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Archives for June 11, 2016

Tom Karwin, On Gardening: How to use pots in garden design

Plant containers are popular as decorative elements in the garden. A well-placed large pot can provide a focal point, and a strategically arranged series of pots can lead the eye throughout a planned tour of the garden.

The color of a container can also contribute to the aesthetic of the landscape by complementing plants in or near the container or by creating a visual exclamation point in a primarily green environment. Many containers in the garden marketplace are neutral in color, but bright hues are readily available as well, and color patterns have been appearing in recent years.

Containers provide familiar artistic forms in the garden and can also support plant growth. Empty containers can stand alone as artworks, as well. Containers of all sizes can function like sculptures at more affordable prices.

Gardeners also experiment with other low-cost alternatives to sculptures: bowling balls, wine bottle trees, farm equipment and porcelain accessories of the home have been striking and even unforgettable sights in some gardens.

A novel use of plant containers could be as elements of a thematic landscape.

In these columns, I have from time to time advocated a thematic approach to garden design. Many possible themes could provide an identity for some or all of a garden, and thereby support a rationale for plant selection.

Garden themes oriented to a single plant genus (e.g., roses, irises, dahlias) are quite familiar. Other themes emphasize a color combination, or one color, like the historic white garden of England’s Sissinghurst Castle.

My garden has several thematic beds. The largest beds are dedicated to each of the world’s five summer-dry climates: the Mediterranean basin, South Africa, the southwestern coast of Australia, the central coast of Chile and coastal California.

These beds might need to be identified for visitors, because most will not immediately recognize the origins of plants. I have considered placing an identifying sign in each bed, but would rather avoid that institutional look.

Another method for identifying a geographically defined bed might be to place in the bed a large container from that part of the world. Assuming that the visitor will recognize the container’s country of origin, it might serve to identify the bed.

To date, that idea has succeeded in exactly one instance. A Talavera pot now marks a bed of succulent plants from Mexico, which is not one of the world’s summer-dry climates.

Many garden centers have at least a few Talavera pots. Authentic Talavera pottery comes only from the very old city of Puebla, in southeastern Mexico, but many products come from other sources. Regardless of authenticity, Talavera pottery is strongly associated with Mexico.

A fairly good marker for the bed of plants from the Mediterranean basin is a terra cotta container that suggests a Mediterranean style, confirmed by an image search of the internet. The casual visitor, however, might find its message to be ambiguous.

Garden centers offer a good variety of plant containers, but few refer clearly to a country of origin. For example, the city of Pomaire, south of Santiago, is famous for its pottery, but when taken out of context, the pots do not identify as Chilean.

My search for thematic plant containers has yielded information about the world’s pottery traditions, and concluded that there is no good substitute for a sign. My next step is to try hanging clay nameplates on the pots. I’ll report on that approach in a future column.

Gardening can lead us in unexpected directions!

Tom Karwin is president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, president of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus and Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). Visit for more information, and send comments or questions to

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Family mission helps widow, orphan

Posted Jun. 11, 2016 at 7:00 AM

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No cars, no problem? Imagining a sustainable city

The following is an excerpt from the Worldwatch Institute publication “State of the World: Can a City Be Sustainable?”

Describing a sustainable city is no easy task. Cities differ in geography, climate, culture, history, wealth and a host of other dimensions, each of which precludes any possibility of a one-size-fits-all approach to urban sustainability.

A sustainable Riyadh will look and operate differently from a sustainable Reykjavik because of their disparate climates, among other distinctions. In addition, no mature models of urban sustainability are available today, anywhere on the planet.

And even at the definitional level, there is little agreement about what constitutes a sustainable city. Although many of the necessary technologies and policies are well known, recipes for creating a fully sustainable city have not been developed, much less implemented.

Because of these uncertainties, describing a sustainable city is, to some extent, an exercise in imagination. The paragraphs that follow are one possible product of such a visioning exercise.

Imagine a city 20 years in the future, perhaps in Europe, Japan, or North America, that is well on track to becoming the first sustainable city in the world. When it launched its strategic plan for sustainability in 2016, it unfurled the most ambitious sustainability effort ever seen. In this imagined future, you are a 40-year-old accountant and mother of two:

The bedside alarm beeps insistently, nudging you into Monday morning. You surrender to it, emerging from bed into a short shower. Becoming resource-aware was a challenge for you and your neighbors after citizens approved the “Our City, Remade” strategic plan.

But over time, you and your fellow citizens have matured into a world of resource limits, having shed your parents’ no-tomorrow approach to resource use and their misplaced attachment to consumption. Your internalized ethic of restraint gives you the bearing of, well, an adult. You wear it well.

