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Archives for May 21, 2016

Tom’s #Mailbag, May 20, 2016 – Champaign/Urbana News

Got a question for Tom? Ask it here

There’s something for everyone in this week’s mailbag, particularly if you drive Leverett Road. After 2 1/2 years in business, the mailbag answers its first two Leverett Road questions in one week.

Plus there are answers about the Kickapoo Rail Trail, the finances of the Illinois Marathon, the Windsor Road rehab, arrests on Big Ten university campuses, abandoned bikes on campus, the White Horse Inn, the Champaign Target store, the history of the Boneyard and why there aren’t more traffic signs to help motorists making left turns.

One more thing: Two weeks ago we addressed the topic of the overflowing calendar of events in Champaign in April 2017, including a big mystery event the last weekend of the month.

Might it be the return of music superstar Garth Brooks, who last played here in 1997, is touring now and has shows scheduled for July 8 and 9 at Yankee Stadium?

Brooks’ last NYC show also was in 1997. And last weekend he played six shows in four days in Grand Rapids, Mich., drawing more than 66,000 fans. He could draw that much with one show at Memorial Stadium.

Abandoned bicycles

“What does the University of Illinois do with all of the bicycles left behind by students?”

All unclaimed bicycles left on campus will be donated to The Bike Project, a local non-profit organization dedicated to repairing and reusing bicycles, said Steve Breitwieser, a spokesman for the campus Facilities Services department.

“At the end of the spring semester, the parking department tags all bikes left on campus indicating the bike will be removed if not claimed in two weeks. If a bike hasn’t been moved after two weeks, and is registered, an email message is sent indicating they have 30 days to claim the bike,” said Breitwieser. “All bikes not claimed within 30 days of the notice will be retrieved by the parking department and then given to The Bike Project to be refurbished and sold or donated.

“The Bike Project collaborates with the university to operate the Campus Bike Center. Bike Center staff and volunteers help sort and distribute the unclaimed bicycles.

The Bike Project also cooperates with Working Bikes, a non-profit cooperative located in Chicago that provides bicycles to people in need around the world. Overall, these efforts help promote sustainability, maintain the beauty of campus, and emphasize the benefits of bicycling.”

More information about The Bike Project and Campus Bike Center services is available at and

Windsor Road update

“Is there any development on the Windsor Road project? I would think after having a winter to find a solution to the issue they seem to think they have on that road, some progress would be started. I drive along there every day and find it interesting that the city of Urbana is wasting another year to complete a project that should have been finished. If nobody around here knows how to get a solution to the problem them it seems to me maybe looking outside this area for a solution is necessary. Three years on a road project is long enough. The construction company hired to do the road project certainly does not know how to handle the issue nor do they seem to want to solve or work on the project. I know that the weather has been a issue on working, but Urbana city officials should be trying harder for a solution and let’s get this road project done before another winter comes around. Get off your rears and let’s move this along.”

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said that the city will reopen parts of Windsor Road as a way of testing the pavement that was shut down last fall after showing signs of cracking. She said today that she didn’t know when that occur.

Prussing also said she wants to get the entire road reopened by the end of this construction season. The four-lane road has been limited to one lane in each direction since last fall.

A clearly frustrated Prussing said that “people shouldn’t assume that we’re not doing anything about this. We have concrete experts who have been hired and they don’t agree on what the problem is so we can’t really solve it until we know what the problem is. Otherwise we’d just be wasting money.”

The city is “committed to getting this done as fast as possible but we’ve got to do it right,” she said. “That is the overriding concern. We have experts with different ideas so we’ve got to test it out to find out what the real issue is here so we can fix it.”

The mayor said there are no plans to file suit against the project’s contractor, Stark Excavating.

“We want to build the road. We do not want to drag this thing out through the courts. We are dealing with a very good contractor,” she said. “We are working with these people and we are not trying to place blame and take it to the courts because the courts take forever.”

The city hasn’t been able to find any agency with a problem similar to Urbana’s, where cracks were found in many of the concrete panels on the segment between Philo Road and Race Street.

“I don’t think anybody has the identical problem. If this was a common thing I don’t think we’d have experts who can’t agree on what it is,” she said. “We’ll do it right and it will get done and I want to get it done this construction season. That’s my goal. We’re trying to get it done this construction season.”

Big Ten school arrests

“How does the U of I compare to other Big 10 schools when it comes to the number of students arrested each year?”

These numbers come from the Office of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. They have not been subjected to independent verification, the department notes.

And the office does not explain why it reports only on arrests in three categories — weapons, drugs and liquor — without reporting on arrests for burglary, robbery, rape, assault, etc.

And I’m going to report only 2014 arrests, the most recent year in the Education Department database.

Personally I think these numbers are so wildly disparate that I’d consider them unreliable. Could Michigan State’s campus — which doesn’t look good by comparison — be that much more dangerous than Maryland’s, Illinois’ or Northwestern’s?

So with all those caveats here’s what we’ve got:


White Horse future

“The White Horse Inn on John Street is going out of business; apparently the owner didn’t want to sign a long term lease, can you get the scoop?”

It’s not closed yet, said general manager Sam Mall, and there are hopes it can remain open.

