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Archives for March 2016

Building Trust and Reliability

Photo courtesy of the BIA

Photo courtesy of the BIA

Too well known to be a secret society, too populous to be an exclusive club, the Building Industry Association of Greater Louisville has high standards and a broad reach. The professional organization has been building the city – quite literally – since 1946.

You might find yourself, or someone close to you, the recipient of one of its many charitable efforts. You might decide to attend one of the several big events it puts on annually. If the warmer weather has you pondering about remodeling or building a home, the association can connect you with builders who have impeccable reputations – and steer you away from those who don’t.

One of those well-respected builders is Pat Durham, who is closing down his company after 25 years to devote himself to his new job as the association’s executive vice president.

“It’s kind of a daunting thought to know that basically I’m the voice of 2,000 member companies and 25,000 employee members,” Durham says. “That inspires me to make sure I’m doing the right thing.”

Pat Durham, executive vice president of the BIA. Photo courtesy of the BIA

Pat Durham, executive vice president of the BIA. Photo courtesy of the BIA

The association has councils and committees that vet its members and hold them accountable.

“There’s a lot of pride to be a member of this organization,” Durham says. “So I can say with full confidence that if you’re a member of our Building Industry Association, you generally are seen as head and shoulders above the general population.”

By calling the association or visiting its website, you can find out whether or not that builder you might hire is a member in good standing.

The association’s charitable arm, the Building Industry Charitable Foundation, works in conjunction with a program called YouthBuild Louisville to teach their trade to 16-20-year-olds.

“That might be at-risk youth; they might be young people who didn’t get their high school diploma, and this organization helps them gain a GED and gives them some direction in life in terms of basic skill levels,” Durham explains.

Members of the association also sometimes volunteer their time to help people in the community with construction projects.

Photo courtesy of the BIA

Photo courtesy of the BIA

For example, one recipient of that generosity was a 25-year-old man who lost his home in the Highlands while hospitalized for six-months after an accident. A commercial member of the association donated some space in its building, and others built the man an apartment. Since the man uses a wheelchair, they made it fully accessible.

Association members have also donated their time and talent to renovate a facility for Day Spring, a community for people with intellectual disabilities. And they regularly collaborate with YouthBuild and Kosair Charities to create playhouses that are individually designed to help children with their specific needs.

The association perhaps garners its broadest public exposure through its annual shows and tours.

The next such major event will be the Tour of New Homes, to be held April 30-May 1, from noon to 6 p.m. both days. Last year’s tour featured 86 homes, and Durham expects that number to be similar or greater this year.

The event is designed to help potential homebuyers locate a home within their budget and desired area. Instead of simply going from home to home, you can download an app that will guide you to the ones on the list that most interest you.

Last January, the sixth Home Product Expo brought more than 70 homebuilders and remodelers to Shepherdsville. The expo included indoor and outdoor furniture, fireplaces, windows, doors and landscaping materials.

The Home, Garden and Remodeling Show, which just took place March 18-20 at the Kentucky Exposition Center, is one of the largest home shows in the country.

Homearama, which featured Spring Farm Lake last year, will take place July 16-31 this year and feature the Norton Commons and River Crest neighborhoods. Designers will be on hand to discuss how they decorated each room and to share ideas and design trends you may want to implement in your own home.

And August 13-14, the association will host its annual Tour of Remodeled Homes. VT

For more information, call 502.429.6000 or visit

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Hudson Woods’ Drew Lang works to integrate architecture and nature in Kerhonkson

Hudson Woods

Hudson Woods

Hudson Woods is a development of architect-designed homes that’s attracting the kind of buyer who despises developments. Located a few miles from the hamlet of Kerhonkson, on a remote, rocky, wooded 301 acres, Hudson Woods, when finished, will consist of 26 houses, each on a lot varying from three to 12 acres. Architectural design firm Lang Architecture, based in Manhattan, designed these modest-scaled shedlike structures to snuggle into their sites. In an article in the New York Observer, one of several prominent publications (including Architectural Digest and Dwell) that have profiled the housing project, Drew Lang, the principal of the firm, described Hudson Woods as “an anti-development approach. In essence the aim is to take away as little as possible from nature and build structures into the natural environment.”

