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Archives for November 5, 2015

Fort Wayne visitors learn how scholarship Promise brightens a city’s prospects

Like Fort Wayne, Kalamazoo has taken some brutal economic blows in the last 20 years. One of those hits struck the region like Navistar’s leaving Fort Wayne. In 1999, Kalamazoo lost a General Motors stamping plant that had employed as many as 4,000 after it opened in 1966.

But Kalamazoo has a unique advantage in facing adversity: a blanket scholarship for any student who graduates from Kalamazoo Public Schools after attending at least all four years of high school in the district.

Under the terms of the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship, students who graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools after going all the way from kindergarten in the district get 100 percent of their tuition and fees covered by the Kalamazoo Promise. They can attend any public university or college in the state, as well as many private institutions. Attend all four years of high school entitles students to a 65 percent scholarship.

That scholarship promise is part of what brought a contingent of more than 40 civic leaders from Fort Wayne and Allen County to visit the city last week. Their trip to Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, Mich., was the seventh “Inter-City Visit” since 2005 by leaders in business, government, education and nonprofits, all searching for good ideas that have helped other cities succeed.

“We don’t care if your family makes $2 million or $22,” Von Washington, executive director of community relations for Kalamazoo Promise, told the Fort Wayne group.

Kalamazoo Promise was endowed 10 years ago by a donor or donors who have remained anonymous. The fund behind the promise, reputedly large enough to keep the scholarships coming forever, has been estimated at $200-$250 million.

A door wide-open to opportunity

Unlike many scholarships, its rules seem designed to qualify as many recipients as possible. Graduates have up to 10 years to take advantage of the scholarships. They are not restricted to star students, and falling short of star performance in college doesn’t cancel a student’s scholarship, either. Students need only maintain a 2.0 average in college to remain eligible, Washington told the Fort Wayne group, whose trip last week was organized and led by Greater Fort Wayne Inc. He said that stricter requirements for scholarships tend to reward people who already have strong opportunities.

“If we have a 3.0 grade-point-average requirement coming out of high school, we’re probably capturing those who are on their way anyway,” Washington said.

Since its inception, the Promise has paid more than $60 million to universities and colleges to educate more than 4,000 eligible KPS students.

An analysis released in June by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, based in Kalamazoo, estimated that within six years after graduation, 48 percent of students eligible for the Promise finished bachelor’s or associate degrees or certificates, compared with 36 percent without the aid of the Promise scholarships.

No other school district can count on a philanthropic windfall as transforming as the Kalamazoo Promise, but any community can aspire to do a better job of making its own luck.

At making its own luck, the Kalamazoo region often excels. The abandoned GM plant provides a great example. At 2.2 million square feet, it is more than two-thirds as big as the GM Fort Wayne Assembly Plant. But instead of a deteriorating husk, the former Fisher Body stamping plant is now home to more than a dozen companies, employing hundreds.

New life for an abandoned plant

Transforming a symbol of industrial employment into the Midlink Business Park was largely the work of Southwest Michigan First, a highly entrepreneurial economic-development nonprofit.

“When General Motors closed the plant in 1999, we had a potential white elephant on our hands. Instead, we viewed it as prime real estate midway between Detroit and Chicago, and we moved quickly to capitalize on the opportunity,” Southwest Michigan First CEO Ron Kitchens explained in a news release.

Southwest Michigan First worked with Los Angeles-based Hackman Capital Partners and public and private partners to transform the former GM plant into a business park. The new owners invested about $30 million, freshening its appearance with new lighting, paint and landscaping and dividing it into two buildings with a truck bay between them.

Now its tenants include an aluminum-fabrication plant, warehousing and distribution facilities, a sports-training site and even an extended-stay hotel.

Southwest Michigan First was founded 16 years ago to pursue economic development as a private nonprofit. Since 1999, Southwest Michigan First says, its work has brought 35,500 direct and indirect jobs, $1.6 billion in salaries and wages to the region and served more than 350 companies.

More than his statistics, it’s Kitchens’ fervor that impresses an audience.

“We live by the belief that the greatest force for change is a job,” he told the Fort Wayne group. “A job not only takes care of the present, it takes care of the past” by changing a person’s self-image and expectations.