“We are still open for the next few days,” he said. “Most of the investors are moving on to other projects, moving out of the area. But there are multiple interested parties, so I wouldn’t report on us being closed yet. Maybe we’ll have something more later in May.

“Our ownership is actively trying to knock out a deal. We’re very hopeful. I’d hate to see this place disappear.”

For now, Mall said, the White Horse has “very limited summer hours” and will close down for the summer in about a week.

“There would be no summer hours even if we had signed the lease,” he said. “There’s just too few people on campus. It’s like an air horn goes off and they all bail out.”

The current iteration of the White Horse at 510 E. John St., C — it once was on Green Street — also is the former home of Coslow’s, Panera Bread, Bar Louie and The Fire Station. It’s been at the John Street site since 2012.

Boneyard history

“Is the Boneyard Creek a natural body of water or is it a ditch that was created by the early settlers to help drain the area’s swampy lands?”

It’s as natural as the sky.

And there’s proof: the federal township plat maps left by surveyors almost 200 years ago.

An 1822 survey of Champaign County shows the Boneyard and other physical features of Champaign County before settlement.

The maps can be viewed at these web sites …

The second site, which we’ve referred to before, notes that the Boneyard existed long before the early farmers and that the “first settlers who came here in 1822 referred to the creek as Silver Creek and this name was used until at least 1877.”

Cardinal Road railroad crossing

“I have wondered for years why there is no lighted train signal at the railroad crossing on Cardinal Road. I realize there are costs involved, but this road has gotten more heavily traveled over the years. And it is much more difficult to look for an oncoming train when the crops are up. I rarely see anyone slow down to look. The railroad tracks are used very infrequently, but occasionally I do see a train. I would much rather see something done now rather than as a reaction to an accident.”

Railroad grade crossing projects are ranked and prioritized by the Illinois Commerce Commission for inclusion of signals and gates, said Champaign County Engineer Jeff Blue, the head of the county highway department.

“The criteria used is typically the traffic on the road and the number of trains which cross the road in a day. Since there is not much train traffic I would assume it isn’t high on their priority list,” he said.

If you want to file a railroad safety complaint with the commerce commission about the need for an upgraded crossing, here’s the link …

Super Target plans?

“Does Target have any plans to add a full grocery section? The grocery they have is very nice but with limited selection. The store is also cleaner, quieter, and with better carts than other stores. They’re just missing a full grocery. The land toward the old Circuit City seems to be a good option to expand because storefronts are often vacant or turn over frequently. You have such luck getting things started (e.g. Portillo’s) that I’m hoping you can do some magic and get the ball rolling on a Super Target.”

Sorry to disappoint.

Here’s the word from Target spokeswoman Kate Decker: “At this time, there are no plans in place to expand grocery at this location.”

Left turn identification

“What are the standards for turn lane signs? More and more I see painted markers on the pavement with no corresponding signs. If one isn’t familiar with the intersection by the time the pavement arrow is seen, it can be too late to select the correct lane. And often the paint is so old it is hard to see even when close. Old-fashioned signs seem better to this old-fashioned guy.”

We put the question to the Illinois Department of Transportation and got a response from District 5 Traffic Operations Engineer Gary Sims. It’s quite wordy but I think its essence is that signs are discouraged in order to reduce the chance of “sign overload,” to maintain clear sight at an intersection and to keep costs down.

Here’s his response:

“Thank you for your recent question regarding the department’s use of lane use signage. The department’s Traffic Policies and Procedures Manual establishes the guidelines that we follow for this and all signing applications. It is derived largely in part from the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD),” he said.

“The sign types that you mention are used in a manner that does not seem consistent from a motorist’s perspective but many factors are considered when determining whether to provide this type of signage. When we discuss lane use signage, we first must clarify that there are two types of this signage: Overhead (typically mounted on traffic signal mast arms) and post-mounted (erected aside the roadway in advance of the intersection).”

For overhead signage, Section 2B-18 of the MUTCD indicates that overhead mounting of Lane Use signs is “preferred,” Sims said.

“In recognition of the considerable cost of such installations, it is the department’s policy to consider overhead mounting only when one of the following conditions exist:

“1. Where there are multiple exclusive and one optional left-through lane are provided in addition to one or more through lanes (except on one-way streets).

“2. Where one exclusive and one optional left-through lane are provided in addition to one or more through lanes (except on one-way streets).

“3. Where an engineering investigation indicates that post-mounted signs are not achieving the desired control.

“Normal turning channelization does not require this type of signage unless operational problems arise.”

Then, he said, where a turn lane is not easily distinguishable from the through lanes, a sign with the message “RIGHT TURN LANE” or “LEFT TURN LANE” may be erected, “as appropriate, provided a satisfactory location for sign placement exists.

“These signs may be erected where turn lane markings exist but are overlooked by motorist or where operational problems exist, which are susceptible to correction by erecting these signs.

“The use of these signs on a blanket basis is discouraged for a variety of reasons. Those reasons include but are not limited to:

“1. Intersection signage is generally congested. Efforts shall be made to limit signage to that which is most necessary to avoid confusion from sign overload.

“2. Intersection sight distance shall always be considered when deciding if/where to place a sign. Motorists on all approaches to the intersection should be given clear sight of oncoming and side-approaching traffic.

“3. The expense of erection and maintenance.

“4. Duplication by pavement markings.”

