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Archives for December 9, 2015

Calvin Finch: Great gift ideas for the gardener on your list – San Antonio Express

Calvin Finch: Great gift ideas for the gardener on your list

December 9, 2015

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A Sign Saying Back Off My (Green) Lawn

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Flora Grubb Gardens a lush haven in Bayview

  • Flora Grubb Gardens playful displays include an old door embellished with a succulent wreath and a hanging bicycle accented with tillandsias. Photo: Stephanie Wright Hession



Flora Grubb specializes in plants that need very little water to flourish. With a focus on design, she attracts home gardeners and landscape designers to the 8,000-square-foot nursery and shop that make up Flora Grubb Gardens in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco.

Grubb, who moved to San Francisco from Texas, started a landscaping company more than a decade ago, and eventually she and Saul Nadler opened a Mission District nursery that featured plants geared toward the Mediterranean climate of California. They moved in 2007 to their current location, with its spacious, industrial-style building and indoor-outdoor design by architects Seth Boor and Bonnie Bridges.

Meandering along its gravel pathways feels like going on a mini adventure. Some lead to the pink-tinged leaves of the Echeveria colorata; other paths reveal the shell of an old car brimming with plant life or tucked-away spots with palm trees, boxwood and bamboo.

In front of the retail shop, playful displays include a weathered wooden door embellished with a succulent wreath, a vertical garden made with individual letters of the alphabet spelling out the name Flora, and a bicycle accented with tillandsias dangling above it. Inside, more tillandsias tumble over three-tiered containers, amid cactuses nestled in cobalt blue ceramic pots, woven baskets, gardening books, and bistro tables and chairs painted turquoise, lime and tangerine.

Ritual Coffee Roasters operates a small coffee bar in one corner of the store, allowing visitors to enjoy a cup of its delicious, artisanal coffee and a pastry while sitting in the outdoor patio out back beneath a sublime vertical succulent garden. Ritual sources its own coffee beans through travels to Africa, Central America and South America, building partnerships with growers on their farms. Roasting in small batches, it creates a Sweet Tooth single-origin espresso and its filter coffees every month along with a new espresso blend each season.

At the Potting Bench, the nursery provides tools and assistance to help beginning and experienced garden enthusiasts make their own petite succulent gardens in whimsically shaped pots. It also hosts events including the “Make and Give Workshop,” by landscape designer Patrick Lannan, scheduled for 1 p.m. Dec. 19-20.

Flora Grubb Gardens: 1634 Jerrold Ave., S.F. (415) 626-7256.

Ritual Coffee Roasters: at Flora Grubb Gardens. (415) 694-6448.

Stephanie Wright Hession is an arts, culture and travel writer and photographer. Blog: Instagram: @stephaniewrighthession

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Your garden in December: Sean Murray’s tips for North East gardeners

Planting scented winter-flowering shrubs can bring your garden to life and add fragrance into your home too.

One of my favorite gardens at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower show was the show garden depicting a perfumery in Grasse, France, with its slightly ‘gone over’ feel.

For me it certainly conjured up the feel of warm Mediterranean air laden with the scent of jasmine and rosemary.

Closer to home we all have the chance to create our own perfumed winter garden with a careful selection of winter flowering shrubs.

The first to put on a show in my own garden is Viburnum Bodnantense ‘Dawn’ a three-metre twiggy shrub that can look a bit drab in summer, but come autumn when its leaves fall it really comes into its own.

It is covered in rose-pink buds on bare stems that open to pale pink from November to March. Its perfume is strong and heady, it can hit you like an unexpected wave on a still winter’s day, a real treat.

The fully hardy Hamamelis X Intermedia ‘Jelena’ a deciduous shrub takes centre stage from January with its small coppery-orange sea-anemone-like flowers unfolding to cover the whole shrub.

It is best planted in full sun, in fertile moist neutral to acid soil. A small stem brought indoors in January can scent a whole room with its light musky scent.