Teeth brushed and fully dressed, you head to the kitchen through your living room, lights illuminating the way automatically as sensors detect your presence.

The apartment is snug, with two bedrooms, a small office, a kitchen, a living room and a balcony. But for you and your spouse, it works well now that “stuff” is kept to a stress-free minimum, and given the common space you share with neighbors: your two kids spend the bulk of their play time downstairs with neighbor children on the nearly traffic-free street, where the occasional car must inch its way through an obstacle course of benches and planters.

The apartment complies with standards set by the city’s 100 percent Renewable Energy initiative, which promotes high levels of efficiency and conservation and is supported by an annual increase in fossil energy prices. The city’s energy conservation program helped your landlord swap out inefficient windows and install solar panels and solar water heaters — he had little choice, really, given the large increase in fossil fuel prices.

Today, the city has nearly eliminated fossil fuel use, and your energy consumption, at about half its previous level, can now be accommodated by the city’s stock of renewable energy.

You walk the little ones to the school three blocks away, engaged in their chatter about today’s field trip to the nearby greenway, one of 17 large wildlife corridors that radiate from the city’s center to its periphery. Rich in habitat and feeding spots for birds, butterflies, frogs, squirrels and other wildlife, the corridors are an integral part of the city’s infrastructure.

As extensions of local classrooms, the corridors host field labs for the kids’ nature course (they will observe tadpoles today!). The corridors are also recreational havens, featuring trails for hiking and biking, fitness courses, picnic areas and wildlife education placards.

The lush, park-like radials are crisscrossed by green chains of vegetated roofs, community gardens, ponds, street landscaping and other hubs of natural activity, creating a network of nature that is deeply integrated into city functions.

The 17 radials serve as natural flood channels and recharge areas for city aquifers, absorbing the now-torrential rains generated by a changed climate and saving the municipality millions of dollars in construction costs for wastewater conduits and ever-deeper wells.

Arriving at the school, you kiss the kids goodbye and hop on the streetcar to continue on to work, nose in your tablet. Three kilometers down the line, you get off, pull a city bike from the rack and pedal the last kilometer to the office. Home to office is just 25 minutes, even with the school stop — 15 minutes faster than the same trip made by car years ago.

New taxes on gasoline and parking had made driving unviable, yet now you rarely miss the car. Between the streetcar, biking, walking and car sharing, you have transportation options for every need.

And given the city’s new emphasis on mixing businesses and residences, core goods and services are often just steps away. Your waistline is smaller and your wallet is fatter without the car, insurance, gas and maintenance expenses. Above all, your new commute is a calming experience, not a stressful one, as it puts you in touch with the people, sights and smells of your neighborhood.

Yours is a full life, with family, work, civic activities and volunteer work crowding your calendar. Yet most of your daily activities happen within two kilometers of home. The “Dense Community, Vibrant Community” land-use initiative has brought together more people in neighborhoods across the city, stimulating economic transactions and stronger community ties.

Neighborhood outlets meet all of your food needs, most of your recreational and social needs and a great many of your repair and supply needs. You can easily go one month without traveling more than five kilometers from your home, yet you hardly feel trapped — the wide variety of offerings and extensive social connections within that circle keep you stimulated and alive.

After a six-hour day at work (your hours are reduced through job sharing, giving you more family time while increasing employment), you reverse the morning commute: bike, streetcar, walk.

But at the streetcar station, you pause to peruse the offerings at the farm stand, grabbing some fresh vegetables, pasta and a loaf of bread for dinner and tucking them into the canvas bag that accompanies you everywhere. (No meat today — that once-a-week pleasure is applauded by your doctor, who likes your cholesterol numbers, and by the city’s Pollution Control Board, which celebrates lowered greenhouse gas emissions from its Meatless Weekdays program.)

Your bounty today is nearly free because you’ve racked up credit from trading in your homemade compost. The farmer, a local who tends vegetables on three formerly abandoned city lots, values the compost for its structure and organic matter. You value the organic vegetables.

The rhythm of home and work life continues throughout the week, with changes each day to your post-work routine. On Tuesday, you take your toaster in to have its frayed cord fixed. Gone are the days when you would toss out an appliance in favor of a new one, repair now being more affordable than purchasing following the enactment of the citizen-approved Materials Tax, which made metal, plastic, wood and other materials more expensive relative to labor.