And, about those worn pavement markings, Sims says: “The department strives to maintain these intersection markings but lack the staff and equipment to do so to our liking. Therefore, we will typically prepare contracts to have pavement marking contractors place these types of markings. There is limited funding available for such contracts and their use is therefore prioritized based on condition, vehicle volumes and necessity.”

No Accent

“How does one opt out of receiving the Accent?”

Call The News-Gazette’s home delivery manager, Travis Vandiver, at 351-5327 and he’ll take care of you.

Leverett Road work

“What are they doing on Leverett Road? I’ve seen a sign that construction starts next month.”

Leverett Road will be closed on its west end most of the summer for a bridge replacement project, said Kensil Garnet, an IDOT deputy director and Region 3 engineer.

“The contract provisions state that Leverett Road cannot not be closed until June 1, 2016,” he said. “The project was on the Nov. 6, 2015, letting. Stark Excavating is the contractor and the awarded amount of the contract is $667,743.55. It is our intent that the project be completed, except for landscaping and permanent pavement markings, and Leverett Road opened to traffic by Sept. 1. An additional five working days may be used for permanent seeding and permanent pavement marking after Sept. 1.”

Dilapidated building on Leverett Road

“I’ve noticed a building on Leverett Road which has an exterior wall that appears to have fallen. Any word on demolition? The dilapidated building is an obvious safety hazard.”

John Hall, Champaign County’s zoning administrator, said earlier this week that the owner of the old block building just east of the Canadian National Railroad tracks on Leverett Road had planned to restore it. A strong straight-line wind last November caused the west wall of the building to collapse, owner Seth Rients told Hall.

But Rients, a researcher at the University of Illinois, emailed us that he has given up on the plan.

“As soon as the gas lines are removed it will be leveled. Nothing will be rebuilt in the spot as it would require a zoning variance, at $16 per 100 square feet,” he wrote.

“He’s had some bad luck there. The roof was lost during the tornado in 2013. He finished the roof repair and then the straight-line wind took down the wall,” explained Hall.

Marathon money

“Where does all the money people pay for the Illinois Marathon go? It would be helpful if the marathon helped pay for street improvements along the course.”

You mean because the marathon and the thousands of feet pounding the pavement for six hours one day a year causes so much damage to the streets in Champaign-Urbana?


But I asked Jan Seeley, director of the privately run Illinois Marathon, for a response. Here’s what she said.

“Of the many and varied expenses required for the successful execution of race weekend, the largest are race shirts, medals, and drawstring backpacks for the entrants; donations to many charities throughout the community; as well as police, fire, public works, city, and University of Illinois services.

“What many C-U community members might not realize is that the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon is billed by University of Illinois, the cities of Champaign and Urbana, along with Illinois State Police, the University of Illinois Police, and the local Sheriff’s department for services rendered. While this money may not directly go into street repairs, the race is definitely contributing to the budgets of these entities.”

Further, she said, “there is a significant amount of money generated in tax income by the people coming to the Champaign-Urbana area on race weekend. Visit Champaign County puts the economic impact of race weekend at a staggering $10 million. This money would also support roads and other improvements to the community.”

Seeley said “we don’t get too many complaints” about the condition of local streets “because the public works staffs do a great job filling potholes on the race route. Local runners run the route year-round so they keep us pretty informed if there are bad areas.

“So in answer to your question, the money from the race is supporting the community in many different ways.”

Architectural gem

“Can you tell me what’s going on with the interesting property at 1106 S. Lincoln in Urbana? Is something else going in there?”

Nope, just a half-million bucks of improvements.

A building permit for $466,075 of work was issued earlier this month for the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority house.

The general description of the work from the building permit says that the second and third floor bathrooms are in for some changes: removal and replacement of existing fixtures and finishes, with new lighting and improved ventilation and plumbing and drain supplies. It also will get new tile and plaster.

The Alpha Gamma Delta house was built in 1929 and, according to the city of Urbana web site, is one of the 100 most important buildings in the city. It is of the French Chateauesque style.

Tree removal on the Kickapoo trail

“Why are so many trees being removed during the construction of the rail-trail between St. Joseph and Urbana? The trees would be a wonderful respite from the summer sun, offer beautiful foliage in the fall, and give some sense of privacy from the busy, noisy adjacent U.S. 150 traffic. The trail is starting to look like it’s in a hot open field. Is no one supervising the man in the bulldozer?”

Dan Olson, executive director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, explained in March that unlike some rail trails in Wisconsin, Indiana and even forested sections of Illinois, the Kickapoo Trail will not have a canopy of trees along its length, but a variety of landscapes.

“We do want some shade along the trail but the majority of the trail, especially in Champaign County, was prairie,” he said. “We’ve got some plans to put some of it back to prairie.”

That’s part of the mission of the forest preserve district and the rail trail, he explained. It’s about history and education as well as recreation.

“The greatest thing about some of these trails is that the best of them embrace what’s happened along the trails. They interpret the history, they talk about the natural resources,” he said.

It was always planned that many of the trees and shrubs along the trail in Champaign County — especially the non-native ones — were to be removed.

“A survey has been done of the trees in there. We have protections on the good ones, but there are a lot of invasive species like ornamentals. A lot of times those are shrubs, so you’re going to see some trees and shrubs down,” he said. “We’ve been very selective in that process.”