“People don’t feel overwhelmed and have a reasonable amount of space to maintain,” Lang said.  “At the same time, the spaces are open to the outdoors and feel larger than they are.”

Eighteen months since the houses went on the market, it’s an approach that’s clearly resonating with the New York “commercial creatives”: folks in fashion, photography, advertising, magazines and design seeking a weekend home, whom marketing director Mike Kolodesh identified as the target buyers. Despite an asking price ranging from $795,000 to $915,000, so far 14 houses have sold, and another four are in contract. Buyers can enhance the basic package with a choice of 44 upgrades, including a heated granite pool ($195,000, including a salt chlorination system and terraced landscaping), woodburning stove ($10,000), solar energy system (starts at $32,000), a separate porch ($155,000), architect-designed treehouse ($44,000), orchard ($16,500 for ten trees), a large vegetable garden ($15,500) and greenhouse ($30,000).

Hudson Woods also helps buyers out with the furniture. It has partnered with two dozen artisans, most based in the Hudson Valley or Brooklyn, whose handcrafted furniture – some made from reclaimed wood – glass light fixtures and cabinetry are showcased in the model house and on the developer’s website (  Local companies include Sawkille Company and 100 Mile, which both have showrooms in Rhinebeck; Materia Designs, based in Kerhonkson; Fern and Samuel Moyer Furniture, both based in Hudson; and Beacon-based Wickham Solid Wood Studio.

Almanac Weekly‘s Lynn Woods recently asked lead architect Drew Lang some questions about Hudson Woods.


Lynn Woods: Is this your first housing project?

Drew Lang: Yes. We’re an architectural design firm that just happens to be a developer as well. Our past projects were smaller and involved one building. We’ve done design consulting work in the Hudson Valley before. This is a very extensive project involving home construction, substantial infrastructure and sitework.


What brought you to Kerhonkson?

I developed a set of ideas, then set out on a search for property. I found myself coming back time and again to this area. The area is just gorgeous, and the natural beauty of this site is in a remote area approximate to a town. It’s located in the middle of things: You can go down to Accord and Stone Ridge and over to Phoenicia. It’s farther out of the way, but from the Thruway it’s geographically a bit closer to the City than Woodstock.


Why 26 houses?

In order to reach the high level of quality at a good value we needed to be at this scale.


How would you describe the concept?

The integration of architecture and nature. Rather than wholesale removal of the natural elements on the site, we have intentionally retained the forest. We’re working at a scale that doesn’t overwhelm the landscape and using natural materials. Doing it this way costs more and is more difficult, but it’s the only way to do it.


What has been the biggest challenge?

The infrastructure: building the road and running the electric services. We’ve put in a substantial storm drainage system.


The sites vary in configuration and size. Was that part of the plan?

We bought the property already subdivided. That allowed us to hit the ground running. The lines were drawn in a thick forest, and bit by bit we had to clear each site. We didn’t know if we’d hit a rock ledge, and we did, on half of the excavations. There was so much rock we created our own mine. We crush the rock to create the gravel for the road. The quarry pit will become a pond for the owner of that lot.


Are all the houses essentially the same?

It’s the same footprint on every lot, and pretty much the same house, with a flip version of the other. However, they all end up being quite different, because of the site conditions: The views, the way the structure nestles into the land, the gable end of the house that’s solid ends up being different every time; sometimes it’s buried more in the earth and other times revealed.


When did you start construction?

In 2012/13. How we manage the process is incremental. It’s not that we’re doing anything that difficult, but every day it’s doing it a little bit differently. There’s no way to do this without taking great care and doing it slowly. Five houses have been completed, and the rest are in various stages of construction.


How many people do you employ?

We have an average of 20 to 30 people working on the site every day, and all are local. More than 50 people total have been working on the project. Jackson Hahne, who lives in Woodstock, is our on-site project manager.


