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Archives for December 19, 2015

Plant some camellias for winter blooms



I blame the late “Doc” Chastain, Williamston ag teacher, for the problem.

Many years ago Doc, a good friend of my Ed, brought us several well-rooted camellias. These camellias can become large shrubs, and I had to look about the yard for a place to put the beautiful, healthy plants. I was grateful for them. Having two here and two there, and some in other places, one was left unplanted. I was eager to get it into the ground, so I set it in the shrub border in front of the house.

A mistake. What’s the phrase, “Act in haste, repent in leisure?”

The shrub has grown so that now it hides a large part of the front porch and in the past few weeks has, as it always does, produced many beautiful pink and white blooms. I love the shrub and its blooms, but I don’t like its hiding the porch because it makes the house look lopsided. You know what I mean.

The situation is unusual because it’s difficult to make a mistake with camellias. They are beautiful, useful plants and rule Southern gardens in winter. They can grow large. The tallest I have is a “Pink Perfection,” which is about 15 wide and 20 feet or so tall and covered with buds. A few are beginning to open.

Camellias are an evergreen with bright, shiny leaves and are useful in your garden all year. The blossoms make beautiful arrangements but will last only a few days when you bring them inside. Camellias produce so prolifically that you won’t notice you clipped them from the tree, so you can quickly replace an arrangement’s spent blooms.

These plants are easy, easy, easy to grow. They need some shade but not full shade. They like our Upstate soil, but maybe add a bit of acid if you are setting a new plant; mix some well-decayed manure, material from your compost pile, peat, etc., into the planting hole. Dig this hole large enough to spread the roots, and if your plant is in a nursery container, pull apart and separate the roots, which should be planted so the topmost roots are near the ground surface.

Camellias are pink, red or white with many variations. The bloom sizes range from 2.5-4.5 inches, often with several blooms at the end of one stem. Most varieties have evenly shaped petals, but on some the petals may flare away from a round-and-round form.

Camellias are divided roughly into three groups.

Camellias reticulate is the group with the largest flowers. These blooms are often irregular in shape and vary in color from white to a large purplish red.

The camellia sasanqua group has mostly single flowers that are the earliest to bloom — usually in October and continuing until the end of January. The leaves are usually smaller than some other groups, and occasionally sasanquas are pruned into hedges.

The group most often selected for home landscaping is the camellia japonica. Those were my gifts from Doc. There are dozens of varieties of camellia japonicas including my “Pink Perfection.” These popular choices are rapid growers — well, almost — and have blooms in white, red, pink or variegated and blooms may be single, irregular or double, and grow maybe to 12 feet or more.

Not many catalogs offer camellias, so check with your local nursery. Wherever you get them, do add a couple of camellias to your garden next spring to enjoy in winter when few plants are blooming.

Shrubs make good Christmas presents, and I thank “Doc” for his gifts those many years ago, but I wish I had not placed that one beautiful camellia in front of our porch.

Juanita Garrison of Denver Downs Farm writes garden columns for the Independent Mail. She is the author of “The Piedmont Garden.”

Article source: http://www.independentmail.com/features/columnists/plant-some-camellias-for-winter-blooms-but-dont-block-the-porch-270734fd-6228-3fa9-e053-0100007fc363-362967361.html

Clipper Chris Paul buys Calabasas estate for $8.995 million

L.A. Clipper Chris Paul may be moving his basketball shoes from the Westside to Calabasas.

The star point guard, who bought the Bel-Air home of singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne three years ago, has paid $8.995 million for an estate in a guard-gated community popular among celebrities and professional athletes.

Though his commute to the Staples Center will be substantially longer, the location puts Paul in the company of two of reality television’s biggest names: Khloe Kardashian of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” lives next door in a Mediterranean-style home she bought last year from singer Justin Bieber. Her sister, Kourtney, owns a house just around the corner.

Paul’s new house, built in 2006, has about 10,400 square feet of living space — more than twice the size of an NBA court.

The two-story house, with vaulted ceilings and stone and hardwood floors, includes a double-height great room, a home theater, a craft room, a library/den and a gym complete with steam shower and sauna.

The kitchen sports a pizza oven and a wide center island with seating for an eight-man rotation. A formal dining room with a wine cellar and tasting room sits off a long hallway topped with vaulted ceilings.