Building enterprise into a nonprofit

Now the roughly 30 employees of Southwest Michigan First have diversified into a new tier of services that bring in roughly half of its $7.2 million budget, Kitchens said. These for-profit services range from brand development to recruiting links in companies’ supply chains to finance and workforce development.

Kitchens is quick to draw on his own experience in providing tips, too. Asked about his ideas on finding new uses for abandoned big-box retail sites, he quickly said, “Call centers.” He offered to provide the number of a consultant in Dallas who Kitchens said handles 90 percent of the call-center site-selections in the country.

He doesn’t downplay the challenges that face the seven counties Southwest Michigan First serves. If they don’t lure more millennial-generation talent, their labor forces will run critically short in a decade. Despite a relatively low unemployment rate, the median household income in the Kalamazoo metro area, $43,936, runs significantly behind the $46,005 figure in the Fort Wayne metro area.

But Kitchens also projects the kind of relentless optimism that sees every deal as an opportunity for both sides to win. It moves him to quote the late Zig Ziglar, a salesman and motivational speaker, without irony: “You can get anything you want in this world if you help enough other people get what they want,” he said.

Coming Friday: The Greater Fort Wayne Inc. tour visits Grand Rapids, Mich.

Coming Saturday: Lessons for Fort Wayne from Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids

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Residents brainstorm ideas for replacement riverfront parkland

Posted Nov. 4, 2015 at 10:29 PM

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New Streetscape ideas proposed for downtown Western Springs

About a dozen residents turned out Wednesday Nov. 4 to give feedback on dozens of ideas being considered to improve the look of downtown Western Springs.

“We have had so many great ideas, now it’s time to narrow those down into a workable plan the village can bring forward for residents,” said Randall Machelski, an architect with the firm Smithgroup JJR. “Western Springs is a community known for high-end residential areas, and the feedback we have gotten is that residents want the downtown area to have that same level of quality.”

Machelski’s group has worked with village officials over the last few months to narrow down hundreds of ideas they have received, with the main focus on streetscape, which covers landscaping, lighting, pavement, curb and sidewalk, guardrails and bicycle racks. A meeting held last May for the public was more general sharing of ideas.

One big part of the downtown plan was completed last month, when the village held a dedication for the completion of the Phase 2 work on the historical Water Tower, which many feel is the center of the downtown, and the signature piece of Western Springs. The water tower, built in the 1890s, is on the National Register of Historic Places list and will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2017.

The dedication highlighted the improvements made including new stairs and masonry work, landscaping and planters, and the addition of the bronze medallion at the base of the tower. Buried under the medallion was a time capsule that will be opened on the 200th anniversary of the village in 2086.

Two major downtown projects will also get under way in 2016. The first is the Foxford Station Development Plan, approved by the Village Board in February, that will redevelop the corner of Wolf Road and Burlington Avenue by demolishing the vacant Tischler grocery and Breen Cleaners buildings, both vacant for several years. Foxford will feature a mixed-use development with 52 housing units and 3,800 square feet of commercial space, as well as indoor parking facilities.

Community Development Director Martin Scott said the village is finalizing site plans with developers now, and work is expected to begin this spring on the 18-month project.

Also on tap for 2016 is the replacement both the north and south platforms at the Metra train station, along both Hillgrove and Burlington avenues. Scott said some of that work will be paid for with federal grant money. But there has been a lot of “red tape” in dealing with the federal government, the railroad, the Illinois Department of Transportation, and other entities that oversee the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroad line, Scott said.

Machelski said improvements made on the platforms will be a major part of the downtown development plans.

Once the streetscape plans are finalized, possibly next year, the first area of improvement would be along the 800 block of Hillgrove Avenue, which has been designated as the pilot project area by officials.

Another idea that came out of the meeting would be to turn a portion of Hillgrove into a type of plaza area in front of the Water Tower, where the Farmers Market sets up during the summer. This plan would still keep the area open to vehicle traffic when events were not being held, but would be a curbless street area designed for pedestrian friendly traffic and could be easily be closed off for village events. Officials said, however, such an undertaking would be very expensive.

