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Archives for November 15, 2015

Newsmaker of the year: Elizabeth Chu Richter – Corpus Christi Caller

When Elizabeth Chu arrived from Hong Kong at age 13, her new hometown seemed quiet and empty.

In Dallas, people got in their cars, drove to work, then drove right back home again. They didn’t hear each other or see each other, much less talk to each other.

The year was 1963. Elizabeth was the eldest of six children who arrived with their widowed mother to face a new world. Her father, a shopkeeper in Hong Kong, had died when she was 9.

When she grew up, she still saw a difference between the world that was and the world that should be. And so she set out to reshape it.

Elizabeth Chu Richter, of the husband-wife team Richter Architects, is leaving her imprint. Locally, she and husband David Richter designed the Solomon P. Ortiz International Center, the Texas State Asian Cultures Museum and the soon-to-be-built Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

She has done award-winning work to educate the public as to why architecture matters. She is at the forefront during a crucial time for Corpus Christi, where much development and construction is about to occur. Through all this, she is fighting to preserve and enhance public places and create spaces where people want to be. Through pursuit of her profession, she is leaving an imprint likely to last for generations.

For these reasons, Richter has been chosen as the Caller-Times Newsmaker of the Year.

Last year was the first time a Texan won the American Institute of Architects’ Young Architects Award. Richter was 51. Her age wasn’t an issue. She was in an early stage of her career. She had taken 12 years off from her work to raise her three children.

She met her husband, David, at the University of Texas at Austin, where they both were studying architecture. They arrived in Corpus Christi shortly after graduation for their first big job – designing a home for David’s parents. They stayed, raised their three children in Corpus Christi and have been married 28 years.

Now, two of the Richter children are in the middle of architecture internships. The third studies biology at the University of Texas, the alma mater of all five family members.

Richter has straight, black hair with a few wisps of gray to reveal her age, 53. She’s circumspect with her words and careful not to offend, although she’s not afraid to push for what she wants.

Richter’s words reveal that she is a blend of cultures. When writing in a 1996 book called “Letters for our Children: Fifty Americans Share Lessons in Living,” she compares time spent with family to “a steaming bowl of chicken and octopus soup.”

Hong Kong influenced her ideas about public places and the importance of community, as opposed to the strong vein in American society of the individual and private property above all else.

“Hong Kong has so much energy, people and vitality,” she said. “Here, everything is behind the walls and behind the doors.”

In a place like Corpus Christi, Richter stands out.

A profession nobody knows

Architects in general don’t have the clout they once had, according to David Lancaster, executive vice president of the Texas Society of Architects.

The names of architects once were etched into the buildings they designed, right next to the builder’s.

“Architects used to be featured much more prominently, and why they are not now, I don’t know,” Lancaster said.

But architects such as Elizabeth Chu Richter are trying to change that. Some are taking a public role in shaping their communities, designing livable cities and arguing for pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with a mix of shops and homes.

“Architects have become much more active of late in being collaborative leaders, in helping citizens identify what they want in their community and providing a vision on how to get there,” Lancaster said.

In 1999, Richter’s idea for an architecture radio show hit the air on KEDT-90.3 FM, South Texas Public Broadcasting System Inc. She is now a co-executive producer of “The Shape of Texas,” which is broadcast on 15 public radio channels across Texas.

Her idea is catching on beyond Texas. The New York American Institute of Architects chapter picked up the concept and is producing some demos of a show for that state. Boston and Minnesota both have asked for information to create their own programs.

“I think it’s probably a bigger boon to tourism than architecture specifically,” Lancaster said. “It helps tourists who are looking for things and generates interest. It has engendered a lot of civic pride.”

A hot topic transformed

Richter also appeared on KEDT’s television channel for two community forums, the last one about a year ago, where she took questions from viewers about the value of architecture to a community.

Don Dunlap, president and general manager of South Texas Public Broadcasting System, said he was surprised by the response to the seemingly obscure subject.

“We were flooded with phone calls,” he said. “We couldn’t even handle them all.”

Lancaster said Richter has a special ability to connect architecture themes to what matters to people. She generates public discussion and helps the public decide what it wants.

One of the most popular themes on the television show was the bayfront – a theme that would later erupt in controversy when Landry’s Restaurants Inc. proposed a development on the marina. The shape of that development and its effect on the public and the bayfront’s appearance became a central issue in the controversy.

Richter also is a regular contributor to the Caller-Times, writing columns about architecture and topics such as the bayfront. In one column, she wrote about the importance of creating a vibrant, livable downtown. But she sidestepped the Landry’s issue, the hot topic of the day, neither mentioning the company’s name nor taking a position on its bayfront plan. She said later that she doesn’t have an opinion on the development because a complete proposal hasn’t been made.