Article source:

South Bay Parenting: This kid’s political activism is in the genes

My boys come from a long line of women prone to political protest over the slightest outrage.

When I was in middle school, I watched my mother organize an entire mass of strangers camping out for Rolling Stones tickets because someone had cut in line. Within minutes, she had rallied the stalwarts, ousted the latecomers, documented everyone’s spot in line, assigned security detail, held high-level meetings with the hapless drugstore cashier in charge of issuing tickets and become a hero among middle-age Mick Jagger fans.

Fast forward to my college years, when I moved into an apartment complex whose construction had fallen behind schedule. Not long after moving in, the property manager issued a nasty and grammatically incoherent letter to all the tenants, threatening to fine us for having parties and leaving out trash even while the complex remained in half-built shambles.

Outraged, I fliered every apartment, called a tenants meeting, urged my neighbors to resist this unreasonable threat and drafted a demand letter to management. Not only did the management back down, but we scored a rent reduction for two months.

I’m always writing letters, commenting on public documents and calling my congressman over some issue or another.

So when I learned the city was planning to upgrade a nearby park, I jumped into action, taking my 6-year-old son along for the ride.

I explained the city wanted to make the park nicer and we’d have a chance to provide comments. I’d be writing a letter in support of the upgrades, with some ideas for new playground equipment. Do you want to write a letter, too? I asked. And true to his birthright, he did.

He spent an hour sketching his concept for the park. A slide here, a spinny-thing there. And when he was done, we sent it off to the city and copied our councilman, who I explained was sort of like the president only he has to haggle with four other presidents to get anything done.

My son awaited news that his park design would be chosen, as if this were a coloring contest. But his erroneous assumption gave me the chance to explain the concept of political compromise. The city has to incorporate everyone’s ideas, I said. In the end, most people will be a little happy and a little disappointed, which, believe it or not, is a win.

When the city held a public meeting at the park, I trotted the kids down to witness democracy in action. My son listened as the dozen or so adults debated keeping the park a grassy open space, adding lighting, installing play equipment and tearing out concrete. He heard ideas for gardens, drought-tolerant landscaping, better picnic benches and innovative play equipment.

Then my son whispered to me: I want to say something but I’m shy.

My heart beaming, I urged him to raise his hand. The city employee called on him, and in his biggest, most articulate voice, he told the crowd: “I like all of these ideas. I think we should mix them up and have all of these ideas at the park.”

I couldn’t have been more proud. Not only did the boy speak up but he had mastered the art of political compromise. I gave him a big hug.

When the meeting ended, my son asked about next steps. More design concepts, more meetings, more letter-writing. Then there’s the public works bid process, the contracting phase …

He looked bummed. But I gave his shoulder a squeeze. Having grasped the concept of political compromise, he’d have no trouble understanding bureaucratic red-tape.

And if the process begins to stray, I have no doubt he’ll speak up. It’s in his blood.

Renee Moilanen is a freelance writer based in Redondo Beach.

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Spring/Summer Landscaping Ideas For College Housing Property Managers

One of the things people most look forward to about spring and summer is seeing their yards full of plants, flowers, and other features that symbolize warm weather. College students are no different, which is why landscaping a college housing property for spring and summer is important.

However, depending on your space and layout, landscaping your rental may offer more challenges than a typical house; so here are some landscaping ideas to consider implementing at your college housing property.

Photo Credit:

1. Flowers. Planting flowers in the early spring around your housing properties will make your rental feel and look homier and more colorful. You can plant various annuals and perennials around the property so the whole place really embodies spring and summer. Depending on the setup of your property and amount of grass, you may want to consider putting flower boxes in to keep it more organized and controlled, or adding a small fenced-in area that you’ll plant flowers in.

You can also create more layers and a fuller-looking flower bed by planting some in planters and pots and others in the ground around the property. If deer are a problem in your area, choose flowers that deer don’t find tasty and people still find pretty, like butterfly weed, globe thistle, butterfly bush, or purple cornflower.

2. Trees. No matter the size or shape of your housing property, you can always plant another tree to add some greenery and life to your college rental. There are a number of different kinds of trees you can choose from depending on the overall size of the space and your climate.

Whether you have more limited space or a larger yard area, some trees you should consider planting include the Japanese maple or umbrella pine, a dwarf or semi-dwarf Crape Myrtle, or a flowering dogwood. Each of these trees, depending on how many trunks you select, can be either fairly small or grow quite big and they all have leaves that change colors or produce flowers so you’ll also add some color to your property in addition to a nice tree.

If you have more room for a larger tree, you may want to go bigger as it will produce shade, which will be a nice feature your college student residents can take advantage of by studying or hanging out under the tree on the property during the spring, summer and autumn months.

3. Benches/Tables. If you have a larger housing property, a great and easy landscaping idea to carry out this summer is to “plant” some benches and/or a few picnic tables. College students like to hang out outside when the weather is nice and it’s easier and more convenient to do so with work if you have a bench or table for them to sit on.

If you’re going the benches route, face the benches toward a garden or the street so whoever sits on them will have something to look at and face. If you decide to put a few picnic tables with benches on the property, make sure they’re sturdy and durable, and located on solid and flat ground.