A master suite with a sitting room and fireplace is among five bedrooms and 7.5 bathrooms. There’s a detached guesthouse. .

Set in the backdrop of canyon and hillside views, grounds of about two acres includes a covered patio, a built-in barbecue, a fire pit, a swimming pool with a spa and a lighted tennis court. Fountains, formal landscaping and manicured gardens complete the setting.

Marc and Rory Shevin of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties were the listing agents. Ikem Chukumerije of Westside Premier Estates represented the basketball player, records show.

Paul, eight times an all-star, is in his fifth year with the Clippers since coming over in a 2011 trade with the New Orleans Hornets. He has led the NBA in assists three times, while leading the league in assists in six of his 11 NBA seasons.

Reining in her empire

Actress Taraji P. Henson, who plays the scheming ex-wife of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) on the Fox series “Empire,” has put her home in Hollywood Hills on the market for $3.25 million.

The Moorish-inspired contemporary, built in 2009, is entered through ornate double doors. Three floors featuring dark wood floors and vaulted ceilings include formal living and dining rooms, a media room, an office and a chef’s kitchen with a center island and 600-bottle wine cellar.

Rows of lighted alcoves, arched doors and windows, hand-carved fireplaces and multicolored chandeliers are among the interior details. A small built-in atrium with statues and other ornamental pieces sits behind the kitchen sink.

A total of four bedrooms and five bathrooms are within more than 4,200 square feet of space. A fifth bedroom has been outfitted as a dressing room complete with custom cabinetry, vanities and a salon chair.

Outdoors, there’s a lounge area with a fire pit and a hot tub. Sets of balconies sit off the second and third floors.

The house previously sold for $1.695 million in 2010, records show.

Vanessa Blair of John Aaroe Group has the listing.

Henson, 45, won a Critics’ Choice Television Award for best actress this year for her role on “Empire.” Among her film credits are “Hustle Flow” (2005), “Date Night” (2010) and “The Karate Kid” (2010).

Stellar deal is a wrap

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” producer Kathleen Kennedy and her husband, film producer Frank Marshall, have sold their gated compound in Brentwood for $8.6 million.

The single-story hacienda, built in 1955, is set on more than half an acre and features a fountain entry off a circular driveway. The living and dining rooms, both with fireplaces, open to a courtyard with another fireplace, a fountain and gardens.

The home includes five bedrooms and seven bathrooms in nearly 6,000 square feet of living space. The master suite has fireplaces in the main room, the sitting room and in the bathroom. Views take in the patio, lawn, trees and swimming pool.

A detached guesthouse/gym with a bathroom sits near the pool.

The couple bought the property in 2013 for $7.5 million.

Stanley Richman, formerly with Coldwell Banker and now with Compass, was the listing agent. Juliette Hohnen of Douglas Elliman represented the buyer.

Kennedy, 62, is known for “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and the “Jurassic Park” films. She is working on several “Star Wars” installments.

Marshall, 69, has produced such blockbusters as “The Sixth Sense,” “Back to the Future” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He is working on sequels to the “Indiana Jones,” “Bourne” and “Jurassic Park” film series.

Kennedy, Marshall and filmmaker Steven Spielberg founded Amblin Entertainment.

Kennedy and Marshall purchased the Brentwood home of late “Golden Girls” star Bea Arthur this year for $14.925 million.

Actor makes a move up

Ian Harding of “Pretty Little Liars” fame sold his Laurel Canyon area house for $995,000 and picked up a newly built contemporary in L.A.’s Eagle Rock neighborhood for $1.295 million.

Perched on a hillside, the 2,360-square-foot house that Harding bought has multiple decks that take in expansive views of the cityscape. The open-concept floor plan and 11-foot ceilings give the home a loft-like feel.

The master suite has a deck, a walk-in closet and dual vanities for a total of three bedrooms and three bathrooms.

Energy-efficient doors and windows and a ceiling heat barrier are among the energy-saving features.

The drought-conscious landscaping includes artificial turf in the backyard. The two-car garage has frosted glass doors.

Article source: http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/hot-property/la-fi-hotprop-20151220-story.html

Tough times inspire Mauricio Sosa to pursue Basalt Peace Garden

Basalt High School sophomore Mauricio Sosa is proving that bravery comes in many forms.

Sosa has a slight build, is soft-spoken and a bit shy. He said the shyness is a product of being picked on for so long. “Since I was in first grade, I’ve been made fun of or whatever,” he said.