Making a connection

That may have been the smart move. Richter has her hands in numerous community organizations and needs friendly contacts to survive in her business. She is on the Downtown Transportation Advisory Committee. She has been on the board of the YWCA, where she was intimately involved in fund-raising and the life of the organization over several decades. She was chairman of the South Texas Public Broadcasting System, helping to develop the group’s goals for digital television and get interactive educational programming into the schools.

“Elizabeth is very passionate and committed to her community and feels it’s so important to give back,” said Nelda Martinez, a friend and fellow board member at KEDT. “I think she wants to be part of the progress and forward movement.”

She has been hugely active in state and local professional organizations, serving currently as president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Her term as a vice president of the Texas Society of Architects starts in January.

That’s not to forget her actual architecture work. She and her husband design together and are careful not to distinguish between each other either in talents or work on a project.

They have a particular bent toward the public realm. They designed, of all things, two award-winning highway rest stops, in Kenedy and Brooks counties.

The Brooks County rest stop in Falfurrias is a curious spot for nature and quiet contemplation.

“The importance of a shared space is often overlooked,” Richter said. “Are you adding something that that’s of long-term value, or is it temporary and will be kind of discarded?”

The port as public place

The Richters preserved a motte of oak trees surrounding the rest stop and let them complement the buildings, creating something that reflected local culture. Broken tile adds color inside the buildings. The Richters used rubble left over from the previous rest stop with Mexican adobe brick, creating a feeling of refurbished ruins.

At an Amarillo rest stop, the Richters added metal cutouts of cattle that appear to be lounging about, a bit of humor, she adds. The couple also was thinking about people and native places when they designed the Ortiz Center.

Floor-to-ceiling windows are situated in some conference rooms to give the impression of being aboard a passing ship, whose enormous hull takes up the entire wall when passing through the ship channel.

“We were very careful in trying to reconnect the port to the city,” Richter said.

The Richters, who have a penchant for preserving and reusing old buildings, preserved the original steel structure and concrete walls of the former 1920s cotton warehouse, adding festive Mexican colors and exposing steel to complement the Harbor Bridge next door.

They did the same with their own office, a not-so-pretty auto parts shop downtown that they transformed into an exposed-ceiling monument to architecture. The walls are covered with photographs of the world’s great designs.

The Ortiz Center, meanwhile, has become a prime spot for meetings for the entire city.

“(The Richters) were quite accommodating and very forthright and careful about the effect on the community,” said Port Commission Chairman Ruben Bonilla. He had been turned off by another architect’s sketch of the building with a huge star on the front.

Bonilla said the Ortiz Center has helped the port connect to the community, offering a public service while letting people realize the importance of the port to the economy.

The Richters went on to design the Mustang Island Episcopal Conference Center. They were careful to minimize harm to the environment, building on concrete pillars so parking was hidden underneath, and creating boardwalks.

Even the colors of the building make it seem to blend in with the sea grasses. The building won a 2002 Texas Society of Architecture honor award, as did the Ortiz Center and the Kenedy County rest stop. Their firm won the most awards from the Texas Society of Architects this year of any firm in the state.

All this work makes her mother proud.

Eighty-four-year-old Irene Chu lives in Dallas and still runs her own Chinese restaurant, all the while competing in national amateur tennis trials. Last year, she played in the Friendship Cup in Austria representing the United States.

“I always teach my children to work hard and make a success of themselves,” her mother said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have come to the United States.”

She drove a hard bargain. The minimum education any of her six children got was a bachelor’s degree.

“They did not disappoint me,” Irene Chu said.

Not all Richter’s work has been a complete success.

The city’s Planning Commission, where she serves as a commissioner, has been a source of frustration for her.

Pushing the group and city staff to encourage neighborhoods with a mix of shops, homes, apartments, sidewalks and bike trails has been an uphill battle in large part. One of her big pet peeves is gated communities with only one or two ways in and out. They create traffic jams and make it impossible to travel between neighborhoods without a car, she said.

Richter points to cities such as Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans as examples of places where people can live, work and play, all without getting in a car.

“If you want to leave your car in the garage all day, you can do that,” she said.

Richter would like to diminish urban sprawl, revive the downtown and change ordinances to encourage denser development with mixes of shops and residences.

David Berlanga, the Planning Commission chairman, said Richter often asks a lot of questions and tries to bring up her vision on individual projects that come before the commission. But the commission can’t demand that a property owner do something that’s not written in the ordinance, he said.

“She’ll be an advocate of the way things should be,” he said. “I don’t know that we’re as sophisticated in our community or have the developers with the resources to do that.”

Earlier this year, the city brought a transportation plan to the Planning Commission, and Richter wanted to add landscaping and trees in the right-of-way alongside the road.

“They just don’t have the resources to put the amount of dollars that she might want, landscaping trees, you name it,” Berlanga said.

Another problem was that gnarled tree roots can damage underground utilities, said Neill Amsler, a builder and fellow member of the commission.

Even though not all her ideas have been the cheapest or the most practical, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t add value to the commission, he said.