No timetable was provided on when these ideas will be put down in writing. The village and the Smithgroup JJR will continue to take downtown ideas and feedback for future consideration on its website at

David Heitz is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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North Hollywood Gets Serious About Capturing Rain Runoff for Reuse

Containers to catch rainwater will be installed at up to 10 Los Angeles homes under an experimental program launched today by city and county officials.

The StormCatcher Project’s cistern systems are equipped to electronically monitor and regulate the amount of water captured from rooftops. The water could then be distributed to gardens and landscaping around the property.

With the majority of rainwater in Los Angeles going to the ocean, efforts such as these are underway to retain more of the water, potentially allowing it to be absorbed into underground aquifers that serve as the local water source, officials said today.

The program comes as county and city officials unveiled a 20-year stormwater capture plan that has a goal of collect an additional 100,000 to 200,000 acre-feet of rainwater each year by 2035. About 27,000 acre-feet of rainwater currently stays in the area per year.

Los Angeles County Public Works Director Gail Farber said the cisterns could “reinvent our region’s relationship with the rain — with the potential to turn two million rooftops in LA County into a distributed network of storm- catching sponges.”

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power water system manager Marty Adams said the cisterns could help “reduce our reliance on imported water.”

“As we work hard to make our water supply more sustainable and resilient than expensive water we bring in from far away, it is important to find opportunities like cisterns and other stormwater capture devices that offset drinking water use and replenish our local aquifer,” Adams said.

The county and city will share the $25,000 expense for acquiring and operating each of the cisterns for the next year, city Public Works spokesperson Heather Johnson said.

The homeowners taking part in the pilot program will not pay for the costs of the cistern systems, Johnson said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said the “smart” cisterns “will harness technology to enhance water capture and help us study ways to take this idea citywide.”

Garcetti joined other officials today to unveil one of the cisterns at the North Hollywood home of Carrie Wassenaar.

“I’m excited to see my home and garden become the laboratory for a new way of living with a changing climate,” Wassenaar said. “Now I have one more reason to love the sound of rain on my roof.”

City News Service; Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Ann Arbor council to vote on hiring sharpshooters to kill 100 deer

On a recent Sunday morning, Ann Arbor resident Ilene Tyler had a surprise encounter with a large buck in her backyard off Division Street.

Tyler, who lives a block from city hall on the north edge of downtown, said it was a scary moment and the male deer didn’t seem afraid of her at all.

“I stepped back inside and watched him try to go behind our carriage house, then came back outside as he ran across our yard toward the street,” she said.

“He was just so big, so close and so unexpected that I was thinking the worst. I probably was not in any danger, but I knew enough not to approach him.”

Ann Arbor resident Ilene Tyler snapped these cell phone photos of a buck in her backyard off Division Street on Oct. 25, 2015. With deer venturing into neighborhoods throughout Ann Arbor and causing damage to landscaping and gardens, Tyler is among many residents arguing it’s time to cull the herd.

Meanwhile, there’s still vocal opposition from many other residents and animal rights advocates. “Stop the shoot” yard signs distributed by the Humane Society of Huron Valley have been popping up throughout the city.

After voting 8-1 in August in favor of a four-year deer management program, the City Council is expected to vote Thursday night on two resolutions to allow bringing sharpshooters into city parks to carry out a deer cull this winter.

In addition to temporarily lifting ordinance restrictions on firing guns in parks, the council is being asked to approve an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, also known as USDA-APHIS, to kill 100 deer on city properties this winter at a cost of up to $35,000.

City officials say USDA-APHIS has trained sharpshooters on staff who have experience safely carrying out culls in urban areas.

Before the council votes on the resolutions for the cull, there will be one last public hearing at Thursday night’s meeting allowing residents to speak out.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. inside the council chambers on the second floor of city hall, 301 E. Huron St.

Speakers don’t need to sign up in advance.

City officials say they’re confident the cull will be carried out safely by trained professionals in compliance with Michigan Department of Natural Resources permit requirements, and the venison will be donated to a local food bank.

However, some members of the community still don’t think killing 100 deer in the city is necessary or humane.

Tanya Hilgendorf, president of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, issued a statement this week saying she hopes the council will listen to residents who don’t want their tax dollars spent on hiring sharpshooters to kill wildlife.