Many downtown retailers have evolved into repair shops. The modern culture of repair has renewed an old tradition: handing down household goods to one’s children, often over multiple generations. Widely admired are the householders whose goods are old and fully functional — sturdy iron can openers and hand egg beaters from the 1920s, for example, or solid oak tables and chairs kept in good repair.

Prized as expressions of resource stewardship, these goods are daily reminders of the new materials ethic at the core of your sustainable city today.

On Wednesday, you remind the kids to take out the discard can. Tomorrow is discard pick-up day for the spring quarter. The city’s No Fill for Landfills initiative has cut landfill waste by 93 percent in two decades. Discarded packaging and other waste has been largely eliminated, thanks to a Producer Take-Back initiative that holds companies responsible for any waste associated with their products, giving firms a strong incentive to reduce packaging.

It helps that you have developed a new sensitivity to throwing things away: the thought of using a paper towel or paper bag (remember them?) once and tossing it in the trash — your unthinking daily habit years ago — now prompts recoil.

“Waste” generation has been reduced so greatly that the city has sold off its fleet of garbage trucks, instead renting small pickups from the car sharing company every three months to collect residual materials. Nearly all of this is recycled.

On Thursday night, you send the kids to a neighbor’s apartment to work on homework as you and your spouse head out to a meeting at the kids’ school. The facility is bustling with community and civic initiatives. An adult basketball league has games under way in the gym, young and old pump iron in the weight room, and meetings of the historical society, the district music club and cooking classes are in progress in the classrooms.

You and your spouse head to the auditorium for the Budget Consultation meeting — the chance for your district to provide comments about the proposed city budget. You are particularly excited to float some ideas for your district’s Community Grant, funds that you and your neighbors can spend as you determine.

Late Sunday afternoon, the family takes its weekly promenade, strolling 10 minutes to the plaza at the district center, a favorite gathering place for people from nearby neighborhoods.

You treat everyone to ice cream, but the evening is focused on people more than purchases. The kids soon are surrounded by friends, laughing as they play jacks or hopscotch on grids defined by the plaza paving stones. Parents discuss politics and sports with friends. A music ensemble plays in a corner of the plaza, the notes floating across the square on the warm summer evening. Couples dance to the tunes.

Heading home, your week coming to a close, you lag a few steps behind the family, lost in thought. How much has changed since the “Our City, Remade” strategic plan was launched 20 years ago. How impossible it all had seemed when the new sustainability goals were approved, with great trepidation, after a contentious campaign. Yet how much richer your life is today.

You ponder the irony: less has led to more, living leaner is living richer. Sure, the city still has its challenges, but the great restraint that governs city life somehow has made it more prosperous for more people than ever before. Indeed:

  • Gone is the excess, the wasteful use of so much. In its place is resource stewardship and a deep appreciation for civic resources of all kinds.
  • Gone is frivolous and thoughtless purchasing. In its place is a restraining ethic characterized by the question, “Will this make my life better?”
  • Gone is pollution, a noxious sort of waste. In its place is an ethic of cleanliness that extends from the family to industry and the city as a whole.
  • Gone is homelessness, hunger and most material poverty. In its place is an ethic of equality and dignity — that every person has value and a place in the community.
  • Gone is the anonymity of the big city, even as the city has grown through in-migration. In its place are strong and diverse district communities.

You catch up with the family and turn the corner to your apartment building, energized for a new week.

From imaginary to reality?

This imaginary city clearly has made a strong effort in the direction of sustainability. But is it enough? Without a defined set of yardsticks, the answer is unclear.

Some analyses — such as the study that Mistra Urban Futures undertook to calculate the lifestyle changes required in Gothenburg, Sweden, to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions to two tons per person — give results that look much like the lifestyle of our protagonist.

But an analysis such as that of Vancouver, Canada, which uses an “ecological footprint” methodology, would restrict our protagonist still further: no meat, and no travel by plane.

Other analyses, such as that of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, suggest that keeping global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or less this century is possible but will require aggressive actions immediately.

Thus, much work remains to develop a toolkit that allows cities to measure and chart a path to sustainability.

The situation is complicated further by the different sustainability requirements for wealthy and developing countries. Wealthy countries, with the infrastructure and prerequisites for a dignified life already in place, need to shrink their use of fossil energy and materials enough to allow developing countries to expand theirs.

If our protagonist’s city were in a developing country, her week would be filled with expansion: first of infrastructure, including schools, clinics, transport, parks and sports facilities, and second of income-generating opportunities that, in turn, would boost consumption to levels required for a dignified life.