Viburnum x bodnantense Dawn is a favourite
Viburnum x bodnantense Dawn is a favourite

Of the evergreens I find Mahonia X Media Charity very reliable. The clusters of pale yellow flowers are lily-of-the-valley scented and last all winter giving way to clusters of black, grape-like fruits in spring.

Much adored by blackbirds. With its glossy architectural leaves, it grows to five metres, so give it space. Try placing a couple of stems of the flowers in a vase on your bedside table and you will wake up feeling you are at the Ritz!

All for nowt, I may add, if picked from your own garden.

I use the hardy Sarcococca Humulus Confusa in lots of my garden designs for its neat evergreen compact shape and small white flowers which are heavily perfumed with more than a hint of jasmine, a real tickle-your-senses plant in the dead of winter.

With Christmas hurtling towards us like manic gnomes on an Olympic bobsleigh and my present list in mind, I was checking my wife’s perfume supply

I’ve decided she has plenty, so I am buying her my favourite long-admired Hamamelis x Media Diane to add to our collection, which I am sure she will learn to adore.

My Christmas present tip is to buy everyone a winter-flowering shrub with scented flowers for a perfumed gift that reminds them of you, is personal, doesn’t run out, and it only grows better.

How thrifty is that?

Sean Murray runs a garden design company based in Ashington, Northumberland, www.

Sean Murray selecting plants at a nursery
Sean Murray selecting plants at a nursery

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Spread a little love in the garden in 2016

Some folks think the cold season is a time to rest and forget about the garden, but not me.  Seasonal chores such as bulb planting, soil improvement and pruning, just can’t be put off.  And if it’s too cold to work outdoors, then I like nothing better than poring over my growing collection of garden books and magazines for new ideas and plants that will make the garden better than it’s ever been before.

What I look forward to most of all, however, is a fun day out at a winter gardening symposium—an educational program chockfull of information for gardeners with every level of expertise, from novice to expert. Upstate residents are particularly lucky, as one of the most eagerly-anticipated events is organized by the Greater Greenville Master Gardeners Association and held right here, in our own backyard.

“For the Love of a Garden,” planned for Saturday, February 13, 2016, at the TD Convention Center, offers five educational sessions between 8 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.  Featured speakers include Marie Butler from the Virginia Zoo, who will share practical solutions for garden problems; Troy Marden, a TV host and writer from Nashville on garden design and plant combinations; and Bob Lyons of Longwood Gardens, with a look at the most noteworthy gardens found across the United States.

Concurrent sessions feature two additional speakers, Barbara Pleasant, author of numerous gardening books including Starter Vegetable Gardens; and Brie Arthur, the foodscaping and landscape design expert for the PBS television show, Growing a Greener World.  For the first session, choose between Lyons on digital garden photography, Pleasant on attracting butterflies, or Arthur on heirloom tomatoes.  In the second, select Butler with a demonstration on making tussie mussies, Pleasant on organic food gardening, or Arthur on iconic plants of the South.

Registration, including morning refreshments and lunch, plus a vendor’s marketplace, is a bargain at $65 ($70 after December 31).  If you want to attend, however, don’t hesitate; the event typically sells out before year’s end.  To register, simply print a brochure from the GGMG website ( or contact the registrar, Karen Stewart, at

Never happy with just one good thing, here are the other winter symposiums on my go-to list for 2016:

January 29-31.  The 30th Annual Southern Gardening Symposium at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, will feature an outstanding group of garden experts, including Vince Dooley, Dr. Michael Dirr, Dr. Larry Mellichamp, June Mays, Mary Beth Shaddix, Dr. Arlie Powell, Carol Reese, Doug Tallamy, and C. Colston Burrell, with programs Friday through Sunday.  Registration of $259 includes all programs and materials plus Friday’s opening reception, Saturday’s meals, and Sunday’s breakfast.  Pre-event workshops are available on Friday for an additional fee.  For more information call (800) 852-3810 or visit the website at