If you want to go the extra mile, you can also look into putting in a grill outside by the picnic tables so your tenants can easily throw a barbecue and really take advantage of and fully use the outdoor tables and space.

4. Herbs. Another great landscaping idea that can be executed in a few different ways is planting herbs. You can plant one designated herb garden on your housing property so residents can visit and pick some to use and enjoy, or you can build some window boxes and plant herbs in them.

If you’re going to go the window boxes route, it’ll require more initial effort but you can then leave the maintenance more up to the renters and they can each have a mini-herb garden to pick from. Whichever you decide, consider planting commonly used herbs like basil, mint, chives, rosemary, parsley, thyme and oregano.

5. Vegetables. If you want to give back to your tenants, look into planting a vegetable garden that your renters can enjoy. Fence off part of a grassy area at the property, bring in some mulch, and plant various veggies like cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes and more.

Start out by planting the seeds inside and then transferring them to the prepared garden area once summer’s underway so your tenants can enjoy a season of fresh veggies. Make sure the garden is in a spot that will get plenty of sunlight and is out of the way enough that non-tenants won’t come in and pick all the veggies for themselves!

Use these tips and ideas to inspire your landscaping plans this spring/summer — no matter what you choose to do landscaping-wise with your property, it’ll look more cared for and ready for the season, which your college student tenants will appreciate.

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Gardening: Enjoy gardening? Be a master at it! – Florida Times

Master Gardener classes are gearing up in Northeast Florida. If you have an interest in gardening and serving your community, this class may be for you.

“Master gardener” is a title given to individuals who receive in-depth horticultural training from county extension agents and, in return, give 75 hours of volunteer service helping their local county extension office. The program is under the direction of the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Master gardeners join the program for a variety of reasons. Some are passionate about growing plants and want to share their knowledge with others, whereas some want to volunteer in an area where they will be challenged.

Whatever the reason, there are many health benefits to gardening and being part of a group that shares your enthusiasm for plants. Gardeners are an eager, nurturing group that loves to share information and plants.

The county extension offices in several Northeast Florida counties train master gardeners in late summer and fall. If you are a resident of Duval, Baker, Clay, Bradford, Nassau, Putnam, or St. Johns counties, the classes coming up are open to you.

Most master gardener trainings will be held on Wednesdays beginning in early August and ending in October. Training sessions begin at 9:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m. each Wednesday. The cost to attend varies, so check with your county extension office.

Training will include topics such as basic plant science, plant propagation, entomology (insects), plant pathology (diseases), nematology, vegetable gardening, fruit culture, woody ornamentals, turf management, animal pest control, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, irrigation basics and planting/care of common landscape plants. Master gardener training is the most comprehensive horticultural classes offered in our area.

After the trainee obtains the required 75 hours of volunteer service, they are awarded master gardener status. To remain active in the program, the master gardeners commit to 35 hours of volunteer service each year and are required to obtain 10 hours of training each year to maintain active status. They continue to learn as information is constantly changing based on research conducted by the UF/IFAS specialists. Duval County currently has 203 active master gardeners and 24 of those have been active in the program for more than 15 years.

Master gardeners give their volunteer hours to county extension offices in various ways. Many Duval County master gardeners help residents by answering telephone calls about plants. In addition, they troubleshoot plant problems brought into the office, test soil for pH, conduct plant clinics, teach 4H youth about plants, plant and maintain demonstration gardens, teach groups about landscape techniques to protect the environment, work with school garden projects, help clients at the Canning/Nutrition Center, write articles for local newspapers and magazines, and assist with city beautification projects.

Applications for a limited number of openings are now being taken in area extension offices for upcoming classes. Anyone may apply for the program regardless of race, creed, color, sex, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, political opinions, marital status or disability.

For more information about the master gardener program in your county, contact the county extension office and request an application form. Application deadlines vary by county. In Duval County, the deadline is June 20.

Terry Brite DelValle is a horticulture extension agent with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.

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Wharton’s Landscaping expands Airport Road garden center

The garden center on Old Landing and Airport roads, Rehoboth Beach, got a facelift over the winter when Wharton’s Landscaping took over the facility and expanded into retail sales.

Now, as the owner of a landscaping company and garden center, Josh Wharton said he’s realizing a dream with his family-run business.

“I was in the landscaping business 18 years, and this property became available, so we decided to venture into the garden center side of the business,” he said.

Once the decision was made, Wharton said, his family and staff of 24 employees got to work, transitioning the garden center to serve both the landscaping business and general public.

They replaced signage, reorganized, restructured and reopened less than two months after taking possession of the property Feb. 1, he said, and there’s been no looking back.

“Word is still getting out, but people come in now and tell us all the time how great the place looks,” Wharton said. “We have a great staff; they are all awesome, and I feel very fortunate to have the employees I have.”

Starting as a landscaper in 1998, Wharton has built his Lewes-based  operation into a full-service landscaping company, adding staff and expanding his service area from Milton to Bethany Beach.

“It went from me and another guy to 20 people working for me,” he said.

Now with the addition of the garden center, Wharton’s Landscaping Office Manager Lauren Johnson said they can serve more clients with landscape and hardscape design and installation, and offer specialty products and services as well.

“Not only can you buy plants here,” Johnson said. “We can plant them for you too.”