Many victims of bullying would disengage, retreat into a shell and become a loner. Instead, Sosa is channeling his struggles into something positive, not only for himself but for every other student at Basalt High School.

He launched plans last year for a Peace Garden in a large, empty courtyard outside the school’s library. He first envisioned the garden as a place where he could go to take his mind off not fitting in. Now he sees it as a place where any student can go to relax and recharge.

“It would help me and other students to have a place,” he said.

Teachers and administrators at Basalt High School embraced the plan. Librarian Kate Bradley has been instrumental with shepherding Sosa through all the steps needed to turn it into reality. That includes enlisting support from other students, soliciting in-kind and financial support from businesses, working with the landscaping company on the physical plan and seeking grants.

The first big step came last year when Carbondale’s 5Point Film awarded Sosa with a $1,500 grant for the Peace Garden as part of its Dream Project. The Schuss Foundation matched the grant and Snowmass Chapel added $500. Sosa is seeking funds from the Aspen Thrift Shop.

The narrow, rectangular courtyard will have crushed gravel walking paths, extensive, drought-tolerant landscaping, benches and rock gardens. The centerpiece will be a mature crabapple tree surrounding by stones bearing inspirational quotes. There will be spaces where a person can hang out alone or in a small group, Sosa said.

Kalissa Stump, a senior at the school, got excited about the project and brought it to the attention of Flower Club and Key Club. The Flower Club, which undertakes beautification projects and environmental causes, will enlist scores of members next spring to plant a bunch of flowers and other vegetation after Twisted Tree Landscaping does the heavy lifting.

“I am so excited for the Peace Garden,” said Stump. “It’s going to be the coolest part of Basalt High School. I guarantee it.”

In addition to the cash grants, the project has in-kind service pledges of $28,000 for much of the work. Twisted Tree Landscaping is providing $20,000 of in-kind service. Other donors are Pitkin County Landfill, Heyl, Larson Trucking and Grand Junction Pipe. Sosa is trying to raise the final $10,000 for labor and plants. Donations can be made online at www.gofundme.com/54b36.

Sosa started working on the project in March 2015. By April, it will finally start taking shape and should be completed by the end of the school year.

“I never really thought it would be this much work,” he said. It’s been rewarding, he said, because he has learned business concepts and the project has forced him to work with people.

“The project has helped me get out of my shell,” he said.

Bradley said the project will be great for Sosa and the school. “It’s just been a wonderful thing to watch him grow,” she said.

Sosa credits Basalt High School with trying to determine if kids are being bullied and offering them help. “Some schools try to cover it up,” he said.

And for those inevitable times when kids need refuge for whatever reason, they will have the Peace Garden, thanks to Sosa.

scondon@aspentimes.com


Article source: http://www.aspentimes.com/news/19714812-113/tough-times-inspire-mauricio-sosa-to-pursue-basalt

Five gardening tips for summer

Summer in the garden is all about entertaining outside, relaxing in the shade, watching the grass grow and the heady fragrance of flowers in the air.

• Stop and smell the roses at these public gardens
The strange trick every gardener should know

The flipside is rapid growth and subsequent weeding and pruning, grubs and bugs that suddenly explode and the heatwaves and storms that sweep the countryside.

The delights of summer are made even richer by simple measures like the following:

Putting up a hammock will be the best thing you do all summer. Photo: Getty

Putting up a hammock will be the best thing you do all summer. Photo: Getty

1. Plant shade trees

Planting trees, especially deciduous ones that still let in winter sunshine, will make your outdoor areas all the more enticing.

2. Add a pergola

A pergola planted with a vine will have a similar effect and make your al fresco dining all the more enchanting. Think Virginia creeper hanging down in garlands of green, wisteria, and even grapes for those who want to reach up and nibble between courses!

3. Embrace climbers

Climbers such as Stephanotis and hoya are deliciously perfumed, gentle evergreen twiners that never disappoint, though they do need a sheltered position to thrive.

4. Consider a hammock

A hammock strung up can make for “instant” extra seating (you can buy special hooks for trees that won’t damage them from a hardware store) or even padded cushioning for party perches!

5. Light it up

Buy some night life accessories for your garden. Lights, oil lamps and mossie coils, citronella candles and even a small brazier for gathering around on cooler evenings help create ambience.