The landscaping with the stone retaining walls at the model house is very attractive.

Most of those walls and pathways are part of the pool package. As part of the basic package, people get a deck and a transition from the house into the landscape, in some cases using stone from the site. Because the stone is local, it looks natural and is integrated into this place.


Which upgrades are most popular?

Half the buyers are purchasing the pool. The woodstove is also very popular. Our furniture pieces, the kitchen pantry and island, built by local craftsmen, are also very popular.


How did you choose the makers listed on your website and showcased in the model house?

It’s an eclectic mix that works well together. We source as much locally as we can, and found some great artisans in the area.


Where are you from? What influenced you to become an architect?

I’m from New Orleans, which provided a rich backdrop. My grandmother was a very visual person and had artists around her all the time. I went to Yale School of Architecture and was influenced by my teacher, Deborah Berke, who is a very accomplished architect about to become the dean of Yale’s architecture school. Another influence was my teacher Steven Harris. What’s been retained and still endures is the visual vocabulary that was passed on by the Modernists.


How can a Modernist approach history?

We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. I love historic buildings and am very influenced by them. I’m drawn to the texture, the atmosphere and the sense of history: qualities that I think can be brought to modern architecture.


What is your view of New Urbanism and contemporary buildings that mimic traditional architecture?

No one has the budget to build the way people used to build. Architects in recent decades have stripped back the vocabulary…New Urbanism has fallen on its face. It can’t create history; cities have to evolve over a long period of time. If you create a sense of density and try to recreate history, it smacks of something false and looks like a stage set. Inevitably [the best way to enhance] a city’s fabric is reviving and integrating historic buildings.


Are you exploring other developments in the area?

I was looking at redeveloping a warehouse building in Kingston. But from the standpoint of rental housing, one couldn’t make the numbers work, since the building required a lot of remediation and the sales prices in Kingston are higher than I anticipated. Our next new housing development is located on a 600-acre site of rolling pine forest in Oxford, Mississippi. It’s a lakeside property.


Are you pleased with the reception you’ve gotten for Hudson Woods?

People are really enjoying the houses. The approach we’re taking is not just how it looks and feels, but the story behind what we’re doing, and it’s appreciated. We really try to think through everything and make it fun and easy. So many times buying real estate is painful and awful.


For more information about Hudson Woods, visit or call (212) 233-9187.

In other news

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Omaha Home Show offers expert advice, demonstrations – Omaha World

Cooking, gardening, technology and more: That’s what you’ll find at the Metro Omaha Builders Association (MOBA) Omaha Home Show this weekend at the CenturyLink Center.

“Whether you’ve been in your home for years or are just moving in, the show is a one-stop shop for all your needs,” said Jaylene Eilenstine, MOBA’s executive director.

The show, which runs Friday through Sunday, is a signature event for MOBA, which marks its 70th anniversary this year. To celebrate, Eilenstine said, “We’ve added some enhancements” to the show schedule.

Meet the Builders Corner is an example, with MOBA members available to answer questions and offer advice to show-goers.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for anybody who wants to build a home or make an addition,” Eilenstine said.

MOBA’s experts will be on hand Friday from noon to 3 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Also new is a look at technology from exhibitors like VirtuActive, a drafting and design company that translates blueprints and floor plans into 3D renderings.

“We can design a custom house from scratch based on your ideas, or we can fine-tune an existing house plan,’’ said president and lead designer Brian Friehe.

While 3D technology has been available to architecture firms and the commercial industry for some time, until recently it was cost-prohibitive for the average consumer, Friehe said.

“It (VirtuActive) gives consumers a little more power in working with contractors and eases that anxiety of wondering whether something will turn out the way that you think it will,” Friehe said.

Exhibitor David Treadway, a residential sales specialist with Electrical Engineering Equipment Company, or 3E, said he is looking forward to demonstrating just how much homeowners can do with new technology.

“It’s endless what you can control from a remote location through WiFi. You can use your phone as a remote control for your furnace or air conditioner. You can check security or turn lights off and on,” he said.