Rehoboth resident Joan Tremeain stopped in recently to pick up some plants for her garden and said she’s noticed the new selection and organization at the center.

“It’s beautiful!” Tremain said. “They did a wonderful job fixing it up here.”

In checking out the selection of annuals and perennials, and looking to add a few to the garden this season, she was impressed.

“My husband and I put in annuals for some spots of color, and they have some beautiful things,” Tremain said.

For more information about Wharton’s Landscaping and new Garden Center on Airport Road in Rehoboth Beach, call 302-278-7041.


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Taking a grassroots approach in your garden with ornamental grasses

The ornamental grass was always greener on the other side of the world, according to horticulturist Kelly Grummons. But that’s changing as Colorado’s native grasses gain ground.

“We’ve spent our whole horticultural careers looking for grasses in other climates, but we live in the Great Plains — near the tall-grass prairie and in the short-grass prairie,” said Grummons, “and we’ve neglected our own backyard.”

Grummons, who founded Timberline Gardens and currently is a horticulturist at Brown’s Greenhouse in Arvada, is part of a grassroots movement: “I think the future of the ornamental grass cultivars is here in Colorado,” he said. “We have so many exotic native grasses.”

Ornamental grasses come in a range of greens, from pine to lime, but also red, blue, purple, silver and yellow, and with variegated blades.

Available as annuals or perennials, ornamental grasses are tiny or gargantuan, lanky or squat, coarse and reedy or soft and delicate in texture. Ornamental grasses peak when the rest of the garden has grown weary. In late summer, the grasses’ dramatic seed heads, in the shapes of wheat, oats or feathery ostrich plumes, add visual interest and work well in dried arrangements and wreaths.

Ornamental grasses are beautiful with a coating of hoarfrost or snow. In winter, grass seed heads provide a critical food source for birds and other wildlife.

And most ornamental grasses don’t require much care or water.

“Nada,” said Lynn Gregory of Chelsea Gardens Landscaping when asked what ornamental grasses require in terms of maintenance. “They’re pretty tough.”

Gregory’s favorite — Blue Avena Grass, Helictotrichon sempervirens — is especially low-maintenance. “You don’t even have to cut it back. You can, and it makes the grass bushier, but really you can just plant them and let them go.”

Gregory pairs Blue Avena with shrub roses. “Ornamental grasses can be an interesting texture, especially mixed in with perennials,” she said. “Most grasses are very water wise, so they’re good xeric plants.”

That’s not the case with all ornamental grasses. Grummons pointed to Miscanthus: “Any typical nursery had six to eight varieties, but now they’re obsolete because they use too much water.”

Grummons values the structure of ornamental grasses. “They offer almost a shrub-like effect. They add motion and capture the light. Grasses are so beautiful in the morning and evening — just stunning,” said Grummons. “My absolute favorite light-catcher is Giant Sacaton.”

Some ornamental grasses can grow as large as a tool shed.

When it comes to ornamental grasses in Colorado, quot;weve neglected our own backyard,quot; says horticulturist Kelly Grummons.

“I don’t go for the real big ones,” Gregory said. “Once in a while, I plant a big pampas grass. They’re fun because they’re gigantic, but they almost need their own space as a specimen because they’re so darn big.”

Gregory pointed out additional drawbacks to grasses in landscape design.

“The problem with some of the ornamental grasses is that they take so long to grow. They come back late here, usually in June. They look cool for a few months and pretty in fall into winter; but then after our first heavy snow, they look all bent and bad,” she said. “The darn things have to be cut back, and then you’ve got this dry, stumpy thing sitting there, and it’s not very attractive.”

Ornamental grasses at Denver Botanic Gardens.

Gregory opts for smaller species such as Dwarf Maiden Grass. She said, “It’s got a softer blade, so I like the foliage, and it gets big plumes.”

One spectacular ornamental grass both Grummons and Gregory agree upon is blue-tinged Heavy Metal. Grummons also recommended the following native ornamental grasses:

• Little Bluestem: “This is my very favorite,” said Grummons, who’s fond of the plant’s strictly narrow, upright, vertical element. “It’s at its best in winter,” Grummons said. “Come October, it gets a beautiful coppery red that’s outstanding all winter. And it’s not a grass that gets crushed by snow. It bounces back, like a Slinky.”

• Big Bluestem: “It’s definitely blue,” Grummons said of the xeric grass that grows five to six feet tall and produces burgundy flowers in late summer. “When cooler weather approaches in fall, it gets purple. It’s not as sound in snow.”

• Switchgrass: “New grasses with blue or burgundy foliage gives them a chance to compete with tropicals like purple fountain grass,” he said. Grummons recommended burgundy “Shenandoah” and “Hot Rod,” which starts out blue-green and turns deep maroon in autumn.

“All are upright ovals, very polite and easy to design with,” said Grummons. “A lot of grasses are short-lived, but these are long-lived.”

Ornamental grasses tolerate a range of soil conditions. Many require division after three to five years. Most grasses thrive in full sun, at least six hours per day.

“Otherwise, you get diminished returns: less color on the foliage and fewer flowers,” Grummons said.

Yet not all ornamental grasses demand full sun. Annie Huston of Columbine Design and Birds all Co. Garden Boutique recommended a shady character. She favors Japanese Forest Grass, Hakenochloa macra “Aureola.”