February 27.  The York County Master Gardeners will hold their annual symposium, “Joy of Gardening,” at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  Scheduled from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., the event will feature Norman Winter, Paula Gross, Anna Brown and Tony Melton.  Registration fee, including lunch, is $50 ($60 after December 31).  For more information, visit the website at

March 1. “Big Ideas for Small Gardens” will be sponsored by the Davidson Garden Club and Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina.  The event, featuring Fergus Garrett, Jon Carloftis, Susan Morrison, and others, will be held at the Knobloch Campus Center from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 pm.  Lunch is included in the $89 registration fee.  For more information, visit the website at

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Maybe your garden isn’t what it once was. Or maybe it’s stunning during the full bloom of summer, but falls apart the rest of the year. Maybe it’s crowded, sparse or it just doesn’t resonate with you, and you have no idea why or what to do about it. Don’t despair! Acclaimed garden designer and best-selling author Rebecca Sweet offers simple strategies for transforming blah spaces into breathtaking places.

Garden transformations don’t always require an expensive overhaul by a team of professionals. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective, and a new way to look at your garden. You’ll learn how to identify problem areas with your current plantings (such as clashing colors, lack of flow or “one-of-each-iitis”) and how to inject new life using artful combinations of color, texture, shape and form.

You’ll learn how to break down traditional garden design principles into easy-to-understand and, more importantly, easy-to-implement solutions. Inspirational photographs highlight and reinforce real-life situations, helping you not only to identify what has gone wrong with your garden, but how to fix the problem … all the while transforming your garden into a rich and layered tapestry.

Garden Planning, Organic Gardening

Author: Rebecca Sweet


Format: PBK

Weight: 1.12

Item Number: 7070

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Let’s stART program spruces up park

Civic Center Park in Pueblo West has a new addition to its landscape.

Three large colorful, concrete sculptures with multicolored mosaic tiles now adorn the small park.

The Pueblo West Women’s League donated a third art sculpture to the Pueblo West community as part of its Let’s stART campaign of adding art and aesthetics to Pueblo West.

Titled “Geodes in the Park,” the newest sculpture was installed Friday.

The project is a collaboration between Pueblo artists Anne Scott and Danielle Harwell.

Scott attained her bachelor’s of fine arts at Eastern Michigan University with a concentration in sculpture. Her work ranges from large-scale public art to feminine figures in the delicate temper of glass and paper. A recent work of hers can be found at Yellow Brick Road Garden at the top of Union Avenue.

Harwell obtained her bachelor’s in fine arts from Colorado State University-Pueblo. She uses simple materials to convey complex concepts. The search for truth, seeking inward, dreams and community are the driving ideas behind her work.

“We are excited to have added three sculptures in three years,” said Barb Murfit, president of the organization.

Money raised at the league’s fundraisers go primarily to groups and projects in Pueblo West with a small percentage of those funds geared to Let’s stART.

The organization also received a $500 grant from San Isabel Electric.

“We are also thankful to Carol Cosby at Pueblo West Parks and Recreation and her team for all their hands-on help and support,” Murfit said.

Cosby, who oversees Civic Center Park, said the donation of educational art, with its geometric shapes, is a welcome addition.

Let’s stART is a long-term, phased project to enhance Pueblo West through the addition of art, whether in sculpture, landscaping or other aesthetic improvement. The PWWL implemented the first phase of Let’s stART in 2013. To date, the organization has added “Flowers on the Prairie,” which are large colorful metal flowers created by artist Ron Barela; and “The Eagle that Soars,” a chainsaw-carved eagle created and donated by artist Patrick Armstrong.

For more information, visit or email For information on Let’s stART, or if any installation artists are interested in participating in the project, email

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Humane Society’s new chief wants to expand facility

Scott Bernier is a sucker for animals, so when a fluffy 6-week-old black puppy came into the St. Tammany Humane Society office a few weeks ago, he knew it would be coming home with him.