“What I really like about Elizabeth is that, even though she might be a minority of one, she will speak her mind clearly and make sure we understand all sides of every issue,” Amsler said. “She is a person who can see way down the road.”

Her husband agrees.

‘A different perspective’

“Every now and then, you need people who think different than you to bring a different perspective,” said David Richter. “She became a spokeswoman for urban issues. I think she’s an important messenger of these important ideas.”

Now that Corpus Christi is on the verge of major construction projects, including the arena, a new baseball stadium and a multitude of waterfront developments, voices such as Richter’s will be critical.

She wants the city to focus on encouraging existing businesses to grow and investing in children’s education. In October, she helped set up a forum with students interested in architecture.

All the while, the city needs to create a style that’s true to Corpus Christi, she says. Her ideal is a city where people can feel comfortable walking and riding bikes, visiting neighbors or strolling to the store.

Few examples of this ideal exist here, and she doesn’t live in one. The Richters live a good 20 minutes from work, off Ennis Joslin Road. She points to Grant Place behind Lamar Park Shopping Center as a gorgeous street with an arcade of tree branches shadowing the road, a neighborhood that creates a strong sense of place.

Livable places benefit the living, she said.

“It’s having options again, to have energy and vitality that’s built on a human level and not on an automobile scale,” she said.

Elizabeth Chu Richter knows the task ahead of her is large.

“These are much bigger, big-picture issues that need to be considered, and that’s where I hope that I have shed some light as a planning commissioner,” she said. “What is our vision, and are we getting there as a city? It’s a huge job.”

Graphic: Elizabeth Chu Richter
* 53 years old
* Born in Nanjing, China
* Emigrated from Hong Kong to Dallas in 1963
* Bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, School of Architecture
* Married to David Richter, who also is business partner at Richter Architects
* Mother of three

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SCW residents react to R.H. Johnson pool revamp plans

After months of planning, the Recreation Centers of Sun City West has unveiled the redesign for the R.H. Johnson pool that will attempt to create a resort atmosphere at a preliminary cost of $3 million to $4 million.

A team of design professionals, Rec Centers staff and residents came up with a “design that will work and provide activities for everyone,” said Cindy Knowlton, RCSCW recreation activities manager, who addressed the approximately 200 residents who gathered this month for a view of the plans.

Knowlton said the team went on field trips of many different pools around the Northwest Valley that included Sun City, Sun City Festival in Buckeye, Peoria and Glendale to get ideas and “see what’s out there.”

Members of the design team explained the numerous changes to the pool area, how they would be used, landscaping and why they made those design choices.

Not only will there be a new entry to the pool area, it will be surrounded with palm trees, increased seating, umbrellas, a trellis area for shade that will include tables and possibly sofas and a fireplace and plants.

The breezeway where the presentation took place, will also be changed to useable space with a snack bar and lounge seating.

An area that used to be a volleyball court will be an open lawn for events with a potential for an outdoor kitchen and picnic tables.

Ken A. Paulson, pool designer with Aqua Design International, said there’s a challenge with what the client wants, the health department requires, American Disabilities Act access issues and the conflicting codes that connect at the swimming pool.

The new pool will be about 60 percent larger than the existing one and will have a lap lane area with deep ends for turning. One of the ends will be used for deep water aerobics and the other end will have the diving board off to the side instead of at the end of the lap lanes. The lap lanes between the deep ends will be 4-feet deep and can be used for walking, or aerobics, Paulson said.

To right side of the pool will be a walking channel without forced water for resistance.

An area of the pool will have a beach entry for handicap access and a lift, and areas of the pool will have benches on the inside for seating.

Paulson added that a new heater will be 95 percent efficient compared to the current heater that runs in the 65 percent efficiency range. The heating costs will remain about the same even with the larger pool.

The new spa will hold 14 people.

Residents were concerned about having some shade in the form of sails over the walking area of the pool and Knowlton said Maricopa County doesn’t allow it anymore because “birds perch on the sails and they poop in the pools.”

Sun City has sails over the pools that are grandfathered in, Knowlton said, but the trellis will shade the pool area certain times of the day.

An audience member asked about the water flow for resistance in the walking area that Sun City has and Knowlton said they didn’t recommend it because of people who have balance issues.

The pool will also have a volleyball area that will sit between the lap area and the walking channel.

Resident Rosemary Abrami expressed concern about the spray jets in the walking area. “Are they going to be spraying us as we walk? How high are they going to be? I think they’re unnecessary. They’re just going to make us wet.”

The audience laughed, and Abrami continued. “There’s lots of ladies, unlike myself, who worry about their hair,” to more laughter.

Knowlton said the spray jets are a design feature and a lot of resorts have water fountains, while Paulson noted the water is adjustable.

Other residents’ comments included the number of swim lanes, depth and temperature of the pool, the sizes of the volleyball area and spa, and ideas for the locker room.

An unidentified man wanted a social gathering area such as a tiki bar or bar/restaurant, or something … “where the younger people in this community can go to have happy hours or music.” Members of the audience applauded that idea.