“The plant has been around for a number of years and was even voted 2009 Perennial of the Year, but I have rediscovered it lately when looking for mass plantings for shade,” Huston said.

“I love the feeling of movement the foliage gives, as in a running creek. The golden lime color is always brightening for a dark, shady area. I have used it in containers, as well, for its mounding structure and arching blades, next to dark blooms.”

A horticulturist at Denver Botanic Gardens, Mario Bertelmann provided his short list of his favorite ornamental grasses for Colorado landscapes. Bertelmann suggested Pennisetum orientale “Karley Rose,” Calamagrostis x acutiflora “Karl Foerster” and Miscanthus sinensis “Morning Light.”

One pitfall of grasses: reseeding. “Depending on the landscape, that can be a problem or not,” Grummons said. “Grasses spread by seed and runners, and if people want a super-low-maintenance garden, that can be a problem.”

Grummons specifically warned against ponytail grass: “It’s not for a low-maintenance garden.”

He recommends feeding grasses once in spring: “About the time they wake up and show green at the base.”

Grummons recommends granular alfalfa meal as a fertilizer. “We like Alpha One. It’s produced locally.”

Colleen Smith writes and gardens in Denver.

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How to feng shui your garden for summer: Tips for improving your wellbeing – and your yard

Looking for a little more zen in your life? Maybe it’s time you gave your garden a feng shui makeover.

Feng shui, the Chinese art of placement, might seem like a lot of moving things around for nothing, but considering the current trend for wellness and mindfulness, it’s worth giving it a shot – especially if you’re looking to create a calmer home environment.

One area of your home you can apply the principles of feng shui to is your garden. Since summer is almost here and we’re going to spend more and more time in the back yard, it’s a great time to get your home’s ‘chi’ flowing.

[Related story: The must-do gardening jobs for May – what to do in the garden now summer’s on its way]

Courtney Lake, Pottery Barn’s social media editor, has put together a guide on what to consider when designing your garden for summer, and how to make the most of it for three of our favourite summer activities – BBQs, sunbathing and having fun with the kids.

How to feng shui your garden for…a BBQ

Choosing the right spot of your garden for a get-together is key.

Courtney comments: “Positive energies for socialising are believed to focus upon the west of your garden space, with the south west understood to be ideal as the primary dining area.

“Consider the position of the sun at the times of day you’ll be in the garden – and orientate your social space to make the most of it.”

How to feng shui your garden for…relaxing

Whether it’s sunbathing, relaxing with a good book, or just having a bit of ‘me’ time, the north and east of your garden are said to be the best for some serious zen.

“Establishing a little ‘zen den’ is a simple way to transform your personal use of any garden – somewhere nice to sit, surrounded by nature,” says Courtney.

“For your borders, pick earthy colours offset by brighter shades of pink and yellow flora. If you’re looking to make a more dramatic change, consider a rockery or traditional zen garden, complete with gravel pathways, tinkling wind chimes and ornaments.

[Related story: Exercise in the garden: 7 reasons gardening is the easiest way to workout]

“Ideal for reading and meditation, your ‘zen den’ can make a big difference to your wellbeing.”

How to feng shui your garden for…activities

Whether you’re looking to use your garden for your weekly workout or as a safe space in which to have fun and run about with the kids, take a step back and curate your space to suit your needs, recommends Courtney.

“Feng shui principles suggest that the west is bursting with energy for children and creativity – perhaps this is the perfect spot for your own family playground?

“When it comes to using your garden for fitness, you need space, simplicity and positive energy. If you regularly practice yoga, you’ll know that this demanding activity requires your environment to be both peaceful and practical. To the west, energies to support health, supported by the use of wood and green shades, are ideal for making the most of your workout.”

Will you be giving your garden a feng shui makeover? Let us know in the Comments section below.

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DNR offers garden tips

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2016 11:59 am

DNR offers garden tips


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    Friday, May 20, 2016 11:59 am.

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    Earth, wind, and spire: Tips for creating a great rooftop garden

    What’s new under the sun is actually really old.

    Growing plants on rooftops has been practiced since ancient Babylonian times to beautify and take advantage of otherwise wasted spaces. Today’s environmental awareness and sustainability concerns have created a resurgence of interest, and in some parts of the world, rooftop plantings are mandatory on new buildings. As our society becomes increasingly crowded, utilizing these spaces is becoming an ever more practical opportunity.


    Before constructing a rooftop garden, you’ll need to do your homework. A structural analysis by a professional engineer is a must to determine your roof’s capacity and suitability for supporting the additional weight of structures, soil, and plantings. You’ll also need to know about your roof covering’s moisture tolerance, slope, and drainage capacity; water availability; and how wastewater runoff will be managed. Most municipalities require adequate rooftop access and egress as well as appropriate edge barriers for safety. The results of this research will reveal what type of garden can be constructed on your roof. Should your roof lack the overall capacity for a full-scale garden, it might still be possible to grow plants on only those sections that accommodate them or even in movable pots.

    Knowing your limitations, you can explore the types of plantings that make sense for you. There are generally two types of rooftop gardens: extensive and intensive.