When they got to his Covington house, the pup ran around and Bernier’s young son pursued. They named the dog Chase, and he’s sure to be a lifelong member of the Bernier household.

There are dozens of other dogs and cats at the St. Tammany Humane that Bernier is caring for these days. As the new chief executive officer of the facility, it’s his job to help find permanent homes for the animals that come through Louisiana’s largest no-kill shelter.

Bernier started working at the Covington-area shelter on Aug. 24. A native of Connecticut, he received his B.A. in business administration from Central Connecticut State University in 1986. He worked in the transportation industry for more than two decades before making a move to nonprofit work. He worked for Goodwill, and came to the metro New Orleans area three years ago to be chief operating officer of the Second Harvest Food Bank.

At the St. Tammany Humane Society, he oversees a site that has adopted out more than 750 dogs and cats this year alone. At any time, there are 40 to 70 animals at the shelter.

Bernier, 51, said his extensive business background has aided his work with nonprofits.

“When you’re working with for-profit companies that are traded, it’s a machine and everything is about the bottom line,” he said. “In the nonprofit world, you’re helping a group of individuals. In this case, it’s animal welfare. And I can say, in the short period of time I’ve been here, I haven’t seen a more dedicated group of people than I see right here.”

Bernier has ideas for short-term and long-term improvements.

“My mission is to clean it up figuratively and literally, and to create a positive environment for all,” he said.

To that end, Bernier has partnered with the New Orleans Mission to improve the grounds and for regular maintenance. “They have a landscaping service that helps (homeless) clients assimilate back into the regular world. So this is helping the neighborhood, helping the shelter and helping the mission at the same time.”

Painting and repairs are upgrading the facility, and music is upgrading the environment. “We’re pumping in music for the dogs so when they’re here alone at night, and even during the day, it’s calm and soothing for them” as well as for the staff, he said.

In the longer view, fundraising is the lifeblood of any nonprofit. Bernier said it costs the shelter $260 to take in an animal, and if you multiply that number by the 750-plus animals that have been adopted in 2015, the cost is obvious. And that’s just for the animals, not counting the many other expenses such as salaries and utilities that are associated with running an animal shelter.

“If you put a number to that, it takes an awful lot to operate something like this,” Bernier said. “Sometimes we get animals that are a bit more difficult to place. … One of my big visions here is to raise funds to have an on-site behaviorist, an employee to work with our other employees who handle the animals regularly. We want to make them more adoptable.”

Bernier said another goal is to expand the facility, which has been in use since the STHS began in 1953.

“We need to expand because the number of animals we take in every year keeps going up,” he said. “We definitely would like to start a facility campaign.”

Bernier has high hopes for the Adoption Ambassadors Program, for which the STHS recently received a $2,500 grant. The program allows volunteers to foster an animal in their own homes, and spread the word about the adoptable pet through social media, email and word of mouth. Shelter staff trains the volunteers to handle interviews and paperwork for potential adopters in an effort to get more animals into loving homes. The STHS provides food and supplies so the foster family can care for the dog or cat during the transition.

“They’re an outreach system,” Bernier said of the ambassadors. “It’s multiplying our people, it’s cost effective, and it’s easier on the animals (than being in a kennel environment.) Plus, there’s not a lot of brick-and-mortar cost with the program.”

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Sculpting the City

Photo by Marlen Mueller

Prof. Gerri Ondrizek challenges her students to reinvent urban spaces

By Randall S. Barton

On the rise above Reed lies Woodstock, a neighborhood of 11,000 that has long been the stomping ground for students, professors, and staff. Like many Portland neighborhoods, Woodstock—which once looked like a small-town Main Street—is undergoing rapid change. A gleaming New Seasons Market offers upscale groceries and wild salmon. A Grand Central Bakery is crowded with millennials nursing lattés. The old RadioShack is now the Portland Fish Market, Country Bill’s Restaurant has become Gentle Dental, and Dick’s Kitchen is opening across from the Woodstock Library. Having witnessed the sudden transformation of other neighborhoods nearby, residents have both pride and trepidation about Woodstock’s future. 

