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Archives for June 10, 2016

‘Garden ninja’ Lee’s design wows horticultural judges

A GREEN-fingered IT worker was chosen as one of the winners of a national garden design competition.

Lee Burkhill, 33, who is from Rainford, created a garden entitled ‘Fancy a Brew? Take a Pew’ – and it was one of four winners picked from around 200 entrants.

Former Rainford High pupil Lee was invited to the Chelsea Flower Show, where he was introduced as one of the winners.

The ‘Feel Good Gardens’ competition, run by the Royal Horticultural Society and the BBC, focussed on making the most of front gardens.

Lee, who started a gardening blog called ‘Garden Ninja’ two years ago, said: “I’ve always loved gardening. I dug a pond in my parents’ garden when I was eight, and re-did the whole garden when I was 12.

“People were always telling me they liked the idea of gardening but didn’t know where to start, so I decided to start a blog, giving tips and a bit of inspiration.

“I spent some time researching, visiting award-winning gardens and I did some weekend design courses.”

He added: “I spotted the competition by chance and entered it on the off-chance, so am really thrilled to be a winner. The four winners now go to the Hampton Court Flower Show in July and one of us will be chosen as the overall winner.”

Lee, who now lives in Manchester, said: “‘Fancy a Brew? Take a Pew’ symbolises a return to the good old-fashioned community days where neighbours would talk over the front garden walls or sit on the front step with a brew putting the world to rights before tea time.

“I wanted to create a front garden that would help people reconnect with that sense of community rather than rushing in through the front door as soon as they return from a busy day at work.”

As well as gardening, Lee enjoys hiking, skiing and anything that involves the outdoors.

Visit Lee’s blog site at

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‘Servant Leadership’ Pushes Lawnmower Maker Toro To Greener Pastures

In 1981, Toro Co. flirted with the prospect of bankruptcy. Thirty-five years later, it’s reporting record results.

It’s safe to say the Bloomington, Minn.-based maker of lawnmowers, snow blowers and other outdoor equipment has persevered. Founded in 1914, Toro (TTC) has been through two world wars, the Great Depression and countless recessions.

But it was the company’s rebound from near death to surging growth that provides a case study in sustained innovation.

“It was unleashing the power of our people to understand we needed to innovate and drive performance,” Mike Hoffman, Toro’s chairman and chief executive, told IBD.

Hoffman, 61, joined Toro during a heady period. In the 1970s, the company grew from $200 million to $400 million in sales.

“We were flying high,” he recalled. “It was an exciting time.”

By the second half of 1980, though, years of steady expansion dissolved into a crisis. Though it already survived a number of economic downturns, Toro was hit hard by the recession that ushered in the Ronald Reagan administration. At the time, it was reported that the company made a series of missteps and was stuck with large inventories due to lack of rain and snow.

Instead of declaring bankruptcy, Toro began retrenching and cut production. It also drastically reduced its employee ranks, trimming staff by more than half and eliminating virtually all management positions.

‘Servant Leadership’

The company turned to Ken Melrose as its new CEO, and he initiated a concept called “servant leadership.” Melrose determined that rank-and-file employees were the real strength of Toro, so he kept stock options for higher-ups to a minimum and gave all workers a share as a symbolic act. From there, he created a 401(k) that rewarded employees annually with new shares of stock. Names on employee badges were followed by the word “Owner.”

“If we did have to cut wages and salaries, we started with the officers, and then the management (e.g., no bonuses first, then salary reductions, and so forth),” Melrose would later say. “Our plan was to protect the lower-paid employees as long as we could.”

The strategy worked, said Hoffman, who joined the company in 1977 as a 22-year-old service representative and took over for Melrose as CEO in 2005. He has kept Melrose’s corporate philosophy intact to this day.

Toro now commands more than $2.4 billion in annual sales and has roughly 6,000 employees. It has a presence in 90 countries, making irrigation and outdoor lighting gear in addition to lawnmowers and snow blowers. Toro also makes professional gear for golf courses and sports fields.

For Hoffman, employee engagement and innovation go hand in hand. With his strong technical background, Hoffman thrives on finding fixes to thorny problems. He asks his assistant to schedule “MBWA time,” or “managing by wandering around.” He likes to chat with employees at all levels.

When he visits with engineers or technicians, he often asks what they’re working on and encourages them to share problems that they’re trying to solve. In some cases, he’ll roll up his sleeves and explore solutions with them.

“Sometimes, there’s more than one right answer,” he said. “There are alternative ways to solve a problem.”


Toro also has grown largely through a series of internal initiatives that often span three years, though not always.

“Prior to each initiative that we’ve launched, we’ve engaged employees to get input,” Hoffman said. “We pick a group of people across the enterprise and ask, ‘What should we consider next?’ and ‘What learning needs to happen?’”

The first was a three-year program called “Five-By-Five” from 2001-03 designed to get after-tax profits up to 5%. Then there was “Six Plus Eight,” geared to up profits to 6% and boost revenue growth by 8%, from 2004-06.

The one program that didn’t accomplish its goals, “Grow Lean,” ran from 2007 to 2009, through the heart of the recession. That was followed by a one-year plan, “Five In One,” designed to restore profits to 5%. The focus shifted in 2011 to a four-year plan, “Destination 2014,” to boost organic revenue growth and operational earnings. Toro’s current three-year program, “Destination Prime,” has similar goals and began in 2015.

“They’ve set these three-year specific targets for employees on where they expect their business to be,” said Jim Barrett, managing director at C.L. King Associates in New York City. “By and large, they’ve met those targets.”

How? Toro employees test ideas to improve product quality and solve customers’ problems. In 2008, for example, customers sought to conserve water. So Toro rolled out its Precision Series spray nozzles that cut overall water use by as much as 30%.

Two years later, the push to reduce emissions and boost energy efficiency led the company to introduce the industry’s first push mower powered by a lithium-ion battery for golf greens called the Toro Greensmaster eFlex.

