmond’s planned bus rapid transit line – the Pulse – that would bring the project into close quarters with the governor’s Capitol Square home.

They cited unspecified security concerns and a desire to maintain parking spaces for top state leaders.

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Friday, October 23, 2015 1:00 pm.

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Neil Sperry: Let an expert take on these ‘myths’ before they take root

Every once in a while, I like to delve into extravagant claims made in the name of North Texas gardening. It’s my effort to make facts out of fiction.

Of course, these are strictly my opinions, but they’re based on 45 years of living and gardening in DFW, so I’ll throw them out for you to ponder.

Finding a ‘fast-growing shade tree’

The terms “fast-growing” and “shade tree” are mutually exclusive. You can have fast growth, or your can have quality, but you won’t find both in any tree species.

Regardless of what the ads may claim, any tree that grows 5 or 10 feet in a year is going to have fatal flaws. If you’re in the market for a new tree this fall, let your local independent nursery professional know that you want one that will last for decades with minimal problems.

You’ll see bold claims for all kinds of grasses saying that they will grow in heavy shade, yet you don’t see those grasses in area landscapes.

The quest for grass that grows in the shade

If your trees have grown larger over the years, you’re probably seeing bare ground beneath them. You’ll see bold claims for all kinds of grasses saying that they will grow in heavy shade, yet you don’t see those grasses in area landscapes and you don’t hear landscaping professionals recommending them.

Be very guarded in making such purchases. Ask for locations where these grasses have been growing for more than a few months. Drive by and look.

If you decide the price isn’t worth all the risk, plant shade-tolerant ground covers instead. Your nursery professional can show you the options.

Those miracle-cure promises for clay soil

Texas has very lax laws about requiring manufacturers to prove what they claim in regard to soil amendments and their benefits.

It’s a narrow little space where opportunists sneak in with absolutely worthless products, claiming that they will loosen tight clays and result in improved root growth in the process. Yet you hold the bag, can or bottle in your hand, and you wonder how such claims can possibly be true.

The short answer is that if a product claims to add any kind of nutrition, those statements will be carefully regulated by the state and must be proved and affixed as a part of the legal label. However, if it only claims to stimulate microbes or activate enzymes, there are no such requirements.

Look for valid land-grant university proof. You’re probably not going to find it.

Just because a plant is native here doesn’t guarantee that it’s a plant you’ll want to include in your landscape.

Testimonials and “scientific results” from questionable laboratories are merely ploys to separate you from your money. Organic matter (compost, sphagnum peat moss, well-rotted manure, finely ground bark mulch, etc.) and expanded shale are the amendments you want to add.

Why native plants aren’t always better

Just because a person grew up around here doesn’t ensure that that person is a great human being. And just because a plant is native to this region doesn’t guarantee that it’s a plant you’ll want to include in your landscape.

My best examples of this are cottonwoods, river willows and hackberries. They are all native to DFW, but they’re poor landscaping choices. Plants from the arid mountains of West Texas or the Piney Woods to our east aren’t native here on their own, and there have to be reasons. Perhaps we’re too hot, too dry, too alkaline or too wet.

When you ask for help at the nursery, use the term “adapted” instead. It will serve your purposes far better.

‘Pruning back’ plans for those oversized shrubs

If you have shrubs that have outgrown their spaces and their usefulness, it’s likely time to remodel your landscape. Trying to tame a shrub that’s twice as big as you’d like it to be may merely prolong your agony.

Some of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make about my own landscape have involved removing plants that had served me quite well for 10 or 15 years, then ran out of steam. I understand that plant removal is a hard thing for gardeners to do.

Think about it for a few weeks. If you still feel that a plant has overstayed its welcome, gather your strength and take out the old, tired specimen.

Consider a new bed design, and rework the soil. You’ll probably be amazed at how great the refreshed area looks once you’ve completed your makeover.