“I’m tired of my wife and all of her friends sitting in the grocery store, doing their calendars, drinking, and all of my other friends leaving town to socialize,” he said.

Knowlton replied that Maricopa County will not allow alcohol in the pool area.

Knowlton said the RCSCW staff and pool planners will take everything residents said into consideration and have another public presentation with changes in February.

Then staff hopes to take the design to the board for a possible approval in April, get the project in the budget, have construction drawings done and sent to the county.

Knowlton said they’re hoping to start construction in 2017, and Paulson said construction would take about six months.

Tony Struck, the Rec Centers chief financial officer, said part of the money is already set aside to replace equipment such as pumps, but the rest will come from budget reserves.

The redesign plans for the pool are on display at the R.H. Johnson Library through mid-December. Comments on the redesign may be sent by email to the pool planning committee at

• Tina Gamez may be reached at 623-876-2528 or

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Sun City West resident Brian Grove looks over the redesign drawings for the Recreation Centers of Sun City West R.H. Johnson pool earlier this month. [Tina Gamez/Daily News-Sun]

Approximately 200 residents attended the Recreation Centers of Sun City West presentation for the redesign of the R.H. Johnson pool earlier this month. [Tina Gamez/Daily News-Sun]

Ken A. Paulson, pool designer with Aqua Design International, talks about the redesign for the Recreation Centers of Sun City West R.H. Johnson pool at a meeting on Nov. 4. [Tina Gamez/Daily News-Sun]

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Not zero, xeric: Greeley officials to present plan to reduce landscape water use

Patrick McDonald came into a hard job.

In 2002, he left the lush southeast to become the landscape manager for the University of Northern Colorado right as the state hit a historic drought.

Water allowances plummeted. The football field was in such bad shape, the Broncos quit training there. And yet McDonald didn’t condemn the campus to crunchy brown shrubs and dead grass. He invested in drought-resistant native plants.

More than a decade later, almost 10 percent of the campus landscape is covered in these plants. Although there are a few cacti, there are tons of sage plants, prairie grasses and colorful bushes.

“That stuff’s thriving without extra water,” he said.

All of these practices fall under a gardening philosophy called xeriscape. Although the term can conjure images of a lawn full of gravel, most xeriscapes instead feature flora appropriate for limited and efficient water use.

Landscaping soaks up about half of Greeley’s water, and as demand continues to creep up on a stagnant supply, officials hope that sooner than later, more residents, even the bulk of them, can transform their own yards using the same kind of plants that a drought inspired McDonald to use at UNC.

According to Greeley’s records, per capita water consumption has decreased by 22 percent since 2002. Even so, as more people flock to the Front Range, officials now realize replacing shower heads and toilets won’t cut it.

Various departments teamed up to write the Landscape Policy Plan, a guidebook to establishing the programs and regulations needed to reduce outdoor water use. The guidebook, among other recommendations, asks residents to think beyond their thirsty bluegrass lawns and plant native, drought-resistant greenery.

The Greeley City Council hasn’t seen the plan. Department heads will present it later this month, and the council should decide whether to sign off on it by year’s end.

Although planners want to maintain a lot of what we’re used to seeing — tall shade trees, grassy fields for kids and pets — they’d like to see some change too.

These changes don’t have to be as drastic as one might think, City Manager Roy Otto said. The term “xeriscape” can dredge up images of a yard full of rocks and cacti. But that’s not what it means for northern Colorado.

Xeriscape calls for replacing imported plants with native ones, not getting rid of them altogether. The High Plains aren’t in a parched desert, Otto said, but they aren’t in the rain-drenched Midwest either.


Greeley started as an agricultural community in a semi-arid climate.

Given that, officials always knew the value of conserving water: They put together the city’s first conservation plan in 1905, said Eric Reckentine, deputy director of Greeley Water and Sewer. The plan limited how often residents could water their lawns.

In the past 11 decades, ways to conserve have advanced. Greeley still has watering restrictions, but they’re more organized. Companies have developed more efficient toilets, washers, shower heads and irrigation systems, and the city issues rebates for residents who use them. The water and sewer department offers various educational materials and services, from DVDs to water audits.

Greeley has offered xeriscape services for years, and even has a few demonstration gardens, but as the demand for water continues to grow, it is getting more attention.

Planners project the Denver region’s population will grow from 3.5 million to almost 6.6 million people by 2050, according to city documents. That will grow water demand by 110,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is roughly 326,000 gallons, how much an average household uses in a year. Even if all water storage projects are permitted and constructed — which studies show happens only 70 percent of the time — water suppliers can only get access to about 64,000 more acre-feet. Greeley officials, and others, are getting the message: There isn’t any more water.


Natural brushes and prairie grasses won’t be the only green left in Greeley. Planners want to maintain some high water-use plants.

No one, for instance, is going to chop down all the trees, said Community Development Director Brad Mueller said.