“Toro has a history of innovation,” said Barrett, who has followed the company since 2008. “In areas such as golf (course) irrigation and turf maintenance, they continue to innovate to reduce customers’ labor expense or improve their overall efficiency.”

Being Frugal

Barrett lauds Toro’s commitment to frugality and controlling costs.

“In 2009, Toro was the only company that I follow to take a management pay cut,” Barrett said. “They didn’t have to do it. No one made them. But its leaders sent a signal to employees that management was tightening its belt.”

In Toro’s biggest businesses such as commercial landscaping and golf course maintenance, the company has established strong customer loyalty. And demographic trends bode well for its future.

“An aging population means more people are outsourcing lawn mowing,” Barrett said. “Commercial landscaping is a much healthier segment growth-wise than golf.”

He adds that as long as landscaping crews continue to mow lawns and maintain golf courses, their machines will run hard and wear down over time. That’s good news for Toro.

“If Toro has a better mousetrap to offer, the temptation to invest in a new machine with new features will be stronger than fixing the broken one,” he said.

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RZA, Interpol’s Paul Banks Talk Meeting in the Middle as Banks and Steelz

In 2013, RZA had just gotten offstage at Los Angeles’ Bedrocktoberfest when he first revealed he’d been working with Interpol lead singer Paul Banks on a collaborative project. Looking back on the moment during a recent chat with Rolling Stone, he admits he was “high, drunk, feeling good” when he stated that it would take the pair a year to complete an album.

Now, three years later, the unlikely duo sits on a leather couch in a private room in NeueHouse, a communal workspace in Hollywood, discussing Anything but Words, their debut as Banks and Steelz, finally releasing via Warner Bros. on August 26th.

While the cross-pollination of hip-hop luminary RZA and Banks, an artist known for moody early-2000s indie rock, suggests experiment for experiment’s sake, their chemistry on record is palpable, blending Interpol’s icy remove with RZA’s disjointed flow. “We’re both hard workers in the studio,” explains RZA, who was first tipped off to Banks’ work when his manager suggested they duet. They clocked more than 200 sessions and crafted ideas for around 40 songs, meticulously landscaping the sonic terrain. “If I was to say I met someone who works as hard as me in the studio, it would be this young man right here,” RZA continues. “He’ll do it over 30 times. To me, that’s cool, because that’s how some of the best records are made, some of the best films are made that way. I respect him as an entity.”

The two artists will bring the record to life at a few festivals in early fall – FYF Festival, Life Is Beautiful, Austin City Limits – and have cleared their schedules for the rest of the year to focus on promoting the LP, which features guest appearances from Kool Keith, Florence Welch, Method Man, Masta Killa and Ghostface Killah, the latter of whom appears on lead single “Love + War.” The pair explained to RS how Anything but Words came together, and why this won’t be the last that you hear from them. 

Why did this project take so long for you to finish?
RZA: I’ll just say that we went from conception of the idea to working with what kind of music and songs that’s going to formulate it. In the process, we’re both capable, busy men in the worlds of what we do, so we would put months together, take a look, sit back and revisit it, almost how a real movie is done. You get the chance to develop it, to structure it.

Banks: There was that and also since [2013], I wrote and did a world tour with Interpol and RZA put out two records and three films and a TV series.

What brought you together at this point in time, and why was now the right time to put this project out?
RZA: As far as 2016? We actually wanted to put it out last year. We thought we were finished, but we didn’t finish. So that was another glitch. It was, like, wanting to aim it at a time, but at the same time, not meeting that deadline based on creative decisions and, do we have this package and how we want it to be?

Banks: “Speedway Sonora” was taking a long time.

RZA: So some of the songs went through their evolution. Even “Giant,” which is basically the single, still had to get a revisit as early as six weeks ago.

You come from very different musical worlds. How did you meet in the middle?
Banks: I’ll point out that RZA plays piano and guitar and is a great singer, and I think he has some musical interests that are more diverse than what you may traditionally know from him. I’m a huge fan of hip-hop as a genre and RZA’s work and I feel like there’s just an overlap where it feels natural to me. Even if it’s just a straight hip-hop song, you need a chorus, and if it’s a hip-hop song with a chord progression that I can get a vocal idea around, because we’re collaborators, we just wouldn’t work on anything that I couldn’t see any contribution. So much of the songs are based around a RZA beat, because he’s in his element, and I think as a team of collaborators, we can explore, like, “RZA, why don’t you try singing or different sorts of instrumentation?” And if I’m layering live rock instrumentation on a beat that RZA’s generated, then that’s our taste dictating whether or not that works or how much of this or that will work.

Paul, what are your earlier memories of Wu-Tang Clan? Were you a fan growing up?
Banks: Uh, yes. The W and Wu-Tang Forever I got before I went and studied Enter the 36 Chambers.

You pedaled backwards.
Banks: I don’t know why that was. Maybe that was because “Gravel Pit” came out. I go back to high school with Wu-Tang, but the first time I remember studying Enter was after I’d gotten into The W. I could tell you so many songs and pieces of RZA’s catalog that have spoken to me and influenced me. There were moments on GZA’s Liquid Swords: “Swordsman” was one of the greatest atmospheric pieces of production, in a similar vein to [Wu-Tang’s] “Can It All Be So Simple” where there’s this horror-movie-meets-martial-arts-meets-alternate-dimension, kind of murky, grimy edginess to it. I also really loved Lou Barlow’s solo shit, like when he did the Kids soundtrack – this very murky, ominous, dreamy production thing. That’s an element of RZA’s production that’s always spoken to me. I could always listen to Wu instrumentals. Then you start factoring in that you’ve got fuckin’ Rae and Ghost and RZA, the GZA slaying it lyrically. But on the production side of things, that’s what I would study.