Today’s smart options are particularly popular with millennials who want to control everything off their cellphone, Treadway said. “People between 21 and 38 use their phones to pay their bills and buy coffee. Now they can control their lights and their heating and cooling through their phones with an app.”

For people who like to focus more on nature than technology, Kehm Contractors will showcase the latest trends in landscaping. Among them, the combination of materials such as cedar, granite, pavers, blocks, fire and water into one landscape design.

“People want to see those raw elements right next to one another, and they’re trying to find more and more ways to put those things together,” said landscape specialist James Tardy. “They don’t just want a fire pit. It’s about having an outdoor space where they can have a glass of wine, enjoy dinner with their friends or just sit and enjoy the sound of the water feature. They want to be able to experience it all.”

Of course, part of outdoor living includes a beautiful lawn and garden, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, specialists from NET’s popular “Backyard Farmer” TV show will address topics such as turf/grass, pathology, entomology, critters and horticulture.

Kim Todd, the program’s host, said the focus is on providing objective, science-based answers in a way that is easily understood and benefits both experienced gardeners and novices.

“We have everyone from people who have never grown anything to people who are experts in their own area,” Todd said. One of the ways “Backyard Farmer” will explore the region’s needs is through a demonstration and QA format.

“It will be something that is show-and-tell and an opportunity for us to say, ‘This is something we think is important or interesting or wild and crazy,’ and to take questions from the audience,” she said.

While growing food is a popular topic, so is cooking it, and Summer Miller, author of the best-selling, critically acclaimed cookbook, “New Prairie Kitchen,” will demonstrate some of her favorite recipes.

The veteran food journalist spent four years traveling Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota chronicling farmers, growers, food craftspeople and the chefs who support them.

Miller will share what she has learned on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. She’ll be in an interactive setting where participants can join her for cooking demonstrations and help her prepare — and sample — sweet corn chowder with bacon and sweet corn salsa and strawberry shortcake with rhubarb compote.

“Since this is a spring event, I wanted to highlight some of the flavors of spring,” she said of her dessert choice from “New Prairie Kitchen.”

“Instead of the traditional shortcake that’s spongy, this take on strawberry shortcake is kind of like a cookie. It’s one of my favorite things from the book, and I make it all the time.”

For the author, the event is also an opportunity to meet fans and take a low-key approach to the kitchen.

“I like being able to go to these events and share with people,” Miller said. “The interaction is great, because cooking is a social experience.”

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A Weston family’s home has a farmlike feel, complete with chickens

Webb Chappell for the Boston Globe

“The fire pit recalls old-fashioned campfires,” says landscape architect Dan Solien. “We approached the project in the spirit of creating a great place for family activities and cherished childhood memories.”

Despite his handsome chicken coop bustling with 14 Buff Orpington hens and raised beds filled with thriving vegetables, Eric Svenson insists, “I’m not actually a farmer.” But when he’s not at the office, you’ll find him collecting eggs from his “girls” and tending his organically grown produce. He refers to his newfound hobby as the modern-day version of unwinding after work with a drink. “It’s my way of decompressing,” he says.

Svenson and his wife, Sarah, along with daughters Alida, 9, and Juliet, 7, have the quintessential suburban setup in their Weston backyard. In addition to the agricultural trappings, requisite swing set, and walking path that starts at the house and meanders to the rear of the 2-acre property, a newly constructed bluestone patio functions as the heart of the outdoor fun.


Using the same team that built a multi-generational gathering place for their extended family on Cape Cod — Matt Schiffer of Hutker Architects, Dan Solien of Horiuchi Solien Landscape Architects, and Michael Piering of Landscape Collaborative — the Svensons began by commissioning a farmhouse-style house along with landscaping that complemented it. The bluestone patio — and the chickens — came later.

The family lived in the house for about a year to determine how they would use the yard, which is surrounded by a woodland buffer. They wanted a sunny place to relax and be social. As for their feathered friends, Svenson says, “it’s really just for fun, an opportunity to do something new. We’re a curious family.” They’re “growing” eggs, he says, with the chickens an extension of the vegetable garden.