“We know that trees perform an important function beyond looking nice,” he said.

Tree cover is one way to prevent what environmental scientists call heat islands.

When buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace open land and vegetation, the surfaces that once let water soak through and stay moist become impermeable and dry. They soak up the heat and let it fester. These changes cause urban regions to become warmer than their rural surroundings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s unreasonable to think there should be no areas with bluegrass, Mueller said. Wood chips and rough lavender gardens don’t make for a fun place to sit or play. People with children or pets should have some grass on their properties. Parks will have it, as well.


Ruth Quade, the director of water conservation for Greeley, assembled a xeric demonstration garden outside of the city hall annex at 1100 10th St. to show residents they can start small.

It’s only a few yards long and about a yard wide. There are a few demonstration gardens in town, most of which are almost an acre in size, Quade said.

“It can be overwhelming,” she said.

Xeriscape as a practice has seven principles: plan ahead, limit turf areas, improve soil, irrigate efficiently, choose low water use plants, use mulch and maintain the landscape.

It sounds like a lot of work, but Quade said the downtown garden took about three days to set up.

Instead of working with a landscape architect on a plan or working to design one herself, she used a Garden in a Box kit from the Center for Resource Conservation. The sustainability-focused nonprofit offers a catalogue of xeric plant packages for about $100 (Greeley residents get a discount). It offers the plants, “plant-by-number” design instructions and a manual on how to care for them.

They also sell drip irrigation kits, which are a vital part of xeriscape. Instead of spraying the entire space, little hoses leak into a plant’s roots.

Using this system on a xeric garden instead of a traditional sprinkler on turf can reduce water use by up to 60 percent.

Another vital component is mulching. Although some xeric gardens use rock and gravel, many planners prefer organic mulches, such as wood chips. The mulch reduces weeds while protecting plants from harsh weather.


The document going to city council this year doesn’t have any regulatory power. It defines policy goals to get each department and the city council on the same page going forward, Mueller said.

The plan has three parts: education, incentives and regulation.

Quade has worked on xeriscape education for years, she said. Her materials started getting more attention in 2002, when a harsh drought started.

Now she gets to expand her efforts. The demonstration garden was just the first in a line of projects she’s going to tackle.

One of the undertakings she’s most excited about is a website that would give landscapers and residents a guide to more than 300 drought-resistant, native plants.

Teaching people how to maintain those gardens is one of the city’s biggest opportunities, he said. After all, if you don’t know how to care for those plants, it won’t matter that you set it up.

Tearing up and replacing landscape is expensive, and officials hope to ease the burden by offering incentives like they do now for toilets and washing machines.

Regulations will change slowly.

Greeley already requires lawns be half covered in plants. That’s not going to change, Mueller said. Covering a lawn entirely in rocks would not only make the area hotter, but it would also look ugly.

New rules haven’t been pinned down. Officials are tossing a few ideas around, such as a cap on the amount of land the thirstiest plants can cover and a xeriscape certificate requirement for landscapers.

Many new regulations will only affect businesses at first, Mueller said. City agencies have more control over commercial projects than they do over private ones.


UNC’s xeric goals were codified years ago in its own landscape master plan. It gave McDonald a directive: At least 25 percent of the new or renovated landscape has to be xeric. Now almost 8 percent of the campus is covered in low-water use plants, including a 5-acre demonstration garden.

Plants native to the Front Range are pretty easy to come by, he said.

That might be because xeriscape is becoming more popular.

“We’re seeing a lot of improvement in the area,” said Mark Cassalia, a conservation specialist for Denver Water. “They’re really getting the bigger picture.”

The organization coined the term “xeriscape” in 1981 while working with Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. Now it’s taking off throughout the state and country.

“We’re actually paying a little money to help people change their landscape,” said Renee Davis, a water conservation specialist at the city of Fort Collins.

The city started a pilot program this summer to help residents change over to xeriscape. They focused on helping with design and helping buy plants. Next year, Davis said, they’re going to narrow their focus to plant acquisition and maintenance.

Rebates cover a small part of the plant cost. The goal: get residents who are on the fence to fall to the right side.

“We try to put in just a little money to get people excited and help them out,” Davis said.

They also offer guidance on keeping the plants healthy, especially regarding watering them.

“Replacing a toilet is something you can pay someone to do and it can take less than an hour,” Davis said. “Changing a landscape? Well, that’s more like a bathroom remodel.”

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Some ways to protect your flowers this winter – Yakima Herald

Q. I’ve added several containers of perennial and annuals to my gardening this year. What can I do to protect them this winter?

A. Because the roots of container plants are usually only a few inches from the walls of the containers, they do not have the same protection from freezing temperatures that in-ground plantings have. Special measures are needed to protect the perennials you’d like to over-winter.

If your containers are plastic, they can usually be moved to protected areas. Once there has been a hard freeze, cover them with soil and leaves until spring. The larger the container, the better the chances this will be successful. Ceramic or clay pots may freeze and break during cold weather and need some planning to protect them and their plants.