Wu–-Tang Clan in 2000 Ken Hively/Getty

RZA, what about you? When did you first hear of Paul and Interpol?
RZA: I’d heard of Interpol by name, just being in New York and seeing the new indie-rock scene growing. I didn’t get deep into the music until after we met, and the album I got mostly into was this 2007 album and the song that sticks with me the most is “The Scale,” in a sense of … As a guy who started his career antagonistic against rock and guitars and all that, you hear GZA’s first lyric, “First of all, who’s your AR/A mountain climber who plays the electric guitar.” We shunned ODB’s brother who was into rock and Prince. We wasn’t into that, nothing. We was into hip-hop. To a guy who discovers later on that I actually was loving rock. You hear it in my sample choices, you hear it on Liquid Swords‘ “4th Chamber.” When I heard “The Scale,” that’s where I want to be as a musician. I want to be able to do that myself, and by saying that, beyond Paul’s voice, I love his voice and his cadence and his idea of wordplay and choices of words in his songwriting, I also have a couple of dreams of my own. And some of those dreams are to be able to record certain songs in a certain way and be able to do it myself. I haven’t reached that yet. I’m getting there, but Interpol’s music, especially “The Scale,” it’s like if RZA had been born in the rock world, I would have.

“Interpol’s music … it’s like if RZA had been born in the rock world.” —RZA

There are a few guests on this album, and one that sticks out is Florence Welch. How did you get her on “Wild Season?”
RZA: Paul mentioned about three different singers he thought would be good to collaborate on “Wild Season.” I deferred to Paul on who that could be. But I guess he was on tour and he ran into Florence and they talked about it and [to Paul] you asked me about it and I was like, “Yeah, great.” Everyone is a big fan of hers and she’s a fan of Paul, so she made the connection.

Banks: We spoke and she was watching Interpol at the side of the stage at a festival we’d done. That was the first time I’d met her, but she had come up in conversation with this record. So when I saw her checking out Interpol’s last show, I was like, “We should be in touch because I want to talk about this thing.” I sent her a couple of tracks and “Wild Season” is the one that spoke to her. We’d done it where RZA had both verses and the song was good to go, but we felt this was a good one to have the female perspective in the song. So she liked the track and we discussed what she would do lyrically, but it was all over e-mail and then her sending me stuff. It was really as cool and effortless as any other collaboration I’ve had with another writer. I was really surprised by that. It was just so easy to work with her and get dialed in on the same page and get the themes worked out.

Of the 12 songs that ended up on the project and the amount you did record, who else did you work with that didn’t make the cut?
RZA: As far as other artists, we didn’t work with other artists. In my opinion, we’re the other artists to each other. We’re those elements that’s not normal. We took this project, also, like what’s meant to be. Paul’s a big fan of Kool Keith, one of his favorite MCs, and me and Keith had always promised to do a song together. I didn’t know that he was a fan of his or that he even knew him or connected to him. But when I mentioned him, it was like, “Shit.” Me and Keith talked about it; let’s live it out, beyond any politics of collaborations. Because collaborations are a political game. There was only one artist I wanted on this record personally that didn’t get on this record. We had a chance to talk about it. During that conversation, I totally understand why he’s not on this record. And that’s Andre 3000. It had nothing to do with where we’re at. It’s just where he’s at with his life right now.

RZA, last time you mentioned this project with Paul, you said you’d written two films, One Spoon of Chocolate and Sting of the Scorpion. What’s the status of those?
RZA: Scorpion was manipulated as Iron Fists 2. Got that out. And [Spoon] is still in the zeitgeist of the movie business, my night job, my other job. That film will still see the light of day.

And Coco is coming out this year?
RZA: Coco is done. It’s in Lionsgate’s hands. Movie companies have to figure out the best time to put their movies out. So I don’t know if it’ll be this year or next year. But I finished my movie. It took me a fuckin’ year for that movie.

Anything brewing in the Wu-Tang realm?
RZA: Right now, there’s nothing brewing, to be real. I’m not cooking. I don’t know if the other guys are brewing something. I’m not cooking anything. We got festivals coming up, we’re going to really treat this record seriously. The fans will let us know if they enjoy this or they want some meat or vegetarian shit; they’ll let us know. The kind of guy I am and the kind of guy Paul is, we want to take our time, put our energy forward to get this collaboration the fair chance it deserves. I’m proud of this collaboration. I think we got some really cool songs.

“I could tell you so many songs and pieces of RZA’s catalog that have spoken to me and influenced me,” Banks says. Atiba Jefferson

Paul, the last Interpol record came out in 2014. Have you talked about doing anything since then?
Banks: We’re going to get back together and jam, but that’s the extent of the plans.

What about another solo record?
Banks: Yeah, the material is almost done. So that’s closer. I don’t know if that will come out before an Interpol thing, but there’s music. So it will come out.

I know you’re probably focused solely on this record right now, but you mentioned a second installment. Any idea when that would come?
Banks: I would love to hit the studio right now. Even insofar as finishing the tracks that are almost there that we have, the other 28 songs.

RZA: I just made two songs that he reminded me of. “Beast out of Water” and “Offering.” The sonics of those songs and the vibe that they invoke, very different from what you got from us. But something about this shit was that, maybe they were too soon. Maybe we didn’t finish them either. They would go fucking good in a library of music. You ever listen to music sometimes and the song will change your whole fucking psyche? They both do that for me. 

Banks: But the thing about those songs is that you make one record, and if you listen to a record you’ve loved 100 times, “Beast out of Water” and “Offering,” they’d be tracks eight and nine that they became your favorites after 100 listens. When your goal is to make your first debut record, you’re thinking about singles and having a variety and a range, and those tracks eight and nine, no matter how much you love them, they sometimes can’t be a priority. Because sometimes the world isn’t looking for a record full of tracks eight and nine. I wish they would, because then we’d have a quadruple record right now.

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Fowler House repurposed, revitalized

Quite possibly Lafayette’s richest citizen in 1852, Moses Fowler did not see a Village Pantry when he looked out the tall, arched windows of his envy-provoking Gothic Revival mansion on the corner of South and Ninth streets. Even though the house was high on a hill, and he could perhaps see across the Wabash River on a good day, he could not see Purdue University’s signature buildings because the university had yet to be founded.