In case of emergency…

With summer comes an increased risk of fires, more pests and some fairly full-on storms.

Being prepared for the worst will help you manage most problems. So how can you “disaster proof” your garden?

Prepare for fires early by emptying gutters of leaves, cleaning up any debris against the house and keeping trees trimmed back from the roof in fireproofed areas. Well-kept lawns that are trimmed and lush will also help deter spotting if a fire does come close.

Storms can also be thoughtfully countered. Make sure trees and shrubs are kept pruned back from overhanging buildings if possible.  If you do have a bad storm approaching, taking outside furniture and toys inside is essential. Even consider sinking plastic toys and equipment in the pool if you don’t have a secure lock up.

Watch for caterpillars and fungal problems and, last but by no means least, mulch, mulch, mulch to keep the soil cool and weeds at bay if you haven’t already done so.

SUNDAY-BEST-HOME

Article source: http://thenewdaily.com.au/life/2015/12/19/summer-gardening-tips/

Knowledge to Grow: Tips for ‘winter gardening’



Posted Dec. 18, 2015 at 4:00 PM


Article source: http://www.sturgisjournal.com/article/20151218/NEWS/151219152

Holiday gifts for gardeners

Posted: Saturday, December 19, 2015 12:30 am

Holiday gifts for gardeners

By Bob Beyfuss
For Columbia-Greene Media

thedailymail.net

The unseasonable warm weather has continued well into the 12th month in our region and most locals are delighted that they are not dealing with ice, snow and subzero temperatures, just yet. There are some who would welcome a little snow this week, just in time for a white Christmas.

As a child I always liked seeing a white Christmas, but for many years I spent Christmas Eve or Day driving to Queens and then New Jersey to spend the holiday with family. I have some “not so pleasant” memories of driving hundreds of miles under those conditions in cars that were not fit to drive. My fondest Christmas memories are from the time I was a child and the driving was left up to my parents as I got to visit with cousins and uncles and aunts.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015 12:30 am.

Article source: http://www.thedailymail.net/columnists/weekly_gardening_tips/article_f41ddfe8-a5d9-11e5-80b6-a76bf6a41351.html

Flower Gardening Tips For Beginners

maintaining a garden well. But, as a beginner, you have to take care of many basic things that will determine the success of your effort. This includes many things that range from landscaping to taking care of the flowers in all seasons.

You have to put in a lot of creativity and scientific knowledge to make your dream garden. Start your first flower garden trial and admire the satisfaction that you get by inviting nature to your home.

A beginner will have to go through many trial and error procedures to get an ultimate result. This article on flower gardening tips for beginners, will help you to skip some possible and expected gardening mistakes.

Selection Of Garden Space
Selecting and designing a good area for your garden is very important. The area should have essential properties that support plant growth like a good appearance, healthy soil, good water retaining capacity, proper height from the normal water level of the ground and enough sunlight.

Pot Selection

Selecting good pots for your flower garden is important not only to keep your garden beautiful, but also to support the healthy growth of your plants. Remember to select pots depending on the type of plant that you choose, and consider its final expected size after its full growth.

Plant Selection
Probably, selecting plants for a garden is the most confusing and puzzling thing for beginners. There are many factors to be considered like the climate, season, water-holding capacity of the soil, chances of pest attack and colour of the flowers.

Preparation Of Soil
Failure in preparing the soil first is a major reason why many beginners fail in their attempt. Take time to prepare the soil with enough manure or compost mix. Also, if the soil is not having a good water-retaining capacity, add products to increase this. Planting should be done only after preparing a perfect soil.

Fertilizing
Fertilization is important to maintain a healthy growth of your plant. Each plant has different growth requirements, and you have to decide the frequency of fertilizing your flower plant based on this fact. Also, know the correct amount of manure needed. Using organic manure is the best option.

Watering

The water requirements of plants vary depending on the type of plants and the season. One among the important flower gardening tips for beginners is to keep an eye on the water requirement of your plants. Too much and too little of water can damage your plants.



Join An Online Forum

You can get flower gardening tips for beginners from experienced people who already have established gardens. They can give you more practical advices than theoretical suggestions. Joining a forum can help you clear all your doubts on making and maintaining a flower garden.

Do you have more flower gardening tips or suggestions for beginners? Do share them with us!