Hilgendorf argues there are safer and more humane ways to address concerns about deer damage to plants.

“We have heard from so many people who love the deer and who live in Ann Arbor because of our respect for all of nature,” she said. “But we’ve also heard from people who don’t want deer in their yard and have successfully figured out how to use deterrents and to plant differently. Let’s learn from each other.”

She added, “Animals eat plants. This shouldn’t be news and it shouldn’t be cause for alarm and drastic, costly measures that we are locked into year after year. A peaceful, compassionate community calls for tolerance, focusing on prevention and looking at systemic issues that may have had unintended consequences. That is what people expect from a smart, compassionate town like Ann Arbor.”

“Stop the shoot” signs distributed by the Humane Society of Huron Valley are sprouting up across Ann Arbor. An aerial survey conducted by the city this past year found 168 deer in areas in and around the city.

City officials say their goal is to decrease complaints from residents about deer, including damage to landscaping and gardens, and to support biological diversity in natural areas where they believe deer are damaging the ecosystem.

Council Member Jane Lumm, who has led the charge on the deer issue, commented after being re-elected Tuesday night on how many deer she has seen while campaigning door to door in the 2nd Ward.

“I have to say, when I was out at night walking, I encountered so many herds of deer on my walks,” she said.

“I’ve met people who’ve had deer-vehicle collisions in the 2nd Ward. I’ve met people in the 2nd Ward who have Lyme disease. Whether or not they contracted it here — who knows — but it’s one of those issues that hits very close to home.”

If approved by council Thursday night, USDA-APHIS and city staff will work together in the coming months to identify specific cull sites.

It’s expected this winter’s cull will be limited to city wards 1 and 2, including the north and east sides of the city, where deer are most concentrated.

City officials say site criteria to be considered include public safety, size and shape of the city-owned property, terrain, surrounding land use and housing density, proximity to neighbors, ease of access and attractiveness of the location for deer.

In a news release, the city stated that USDA-APHIS is “an extremely professional and safe organization with the latest technologies available for carrying out a safe and effective cull, such as night-vision and thermal-imaging scopes.”

City officials pointed to the organization’s experience conducting culls in Michigan communities such as Big Rapids, Mount Pleasant, Grand Haven, Manistee and Barton Hills, as well as Huron-Clinton Metroparks.

“As a governmental agency, their financial goals are not to make a profit, but simply to cover their costs,” the city’s news release stated. “They are also self-insured. All USDA-APHIS sharpshooters are USDA-APHIS employees, and most are biologists or specialists and are given rigorous special safety and training on conducting the culls.”

USDA-APHIS is expected to provide the city with a post-cull report that will allow the city to better estimate conditions and costs for future culls.

City officials emphasize there will be no shooting on private property, only on city-owned property where public access will be restricted.

Culls will be conducted at night with silenced firearms, and all shots are expected to be fired from above toward the ground.

Other than trained sharpshooters, city officials say no other hunters, residents or visitors will be allowed to discharge firearms in the city.

City officials plan to continue to explore future options for deer fertility control with the Humane Society of the United States.

Ten of 11 members of the City Council took positions in favor of hiring sharpshooters to cull deer in August. The lone dissenter was Mayor Christopher Taylor, who has argued there isn’t community consensus on the issue.

Council Member Sabra Briere, who also has been reluctant to support culling, said this week she still wanted more information on how the cull would be carried out, including how close sharpshooters would be to residences, before she could feel comfortable voting on the agreement with USDA-APHIS.

“I’d like a bit more specificity,” she said. “I think we all need to feel comfortable that it’s the best possible solution.”

Briere said it’s her hope the city can move toward nonlethal methods and start a contraceptive or sterilization program by winter 2016-17.

Ryan Stanton covers the city beat for The Ann Arbor News. Reach him at

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State gardens win national awards


Gardens from around the state of Wisconsin proved their mettle during the All-America Selections landscape design contest.

In 2012, All-America Selections (AAS) launched a contest for its nearly 200 display gardens to encourage new and exciting landscaping ideas using AAS Winners (flower and vegetable plant varieties). Five years in, enthusiasm for the contest has continued to grow, helping bring more inspiration and excitement for gardening to the general public.