Living on the outskirts of town suited him, and he absolutely loved the noise of trains that passed less than a block from his home. It meant his private train car could whisk him from Lafayette to business appointments in Chicago and beyond.

In March, his grand home, still capable of provoking envy, officially began an illustrious new chapter in its life, one that will allow the community to enjoy its ambiance for all of life’s significant events — from Sunday dinner out with the family to weddings and celebrations of all kinds.

Instead of the hushed sounds of a house museum, or the stony silence of an empty structure, the Fowler yearns for lively footsteps, laughing voices and all the accompanying sounds of good times, says Colby Bartlett, executive director of the 1852 Foundation.

“There’s got to be life in this house. We’re breathing life back into this place, which makes incredible memories.”

Ann and Matt Jonkman, who bought the house in June 2015 for $650,000 and immediately set up the 1852 Foundation to maintain it, know a lot about those memories. They sought out its unique ambiance for their own wedding and have had a love affair with the house ever since.

The Jonkmans are just the fourth owners of the Fowler House in its 165 years. Owned and lived in by Moses and his family, then his grandson Cecil’s family, for 89 years, the house was tended to by the Tippecanoe County Historical Association for the next 76 years.

In its heyday with the Fowlers, the house was always filled with happy noise. “It has a long history of entertaining people since Moses built it in 1851-52. He would have also received clients in the parlor, and the room likely witnessed many a business deal being struck,” says Bartlett. An archeologist with a deep love of history, he is a former TCHA board president.

Cecil Fowler and his wife, Louise, added the light-filled garden room as well as the Classical English dining room with its signature dark wood walls, and an indoor kitchen in 1916-17. Under their supervision, the elaborate Italian gardens on the home’s south side (where the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette now stands) flourished. Old photos show lush foliage outlining the long narrow reflecting pond that led to a columned gazebo.

“The Fowlers lived like no one else in this town, and they traveled internationally,” Barlett says. A successful developer, Cecil was involved with the first luxury hotel on Miami Beach.

Parties there during Prohibition were legendary, and there was a speakeasy for Purdue students in the basement. A 50 cent pass got you all you could drink. Hamburgers were equally cheap.

Another “if the walls could talk” story revolves around a monkey brought back from one of the Fowlers’ trips abroad. The infamous incident “has the monkey in the kitchen picking up eggs out of a bowl and winging them across the room,” Bartlett tells.

Most likely tours that spotlight the landmark home’s history will be part of a future that looks bright. There’s no lack of ideas on the drawing board says Matt Jonkman. “You can’t freeze-dry the house as is. It has to move into modern times.”

That translates into a lot of physical improvements, including the creation of a new kitchen and renovation of the present kitchen rooms into handicap-accessible bathrooms, which should be completed later this year. It also means a whole new approach to how the house will be used. Sunday brunch, open to the public, will begin in the fall. Look for theme dinners for holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween. Look for visits from Santa; perhaps Easter egg hunts and Shakespeare on the lawn. Businesses that need multiple rooms for a retreat can rent it and get all their meals there as well. It will undoubtedly be a popular site for weddings, anniversary parties and all kinds of special events. Sixty percent of each rental fee will be a tax-deductible donation to the 1852 Foundation for upkeep of the house.

“I am super excited. I have always wanted this house for special events,” says Barbara Huddleston, owner of Sovereign Catering, who is booking the facility. “I am looking forward to creating some signature menu items for the brunch. Because we have a three-way license, we can also have a Bloody Mary and mimosa bar.

“Matt and I have lots of ideas — wine dinners, murder mystery nights, beer, wine and scotch tastings. Our intent is to liven it up,” she says.

Or maybe just bring it back to its glory days.

It takes more than the wave of a magic wand to make that happen, however. Along with hired specialists, Jonkman and his wife logged plenty of hours last fall taking care of all the big and little things the house needed.

All the trees were trimmed and several removed. All the bumpy old sidewalks were torn up and replaced with handsome herringbone-pattern paver walks, and an ADA ramp was added to the 10th Street entrance. Missing woodwork was replaced and repainted, and roof problems were addressed. Overgrown foundation plantings were ripped out and Ann, a Lafayette pediatrician with a keen interest in landscaping, started over. Her efforts included terracing on the side of the house.

The Jonkmans’ promise to themselves, and to the community, was to put forward the money to buy the house and “do everything to push it over the hump to be self-sustaining,” Jonkman says. Being president and CEO of the board of the 1852 Foundation “means I get to run the power washer,” he adds. “We’re very hands-on. By doing that, it means our money can go to other things.”

Tired terrace doors that leaked cold air into the house over old sills were repaired before the holidays. Afterward, work started on the biggest project — the new bathrooms and efficient commercial kitchen. By moving large air conditioning units to the roof, space was opened up on the Fowler House’s southeast side for a kitchen that will be partly underground. The kitchen will have a green roof that links to the terrace and creates more room for outdoor partying, says Jonkman. RATIO Architects of Indianapolis, a firm that specializes in historic preservation, guides all the work.

When the Jonkmans married at the house they had to rent pretty much everything, from forks to tables. Now house rental comes with tables, chairs and linens. New silverware and china boast stylized arch patterns, reflecting the home’s arched windows.

Computer-controlled, portable light units can add colored streams of light to the rooms for parties and light up the home’s exterior in just about any color desired. “It will look like a fairy tale castle,” Jonkman says.

All this interest in restoration has roots. As a young person, he worked as a projectionist at the Al Ringling Theater in Baribou, Wisconsin, and was involved in early restoration efforts there. “I loved that place,” Jonkman recalls. “So it was hard not to be interested in the Fowler House.”

Currently, he serves as vice president of emerging research for Proofpoint, an international cybersecurity firm. It was the sale of Emerging Threats, a business he started, that provided funding for the Fowler House dream. The couple first heard the house was for sale the same way everyone else did — from the media. “We were not in a position at that time to do anything, but we had good things happen so we jumped.