Zone 8 labels in a Zone 7 reality

Most of us need to think of DFW as USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7. I know that’s not what the 2012 zone map shows, but the two winters that we’ve had since that map was published have seen temperatures that challenged many of our favorite Zone 8 plants — think gardenias, oleanders, pittosporums and Confederate star jasmine.

The 1990 map showed us to be in the northern edge of Zone 7, and that’s a more accurate representation of winter in North Texas.

My advice: Look at the plant tags carefully before you purchase new materials, and limit how many Zone 8 plants you include. If you have a very protected area such as an atrium or you live near the urban heat pockets of our major cities, you may gain a few degrees of protection and might consider yourself an exception.

But, otherwise, I’ve learned to err on the side of caution in the plants I recommend for area landscapes.

Neil Sperry publishes Gardens magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sundays on WBAP/820 AM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online:

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GCAC Presents: Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Unveils New Venue

A new outreach and education barn, with 12,000 sq. feet of space devoted to the Conservatory’s expanding classes and community-oriented programs, will be dedicated this week with a public open house to follow.

A 200-year-old timber frame hand-hewn from seven native Ohio hardwoods is the heart of the barn, which was originally located on farmland in Richland County. When it was set to be dismantled in 2014, the barn was acquired by the Mount Vernon Barn Company who assisted in its relocation to the Conservatory’s 28-acre property.

A demonstration kitchen and built-in bar, stone fireplace, a covered porch, and classrooms on the lower level are a few of the amenities that have been added, as well as gardens and landscaping incorporating native plants that surround the barn.

Among the Conservatory programs that will benefit from the added space are weekly cooking, gardening, art and wellness classes led by Conservatory educators and guest instructors, a Green Corps jobs training program for adults ages 18–30, and the community gardening assistance program Growing to Green. Summer camps will grow to 22 week-long sessions, and the Conservatory will begin offering Scout programs in 2016.

The barn will allow the Conservatory to host larger gatherings, such as We Dig Ohio, a community gardening and urban agricultural summit to be held in March, 2016.

See the new outreach and education barn on October 31 and November 1. An open house from 11am to 4pm includes presentations by Doug Morgan of the Mount Vernon Barn Company, Ohio History Connection, and Ohio Wildlife Center, free children’s crafts and cooking demonstrations.

Learn more about scheduled activities that will take place in the barn at

GCAC Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus – in partnership with the Columbus Arts Marketing Association, a professional development and networking association of arts marketers. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at the arts in Columbus.

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Gardening: Trees need water to battle winter weather

When the temperatures drop into the 40s and Jack Frost arrives, most folks no longer think about watering their gardens.

Homeowners who depend on landscaping companies to care for their irrigation systems don’t have a choice as to when they are turned off for the winter. It’s not just a matter of turning a switch to shutting off the main valve, the water lines need to be drained or blown out using an air compressor. And, this all takes time so customers need to be plugged into a schedule so they are all taken care of before the ground freezes.

This is where a good long hose comes in handy. Keeping trees, shrubs and perennials well-watered going into winter is key to the health and survival of the plants.

Many areas in southeastern Michigan have had little rainfall the past several weeks and the soil is dry. Remember, the soil under trees dries out very quickly so the ground may be moist in the middle of a yard and almost bone dry in a wooded area.

If you’re planting trees and shrubs this fall, giving the planting site and the area around it a good watering two or three days before the installation will get these new introductions off to a good start. If the soil is dry around the planting site it will quickly wick moisture away from the new root ball. After planting, if it doesn’t rain be sure to water the new plants every couple of days for the first month or so.

Mulching gardens and landscapes with 3 to 4 inches of organic material now will help hold moisture in the soil over the winter. Weather forecasters are telling us do to a strong El Nino, Michigan may get less than the normal amount snow this winter. That may make drivers happy, but a good snow layer protects the soil and helps to keep it from drying out.