Article source: http://www.boldsky.com/home-n-garden/gardening/2015/flower-gardening-tips-for-beginners-94312.html

Lawn care tips for unseasonably warm winter

My lawn is long and shaggy after this warm December weather. Would it hurt if I mowed it now? What if we have frost the next day?

You can mow your lawn anytime the soil is not frozen and the turf not frosty. Be sure to keep turf at least 2 1/2 inches to 3 inches tall. Clean cuts from a sharp blade will heal faster than ragged cuts from a dull blade. Poor mowing practices are an underappreciated but major cause of lawn failures.

To give my mountain vegetable garden the best start possible, how do I apply these components I found on the Internet: molasses, raw milk, charcoal soaked in human urine and fungal mycelium cultivated in straw? Also, fresh chicken/horse dung mixed with fall leaves and lime. The untouched soil already looks and feels amazing. Fallen, composted forest logs can supply me with endless black organic matter.

We recommend you pass on the molasses, milk, straw and urine-soaked charcoal. Your soil sounds like it is already rich in nutrients, organic matter and mycorrhizae (beneficial soil fungus). Mix in or apply the manure and leaves. They should decompose by spring. You can apply lime whenever the soil is not frozen. Also, get a soil test. For a video on how to collect the sample, regional labs that can test the sample and more, click here. Test results will cover pH as well as organic matter. A 5 percent organic matter soil is considered excellent. More compost can be applied each fall.

Digging deeper

Oriental bittersweet

Celastrus orbiculatus

A cluster of bright berries seems so seasonally festive — except when it isn’t. The orange-red berries of Oriental bittersweet are easy to spot this time of year, draped on tree branches throughout Maryland. They’re a tempting addition to holiday decorating, which can be fine as long as berries go straight to the trash afterward. This non-native invasive vine has innocuous leaves that sprout up beneath trees and shrubs, blending in incredibly well with foliage until they’ve climbed up and smothered their hosts. Also, the woody vines grow so heavy, they can topple a tree in a light breeze. Keep a close eye out for this one. Fortunately, seedlings betray themselves when pulled — their roots are orange.

Don't use loose leaves to winterize fruit trees

Don’t use loose leaves to winterize fruit trees

I read about dumping bags of leaves around a fig tree. I just did the same on my fig as well as peach, cherry, jujube and pomegranate trees. Is this a reliable way to winterize young fruit trees? Thinking we may have a very cold winter, is this enough?

Fig and pomegranate trees require winter protection…

I read about dumping bags of leaves around a fig tree. I just did the same on my fig as well as peach, cherry, jujube and pomegranate trees. Is this a reliable way to winterize young fruit trees? Thinking we may have a very cold winter, is this enough?

Fig and pomegranate trees require winter protection…

(Ellen Nibali)

—Ellen Nibali

Article source: http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/home-garden/bs-hm-garden-qa-1220-20151218-story.html

A garden of abundance and healing

She wanted a home, and that was how it began.

When Marianne Taylor and her husband, John, first stumbled upon the old board and batten house on a corner lot in the Los Rios Historic District in San Juan Capistrano, she felt a yearning for the 128-year-old structure.

The Los Rios area has been called the oldest occupied neighborhood in California, with buildings dating to the late 1700s.

She hesitated only briefly at the sight of weeds taking over the half-acre grounds and handicapped accommodations for the resident who lived with a caretaker at the dilapidated 128-year-old structure. Taylor wanted to restore the broken house and make it a home for her family, which includes an adult son and daughter.

While the pessimists called the Taylors “nuts” and suggested that they move to the then-newly developed Dove Canyon in Trabuco Canyon, they instead became the home’s third owners. That was 25 years ago.


Shortly after the purchase, a coral tree gave way and broke the lattice structure covering a porch. But Taylor even saw that as a blessing, noting that destruction opened up entry to the hidden back patio.

“We saw the beauty through the ashes,” Taylor said. ” We loved the outside and the possibilities, and we knew it had a spiritual feel. I saw the peace and tranquillity, and I wanted to share that with others.”

Taylor, who began gardening when she was a young adult, planted wisteria, Valencia orange trees and pomegranate trees at the home. She cut up the patio’s cement, stained the newly poured grounds and interspersed Astro Turf between the cement squares.

Her mission was to have her family and plants thriving together. Eventually she would want to share that sense of interconnectedness with others, and in 2009 she founded Goin Native Therapeutic Gardens at her home.