In sum, while sustainability in our protagonist’s imagined city required a degree of scaling back and slowing down, her cousin’s poor city across the ocean requires faster economic growth and consumption to lift all citizens to stable lives, even as it also pursues greater efficiency. Thus, the path to sustainability is context-dependent.

Given the variability of approaches to sustainability, this volume does not attempt to prescribe a single path to a sustainable city. Instead, it lays out ideas for moving in the direction of urban sustainability, toward cities that, in their broad outlines, look like our imagined city, with renewables supplying nearly all energy, waste nearly eliminated as a circular economy takes hold, prominent attention to the “people side” of sustainable cities — health, education, jobs and equity — and a repurposing of modern life away from consumerism.

The details will be different in cities worldwide, but most of the prescriptions in this volume head in these general directions.

Scattered throughout the volume are a set of “City View” profiles highlighting the sustainability efforts of diverse cities worldwide. All are inspiring and contain measures that could be adopted or adapted for use in other cities seeking a sustainable path.

Freiburg, Germany, for example, has taken a wide range of steps to reduce its footprint, while providing a high quality of life to residents. And Jerusalem, Israel, has made considerable effort to maintain its green space and to protect biological diversity within city limits.

But lurking behind each success story is a nagging question: Are these cities doing enough? Have their efforts delivered them to the doorstep of true sustainability? In a world that requires huge reductions in carbon emissions, waste and materials use, and equally large increases in renewable energy use and in material and energy efficiency, the answer would seem to be, “No, not yet.”

This is not to be discouraging: new initiatives can build on the gains described in these profiles and multiply their benefits. But it is sobering to note that no city can be content with current achievements, no matter how impressive. The successes described in the City View profiles are launching points for a new round of efforts, rather than crowning achievements.

Cities today are in an exciting position to take leadership on the preeminent challenge of our era: the effort to build sustainable economies. Cities are, after all, where many sustainability issues are lived out — where most commerce, energy use, production and other modern drivers of unsustainability (and one day, of sustainability) take place.

Just as important, cities are where people are most likely to understand and engage sustainability concerns, where discussion is no longer abstract but becomes grounded and real. People care about their cities and often are motivated to protect and improve their urban homes. Cities can harness that passion to help advance a sustainability agenda, perhaps more easily than national governments or corporations can.

Indeed, cities may be our best hope for shifting economies in a sustainable direction.

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6 ideas to improve the new Metro Market in Shorewood

Published June 11, 2016 at 8:17 a.m.

We’re in the golden age of grocery stores.

So many options, sizes, locations, shapes and forms. Plus, the way we all shop is constantly changing. More grab and go, more stops, more delivery, more organics and more, more and more of everything.

I love it. And I love talking about grocery shopping because everyone has an opinion. Some just love “their stores.” Some swear by Costco, Walmart or Target. Others can only handle Amazon Prime/Pantry or Peapod, while still others stick to Pick ‘n Save or only will shop at places like Whole Foods Market, El Rey, Fresh Thyme, their neighborhood Sendik’s or the corner independent.

Whatever your grocer of choice is, let the store know what you like and dislike about it. Competition and price wars are tough, and stores need to continue to be creative in their presentation, loyalty programs, parking and other amenities to keep you away from the place down the street.

All this said, I’m really enjoying the new store that’s close to my home, Metro Market in Shorewood. Patterned after the Mariano’s brand in suburban Chicago, it’s a really nice, large-concept store that’s upscale but not too upscale. It’s a massive change from the old, crappy Pick ‘n Save that rotted just north of it, and while many people are too quick to cry, “It’s too big,” it is a great development that has spearheaded additional growth, density and dollars for the area. I still really love the Whole Foods on the East Side, but convenience drives many decisions, so a large portion of our grocery budget goes to Metro Market.

Now that we’re a few months in, here are my general observations – and six things I’d change about this store now. Employees at the store have probably heard my cries for music already; please know that all of these suggestions are presented in a positive, let’s-get-better manner. The better you are, Metro Market, the more of our money you get!

Let’s go.

1. Pop local corn

Freshly popped popcorn works. Right? It smells great, is a good profit center, excites kids and is healthy. But Metro Market, yours isn’t that good. Sorry, but it’s true. Maybe it’s the oils or perhaps the corn itself? So let’s pop local. Go north a few blocks and talk to the wonderful people at Goody Gourmet. They make amazing popcorn and in all flavors. Hire them, consult with them, learn from them. You’re all about local, so prove it. Pop your corn with the best in the area.

Everyone loves popcorn. Good popcorn, though.