Each display garden is responsible for creating and executing the design and generating publicity surrounding the contest. Gardens participating in the contest ranges from large and small public gardens, seed companies, community gardens, master gardener programs and university gardens.

Spooner Ag Research Station

For the third consecutive year, the Teaching Display Garden located at the Spooner Agricultural Research Station was recognized for its creative landscape designs and promotion of new proven varieties of flowers and vegetables.

The award winning garden is a joint effort between the Spooner Agricultural Research Station, the Spooner Area UW-Extension Office and UW-Extension North Country Master Gardener Volunteers. The garden received a 2nd place award in 2013 and a 1st place award in 2014, and was tied for 2nd place in 2015 for gardens receiving less than 10,000 visitors per year. The Spooner garden completed against 16 other entrants in their category from across the U.S. and in Canada.

This year’s contest theme was using geometric shapes in the landscape design.

“As in the past this award was a direct result of many hours of creative work by UW-Extension Master Gardener Volunteers,” said Kevin Schoessow, UW-Extension Agricultural Development Educator for Burnett, Washburn and Sawyer Counties,

Since 1999, Schoessow has been coordinating UW-Extension Master Gardener Volunteers to promote, foster and support horticulture education in local communities. The Teaching Display Garden is a center piece in their efforts. Each year they host multiple workshops, seminars and trainings out in the garden including their annual Twilight Garden Tour in August to inspire gardeners and educate the public about gardening and plants that grow best in the area.

Judges noted that Spooner’s gardens are recognized for their “reliability and creativity”. As the plants matured, they grew into the shapes of objects such as a kite, star, hot air balloon and a tic-tac-toe board.

In addition to promoting through state and local newspapers and radio, social media and via the UW-Extension program, the garden partnered with the Washburn County Tourism to promote the gardens through their websites and on an LED visitor information sign.

Kenosha County

Other Category I winners (less than 10,000 annual visitors) were third place finisher, Kenosha County Center Demonstration Garden, Bristol, WI.

Noting a good use of the geometry theme, the judges awarded third place to this garden that they called very “creative and clever”. The theme was based on Geometry in the Kitchen Garden, and the garden displays incorporated kitchen items such as a rectangular bread box, circular plates and triangular hangers. They made the geometry theme clear to garden visitors with fun and informational signage.

Boerner Botanic Gardens

Boerner Botanic Gardens in Hales Corners, placed second in Category III (over 100,000 annual visitors).

Judges praised the execution of the geometry theme, and were “wowed” by the quilt-like patchwork of triangular plantings.

This “Triangulation” theme was anchored by two antique topiary forms planted with AAS Winner Scarlet O’Hara morning glory, giving the beds an even greater degree of geometrical depth. The vegetable trial bed was also planted in a triangular formation. A path for maintenance and harvest turned this bed into a living peace sign. In all, the garden was planted with a total of 39 AAS Winners.

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Gardening Tips with Sue Jones

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Castro Gardening: Planning Ahead For A Possibly Wet Winter

Shorter days and a possibly wetter-than-normal winter are ahead. This can mean a lot of change for those of us with seasonal gardens and indoor plants. To prepare for the fall and winter, we headed to Hortica (566 Castro St.) and chatted with owner and local gardening expert David Gray, who you may remember from our spring/summer gardening story or our profile of Hortica from a year ago. Gray gave us advice and ideas for Castro residents’ fall and winter gardening needs, whether they’re novices or expert gardeners.

To start, Gray mentioned one of the definite changes that many of us are already seeing: shorter periods of light. While this may not affect outdoor, year-round plants, those of us with indoor plants should do some work to make them happy over the winter. “Move plants closer to windows so they have more time in the sun,” Gray said. “You also want to avoid re-potting anything indoors during this time.”

Gray added that it’s good to start tapering off food and water with certain indoor plants. “Succulents should taper off of your watering regimen, and be given no plant food over the winter,” he told us. “In general, reduce houseplant feeding.”

Although it’s time to cut down on water indoors, we may be getting a high amount of water outdoors this year, thanks to El Niño. Gray explained that a good amount of outdoor prep is necessary for plants, yards, and homes in general. “Make sure to clean out gutters, and prepare to collect sandbags,” he said. “DPW gives them away for free, but they aren’t ready with them yet. It’s best to call 311 to connect with them and find out when and where to get them.” KRON also has a guide to finding and using sandbags.