The nonprofit organization provides programs focused on sustainable garden design, yoga, cooking and community garden creation.

People of all ages, abilities and backgrounds are welcome, Taylor said, emphasizing the importance of helping special-needs adults, at-risk and underprivileged youths, military members, veterans and their families, and the elderly.

When visitors are not participating in a yoga class in Taylor’s garden — which is filled with succulents, Mexican sunflowers and birds of Paradise — volunteers at Goin Native may donate their time at the nearby city-owned Los Rios Park with the Garden Angels.

Since the park opened more than five years ago, the group of volunteers has met every Thursday to maintain the grounds, which are abundant with Mexican petunias, milkweed and rosemary.

A few years ago, Taylor and the garden volunteers began a collaboration with the Capistrano Unified School District to help students learn life and employment skills as they tend to the gardens, raking leaves, watering plants and picking up trash. The team will write letters of recommendation for the participants.

“We want this to be special for others,” Taylor said as she stood in the park’s gardens, which attract butterflies. “This is our place to share.”

Goin Native also has expanded its help and resources to San Juan Capistrano’s Reata Park, off Ortega Highway.

The organization hosts 30-minute free walks through the park that include a discussion about California native plants. Also at the park, Goin Native hosts classes like “Smart Gardening” and “Planting the Native California Garden,” presented by the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Orange County.

And to make gardening tips accessible to people who might not be able to meet on the grounds, Taylor posts on her organization’s website news articles on subjects like pruning, ways to collect rainwater and fundamentals of foundation plantings.

Taylor said she hopes to eventually beautify the entire Los Rios Historic District.

Her garden, she said, has been a place of healing and rehabilitation.

“It’s been very rewarding for me to be maintaining this jewel of a place,” Taylor said. “We found the perfect house, and I’m happy to share it with others.”

For more information, call (949) 606-6386 or visit goinnative.net.

Article source: http://www.latimes.com/socal/weekend/news/tn-wknd-et-1220-goin-native-therapeutic-gardens-20151218-story.html

‘This is a load of cobblers!’ Boris Johnson grilled over garden bridge

“This whole thing is a load of cobblers!” huffed a flustered Boris Johnson, sitting at his round table in London’s City Hall on Thursday afternoon. “We need to get on and build this bridge … you just cannot bear the idea that a great project is going ahead. That is what this is all about. A load of cobblers.”

It was the surreal climax to what felt like something of a festive garden bridge pantomime. The fairy lights of a Christmas market twinkled through the windows while tourists shuffled along the south bank clutching cups of mulled wine, oblivious to the heated debate going on inside the chamber. The mayor had been summoned, along with the head of Transport for London Mike Brown and its planning director Richard de Cani, to explain themselves to the Greater London Authority’s Oversight Committee over the murky genesis of the proposed garden bridge. And Boris, chief bridge booster, was getting increasingly hot under the collar.

“The whole tenor of this conversation is completely out of whack!” he barked. “You’re trying to cast a cloud … you’re just a bunch of—”

The cross-party committee was here to get to the bottom of why the garden bridge project has followed such an unconventional, fast-tracked process since Joanna Lumley first wrote to Johnson in 2012 with an idea for a fairytale crossing. Following a calm, level-headed line of questioning, they asked how the mayor first heard of the bridge idea; if he knew Lumley was an Associate at Heatherwick Studio [the bridge’s architect] when they met; how many meetings they’d had before the official tender was launched; why TfL’s own legal advice about how to procure the project was ignored; and why the strong criticisms of the process in the internal audit were removed.

It was a forensic grilling, aided by a weighty stack of confidential documents released after countless Freedom of Information requests, that was batted back by a combination of Boris bluster and procedural admin-speak from Brown and de Cani.


Garden bridge pantomime … Boris Johnson gets a grilling from the GLA Oversight Committee in City Hall Photograph: Oliver Wainwright/Guardian

The chief contention hangs over how Heatherwick was selected for the project, and the suggestion that his scheme was a done deal from the start – which was a concern of TfL’s own legal team. “We are aware that Thomas Heatherwick has already raised with the GLA and TfL the possibility of a garden bridge,” TfL’s lawyers wrote in January 2013, in a letter giving advice for procuring “specialist design services” for the project. “Care will be needed to ensure that, particularly in relation to timing of the competition and its specification, other bidders have an equal opportunity to pull together all the relevant disciplines and to put their ideas forward.” The letter goes on to add that “it will be important to ensure that is not, and does not appear to be, the case that decisions have already been made about the proposed structures.”