For more information on Michigan’s winter weather forecast Google the following website:

Timely tip: Some perennials are slow to break dormancy in spring so to protect them from an inexperienced assistant or a lapse in memory, mark their spot before the ground freezes. Tongue depressors, available at craft stores, are inexpensive and large enough to write on. A lead pencil will last the winter and be readable in spring.

Here are some of the late risers you might consider marking: Members of the milkweed family (Asclepias), false indigo ( Baptisia), Japanese painted fern (Anthyirum), balloon flower ( Platycodon) and hardy hibiscus.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at

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Local foods events challenge you to buy local

There continues to be a great deal of interest in local foods, as well as purchasing local products with the focus on keeping our dollars circulating in our local economy.

Purchasing local food products supports our local growers, keeps people employed and lets us consume the freshest food possible.

The Miami Valley is doing its part to support local foods through programs, marketing, and by working with local growers.

One of the challenges is getting the word out about the local foods effort and getting our residents to connect with our local growers.

Several counties are working on this effort through educational programs called Food Summits. These are meetings where all interested parties come together and learn about what’s out there in terms of local foods.

The Ohio State University Extension in Clark County is hosting the 2nd Annual Food Summit on Nov. 14 from 8 a.m to 4 p.m at Springfield High School.

The keynote speaker is Jessica Eikelberry from Local Roots Market and Café in Wooster, Ohio. She is going to share about their success story in Wooster.

Downtown Wooster is vibrant and healthy and a lot of this is due to the local restaurants and local effort. I love to visit the Wooster area and enjoy the great local flavor (as well as Secrest Arboretum!).

They started the local food initiative in 2009 when people who were interested in helping to make local food more accessible started talking and connecting. This is exactly the purpose of these food summits.

Through hard work and many meetings, this group realized their full vision of building a Commercial Processing Kitchen in 2014, which allows producers to process and preserve products for sale in the local market and around the country.

In addition to Eikelberry, OSU Extension specialist Matt Kleinhenz will share ideas for extending the growing season with high tunnel greenhouse structures.

Next, Dietitian Leslie Edmunds will discuss nutrition for optimal health and an OSU Extension Family and Consumer Science educator in Clark County will talk about food preservation and food safety.

We will then have an opportunity to talk to local chefs about the benefits and challenges of creating a menu with local foods.

At the end of the day there will be a panel to talk about what’s happening locally and how you can become involved.

You will leave the event challenged to have a local Thanksgiving meal.

In addition, all of the food served during the event will be from local growers and vendors.

There will be exhibitors at the event sharing local products as well as helping you to connect to healthy local foods.

To learn more about the event and to register, go to

The cost is $15, which includes snacks and a locally sourced lunch.

Montgomery County is hosting a similar program Thursday Nov. 5. For more details, contact Emily Bradford at or call 937-225-6470.

Pamela Corle-Bennett is the state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator for Ohio State University Extension. Contact her by email at

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Vi ginia, MN

Common space mistake: Not creating or ignoring a focal point. It’s important to give the eye something to focus on. The fix: More…

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Howl-O-Ween at UT Gardens will offer garden tips for pet owners

The University of Tennessee Gardens are going to the dogs for a Howl-O-Ween Pooch Parade and Pet Expo. The event, sponsored by the UT Gardens and the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, caters to dogs and dog lovers and will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, in the UT Gardens on the UT Institute of Agriculture campus.

Enjoy a costumed pet parade emceed by Erin Donovan with Visit Knoxville. Awards will be presented in judged categories including bad to the bone (scariest), funny bone (funniest), glamour pooch (prettiest) and pup culture (pop culture/character). The Bone-a-fido (judges’ choice) Award winner will also be named. The event also includes an expo of educational booths, pet businesses and rescue groups. The UT College of Veterinary Medicine will showcase their many community programs such as Dog Bite Prevention and HABIT (Human Animal Bond in Tennessee) while the UT Gardens will provide information on how to create a dog-friendly landscape that is both safe for dogs and aesthetic for their owners.