In 2014, Reed worked with neighbors, developers, and city planners to host a charrette—a conference where stakeholders can explore what the neighborhood might look like in 25 years. The charrette issued a report on the current state of Woodstock that contained some eye-catching statistics.

Nearly 8% of the roadways crisscrossing Woodstock lack some combination of pavement, curbs, or sidewalks, compared with 1.9% citywide. Because fire trucks have other access and there are no plumbing or electrical lines running through them, these roadways are likely to remain unpaved—which gave Prof. Gerri Ondrizek [art 1994-] an idea.

Every few years she teaches a 300-level art class called Intersection: Sculpture, Landscape, Architecture that investigates the junction between architecture and sculpture and challenges students to meet the psychological and physical needs of people using spaces. In 2011 the students studied the difference between commercial architecture and the kind of work done by Architects for Humanity. This year the study was weighted more towards outdoor sculptural installations

Ondrizek’s students learned how to do simple scale drafting, write architectural briefs, make presentation boards, build scale models, and defend their projects in an oral presentation.

The nine students in the class were asked to look at a drab, featureless, unimproved crossroad measuring 225 square feet, and reimagine it as an asset to the community.

They read A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, which explains how architecture and urban plans are made through patterns. Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space got them thinking about space and phenomenology, and Martin Heidegger’s Building, Dwelling, Thinking purported (among other things) that building is really about dwelling in a place—particularly in peace.

To open their minds, they studied experimental projects sponsored by New York’s Museum of Modern Art and read Hal Foster’s Design and Crime, about how the world is being “Frank Gehryed” with spectacular, cool-looking architecture. “Is it working?” Foster asks. “Do we need something so elaborate that costs so much money?’”

Prof. Ondrizek encouraged her students to push the edges and offer something different.

“I’m not interested in students making something that looks pretty, a precious object to be bought and sold,” she says. “I’d like them to leave here trained to think about architecture, art, and politics.”

Widely exhibited in galleries and museums, Ondrizek has been featured in 34 solo exhibitions and numerous group shows. For the last 20 years she has created architectural-scaled works that house medical and biological information, working with geneticists and biologists to gather and compose images of human cellular tissue and genetic tests that relate to ethnic identity and disease. She earned an MFA from the University of Washington, and when she was working on her BFA at Carnegie-Mellon University, interned at an installation museum in Pittsburgh called the Mattress Factory.

“It was the 1980s and we had thrown out the object, right?” she recalls. “We were dealing with material semiotics, dealing with space. We were taught that would be the future, and while it hasn’t come to pass in quite that way, I’m decidedly not a gallery artist.”

Urging students to use space to offer something new, she encourages them to pay attention to how the structures they are creating would be impacted by the sun, the wind, and the rain, as well as the trees and the building next door.

“I want the students to consider how we feel and act in and around spaces made from different materials and at different scales,” she says.

You feel different standing next to a five-story concrete structure than you do in a windowed, wooden house. The latter is informed by nature, and its scale and pattern is more familiar than the impenetrable concrete form. Humanistic spaces serve the psychological and physical needs of those using them.

“Not to say that one material is bad and another good,” Ondrizek adds, “but attention to the form and pattern being set up in a space is essential.”

While students may discover the emblematic Swiss architect Le Corbusier in Urban Anthropology, or discuss the Haussmannization of Paris during the history of modernity in Hum 220, Reed offers no formal classes in architecture. So the Intersection class is a rare opportunity. As one of the students, Rennie Meyers ’15, observed: “It’s a cool class.”

Prof. Ondrizek is adamant that art classes present opportunities to interact physically with the material world.