    Extensive rooftop plantings are designed primarily for functional uses like moderating building temperatures, rainwater capture, and crops. They generally need a 4-to-8-inch root-depth capacity and utilize a limited range of plants requiring minimal irrigation, nominal foot traffic, and periodic maintenance. This type of garden can also be called a “green roof” or “living roof” and is usually made up of low-growing plants that tolerate temperature fluctuations and inconsistent moisture.

    Intensive rooftop plots are similar to ground-level gardens, with deeper root-growing than extensive plantings, but are designed for aesthetic, recreational, and functional uses. Simple intensive plantings are designed with movable or permanent pots or planters placed around the roof area. More complex designs include permanent planting areas filled with soil to support the growth of a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowering plants. Depending on their size, trees and shrubs typically need as much as 24 inches to support the plants and anchor them against wind and weather. Plan for a 10-to-18-inch root depth for low-growing shrubs, groundcovers, vegetables, herbs, and annuals.

    Constructing a rooftop garden is always far more involved than creating one at ground level. Before you begin, you should understand the costs and constraints involved with installation. Some buildings allow sufficient roof access to bring up materials and plants using elevators or stairways. In others, these items must be lifted from outside the building using a ladder, pulleys, crane, or other method. Many garden structures can be laid out or preassembled before being brought to the roof, but some rooftop-garden designers and installers find it practical and economical to construct and plant in place.


    Once you decide which type of garden is right for you, consult the experts to determine media (“engineered soil”) composition, moisture-holding capacity, drainage, irrigation amounts and frequency, nutrient levels, and root-space needs for the plants you’ll be using. Ordinary garden-type soil is usually not an option; it’s too heavy and lacks the drainage capacity rooftop-garden plantings need. Because your garden is being installed on an impervious rooftop or roof deck, you’re essentially fashioning a container garden, albeit with a larger or wider “container” than what we generally envision. So unlike a ground-level garden, roots cannot anchor as firmly, and there’s no opportunity for the subsoil beneath your garden to accommodate deeper roots, absorb excess moisture, or moderate soil temperatures.

    When you select plants, take into account their capacity to tolerate harsh wind exposure, weather extremes, and dehydrating conditions. Also consider any shade or reflecting light adjacent structures cast. Since they are aboveground, your ambient root-zone temperatures will ultimately equalize with the outside temperatures; this is a key concern for high soil temperatures in summer and root hardiness in winter.

    I started to compile a list of plants that work well on Boston-area rooftops and soon realized there are too many options and not enough space in this story. Consider all categories: coniferous and broadleaf evergreens, deciduous trees and shrubs, groundcovers and vines, herbaceous perennials, annual flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Select appropriate plants by evaluating their year-round appeal, bloom sequence, flower colors, autumn foliage and fruit, architectural forms, shade-producing capacity, windbreak effect, tolerance to soil-moisture extremes, and expected life cycle, among other factors. Plants with fibrous root systems are most stable; trees and shrubs with thick-, waxy- or hairy-surfaced leaves tend to tolerate heavy wind exposure and resist dehydration. Avoid trees with large leaves that strong/buffeting winds can damage, “top-heavy” plants with small or weak root systems, and plants with twigs and branches that break easily.

    Maintenance is yet another consideration, involving all aspects of watering (consider installing an automatic irrigation system), weed and pest management, pruning, removing leaf/fruit/twig debris, and winter care. Some plantings, including annuals, require frequent attention and periodic replenishment or replacement to keep the area attractive; others can be lower-maintenance.

    Also be sure to factor in those extra features that will help make your rooftop garden a place you can enjoy frequently: paving, seating, tables, firepit/chimenea/barbecue, pergola, water feature, shade structure, wind barrier, and other elements. Be sure to check local building and fire code regulations first.

    Anyway you look at it, designing and developing a rooftop garden is expensive. Your municipality may offer grants, tax incentives, or other benefits for certain types of rooftop installations. That’s worth investigating. Some buildings can benefit from enhanced LEED ratings as well.

    Creating a rooftop garden is certainly a major endeavor not to be undertaken casually. But given the right conditions, an adequate budget, and thoughtful planning, the rewards can be well worth the investment both in terms of the environment and your personal enjoyment.

    Lane Turner/Globe Staff

    In a touch of tropical, a fruit tree on the fourth-floor roof deck at Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

    Lane Turner/Globe Staff

    At Federal Reserve Bank of Boston for a conference, Tina Andrews (left) and Nani Assefa enjoy the roof deck.

    Lane Turner/Globe Staff

    A view of Congress Street looking inbound from the roof deck garden at Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

    Lane Turner/Globe Staff

    Crabapples in all their spring glory on the fourth-floor roof deck at Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

    Wisteria Rose/July 2014

    Green Mountain boxwood, duranta, hibiscus, Kousa dogwood, Knock Out roses, coleus, cosmos, phlox, and verbena flourish in Charlestown.

    Wisteria Rose/August 2009

    Kousa dogwood, Espalier apple trees, climbing roses, Green Gem boxwood, tomatoes, potato vine, coleus, mandevilla, and chives liven up a Boston rooftop.

    Wisteria Rose/June 2014

    Pennisetum ornamental grass and Hinoki cypress don’t detract from the view.

    Wayne Mezitt is a third-generation nurseryman, a Massachusetts certified horticulturist, chairman of Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton and Chelmsford, trustee chairman for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank, and owner of Hort-Sense, an advisory business. Send comments to

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