2. Play some music, please

Music matters, and while I love the piano in the bar area, the rest of the store has no vibe. Pipe in some Spotify or Pandora. Kick the old school pop like Whole Foods does. It works, and it makes for a much more inviting shopping experience. Music makes us happy and, in turn, spend more. Until the speakers flow with tunes, I’ll keep the earbuds in and listen to my podcasts.

3. Continue to engage the street with better patios and outdoor selling

The scale of the building makes it a bit hard to create amazing outdoor space, but it can be done. And kudos for the landscaping, furniture and sidewalk stalls that currently exist. But adding design elements, shrubbery and consistent vendors outside will help, too. Design matters, even on the sidewalk. The urbanists will say that the main entrance should have been on the corner of Oakland and Kenmore. This may be correct, but you’re probably not going to change it now, as it would drastically affect the bar/sitting area. Add a grand corner entrance where the curved glass is; excellent design helps create long-term success. Something like this would be amazing. And look at this Safeway corner design.

The Petworth Safeway in Washington D.C., via

No matter what, continue to embrace the street at this corner and landscape it well. For inspiration, take a look at El Rey’s outdoor area, the Milwaukee Public Market or any Colectivo Coffee location.

Umbrellas, trees, color, plants. Continue to design outdoor space that we want to sit at.

4. Get a Bublr bike station

Get your bike on! Add a Bublr station. It will do great, Shorewood will embrace it and it’ll pair with the bike repair station you already have (kudos on that, by the way).

5. Paint the parking garage’s inside

Everyone – well, nearly everyone – forgets about the inside of a parking garage. Research shows people generally hate them all, so you gotta spice ’em up, light ’em up and color ’em up. Paint it. Bright, bold. Color matters. Use it. Kudos on the flower bed use on the garages. They look great!

The garage is dark, gray and uninspiring.

6. Consider closing off the beer/liquor area

This is a “problem” at many grocery stores. The liquor store within it isn’t a store at all, rather a section, aisle or area. Sure, there’s a small walk-in cooler and the selection is good. Consider, though, making it a store within a store. Half-wall the entire area. Seems weird that wine sampling is so close to the toothpaste section. Petty? Maybe. But, again, I think design matters and better designs makes us all buy more.

The existing beer cooler area.

Finally, many have wondered why the two-story store didn’t include escalators. It’s really fine without them, but also different and new for many shoppers. The company responded with this:

“As we went through our Shorewood Metro Market store planning meetings, our retail design team of architects, contractors and other parties spent a significant amount of time analyzing the incorporation of escalators in the design of the new Shorewood Metro Market.

“After much analysis, it was determined that the use of escalators did not give us the space we desired to offer the diverse merchandising selection that you see today at the Shorewood store. Escalators take up a great deal of floor space due to the angle of inclination required and they also require adequate queueing space at each loading and discharge point. Installation of escalators would have required two escalators (up/down), two companions known as “Cartolators” (up/down shopping cart escalators) and a stairway at the Shorewood Metro Market.

It should be noted that we have two Mariano’s stores in Chicago, our New City Mariano’s and our Lake Shore East Mariano’s that are also two-story locations where we do not use escalators due to the projected loss of merchandising space available.”

Thanks for listening, Roundy’s – er, I mean Kroger. I love your new Shorewood Metro Market. But let’s keep making it better and better.

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His landscape designs take an artist’s (quirky) vision

If there were a competition for tackling out-of-the-ordinary landscaping projects, Mitch Kalamian, a landscape designer, would be on auto entry.

Pour pink-colored concrete onto a patio for a Newport Beach resident? He’s done it.

Seemingly float an infinity spa in the shape of a diamond for a family of baseball fans? He’s designed it.

Take a line from a rapper client’s song and etch it on steps leading into a pool? He’s conceptualized it.

“People hire me for ideas because I make projects unique,” said Kalamian, a Huntington Beach resident. “Gardens are living, breathing works of art, and it makes it so much more interesting to add intrigue and spice to a yard.”

NBA basketball players, actors, singers and radio personalities.

Kalamian, who is currently booked out six months, has projects that cost anywhere from $20,000 to $500,000. His latest work was in a neighborhood where musician Rod Stewart and retired football player and television host Michael Strahan lived.

But back before the glitz, Kalamian was fresh out of college when he got his start in the industry. After studying landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, Kalamian could name more than 2,500 plants, but he wanted to learn more about masonry, building materials and fixtures.

While working with a landscape architect learning how to draw up plans, Kalamian felt he needed to get out in the field and get his hands dirty. So he would volunteer to pour concrete and lay tile before going into the office. He repaired golf greens to learn irrigation, studied more plants and maintained gardens in front of markets, banks and other commercial plazas.