“We had confidence we could do it only because we didn’t know what we were doing,” he jokes. But with coaching from Indiana Landmarks, the path became clear. Even after months of hard work, “our excitement for this project has not waned at all.”

Tommy Kleckner, regional spokesman for Indiana Landmarks, feels Lafayette is lucky to have motivated individuals such as the Jonkmans step into the Fowler House’s continuing history.

Throughout the Tippecanoe County Historical Association’s difficult decision to part ways with the Fowler House, Indiana Landmarks was always in the shadows looking out for the best interest of the house.

When the Jonkmans bought the house, as a term of the sale established by the historical association, they deeded a “preservation easement” to Indiana Landmarks that assures this organization devoted to historic preservation will always serve as a safeguard for the Fowler House.

In addition, Bartlett says the Wabash Trust for Historic Preservation will move its office on Third Street into the Fowler House in July. Bartlett says they are excited with the opportunities this will present for increased cooperation and collaboration between the two organizations.

“It’s one way of ensuring long-term preservation of the house,” Kleckner says. “We review proposed work on significant interior spaces and the grounds.” Far from being an old house Gestapo, Indiana Landmarks acts as a partner, offering seasoned advice from preservationists who have traveled the path many times before.

“It’s an honor to work closely with an owner that loves the property and wants to do it right and well,” Kleckner says. All over Indiana there are historically significant homes enjoying new lives as special event venues, and he expects the Fowler House to be a “premier venue.”

Knowing that the community, as well as the TCHA, had a hard time letting the house go as a potential museum, he emphatically states: “The TCHA made a very responsible decision. They were limited with what they could do with the challenges of a historic home interior. Rather than hang on as issues worsened for the house, making it harder for rehabilitation to happen, they sold while the house was still solid.”

With the money from the sale the TCHA continues to look for a suitable building where it can create an expansive hands-on museum to showcase the county’s history and its collection of artifacts. It follows the lead of historical societies across the country that started in old houses but have moved on to facilities better suited to their mission, Kleckner says.

Bartlett, like the rest of the TCHA board, had to deal with public barbs about the Fowler House sale. He wants the community to know that the sale “was very bittersweet. It was the best thing for the TCHA and for the house. We took great pains to make sure nothing bad would happen. We reserved the right to say no to a potential buyer.”

From the beginning, “It was clear the Jonkmans loved the house as much as we do,” Bartlett says. Very soon, the community will have the chance to weigh in, and he’s willing to bet they will like what they encounter.

The instant charm and warmth of the Fowler House will still educate area residents about the past, Kleckner says.

“It won’t be a museum in the traditional sense, but anyone who comes in will get a sense of the opulence and luxury that the Fowlers had at that time.”

Editor’s note

This story first appeared in Lafayette Magazine. To subscribe, go to

In perspective

Many historic homes and structures around Lafayette enjoy new lives in adaptations.

Consider the impressive 19th-century private residences that are occupied by Fisher Funeral Chapel and the Hahn-Groeber Funeral Home, both on Columbia Street. Two doctors saved significant private homes and turned them into spaces to house their practices — Dr. Joel McCuaig at Ninth and South streets, and Dr. Gary Prah at Main Street and Perrin Avenue. Patients of Dr. Jeffrey Yocum wait by the fireplace in the living room of a bungalow on Ferry Street. Northside Music occupies an old house on South Street.

Ellie and Bob Haan’s former Lafayette home, originally built for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, now solely operates as a historic home museum with side focuses on Indiana art and ceramics.

Recently a former car dealership at Sixth and South streets was creatively transformed into the Matchbox Co-working Studio. It provides a space where tech-savvy entrepreneurs without funds for a proper office space can work and collaborate.

The old Monon train station on Fifth Street houses Civic Theatre. The Big Four Depot was moved to Riehle Plaza as part of a community meeting spot.

Thanks to Sandra Peticolas, a vintage third-floor ballroom charmingly lined with windows can still be enjoyed by those attending ballet performances at Lafayette Ballet on Sixth and Ferry.

Many different business buildings in downtown Lafayette have renovated upper floors into striking apartments that often offer interesting amenities, from brick walls and high ceilings to sky-high patios. Old Jeff High School offers apartments for senior citizens, and the Lahr House Hotel is now an apartment building.

The list goes on and on and on.

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TVCC Foundation benefit sprouts up for a third year

ONTARIO — Are you looking for new ideas to spruce up your garden or outdoor living space? You could flip through garden magazines or stroll through a garden store to get some ideas.

Or, you could attend the self-guided Garden and Outdoor Living Tour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The tour is a benefit for Treasure Valley Community College Foundation.

Not even rain will stop the tour, which is back for a third year. Tour goers can visit seven gardens in any order they would like. There will be water and refreshments available at each garden.

A list of gardens that can be explored for this year’s tour follows.

Brian and Fran Halcom, 208 Lauren Drive, Ontario — A rock fountain, an arbor and a pool surrounded by a stone pathway are a few things that make this garden unique. “In the summertime the yard is not only a riot of color, but bursting with fragrance,” an event brochure reads.

Dan and Kimi Lopez, 380 Tori Drive, Ontario — When the Lopez’s wanted to add a personal touch to their backyard, they opted for things like a four-seasons statue, a wrought iron gazebo and a Virgin Mary statue surrounded by colorful flowers. An assortment of trees and grasses accent the yard, which is “still a work in progress,” according to the brochure.

Kelly and Evelyn Dame, 8533 Washoe Road, Payette — A tree-lined driveway will lead onlookers to a yard nestled among 13 acres of alfalfa fields. The front yard has a formal feel with a bronze geese sculpture and knot garden. Outdoor living is made comfortable here with an outdoor kitchen complete with wood-fired oven. And there’s plenty of scenery to soak up the “amazing views up and down the Snake River,” the brochure states.

Jeremy and Keelee Baker, 1861 Walnut Ave., Fruitland — A pool was a top priority for the Baker’s when they downsized from 4 acres to a subdivision with a small yard. Once that was in place the landscaping was completed with perennials for easy maintenance. An outdoor kitchen and bar allow for cooking, “while the kids are enjoying the pool,” according to the brochure.