Perennials can be removed from these pots in the fall and heeled into vegetable or flower beds for the winter. Be sure to provide good drainage for these plants and cover with leaves, chopped straw or other mulch. To protect pottery containers, be sure they have drainage holes in the bottoms, and that you have used a lightweight soil and allowed sufficient time for the soil to dry prior to the first heavy freeze.

If not, remove wet soil to prevent it from freezing, expanding and breaking the pot.


Q. Are there any plants that I can leave in my larger containers in the fall?

A. “Hardy,” “drought tolerant,” “protected” and “mild” are the key words here. You want hardy and drought-tolerant plants, protected locations (northern/eastern with roof overhangs) and mild weather for as long as possible if you plan to keep your containers planted. Some plantings to try are: dwarf varieties of evergreens such as arborvitae, Alberta spruce and boxwoods; ornamental cabbages and kale; ivy; hardy succulents such as Sempervivum tectorum (Hen-and-Chicks) and Sedum spurium; New Zealand Flax; blue fescue; and Acorus gramineus ogon (a grass-like plant that will flop over the sides of containers).

These have all been used successfully in this area. Hardy geraniums, mums, pansies, lavender and coral bells will often continue to bloom and allow your containers to bring beauty and interest to your patios and gardens well into the fall and early winter. As the weather cools, water lightly to keep the soil from being wet at the time it does freeze.

How long your container plantings will survive depends on the type of pot, exposure, severity of temperatures and microclimates in which they are placed — experimentation will determine what works with your pots and locations.


Q. I like to place pumpkins, Indian corn and winter squash near the entry of my house in the fall. Do you have any ideas for using the beautiful fall leaves and garden bounty as other decorative items?

A. You might consider making a beautiful fall garden wreath made by attaching 6-inch branches from different trees with leaves in various colors (including green) to an 18-inch straw wreath frame purchased from a craft store. You can also include finishing touches of dried pods, tiny corn cobs, pine cones, nandina berries, baby gourds and miniature pumpkins. The leaves are attached to the straw frame by pinning stems in place with florist’s U-pins. Other decorative items may be attached using florist’s wire and florist’s picks with wire fasteners.

Have you thought about using small squash, pumpkins and gourds as place cards by making a horizontal cut across the stem with a craft or utility knife and placing the name card in the slot? Another idea is to use metal nursery tags, trimmed to the right length and marked with guests’ names and inserted into the tops of the squash.

Pumpkins and small winter squash make good decorative holders for votive candles. These light up a buffet area, dining table or entry area. To make them, simply trace the outline of the votive candle metal shell on the top of the squash. Using a craft knife, cut out the circle and keeping the blade vertical, remove the pulp in a small plug shape as deep as the candle is tall. Angle the blade into the center to pop out the plug. Insert the candle. You may need to adjust the depth so that the candle is flush with the top of the gourd.

As a reflection of your gardening interest, you could create evergreen herbal place cards/table favors for your holiday table. Purchase small terra cotta pots with saucers from a nursery or garden supply store and plant small rosemary plants in each pot. You can use decorative pebbles to cover the potting soil if you wish and again use a metal nursery tag to label the pot with your guest’s name. Decorate the outside of the pot with simple raffia bow to complete your holiday place setting.


• WSU Extension Master Gardener Program is an organization of trained volunteers dedicated to horticulture and community service. Even though the Master Gardener Walk-In Clinic is closed for the winter from Nov. 1 to March 1, your questions about gardening, landscaping or this Program can be directed to the Master Gardener Clinic at 509-574-1604 or you may leave samples for identification at the WSU Extension office. You can also email your questions to us at and include pictures if you have them.. The WSU Extension Office is at 2403 S. 18th St., Suite 100 in Union Gap; phone: 509-574-1600. New volunteers welcome.

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Children’s Adventure Garden closer to reality

Collecting rainwater and teaching children about gardening, taking care of the environment and preserving wildlife habitat is the mission of The People/Plant Connection. This 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is in the process of creating a Children’s Adventure Garden which is part of their educational garden they are building at the Southside Recreation Center. With the help of a grant from the San Angelo Area Foundation, their garden is closer to becoming a reality. With the funds from the grant received in 2014, the PPC has added two more 3,000 gallon rainwater harvesting tanks to the side of the Southside Recreation Center. This makes a total of 15,000 gallons of rainwater they can capture which will be used to water their educational garden. The rain tanks next to the building were installed by Britton’s Gardens and Landscapes and an outdoor classroom was funded by this grant and built by T4C Construction. Angelo Seamless Gutters attached the tanks against the building and installed the gutters on the outdoor classroom. The 2,500 gallon rainwater harvesting tank on the outdoor classroom was installed by Olive Nursery Inc. The water collected off the roof of the classroom will be used to water the children’s garden. The outdoor classroom will be used as a place to bring children into the garden for hands-on experiences in gardening, providing habitats for wildlife and learning about ways to protect the environment through rainwater harvesting and water conservation.