His mission was to open a high-end custom residential boutique where he could dispel the stigma of contractors failing to deliver quality workmanship or finish in a timely manner.

After putting together a consumers guide that advised homeowners to check a contractor’s state license number and references, Kalamian set rules for himself and his company.

A pool should be finished in about two to three months. The team’s 15 field employees would wear uniforms and never use a homeowner’s bathroom; portable toilets would be provided. And even if a project was weeks away, he’d buy the materials in advance to avoid any delay.

This sort of attention has won Kalamain the California Landscape Contractors Assn. Landscape Beautification Award for Outstanding Landscape Projects for the past five consecutive years.

Over the years, Kalamian has noticed significant changes in landscape design as homeowners are tending to use their backyards for a “stay-cation,” he said.

They are investing in barbecues, fire pits, bars, pools and drought-tolerant gardens.

To get a feel for what a backyard theme should be, Kalamian takes cues from the home’s interior decorations as well as the exterior architecture and decides whether the backyard needs more privacy, shade or a more welcoming look from doors and windows.

For a contemporary-style home just miles from Huntington State Beach, Kalamian wanted to provide its owners with low-maintenance and naturally beautiful plants, so he added agave succulents, rosemary and a lemon tree in a backyard covered with travertine pavers.

He grew grape vines on the wrought iron fencing to hide the visible wetlands and instead of adding granite or tile to a built-in bar’s counters he installed an acid-stained concrete surface.

Design and construction aside, Kalamian said he noticed that homeowners didn’t want to solve backyard maintenance issues. So for $100 an hour he or his crew will trim hedges, prune trees, change out seasonal flowers, clean barbecues or pick up dog droppings.

The idea, he said, is to make a backyard instantly ready for use.

“It’s a fun business,” Kalamian said. “I like to take care of it all and I’ve seen it all.”

Like repairing an air conditioner for a homeowner’s dog kennel.

For more information, visit

Kathleen Luppi,

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi


At 50, Avila’s El Ranchito is still all about family

Asian-inspired night markets filling lots of stomachs in Southern California

Hansen: Built to last, Ganahl’s a marvel in today’s retail

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The Gardens of Versailles Now Include a Dazzling Man-Made Waterfall

Eliasson installed a series of giant waterfalls in New York City in 2008. The Versailles waterfall is the central work in a triptych of water installations in the garden, constructed using a crane, water, stainless steel, pump system, hose, and ballast, the artist said, declining at a press unveiling to confirm its actual height.

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Smithfield Gardens: looking back on a landmark nursery and landscape business – Virginian

For more than 40 years, Smithfield Gardens was a destination for people with dreams of integrating color and beauty into their own patch of earth. Devoted patrons will now have to seek inspiration elsewhere. The popular garden center and landscaping business quietly closed this spring.

Tom Conway, the owner of Smithfield Gardens, did not return calls for this story. But the founders of the Suffolk business still own the property and confirmed that it is on the market.

Linda and Bill Pinkham started Smithfield Gardens in the 1970s and over time they became household names to anyone interested in gardening and custom landscaping.

The couple met as ornamental horticulture majors at Virginia Tech, and their talents blended well in their shared career.

Linda Pinkham loved color and flowers, and at one time she thought she would go into the florist industry. She described her husband as the visual part of the team. He loved conifers and hostas and Japanese maples, to name a few. And he had the gift for bringing to life the dream landscapes that spun in his head.

“Every rock had a face and had to be placed just so,” Linda Pinkham said. “And if his crew planted a plant and didn’t have the face showing, he would make them dig it up and turn it around and replant it.”

In its peak years, Smithfield Gardens had a small army of landscapers on staff that helped beautify homes from Virginia Beach to Williamsburg.

“There wasn’t a day that there weren’t Smithfield Gardens trucks in Virginia Beach,” said Mac Houfek, a Linkhorn Park resident. “They were everywhere.”

And those customers returned the visits.

Houfek, whose gardens were featured on HGTV, happily traveled the 35 miles to Smithfield Gardens on Bridge Road in Suffolk.

“I’d take friends and it was like a field day,” she said.

The Pinkhams were plant collectors who drew like-minded customers, and they prided themselves on testing and stocking unusual varieties. They planted display gardens to help customers visualize how things could look at home.

“We also felt like that would give us a little bit of edge because we were out in the middle of nowhere,” Linda Pinkham said.