Ronnie and Hayley Craig, 1865 Walnut Ave., Fruitland — This couple enjoys cooking and entertaining and do as much of that as possible in their outdoor living space. During the night, the perennial-laden landscaping “comes alive with solar lights that are placed throughout the yard,”

the brochure reads. A hot tub and natural gas fireplace make for cozy evenings here.

Dr. Bernt and Jill White, 4973 Eagle View Court, Fruitland — A sand volleyball court, batting cage, swimming pool and trampoline are a few of the family-friendly amenities found on this 3-acre yard. Raised garden beds and pots dot the landscape, which also features a water fall/river feature, wood fire pit and Windmill Palm trees, according to the brochure.

Dr. Mark and Vanessa Christenson, 4942 Eagle View Court, Fruitland — Aiming to be water wise, the Christenson’s have xeric plants and irrigation methods that “avoid water waste,” the brochure reads. The couple’s long-term plan calls for a “naturescaped yard of native, low-maintenance and drought-tolerant trees and plants.”

Some gardens are not easily accessible to strollers or wheelchairs.

Tickets are available at Amai Medspa, Andrews Seed, Four Rivers Cultural Center gift shop, Jolts Juice, Red Apple Market Place and Salon Salon.

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Garden provides ‘perfect sanctuary’ for Henderson woman

By Abbey Nickel, / @abbeynickel

If there’s one thing Becky Sharp has always been certain of, it’s that she’s always wanted a garden full of flowers.

Now, the 66-year-old Henderson woman smiles from ear to ear and laughs as she scans her back yard and takes in the vibrant colors of the blooming hydrangeas, day lilies, roses, hostas, impatiens and more.

“I guess you can say I got my wish,” she said.

When Sharp first moved into the house at 2380 Dundee Drive, she said the back yard was practically bare, with only a few plants here and there.

“I started with basically nothing,” Sharp said. “I did a little at a time and now I’m here. It’s been 11 years in the making of getting up at 5 a.m. and staying out here until late in the evening, but this is my sanctuary. This is where I come to find peace.”

Sharp’s garden will be one of the stops on the Garden Club of Henderson’s “Gardens That Swing VI” on Saturday, June 18, held in conjunction with the W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival. The garden event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine.

Growing up, Sharp said gardening was a major part of her family’s lifestyle — but not necessarily flowers.

“My dad grew a garden big enough to feed half the town,” Sharp said. “And every Saturday, I would get out there and work in the garden to earn my $1 allowance. Believe it or not, that seemed like a lot of money back then.”

Sharp gets her inspiration for her garden from just about everywhere she travels, and she said the garden adheres to what she describes as an eclectic design.

“Traveling has really been the major thing that has kept me inspired,” Sharp said. “But I don’t really have a reason for the specific flowers that are out here. If it’s pretty and I like it, I’m going to plant it.”

When she was asked to feature her garden on the tour this year, Sharp said she hesitated at first.

“I didn’t really think I had anything to show, to be honest,” Sharp said.

She considers it her civic duty because proceeds from the tour have been used toward the beautification of different areas throughout Henderson. This year, the club plans to use some of the funds toward landscaping at the Brain Injury Adventure Camp.

This is the first year the tour will be held on the Saturday during Handy Fest — usually, it’s held on the Saturday before. Marietta Peckenpaugh, chairman of the tour, said she hopes that encourages more people to check out the tour.

“We will have 5,000 people in Henderson who might be gardeners or interested in gardening,” Peckenpaugh said.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased in advance from Third Street House, Day’s Garden Center, and the Henderson County Tourism Commission at the Depot. They will also be available for sale the day of the tour, directly across from the music stage at the Handy Festival until noon. There will also be garden club members available to direct people to the first stop on the tour.

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The Grass That’s “Greener”: Sustainable Landscaping for City Living

With summer right around the corner, most Minnesotans are in full lawn-maintenance mode. The hiss of sprinkler systems is starting to join the chorus of morning birds, and the roar of lawn mowers disrupts the tranquility of fresh spring afternoons. Many people are spending hours out in their yards, not yet enjoying the spaces, but preparing them to be beautiful in the coming months.

While yard work might be an enjoyable pastime for many people (myself included), it’s not as enjoyable to take a closer look into the resources required to maintain a green and glorious yard. The yard may look lush and green, but your wallet, your free time, and the environment are paying the price. This high cost of maintaining an ideal lawn is leading many people to consider a “greener” option: sustainable landscaping.

Photo by John Wiese Photography

Sustainability can mean many different things for different people. Jeff Zaayer, a landscape designer at Southview Design, says, “Generally, people think sustainable is something that’s going to last and thrive as much as it can with minimal inputs.” Typical inputs for landscaping would include water, fertilizer, maintenance, and people’s time. By using plants and materials requiring minimal inputs, sustainably designed yards also have a positive environmental impact.

There are many environmental benefits to sustainable landscaping choices, but the most considerable resource preserved is water. Zaayer notes that most people don’t realize how much water actually goes in to making yards look green. “For a typical Minneapolis city lawn, an in-ground irrigation system is going to kick out anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons of water every time it cycles.” Additionally, many people run their systems even when additional watering isn’t needed, which greatly increases the amount of water used.

Sustainable options seek to avoid this water consumption, lessening the impact on both the wallet and the environment. By capturing and using rainwater through the use of rain barrels, homeowners can water the areas that need extra moisture. Also, the use of rain barrels and rain gardens reduces the burden on the city storm sewers, which can quickly get flooded during a heavy storm. In addition to saving water, sustainable planting choices can also limit the amount of gasoline used for frequent mowings and reduce the amount of organic waste created.