“What we’re putting together is not just a sentence they can pack, unpack, and reform,” she says. “We live in a material world and you need to know about materials and how to make decisions on levels that have multiple repercussions.”

Before taking the class, students need to have completed Sculpture I or have a basic knowledge of sculpture materials, woodshop, and/or welding skills. Sculpture I teaches how to build with wood, think about skeletal structure and physics, and the formal language of making something.

So while the Intersection class is about the convergence of sculpture and architecture, it proposes taking a potholed roadway—bereft of either car or foot traffic—and re-imagining it as a neighborhood asset.

Students learn to do simple scale drafting, write architectural briefs, make presentation boards, build a scale model, and defend their projects in an oral presentation. 

For her individual project, Rennie designed an urban farm school, replete with a chicken coop, small gardens, and an outdoor learning center with reading nook and lending library to encourage learning and the exchange of ideas about urban farm development.

“I liked the cutting-edge technologies we were exposed to, like the laser used to cut our models,” she said. “Gerri’s interested in theory, so we were asked to negotiate the theoretical and the practical, and that’s not always a negotiation where you’re sacrificing one or the other.”

Students in the class designed meditational spaces, gardens with tables and lounge beds, and covered porches that face one another and can be slid together to form a single structure.

Lucy Weisner ’16 wanted to create something that was participatory but did not impose architectural structures. She fabricated a folding chair that can be stored in a box and moved from site to site as portable placemaking.

Inspired by philosopher Martin Heidegger’s musings about voids—for example that a jug’s “thingness” is informed by its void—Chloe Truong-Jones ’16 created a subterranean chamber. The project reflected her interest in the notion that “to build upwards you have to start downwards.”

For their final project the students broke into three groups, each taking a block along Woodstock Boulevard and reimagining it as a civic space. During the charrette, Woodstock residents complained that the neighborhood is boring. Ondrizek asked teams to create a “third space,” one that was neither home nor work, where people could recreate. Students were to consider LEED standards and use only low-impact materials. Drawings of the scanned models were superimposed on photographs and maps of the actual locations.

“I get them to work in teams because in the real world none of us are really solo geniuses, out there flying alone and predicting how things will happen,” Ondrizek says. “We have to collaborate, coordinate, form partnerships and relationships, and appreciate other people’s fields.”

One team transformed what is now a BiMart store and strip mall into a residential, entertainment complex fronted by a Japanese-style garden. Explaining his vision for the garden, Wyatt Heidenfelder ’15 said he wanted “something that is more felt than seen, a contemplative space where you can’t chart your adventure.”

Another team proposed to raze the Key Bank and punctuate the streetscape with an art gallery and lecture space surrounded by landscaping. The team envisioned the facility funded and shared by area colleges and universities. Three pods at the rear of the property would serve as residences and studios for visiting lecturers and artists.

The third team took a piece of unimproved roadway on Southeast Knight Street and imagined it as a community space and mutable market, including a farmers’ market. The space would be lined with 10’ tall LED poles to which canvas tents could be affixed for vendors, and the design incorporated transit pathways, a small stage for musical performances, and picnic tables.

“The beauty of this particular project is that no decision can be made without affecting 20 other things around it,” Ondrizek notes. “In the world you’re part of a bigger picture.”

While a commercial developer would probably focus on condos or strip malls, she pushed her students to think sculpturally and artistically.

“I realize these projects might look like completely absurd gestures for the Woodstock neighborhood,” she says, “but it’s important to push the population to think what art can be. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an object, a bronze statue of a deer or a beaver, which Portland loves. It can be a picnicking area where everything from the plants to the sunlight to the furnishings is considered part of the sculptural paradigm.”

The art world of museums and galleries tends to be contemplative, gazing at its navel without regard for the world at large. As they digest the principles that govern the intersection of architecture and sculpture, Ondrizek’s students are forced to think in terms of social practices and how to interface with the rest of the world.

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