For outdoor plants, the rain can be both a blessing and a curse. “Turn the saucers over on all potted plants, or remove them entirely,” Gray explained. “If they are left as-is, the plant will get too saturated, constantly sitting in water at the basin.”

While potted plants need that precaution, the rain offers a great opportunity to do some easy soil and plant work. “Put compost on the top of the soil, and let the rain break it down and wash it into the ground,” Gray said. “It’s also a good time for slow-release organic fertilizer. Adding native flower seeds to the top of the soil can also produce some nice fall blooms. “The California poppy is perfect to start now.”

The final benefit of the rain is easy and healthy watering for indoor plants. “Put out a bucket or something else to simply capture this excess rain. It makes the indoor plants happy.”

Speaking of plants, Gray has recommendations for plants for both beginners seeking something fool-proof, and experts wanting a challenge. “Cyclamen is a low, flowering perennial,” he told Hoodline. “It’s very easy to care for, and I particularly like the Sterling Silver series.” And for the challenge-seekers? “The daphne blooms in spring with beautiful, fragrant flowers. The variegated leaves have a lovely yellow edge as well. But they need extra special care and good drainage.”

Gray encourages gardeners of all skill levels to stop by Hortica for more information on plants, gardening tips, and supplies. What are your fall/winter garden plans?

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Gonzales Garden Club shares tips, crafts at meeting

The Gonzales Garden Club met on Oct. 7.

One focus was repurposing used items in the home garden.

Janis D’Benedetto, Rita Bourque and Weezie Cashat presented flower arrangements of crescent designs using repurposed items and plant materials from their home gardens.

Ellen Richmond guided members through a craft workshop to create personalized garden containers formed by saturating a variety of heavy cloths with a cement mixture, then draping them over plastic pots to dry and harden.

Kat Hightower provided an educational hands-on exhibit of commercially produced soils. She prompted members to compare the characteristics of various brands of potting and garden soils by displaying six bags of different mixtures with portion samples for visual and textural observations. Members completed questionnaires and received participation prizes.

The club donated $75 to maintain the butterfly garden at Pecan Grove Primary School. The club also donated a large plant in an ornamental metal container designed by Janis Poche to the District VI Board of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation for an upcoming fundraising auction.

Janis Poche’s gardening tip of the month referenced horticulturalist Dan Gill, noting that gardeners should select the right kind of chrysanthemums for their garden purposes: cut-flower mums, pot mums and garden mums.

Poche, Dana Teepell and Conchita Richey were each nominated for awards for teaching horticulture classes to the public for free. Club Historian Ellen Richmond plans to contact two major public entities about the storage and display of older past garden club presidents’ scrapbooks as well as photocopies of the five most recent books, which preserve the heritage of the 44-year-old organization. Richmond recognized new members by presenting them with personalized name tags and embroidered canvas tote bags.

Returning member Janis D’Benedetto said the Residential Yard of the Month Award went to Olin and Trella Berthelot, of 1736 E. Oak Alley, and the Commercial Landscape of the Month was Ascension Funeral Home at 426 W. New River St.

Hostesses Ellen Richmond, Cynthia Cagnolatti, Barbara McCormick, Priscilla Monson, Patti Mouton, Mary Jo Pohlig and Richey served a barbecue lunch.

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Eden Project gardener Julie Kendall and her tips for winter gardens

In November you can still enjoy the last of the orange, red and purple leaves of the Liquidambar or sweetgum trees, but once the leaves have fallen or the weather turns wet you can just move inside.

The Rainforest Biome has several different types of cocoa tree – Theobroma cacao – from Mexico, Ecuador, French Guinana and Brazil that are covered in pods by late autumn.

And in the Mediterranean Biome there are colourful chilli peppers, or Capiscums, ranging from sweet peppers to the hottest chillies in the world.

Julie Kendall, Eden Project’s lead outdoor horticulturalist, also recommends searching out the Cercidyphylum or Katsura trees, which smell like candyfloss as the leaves rot.

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