You truly can let your landscape ‘go to the dogs’ with a design created with them in mind. The following abbreviated information is part of the material that the UT Gardens will be providing at Howl-O-Ween on how to create a dog-friendly landscape.

Start by keeping four main goals in mind: 1) safe containment; 2) reduced boredom; 3) hazard-free environment; and 4) blended amenities for both you and your dog.

First, learn as many details as you can about your chosen dog’s breed. It will go a long way in helping you create an outdoor space that satisfies innate desires. Terriers love to dig while Labradors love the water. Understanding your dog’s behavior will help you design features that work with them, not against them. Do this right and you’ll avoid typical problems that occur when a dog meets a people-focused landscape.

If you choose a visible fence for containment, it should be sturdy and at least four feet tall, while six feet is good for privacy and for dogs that are jumpers. If your fence is not solid, be sure to have minimal gaps suitable to the size of your dog. You don’t want your puppy or dog getting stuck between the rungs of the fence or able to climb underneath it. The same is true if you have wood decks and porches. Decking should have minimal gaps to prevent pinched paws.

It’s important to know that dogs are territorial creatures and if contained within a fence, will walk their boundary lines daily. If you don’t allow for this basic instinct, dogs will trample any plant that grows in this trail. Allow at least an 18-inch clearance between the fence and the start of your garden to accommodate a boundary dog trail. Fine pea gravel makes a nice, clean mulch for such heavy traffic areas and can help keep paws clean too.

I also recommend to let your dog show you the paths they would like in your landscape. You can turn a beaten dog path into an appealing walk for you and your dog. Curvilinear, rounded paths are more appealing to dogs than sharp angles. Edged landscape beds and walks define your design and provide a visual cue to your dog of the different areas of your landscape. Raised landscape beds also define your design and many times will serve as a barrier to your pet. To keep dogs on the path, out of beds and off of plants, use deterrents like boulders, stone, driftwood, garden accent pieces, or radio control devices.

Another major consideration in a dog-friendly landscape is toxic plants. Of the top 10 dog poisoning culprits, plants rank number four! Natural dog behavior is to chew; especially among puppies. Many poisonous plants are common landscape plants so choose carefully when deciding what plants to grow. Some of the top offenders include tulip, daffodil bulbs, azalea, rhododendron, castor bean, yew, amaryllis, lilies, autumn crocus, English ivy, foxglove, and mums.

Potty spots are part of natural dog behavior and in the landscape they can be problematic for some plants and the lawn. A solution is to create a non-lawn potty area with gravel, sand, or mulch. Include a tree, post, or fire hydrant for male dogs.

Reduce boredom is another element to consider in creating your dog-friendly landscape. If possible, provide open spaces for dogs to run, roam and explore. Dogs like to nap too, and it’s important to provide sunny and shady spots for dogs to rest. Large, flat-top boulders make a nice perch and sleeping spot both in the shade and the sun. Getting wet is a natural behavior for many dog breeds. Water is a key element in good garden design so make your water feature ‘pet-friendly.’ There are a variety of ways to this and be visually appealing. Details and more information will be available at Howl-O-Ween.

Howl-O-Ween is free to attend. Parade preregistration is $8 per dog or $13 for two or more. Day-of registration begins at 1 p.m. and is $10 per dog or $15 for two or more at the event. The parade will begin at 2:30 p.m. and is judged by locally known dog lovers including Deb DiPietro, Knoxville News Sentinel writer Amy McRary and Dr. Bob DeNovo. Costume categories include best in show, most creative, pet-owner look-a-like, funniest costume, scariest costume, most glamorous costume, only a mom could love and judges’ choice.

Various food trucks will be on hand for people wanting to purchase food. People are encouraged to participate in a food drive to benefit the Pantry for Feeding Pets, an organization that helps local pets and pet owners by providing food and treats. They accept all varieties of dog and cat food. They also welcome dog and cat treats.

For additional information and directions to the event visit the UT Gardens website:

Dr. Sue Hamilton is director of the University of Tennessee Gardens.

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