Webb Chappell for the Boston Globe

While the family enjoys caring for the flock (and eating the eggs), they’ve opted not to name the birds. “The first one we named was the first to die,” says homeowner Eric Svenson. “It caused a lot of upset.”

Chicken coops have become popular additions to backyard gardens. For many, keeping hens for eggs means knowing where your food comes from, building community, and connecting with nature. We asked two experts for advice on getting started.

Gretchen Munafo, lead educator at Chickadee Seed Feed in Walpole, reminds would-be chicken keepers that roosters aren’t needed for chickens to lay eggs. In fact, many towns don’t allow them. She recommends buying chicks from a reputable feed store, where they’ve been sexed and vaccinated, rather than trying to hatch them.

You can also purchase online. Julie Rawson, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, suggests newbies acquaint themselves with the many varieties available by taking a look at Murray McMurray, an Iowa hatchery specializing in rare breeds.


 Start with six; chickens are social beings and require a flock. Gentle Buff Orpingtons are the “golden retrievers of chickens.” Munafo calls them “fluff-bottom love machines!” With baby chicks, it’s OK to mix types. Older hens must be introduced to a flock gradually.

 Hens are constantly producing eggs, so include a calcium supplement such as ground oyster shells in a diet of organic grains. They’ll eat table scraps — meat, veggies, and fruit. Munafo feeds hers kale, dandelion greens, and collards.

 Finally, protect them from predators, including hawks and neighborhood dogs, and provide ample space. Rawson says, “Chickens are great foragers; they like grass and love to eat insects.”


Webb chappell for the Boston Globe

Eric and daughter Alida coax a chicken off the roof of the cedar coop, which Eric ordered ready-made online. It has a vinyl-tile floor for easy cleaning and an enclosed run (which Eric made), but he also allows the birds to roam freely. He has even trained them to come running when he rings a bell.

Rosemary Fletcher

The honed-bluestone-topped bar was built to accommodate a wood-burning Argentine-style grill. Low-voltage LED lamps help illuminate nighttime gatherings.

Rosemary Fletcher

The stone sink, used to wash vegetables and grilling utensils, sits atop the same Corinthian granite pillars that accent the passageway in the wall. “We didn’t plan it,” says homeowner Eric Svenson. “An extra slab was mistakenly ordered, so we cut it in half and used it as the base.”

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Manatee River Garden Club tour features themed landscaping – Sarasota Herald

The gardens on the self-guided Bradenton in Bloom tour use mostly Florida native plants. One garden has a French Impressionistic style, another weaves among the sea grapes and natural stone formations of the Gulf and one is a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Advance tickets can be purchases for $15 at Crowder’s Gifts Gadgets, at Plants Treasures and online at On the day of the tour, tickets can be purchased for $20 at the Manatee River Garden Club, 3120 First Ave. W., Bradenton.

Attendees who purchase tickets in advance may start at any house. For a list of garden tour homes, visit The garden club will offer a gourmet lunch for an additional $10, along with plant and boutique vendors and raffle baskets. For more information call 941-870-2259.

The event is the club’s major fundraising event. The nonprofit Manatee River Garden Club was established in 1929 and is a member of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs Inc. and the National Garden Clubs Inc.

— Submitted by

Judith Boehm

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Rain gardens transform flooded backyards into green landscapes

When retiree Karen Ho purchased her new build in Milton, Ont., she didn’t realize the surrounding homes were on a slightly higher elevation; the first good rainfall was a real eye-opener. The compact suburban plot flooded, and when neighbours began landscaping – levelling and laying sod – it only made matters worse. The runoff from about 10 homes kept landing in her backyard, rendering it unusable.

Neither the City of Milton, nor the developer, offered solutions, so she turned to the Ontario Horticultural Association for help. They suggested she reach out to Sean James of Fern Ridge Landscaping. James, who has installed about 80 rain gardens throughout the Greater Toronto Area in the past seven years, encouraged her to turn her cookie-cutter yard into a rain garden.