After 30 years, the Pinkhams sold the business to Conway, a longtime employee, and retired to pour their energy into their own extensive gardens at their home on the James River. Conway had worked at the garden center since high school and was general manager by then.

Pinkham said he ran the business the same way she and her husband did, and that it continued to thrive for years after they left. She declined to comment on Conway’s decision to close.

But she and others say the housing bust of 2007 and the recession that followed took a brutal toll on the green industry.

“I guess it hit garden centers first and then landscape about a year later,” said Jeff Miller, executive director of the Virginia Nursery Landscape Association.

The struggle was nationwide, he said. “And it was a real test who could make it and adjust quickly,” he said.

Many went out of business early on, he said.

“It was pretty devastating,” said Art Parkerson, owner of Lancaster Farms, a wholesale nursery about four miles from Smithfield Gardens. “In 2008, almost overnight our sales dropped 40 percent.”

Businesses that provided the trees and shrubs for the housing market got hit the worst, he said.

Back in 2004, business was booming, and Parkerson and his staff made the decision to increase production. Four years later, when those plants were ready for harvest “all of a sudden the market tanked,” he said. “We ground up and threw away millions of dollars of plants.”

The 47-year-old business still had a customer base and no debt, so they weathered the storm. After the recession, Lancaster also created an on-site plant outlet open to the public. “One of the things that drove this decision was that local garden centers, including Smithfield Gardens, were not buying much from us at all,” Parkerson said. The outlet helps him understand retail customers and what challenges they face, he said.

Smithfield Gardens’ strength was custom landscaping and a destination clientele of serious plant collectors, Parkerson said.

“I think part of their response to the recession was to not have the plants on the shelf that they normally had.”

And that meant disappointing their niche market. “And I think it was a downward spiral for them,” he said.

Some strategies to survive the downturn worked and some didn’t. One that succeeded made McDonald Garden Center something of a trendsetter, he said.

“I would say that nationally, people all over the country are looking to McDonald as an example,” Parkerson said.

The retail garden center had locations in Hampton, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake by the time the recession hit.

“We were losing sales volume due to the economy and were trying to find a way to make it up without building a new store or something like that, which is a huge capital investment,” said Mark Anderson, president of the company.

Anderson said they looked around and saw they had a large supply of plant tables from years past when they stocked area commissaries. So they worked out arrangements with shopping centers to put fenced markets in their parking lots during the peak gardening season.

For the shopping centers, it created “some excitement and a different customer base,” he said.

It gave McDonald Garden Center a different customer, too – plant shoppers looking for convenience over the expertise found in a full garden center. Anderson said they’ll have 13 of the satellite markets dotting cities all the way to Yorktown this year.

He and others say, gradually the green industry is growing again.

Blooming, if not booming.

Linda Pinkham would love to see a garden center on the Smithfield Gardens property again. But she doubts that will happen.

“A lot of people have closed their doors,” she said. “And we just hated it that Tom was one of them.”

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Gardening event to offer tours, tips at 4H camp – Omaha World

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2016 1:00 am

Gardening event to offer tours, tips at 4H camp

The Master Gardeners of the Eastern Nebraska 4H Camp will hold a special gardening program open to the public on Saturday at the camp.

The Garden Magic program will begin at 9:30 a.m. and go until 1 p.m. at the Eastern Nebraska 4H Camp, located on Highway 31 about 5.3 miles south of the Nebraska Crossing outlet mall.

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      Friday, June 10, 2016 1:00 am.

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      Vegetable Garden,

      Jared Parker

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      Water Saving Tips At The June 11 Master Gardener Garden Fair

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      Dethatching tips, planting calendar, gardening events

      Planting calendar — Beans, pumpkins (plant closer to July 4 for a Halloween harvest), sweet corn, winter squash, sweet potatoes.

      Time to dethatch — Bermuda and zoysia lawns that have more than 1/2 inch of thatch should be dethatched in June or July, Ward Upham of K-State says. Core aeration is the method of choice for thatch between 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch, he says. For more than 3/4 inch, power raking is best, with the blades set just deep enough to pull out the thatch, Upham says. It usually takes time to get thatch levels down, he says; proper watering, fertilizing and mowing practices also will help. But if thatch is too thick, it may be easier to use a sod cutter to remove the existing sod and replant with seed, sprigs or plugs, Upham says.

      Brown rot on peaches and plums — Brown, fuzzy growth on stone fruits such as peaches and plums signal brown rot caused by wet weather, Ward Upham of K-State says. Such fruit should be destroyed to prevent the rot from spreading, he says, and the fruit should be treated about a month before harvest, or even closer to harvest if necessary. Apply Captan or myclobutanil (Immunox) every seven to 14 days; both products can be applied up to the day of harvest, Upham writes in this week’s Horticulture 2016 newsletter.