Teaching people about water conservation is one of the main goals of The People/Plant Connection. Their educational garden will be built to demonstrate to people in the Concho Valley how to garden in drought situations, taking care of the environment and how to raise vegetables for themselves and their families. The rain tanks are used to demonstrate to the community how collecting rainwater will benefit everyone by not relying on the municipal water supply to maintain gardens and landscaping. The young gardeners in their children’s gardening classes, scheduled to start next spring, will learn how to use the rainwater to water the gardens they will be creating. The total educational garden will be on about 3 acres in front of and around the Southside Recreation Center on Ben Ficklin Road in San Angelo. This unique garden will have three smaller gardens inside the perimeter. There will be a Children’s Adventure Garden, an accessible garden for people with disabilities and a serenity rose garden where people can sit and relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the garden. The gardens will be planted with drought tolerant plants and can be used as an example of ways to improve your landscape while adding lush plants and trees that don’t require a lot of water.

The People/Plant Connection has been in operation since July 2009, when they started a horticulture program at the Concho Valley Community Women’s Correctional Facility and the Roy K. Robb Community Men’s Correctional Facility. Since 2010, they have sponsored two monthly gardening seminars. One is a Lunch ‘n’ Learn Class taught by Allison Watkins, Texas AM AgriLife Extension horticulturist. They meet at the Edd B. Keys Building, 113 W. Beauregard Ave., San Angelo. The class is from noon to 1 p.m. and costs $5. Watkins covers different subjects about gardening in West Texas to help homeowners and business owners get the most of their gardening efforts. Saturday gardening seminars are held in the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts education studio. Professionals from the community are invited to speak about different aspects of gardening. Rainwater harvesting, gardening with Texas native plants and drip irrigation are some of the subjects covered. These classes are $10 each. All proceeds from these classes go toward the programs and building the garden.

Beginning in spring 2016, when the Children’s Adventure Garden is complete, after school programs will be offered with as a youth garden club. The classes will be held at the Southside Recreation Center and in the children’s garden. Quarterly programs for families in the garden will be offered Saturdays. The People/Plant Connection will be offering a program for teachers to introduce the new “Learn, Grow, Eat Go!” program from the AgriLife Extension Junior Master Gardener program. They will offer two seminars, one in the spring and one in the fall, for adults 60 and older about accessible gardening. The PPC conducts ongoing adult art classes that benefit their programs, as well. All the proceeds from their classes go toward the programs and building the gardens.

A volunteer program will be introduced in 2016 for people who want to get involved in this unique garden project. Volunteers will be able to help in the garden, host seminars, assist in classes and give tours of the garden. As a PPC volunteer you will get gardening information and discounts at the monthly gardening seminars. No

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A landscape on the rocks

Ninety-nine fish, no problems: There’s nothing more therapeutic than watching colourful fish lazily swimming in the pond.

Frederik Majoor and his wife, Patraporn, live in a tropical paradise just a seven-minute walk from Surin beach in Phuket. They own three villas that boast a lush, beautifully landscaped garden, complete with a waterfall and a large pond designed like a stream and populated by 99 colourful Japanese carp, or koi.

What’s wonderful about it is that while Mr Majoor designed the villas, Ms Patraporn, better known as Aom, did all the landscaping herself. A fisherman’s daughter from coastal Pak Phanang district in Nakhon Si Thammarat province,  the self-taught landscape designer turned a barren land into a garden many of us could only dream of.

“She designed it from the heart, not from books,” Mr Majoor, who is Dutch, wrote. “Before it was a completely empty field, no trees, no lake.” Proud of his wife’s handiwork, Mr Majoor sent in the photos you see on this page in response to my invitation that readers share photos of their plants or gardens and their gardening experience.

Growing up close to the sea, Ms Patraporn said when I talked with her on the phone she has liked plants, birds and fish since she was a child. “When I was in high school I started growing plants to decorate our home but unlike most Thai houses which are surrounded by flowers, I preferred foliage plants,” she said.

Her love of greenery was put to good use when her husband gave her a free rein to landscape their property. “I like green but it is far from monotonous as it comes in many different shades. Some plants have dark green leaves, while others are lighter. I use the different shades to complement one another. When I go to a nursery and see a plant I like, in the back of my mind I already know where to place it in our garden.”

Variety among the greenery: Patraporn’s tropical paradise in various shades of green.

Most of the more than 100 different species of plants she used in landscaping were purchased from plant nurseries in Phuket, she said, but some of the ferns she brought back in crates after a visit to Chiang Mai.

Ms Patraporn loves trees, and feels sorry that when roads are widened, grown trees are felled down instead of being relocated. “Now that I have my own home I want to surround it with as many trees as I can,” she said. With so many trees in her garden, birds come and perch on their branches and  squirrels jump from tree to tree.