Rain Barrel, Both in form and function.
Photo by John Wiese Photography

Zaayer recently joined me at my new home in the Victory neighborhood of Minneapolis to talk about the sustainable landscaping choices he helped the previous owner bring to fruition. While this project was completed several years ago, the lawn incorporates several sustainable practices that are now becoming more popular in the Twin Cities area, such as planting alternative grasses like fescue, and using rain barrels and rain gardens to consume water in a more conscious way.

The yard has a unique and natural aesthetic that my wife and I deeply appreciate, but we were a bit wary of the alternative maintenance required. Contrary to our assumptions, our new sustainable yard does not require a significant amount of expert maintenance, a trait that appeals to many homeowners looking for sustainable options.

Aside from all the environmental benefits of sustainable landscaping, Zaayer notes that the lower amount of maintenance is a strong selling point for homeowners. One increasingly popular way to achieve a green yard without much input is to use no-mow fescue grasses. Fescue is a clump grass that does not require special watering or more than an annual mowing in the fall, making it a great choice for sustainable yards.

An Attractive and efficient Rain Garden.
Photo Courtesy of Michael Anschel

Unlike traditional bluegrass, fescue has a much more natural aesthetic. Zaayer explains how fescue’s seeding cycle creates several different visual looks throughout the season: “When it goes to seed, it stands up. But once it’s done seeding, it flops over and lies down on its own weight.” When the fescue is lying down, it looks lush and wavy, and it covers up any bare spots between each individual clump.

Although fescue is still more of a “niche” planting choice, more people are choosing to enjoy this low-maintenance grass, though a different type of upkeep is required: occasional weeding. Though weeding may sound like tedious work, Zaayer notes that many people find it enjoyable. He describes the appeal one client saw of weeding: “He wanted to sit outside with his wife and have a conversation as they tended the lawn instead of putting on headphones and running an 80-decibel lawn mower.” The act of weeding can also be therapeutic or meditative, offering a quiet task that connects people more closely with their yards.

Fescue is a wise choice for people who have busy lives, especially if they frequently travel. For one of Zaayer’s clients, a key factor in choosing a fescue lawn was his lifestyle: “He travels a lot, he works a lot. He’d be gone for weeks at a time, so having a traditional lawn that you mow on a weekly basis wasn’t right.” Zaayer adds that many sustainable landscaping options, such as fescue, can thrive on a hands-off approach, making them ideal solutions for busy lifestyles.

A Wilder Curb Appeal. Photo courtesy of Michael Anschel

The cost of no-mow fescue seed can be slightly higher than the traditional bluegrass seed mix used on many Minnesota lawns, creating a higher upfront cost. In the long run, however, fescue is proving to be an option that is worth the initial investment. Water bills for these yards are significantly lower, and frequent costs such as gasoline for the mower are few. And most of all, a homeowner does not spend their precious time laboriously pushing a lawn mower around every square foot of the yard, week after week, year after year.

In addition to choosing sustainable grasses, homeowners are more frequently incorporating rain gardens into landscape designs in order to minimize the impact on the city’s sewer system. Rain gardens contain loose soil and plants that enjoy water, such as Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle. They are great for capturing any excess water from downspouts, and they can also come in handy during extremely heavy rains by absorbing any additional water that backs up from the storm sewer. Zaayer also notes some additional benefits: “When water filters through rain gardens, its temperature cools and some of its energy is removed,” making its impact on the sewer system significantly lighter.

In addition to more macro-level choices such as grass seeding and water systems, there are many fun sustainable choices that are purely decorative. For example, taller ornamental grasses like switch grass can be planted along property lines to create a low-maintenance pseudo-hedge for privacy. Or, people can create outdoor living spaces using AZEK permeable pavers, a LEED-certified alternative to brick or stone pavers. Made of 95% recycled materials (like old tires), these slip-resistant pavers look like traditional stone, reduce water run off, and have an extremely long lifetime.

Paver Patio. Photo courtesy of Southview Design

Unlike our yard, which was designed to be completely sustainable, there are ways to incorporate thoughtful practices without committing to a total landscape overhaul. In fact, many of Southview Design’s clients choose to add options like rain gardens into their current designs. Many people choose to make these small, conscious changes because they help the environment without requiring drastic changes to the yard’s aesthetic.

If people are interested in sustainable landscaping, Zaayer suggests testing the changes out on a portion of the yard. An easy way to do this is to turn unused areas into sections that are more passively managed, such as a no-mow fescue area or a wildflower planting. “That’s a really great way to test the waters and see if you like the aesthetic,” he adds. “People may like the aesthetic but not want it everywhere.” Even these small, thoughtfully designed sections can reduce the amount of resources and time required for maintenance.

When choosing an area to redesign, Zaayer suggests that people consider areas that are not directly situated around the house: “The community standard is usually a house with plantings around foundation, which is great when you’re walking down the street or driving by. It makes the house look really nice…but when you’re inside the house, what do you look at?” Creating areas a distance away from the house will allow you to enjoy the view from your own window.

Fescue Grass Planting. Photo courtesy of Southview Design

No matter what stage of the design process clients may be in, Southview Design can help people redesign their spaces to incorporate sustainable choices. Some of Southview Design’s clients come to them with specific goals, such as reusing water from the roof or minimizing spaces that require mowing. Zaayer also says many people start the process simply with photos that inspire them or have elements they like. Throughout the design and planting process, Southview Design helps homeowners make smart choices that have lasting impact.

Most people who choose to make sustainable improvements to their landscapes are attracted to the natural aesthetic, but for others, it isn’t as easy of a switch. Zaayer explains, “In some instances, people do have to compromise their aesthetic mind. But when you explain to them what they’re going to get out of a sustainable yard, it becomes pretty apparent pretty quickly that this is a good option.”

Because the look of a sustainable yard can conflict with traditional expectations, people may initially think that the yard doesn’t adhere to community yard standards. In order to avoid some of the misunderstandings and educate the public about sustainable yards, many homeowners put up signs that label the yard as a sustainably designed space and list websites that provide more information. Admittedly, the aesthetic is different from what people have come to expect from their lush, perfectly trimmed yards. But many people are finding that challenging these expectations by using more sustainable choices is worth it, both for the homeowner and the environment.