      Meanwhile, the good peaches are early and ripe for the picking at local orchards, and it’s time to start enjoying peach season.

      Garden events

      Newton Flower Garden Tour this weekend — A Newton garden tour including talks by experts in the gardens will be 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The $8 ticket can be purchased at any of the gardens — 1621 Hillcrest Road, 933 Spruce, 725 N. High, 1817 Cypress Lane, and Carriage Factory Art Gallery and the J.J. Krehbiel Garden at 128 E. 6th, all in Newton. Here’s a schedule of the talks:

      “Watering in the Landscape and Garden” by Harvey County extension agent Scott Eckert at 9:45 and 10:15 a.m. Saturday and at 1:45 and 2:15 p.m. Sunday, at 1817 Cypress Lane; “Color My World Using Plant Dyes” by Lee Llamas of Red Llamas Landscaping at 10 and 10:30 a.m. Saturday and 2 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, at 933 Spruce; “Creating Mosaic Art for the Garden” by Mary Lee-McDonald of Carriage Factory at 11 and 11:30 a.m. Saturday and 3 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, at Carriage Factory; and “Gardening With Black Walnut Trees” by Constance Gehring at 11:15 a.m. Saturday and 3:15 and 3:45 p.m. Sunday at her garden at 725 N. High.

      Kids Day at Kansas Grown market — Saturday, June 11, is Kids Day at the Kansas Grown Farmers Market. Donuts and milk will be served, along with coffee for adults, and there will be face painting by Patches the Clown, removable tattoos, balloons from Troubles the Clown, chances to win prizes, and picture-taking with “Star Wars” characters, Thunder Dog, Chuck E. Cheese and McGruff the Crime Dog. The market runs from 7 a.m. to noon at 7001 W. 21st St. Market website:

      Suzy Bogguss at Bartlett Arboretum — Country singer Suzy Bogguss will perform at 4 p.m. Sunday at Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine. Gates open at 3 p.m. Two tiers of tickets are available: $10 at the gate, or $50 at for preferred parking, reserved seating and a meet-and-greet with Bogguss before the show. Picnics are welcome, and food from Luciano’s Strada and Lyon’s Den BBQ will also be for sale. The new south bridge at the arboretum will be dedicated during intermission.

      Suburban Garden Club meeting — The Suburban Garden Club will meet at 10 a.m. Monday at Sharon and Frank LaForge’s garden at 10819 Par St. for a tour, and anyone is welcome to attend. Lunch will be afterward for those who are interested at Chili’s at 10520 W. Central.

      Daylily meeting — The Wichta Daylily Club will have its regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Botanica. Members will be getting registration packets ready for the regional meeting that will be June 24 to 26 in Wichita. The meeting is free and open to the public.

      Tuesdays on the Terrace — The Emily Strom Trio will perform at the next Tuesdays on the Terrace at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Botanica. Junipers and Gingers will be the theme. Drinks, dinner and music will be served on the Terrace until 8 p.m. Admission is $10, $5 for members. Dinner will be for sale for $7.

      ICT Food Circle talk — Mikel Bowyer of ICT Food Circle will be at Botanica on Wednesday to talk about bringing farmers and consumers together and about the power of food. His lunchtime lecture, at 12:15, is included in Botanica admission or membership. Lunch will be for sale for $8 between 11 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.

      Next week’s garden tours — The Kansas Pond Society’s pond tour and the North Riverside Garden Stroll will take place next weekend:

      ▪ The North Riverside tour will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 18; tickets are $5 at Johnson’s Garden Centers and Seasonal Decorating at 2828 W. 13th St., and at each of the gardens on the day of the tour: 1402 N. Garland, 1530 W. 20th St., 1919 N. Payne, 1435 N. Woodland and 1415 N. Salina. During the tour, monarch butterfly advocate Teresa Hammer will be at 1530 W. 20th Street garden to give out information about attracting butterflies, tagging monarchs and creating way stations, and Chad and Melinda Mulligan will be at 1402 Garland with bee-keeping information and tips to increase the bee population.

      ▪ The pond tour will be 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 18 and noon to 6 p.m. June 19. Tickets are $10 per car, which include addresses, maps and descriptions of the tour sites. A ticket also will include free entry to Botanica from 9 to 5 a.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are for sale at garden centers and Botanica.

      Annie Calovich

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