The advice is crystal clear: “The procurement of the design team for the bridge will need to be subject to competition through OJEU [the EU public sector procurement mechanism].”

But that didn’t happen. Instead, TfL decided to split the process in two. In February 2013, it ran a small tender process to procure a design advisor to “help develop the concept” (which was capped at £60,000 to avoid going through the full OJEU process). Heatherwick was selected, receiving a higher score for bridge design experience than two other experienced bridge architects. His submission, which was also released as part of a FOI request, is not a feasibility study at all, but merely an elaboration of his own garden bridge design, with Lumley listed as an Associate of the studio.

Then in April 2013 a second tender was issued “to develop the technical design of the bridge, to enable a planning application to be submitted”. With a contract value of £8.4m, the process used the official TfL Engineering Project Management Framework and went through the proper formal stages of Expression of Interest and Invitation to Tender. Engineering giant Arup was duly appointed – then subcontracted Heatherwick to its team. The contract with TfL ended in April 2015 and the project was transferred to the Garden Bridge Trust to deliver.

When pressed over why this unconventional route was chosen, as opposed to the one advised by TfL’s own lawyers, de Cani said: “The circumstances had changed. The advice was clearly not relevant because we were doing things differently.” He assured the committee that they took additional legal advice over the new process.

The original advice, he said, was given on the basis that TfL might run the project from start to finish, though that later changed. “That wasn’t the approach we adopted because there was the opportunity to get the private sector to pay for most of the project,” he said, “and that’s where the trust came forward.”

Perhaps this all sounds fair enough – unconventional and not following due process, but a pragmatic response to changing circumstances. Except that his explanation doesn’t quite tally with the timeline.

The Garden Bridge Trust was founded in October 2013: it simply didn’t exist when the tender process changed. The idea for a trust was first mentioned to the TfL board in July 2013, in the Commissioner’s report on the project. The report also specifically states that TfL would be responsible for the development and “enabling costs associated with securing the necessary consents and approvals” – ie it would run the project to planning permission stage, which is exactly what the £8.4m Arup contract represents. There was no suggestion that this stage of work would ever be handled by a private trust. And even if TfL had envisaged that the project might be handed over to a trust following planning permission being secured, this would in no way represent a “change in circumstances” around the procurement, as de Cani claims.

It might sound like a minor point of procedural detail, but it adds increasing weight to the suggestion that the entire process was rigged to allow Heatherwick’s proposal to prevail – an allegation that TfL continues to deny. Meanwhile, other questions were skimmed over with theatrical prevarications and hazy recollections. Master of misdirection, Johnson kept leading the conversation off-topic, trying to recall whether the delightful model Lumley had first shown him was made of glass or wood. Either way, it was very beautiful. And the lovely Joanna is a hugely public spirited person, who has been doing all of this for free, and doesn’t deserve to have her name dragged through the mud. And he couldn’t quite remember if she or Heatherwick had accompanied him on a 24-hour trip to San Francisco in January 2013 to try and secure sponsorship for the bridge – a trip which cost the taxpayer more than £10,000.

“You don’t start lobbying for investment in a specific scheme when it has not been selected unless you are absolutely certain of the outcome,” said committee member Caroline Pidgeon after the hearing. “When the mayor made this lengthy and expensive trip there were no official plans by TfL for a garden bridge. The tender document for an initial design of a pedestrian footbridge had not even been published. It is mockery to claim that it was an open and fair competition when the Chair of Transport for London was already flying around the world seeking investment for one proposal.”

In the huffing, puffing, insult-throwing court of Boris, the real reason for the garden bridge (and the speed at which it has been bulldozed through the system) became clearer than ever. TfL has always framed the project as a crucial transport link, not a private tourist attraction, nor a mayoral vanity project. But, bathed in a festive purple glow beneath City Hall’s chamber, Boris finally delivered his revealing pantomime soliloquy. “A great city like London has to continually refresh its offer,” he said. “It’s important that we don’t rest on our laurels, but continue to adorn the city with things that will attract visitors … and to get it done within a four-year mayoralty is a very challenging thing.”

Article source: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2015/dec/18/boris-johnson-grilled-over-garden-bridge