That was four years ago. “Now, when it rains or when it’s thawing in spring, I have a lovely pond in my front garden, full of native aquatic and marsh plants,” Ho says. “The water is only there for a while – a few days – and then I don’t have a pond any more, so there’s no worries about mosquito eggs hatching.”

Her property now sports a footpath of crushed slate, gravel and river rocks that serve as both a walkway and a sort of dry riverbed that wicks the water down and into the temporary pond.

“In the early spring and late fall, I used to get dangerous patches of ice. … Now I can walk safely, and the path is quite beautiful. In the backyard, we didn’t put in any grass, just native species of flowers, tall grasses and trees that can deal with the water that still trickles into my yard from all around,” she says.

Along with runoff issues caused by development, homeowners are increasingly dealing with more climate-change caused extreme-weather events – deluges that lead to loss of life in the most extreme events, exact a financial toll as properties are submerged and a health toll as contaminants and bacteria are washed into our water supply.

In an effort to divert all of this runoff from basements and waterways, municipalities across the United States and Canada are offering incentive programs and enacting regulations to encourage homeowners to give up their putting-green lawns and go au naturel instead.

This year, for example, it will be mandatory in Toronto to disconnect downspouts. That water has to go somewhere. Earlier this month, Canada Blooms, the country’s largest garden and flower show, featured rain gardens as a way to manage excess water on homeowners’ property.

Most homeowners, especially gardeners, already understand the benefits of connecting their downspout to a rain barrel, but with sudden voluminous downpours, barrels can overflow within minutes. A rain garden not only has the ability to process whatever nature throws at it, it looks great doing so.

Rain gardens work by attracting and containing runoff, then drawing it down into the groundwater table. Planted with native flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees, in a somewhat sunken bed of loose, deep, absorbent soil, compost, sand and sometimes gravel, a rain garden collects, stores, utilizes and filters runoff and storm water before they can make their way into creeks, rivers and lakes, down a street sewer grate or into the nearest basement. In a typical yard, a rain garden may be situated near the source of runoff – the roof or driveway, but not too close to the foundation – or planted in a naturally low-lying spot on the property with the runoff diverted and carried through a pipe, either above or below ground.

James has seen a shift away from manicured lawns, as customers become more interested in environmentally friendly landscaping that solves problems and creates habitat.

“We used to try hard to sell grassless landscapes and now people are coming to us requesting that specifically. Part of this seems to stem from a desire to be more eco-friendly and part of it is the slowly dawning recognition that, per square foot, gardens are lower maintenance than lawn,” James says.

(Plus, he suspects the pesticide ban in Ontario has also helped guide people away from lawns since they can no longer be that perfect swath of green – “at least not without an awful lot of work.”)

Stephen Spiteri also turned to James to address repeated flooding at his home that sits on a quiet cul de sac in Grimsby, Ont., in a huge natural trough between the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario.

“We had two sump pumps running 24/7 just to keep water out of the basement. Once, during a rain storm, we lost power for 45 minutes and in that time, we had four inches of water in the basement,” Spiteri recalls.

Since 2014, when rain gardens featuring river rock swales, berms and beds were created on about two-thirds of the property, the pumps have run only once and Spiteri has seen a substantial drop in his electricity bills.

Spiteri’s case required substantial work.

Generally, you don’t need backhoes, special drainage pipes or a plumber’s know-how to create a rain garden. Just a depression in the ground, some elbow grease and the right plant life.

“Because rain gardens experience alternate flooding and drought, plants need to tolerate both wet and dry conditions,” says Jen Mayville, communications manager for Environmental Defence, who recently helped create a demonstration rain garden near Kew Beach, along Lake Ontario, in Toronto.

“Any combination of flowers, shrubs, grasses or ferns that meet these criteria will do well in a rain garden. Native plants are best because they are well suited to local growing conditions, and support local wildlife including birds and pollinators,” she says.