She also loves mountains, so she created one, complete with waterfalls, where once there was none. To bring a mountain close to her home she used boulders, some weighing up to three tonnes, with the help of a crane. “In all,  Aom used 80 big boulders for the decoration of the garden and for the construction of the waterfall,” Mr Majoor said.

Ms Patraporn reminds me of an aunt who was one of Thailand’s pioneering landscape designers. Khunying Urai Lueamrung had a penchant for making her gardens look as natural as possible. Using her self-taught expertise in gardening and landscaping, she would build waterfalls and dry riverbeds where none existed. Planting ferns on rock crevices, her handiwork looked more natural than nature’s work itself. She was so good at it that she was commissioned to design the gardens of royalty.

She once told me that nature was the best teacher, and her landscape designs were but an imitation of nature. They were not like Japanese gardens or British gardens, in fact you would not find their like in any garden, because the boulders, the rocks and the ferns were laid out the way they had been found in their natural setting.

The grand dame of gardening and landscaping is now gone, but she left a legacy for the public to enjoy in the form of the King Rama IX Royal Park’s Romanee Garden, which was her last piece of work, and the Wang Kaew beach resort in Rayong, which she developed from a mango orchard and scrubby forest into a haven for nature lovers.

Both Mr Majoor and Ms Patraporn have a penchant for design; for him one villa was not enough so he designed another, and then another, naming them Villa on the Rocks and Villa in the Garden. Ms Patraporn’s palms and shrubs serve as green curtains that provide privacy for each of the villas, which enjoy a common swimming pool designed like no other: It is long and winding, like a klong, or canal.

With more living space than they could use, the couple will be only too happy to rent out a villa or two for those who would like a getaway from the stresses and strains of corporate life in the city. And what’s a better way to recharge your batteries than losing yourself in a tropical jungle, enjoying tranquil moments and savouring cocktails while watching fish lazily swimming in the pond, knowing that the sea is but a seven-minute walk away should you want to feel the beach’s fine white sand under your bare feet.

Apart from being an accomplished landscape designer, Ms Patraporn is also a gourmet cook, but that’s another story. The couple have websites, and, for those who would like to know more about them.


Chasing waterfalls: For accent and to create the man-made waterfall on the right, Patraporn used boulders.

In her element: Self-taught landscape designer Patraporn Majoor in her lush garden near Surin beach in Phuket.

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Denver Botanic Gardens offers tips to winterize gardens

9NEWS at 5 p.m. 11/14/15.

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Garden Tips: Make leaf cleanup less onerous – Tri

This past weekend, when employing an ordinary rake to clean the deluge of leaves that fell from my trees, I started thinking that there must be a better way. There must be some tools or gadgets that would make leaf cleanup less onerous.

While my inexpensive rake was doing a pretty good job, I wondered if there was a rake that could make the job even easier. I did a little research and came across the Lee Valley Power Rake. While power is in its name, the power comes from the gardener. This rake is designed to “glide back and forth across the ground” and only infrequently needs to be lifted, decreasing the stress on a back. Lee Valley points out that it does an impressive job raking leaves, grass clippings and yard waste. It has a 5-inch fiberglass handle and a 24-inch wide head made of high strength plastic. It is available exclusively from Lee Valley (

If I was a little less energetic, I might be tempted to seek out the self-propelled Bosch ALR 900 Electric Lawnraker. This machine looks like lawn mower and has a 900-watt electric powerdrive motor. It folds for storage. Beneath the raker is a rotating 12.5-inch wideplastic drum that holds replaceable metal tines. When set at the highest setting, the tines rake up lawn debris that gets sucked into a 13 gallon collection box at the back of the raker, much like a bag on a mower. Set at lower settings, the raker will remove lawn moss and thatch.

The review recommends the raker, indicating it has adequate torque to handle the tough jobs. However, I do not think it is for me because I suspect I would be emptying the relatively small collection box every couple of minutes with my leaves.

I will still need to rake my leaves the old-fashioned way. The real problem is picking them up after raking them into piles. My hands are small, making each pick-up quite paltry. However, I use two plastic dustpans to scoop up the leaves, making each scoopful more worthwhile. There are manufactured leaf scoops or claws designed specifically for picking up leaves. I like the looks of the Releaf Leaf Scoops that are ergonomically designed large plastic claws with large internal handholds and scoops at the tips. They say that they turn little hands like mine into big bear paws.

When cleaning leaves or other yard waste, another great gadget is the Fiskars 30 Gallon (22-inch diameter) Hard Shell Bottom Kangaroo Garden Bag. This is a pop-up container made of canvas-like polyester. It has a hard plastic bottom and handles that make it easy to drag or haul around the yard. When picking up yard waste that is not going to be composted, I line the bag with a 30 gallon garbage bag. When the work is done, the garden bag easily collapses and stores flat. You can findleaf scoops and pop-up lawn bags, as well as the lawnraker, at

Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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