To learn more about sustainable garden options, visit

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Gardening: Tips for planting, weeding and edging your garden – Brattleboro Reformer

Are you still planting your vegetables? Here are a few tips. If your broccoli seedlings are a bit tall and floppy at planting time, you can bury part of the stem so they don’t flop over. I pinch of a lower leaf or two, and then plant the root ball 3 inches or so below the soil surface. Same for Brussels sprouts. Tall tomatoes I often plant sideways after I remove 2 or more of the lower branches. The buried portion will send out roots, which is helpful to the plant later on.

Most gardeners who start seedlings indoors plant 2 or more seeds in each cell, thinking that at least one will germinate. But what to do if they both did? I advise snipping off one of the two early on. But I had a six-pack of kale seedlings with 2 nice plants per cell that had somehow escaped my scissors. For some I snipped off one seedling at planting time, thus avoiding any disruption of the roots.

For others, particularly if the seedlings were growing in opposite corners of the growing cell, I separated them and planted both. To do this I hold the rootball in two hands, thumbs on the soil surface and nearly touching. Then I push my thumbs down, and gently pull them away from each other – and tearing the rootball in half. Sometimes the roots are so entwined that the break, other times they just pull away. Either is fine. Roots recover easily.

But what can you do if you have too many melons or an overabundance of okra? It’s very hard to throw them in the compost pile. Call your friends and neighbors, ask if they need some more plants. If you still have too many plants, deliver them to the community garden nearest you. Most have websites and contact info. I found one that will drive to my door to pick up vegetable and flower starts.

The bottom line is this: you don’t have to plant every seedling you grew or bought. You might have to buy a 6-pack of kale when you only want 2 or 3 plants. It’s okay to put the others in the compost pile if you can’t find a taker. That’s better than cramming them all into a small space.

After a recent day of heavy rain I spent much time weeding. Right after a rain when the soil is soaked is a good time to do so. Deep-rooted plants like thistles or dandelions are easier to pull when the soil is moist – or even soggy. If it’s soggy, of course, your feet can compact the soil, so stay on the lawn and work from the edges.

I have learned all the weeds that grow in my garden: some by Latin name, some by common name, a few I just call “Bob” or “Larry”. No matter. What is important is to know their roots. Annual weeds like jewel weed pull easily, all the roots coming with a scratch of my CobraHead weeder and a tug from above.

Other weeds, like perennial dandelions and burdocks, have tap roots that can go down 6 to 12 inches. For those I use a shovel to loosen the earth. I push it into the soil 4 inches from the weed, pull back on the handle, and the soil – along with the roots – loosen. Then with a tug the whole system comes out. If you break off a tap root, the weed will grow back, so it’s worthwhile taking the time to do it right.

Crabgrass, by the way, grows well in compacted soil – but lawn grass will not. That’s why it grows where you walk the most. Avoid it, if it bugs you, by putting down pavers to walk on. And if you set your mower at 3 or 4 inches the good grass may shade out the crab grass that is trying to establish itself now, in the early summer.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) – also known as Creeping Charlie or Jenny – is a pest to many of us because it grows in lawns and flower beds and will even grow in pure mulch! But it pulls easily and smells vaguely minty. Its leaves have scalloped edges and the flowers are generally a purplish blue. It sends down roots easily as it creeps into flower beds. I follow the roots with the tip of my CobraHead weeder, and they come out easily.

Edging the border of a flower bed makes it look tidy and professionally maintained. Basically edging means cutting a sharp edge to the bed with a shovel or an edging tool. By removing some soil after you have cut the edge, you create a little “moat”. Lawn grass sends roots exploring for new territory – but if it finds air, it stops growing. It can save a lot of time weeding out grasses later on.

If you have a straight flower bed, pull a string taught to establish the line you will edge. If you want to create curves, use your hose. Just lay it out in the lawn to establish the exact curves you want. I like to make flower beds bulge out into the lawn rather than follow straight lines. Just be sure that when you expand your beds and establish new boundaries, your lawnmower can follow the lines you establish.

I try not to get too compulsive with my weeding. I get to the weeds when I feel like it. I try to pull them before they flower and set seed, but – obviously – that doesn’t always happen. That assures, however, there is always something to do in the garden.

Read Henry Homeyer’s twice-a-week blog at You can sign up for an email alert every time he posts a new article.

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Tips to stay cool in the garden this summer

▪ Summer sun can be dangerous! Be sure to use sun screen with at least an SPF50.

▪ Hats with a wide brim work well to keep the sun off of your face, neck and ears.

▪ Look cool and protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses.

▪ Wear light colored clothes. Light colors reflect the sun’s rays, which keeps you cooler. Drink plenty of fluids while you are working in the garden. Like an athlete, you will perspire and will need to replace those lost fluids.

▪ Ticks are bad this year. If you plan to work in the garden, use insect repellant — particularly around the bottom of your pants where ticks can enter. Check yourself for ticks after being outside. Go to the doctor if a tick bite gets infected or forms a red ring around it.

▪ Time to start pruning azaleas. On larger specimens, try “limbing them up,” by removing the lower branches up to about 4 feet. It’s a great look!

▪ Do you have stumps from shrubs and trees that keep sprouting? Try this. Remove the growth back to the stump. When new growth appears, spray with Roundup or a similar product formula that is extra strength. Thoroughly cover the leaves with the herbicide. Keep the spray close to the leaves to avoid overspray and death of nearby plants.

▪ Whats blooming? Vitex, summer annuals, coreopsis, crape myrtle, caladium (colorful foliage), roses and lantanas.

▪ Check for lacebugs on azaleas. The top of the leaf will have speckling. The underside will appear to have brown dirt on it, which is actually the eggs. Spray with Orthene. Azaleas are a shade shrub, those grown in sun will have more disease and insect problems.

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Garden tips: Great gardeners are always prepping

If you garden with an eye toward helping pollinators, Penn State has a certification program to recognize you.

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