Along with creating habitat in an urban setting, rain gardens can have a positive effect downstream, so to speak.

“Storm water – rain and melted snow – that runs off turf grass, roofs and pavement, carries with it contaminants and bacteria. This dirty water pollutes our waterways and beaches,” says Brett Tryon, co-ordinator of Environmental Defence’s Blue Flag program, an international eco-certification program for beaches and marinas.

With benefits extending from the basement to the beach, homeowners with an eye for savings and sustainability may want to incorporate this mitigation measure into their spring yardwork plan.

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Spring Gardening Tips: Grow Your Green Thumb

DULUTH, Minn. –

Many outdoor lovers are getting ready to thaw their green thumbs and plan for spring gardens.  Duluth experts shared tips Wednesday on how you can start gardening now.

While the main planting season starts around May, experts at Engwalls tell us the eager planters can get a head start.

“We could plant seeds inside, take clippings off your house plants to make more, read seed catalogs,” said Colleen Padora, a grower at Engwalls Greenhouse.

According to Padora, the flowers of choice in the Northland are Geraniums, Impatiens and Petunias.

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Your garden in March & April: Sean Murray’s tips for North East gardeners

Tulips have captured our hearts, minds and pockets for centuries. And given the right growing conditions they can provide you with a dazzling spring display.

In 1574 Sultan Selim 2nd is reported to have ordered 50,000 bulbs from a Syrian Sharif. Later in 1630 the Dutch developed their own tulip mania followed by the Turkish growers and a century later the rest of Europe.

In the 17th century a single bulb of Semper Augustus changed hands for the price of the most expensive house in Amsterdam with its own mooring, garden and coach house. Wind forward to 1930s Britain and collectors were still paying the equivalent of £1,760 in today’s money for a rare single bulb.

The charm of tulips appears to lie in its enormous range – from the simplest to the most flamboyant blooms. The most bizarre forms have striped, marbled and contorted petals, in fact created by a virus, spread by aphids, that causes the bulb to break from its normal form and colour.

My favourite is the parrot form called Rococo with its puckered petals in red and green. It makes me think of far away exotic places or a flock of Macaws in an Amazonian rainforest. Rococo is also a great long-lasting cut flower, as are the commercially grown French tulips with their long stems and big flowers. Don’t fuss too much when arranging them they look best in a simple vase and as they continue to grow in water allow them to flop and do their own thing.

Tulips, like this parrot variety, can be left to droop, says Sean Murray
Tulips, like this parrot variety, can be left to droop, says Sean Murray

I was more than a little starstruck when I looked up from my garden at Chelsea Flower Show last year to find Anna Pavord, the acknowledged tulip expert. I was looking forward to a conversation – only to be quickly deflated as she graciously explained it was not her but her daughter who wanted to meet me.

So, no tips from Anna! However, I can tell you that tulips need good drainage and a summer baking once they have flowered.

It’s best not to expect them to flower every year as they often become exhausted by the sheer effort involved in flowering and can take a season off to recover. If you have heavy clay soil, try adding grit to the planting hole and plant them less deep than you would on sandy, well-drained soil.

The best way to grow them if you have heavy soil is in pots where you can control their growing conditions. Top the pots with gravel to stop the birds dragging everything out as they look for food or nesting materials at this time of year.

As the flowers fade, sprinkle annual flower seed such as Californian poppy onto the gravel for a succession of colour.

Tulip bulbs can be planted from late autumn right through into November. My wife bought me some bulbs in the sale last November for a few pence. I was chuffed at her thrifty action, even more so as they were my favourite orange Prinses Irene and Ballerina, both slightly scented.

I was not so chuffed that she had to buy a new £45 planter to help them look even more gorgeous this spring. I await their costly performance at our front door. With the tulip, money appears to be the final word.

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

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Timely advice on maintaining a healthy garden pond

There are several types of algae that affect garden ponds. The most common include blanket weed, which floats on the surface in dense growths of hair-like green strands and fine algae that’s suspended in the water creating a foggy, pea soup effect.

The presence of either is a problem to keep on top of, because when they get out of control, they obscure light from all the living creatures below.

Opt for a natural organic product to clear the murky waters and be sure it’s chemical free and completely harmless to all pond life. Viresco Aqua Pond Clear works by reducing the nitrate and phosphate levels in the water by using a combination of tiny biological organisms, which also digest the organic waste on which the algae feed. It’s easy to use and takes on average 4 weeks to work.

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Treasure Valley gardening events: Tree care, soil prep, roses, and more

Saturday, April 2

Tree planting and pruning demonstration: 10 a.m. to noon at Lakeview Park, Garrity Boulevard and 16th Avenue North, Nampa. Hands-on tree planting class to learn proper planting and pruning techniques. Presenter: Earl Moran, city forester. Free. 468-5858,

Get the Mix Right: Best Practices for Planting, Soil Prep and Irrigation: 11 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Learn the essentials of how to prepare your soil, what fertilizers are best for your garden and the tools you need to help make the job easier. Free. RSVP: 995-2815,

Wednesday, April 6

Roses and landscape: 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Boise Public Library, 715 S. Capitol Blvd. Free, but register at or call 608-7700.

Thursday, April 7

Tree disorders, insects and diseases: 7 to 9 p.m. at Nampa City Hall, 411 3rd St. S. Learn about some of the most common insect related problems found on local trees and most common problems created by people. Corrective suggestions will be given to help maintain healthy trees. Presenter: Dan Schults, CWI horticulture professor. Free. 468-5858,

Saturday, April 9

Growing Great Pumpkins: 10 a.m. at the Idaho Botanical Garden, 2355 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise. $20 general, $15 IBG members. Register: 343-8649,

Rose pruning and care: 10 a.m. to noon at Lakeview Park, Garrity Boulevard and 16th Avenue North, Nampa. Learn basic techniques to produce beautiful, healthy roses. Presenter: Lucas Navock, Nampa Parks employee. Free. 468-5858,

Spring Plants and Design: 11 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Learn about the best spring plants and how to incorporate them into your garden with companion plants, bulbs, etc. Free. RSVP: 995-2815,

Tuesday, April 12

Color in Landscape Design: 6:30 p.m. at the Idaho Botanical Garden, 2355 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise. $17 general, $12 IBG members. Register: 343-8649,

Saturday, April 16

Get Drought Smart: Design and Plant Now with Natives and Water-wise Plants: 11 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Designers will guide you through the process of creating a sustainable garden to fit your gardens needs. Free. RSVP: 995-2815,

Saturday, April 23

Foodscaping: Innovative Ways to Grow Edibles: 11 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Discover ways to integrate your edibles within the existing garden to maximize your space. Free. RSVP: 995-2815,

Saturday, April 30

Container Garden Drama: 11 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Designers will guide you on the best practices to create a seasonal container for your patio or porch. Bring your ideas and containers. Free. RSVP: 995-2815,

Saturday, May 7

Plant sale: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 2201 Woodlawn Ave., Boise. 615-1505.

Vintage Vogue: Roses, Peonies and Hydrangeas: 11 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Learn how to design with David Austin roses, peonies and hydrangeas in your garden. Free. RSVP: 995-2815,

Saturday, May 14

Moveable Feast: Growing Edibles in Containers: 11 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Discover how you can create colorful and aromatic edible container gardens you will enjoy all season long. Free. RSVP: 995-2815,

Saturday, May 21

Growing Up: Trellis and Vines: 11 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Discover how trellis and vines can be utilized to hide areas or create ambiance in your garden space. Free. RSVP: 995-2815,

Saturday, May 28

Art in the Garden: 11 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Discover how to utilize garden art to reflect your garden style and create a focal point in your garden space. Free. RSVP: 995-2815,

June 11

Idaho Rose Show: Noon to 5 p.m. at The Riverside Hotel, 2900 Chinden Blvd., Boise. Presented by Idaho Rose Society. Free. 440-7826.

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