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Archives for July 9, 2016

Secret Gardens Tour includes butterfly haven

Volunteer master gardener Jane Worth is proud of a little-known patch of land in Bellbrook that encourages butterflies to gather. It’s no wonder then that the Butterfly Garden at Petrikis Park is on The Secret Gardens of Bellbrook Tour this Sunday, July 17. It was installed in 2010.

“People pass by on (Ohio) 725 and they can kind of peek in, but they are going so fast they don’t know what it is,” said master gardener Jane Worth, who’s been volunteering at the park this past year.

Worth lives just two blocks away from the park in Bellbrook. But she usually has to drive there, as she’s hauling a bunch of tools. She estimates she’s put in about 50 hours so far this season.

“We have as many native plants as possible, like cone flowers, yellow coreopsis and asters,” said Worth. “This milkweed right here is very important because it is the larvae host plant for monarchs. We also have orange butterfly weed, and swamp milkweed that the caterpillars love to eat.”

While we were there, the bees were buzzing around the tall, spiked red and purple Beebalm. The garden also boasts butterfly bushes which are not native. An interesting aspect of the garden are annuals planted in the shape of a butterfly, planted by Vickie Carter. Arborvitae trees create a nice border in the back of the garden.

In addition to Petrikis Park, the Bellbrook Sugarcreek Park District’s other gardens on the tour include the Rock Garden and Three Season Perennial Garden at Park District Headquarters, Prairie Restoration area and Tree Erosion Mitigation at Sweet Arrow Reserve, and the Shade Garden at Bellbrock Park. Another Greene County Master Gardener assisting on the tour is Kathy Gall.

“What I love about gardening is trying to find plants that work in a certain area; getting the right plant for the right place,” said Gall, a six-year master gardener who lives in Bellbrook.

Learn about native plants, garden design, composting, succulents, reforestation, composting and other gardening topics. Master gardeners will be present at each site to answer questions. Enjoy a raffle and refreshments at the Bellbrock Park Gazebo at 57 N. Main St. in Bellbrook.

“We are very excited to highlight the hard work the master gardeners have done over the years in our parks,” said Alison Jenks-Pifer, Bellbrook Sugarcreek Park District program supervisor. “We have been holding a lecture garden series for the last few years, but this summer the tour will allow both organizations to teach (with) hands on learning and observation.”

Those who wish to go on the tour are encouraged to go online to to register and also be apprised of any tour updates.

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This ‘weekend warrior’ of home renovations has bought and redesigned 5 N.J. houses

N.J. Home Makeover is a regular feature on To submit your renovation for consideration, with your full name, email address, phone number and town/city. Attach “before” and “after” photos of what you renovated.

Robert Amejka has five homes. The one where he lives in Colts Neck, a townhouse in Jersey City, a ranch house in East Brunswick, a condo in Highlands and a waterfront dwelling in Perth Amboy.

He owns Irvington Tobacco Company, a wholesale business now based in Jersey City, and renovates houses as a hobby. He lives in each property and works on it Saturdays and Sundays. When a property is fully renovated, he finds a renter.

He sold the first home he renovated, but has held onto most of them since then. Building a real estate empire wasn’t his goal when he began buying properties to fix up about 10 years ago.

“It’s a passion,” says Amejka, 60. He describes himself as a frustrated would-be architect. “My weekend projects are what drive me.”

He adds, “When I put my personal touch on a property, I don’t want to sell it. Plus, they are generating income now, and it’s a wonderful thing.”

The renovation

After major flood damage in Hurricane Sandy, the most recently completed Perth Amboy townhouse was restored with a modern European edge and industrial elements. The previous owner had signed a contract to sell the property to Amejka just two days before the storm hit — and would then need to sell to him at the discounted price of $175,000 to save the deal.

“I initially canceled the purchase, but I decided that it would be a good investment with all the other (Sandy-damaged) homes being redone,” Amejka said.

“This was my first inside-out renovation,” he said of the 1,500-square-foot home with two bedrooms and one and a half baths. He decided to update the facade, which originally matched 13 neighboring properties built in 1977 as a condominium development. “The style was considered modern, but my updates are industrial-modern,” he said. “I went to an industrial exterior.”

Amejka said his siding contractor, accustomed to Colonials and more traditional houses, winced at his plan to use three types of siding — cedar, vinyl and James Hardie fiber cement boards — and then top it all with metal roofing. “It was a vision that was not common,” Amejka said.

While the basic shape of the house was unchanged, Amejka selected glass doors for the two-car garage and a stainless steel front door. For the balcony and a short decorative fence near the door, he installed heavy galvanized cable anchored horizontally with eye hooks and spaced four inches apart to meet building code. For design balance, he had an overhang added above the second-story sliding doors.

With a little tweaking, his unique-for-the-area redesign began to attract a lot of attention from those visiting Perth Amboy’s marina.

The dining room of Robert Amejka’s Perth Amboy townhouse after renovations. (Photo courtesy of Robert Amejka) 

“It was not uncommon for me to give tours or have people taking pictures of the project,” he said.

Amejka says he has taken design courses to support and enhance his renovation hobby. He is fan of modern architecture and design, and his ideas are often inspired by the homes in Dwell magazine.

A key aspect of Amejka’s hobby is shopping for cost-cutting “finds,” such as the Italian designer kitchen used in Perth Amboy. He bought what had formerly been a display kitchen in a Snaidero showroom from Green Demolitions, a Fairfield company that saves high-quality kitchens that might otherwise be discarded. Amejka’s kitchen setup blends pricey Miele and Liebherr appliances with Snaidero’s high-end countertops and cabinetry. Everything cost $7,800.

“I got it for 90 percent off retail,” he said. “It was a steal.”

He found four large replacement windows for the front of the house at Lowe’s. “They were ordered incorrectly and returned. I got them on clearance for under $600. Originally, they were around $3,300,” he said.

Beyond the bargains, he took down a wall that divided the living room, and pulled up ruby red carpeting to reveal hardwood flooring beneath. Similar wood was installed in other areas.

While Amejka hired contractors for the major jobs, he says he did about 25 percent of the work himself, including the demolition, much of the painting and other smaller jobs. “I am a weekend warrior as far as renovations,” he said. “The creative part of it is the inspiration.”

What he renovated

A waterfront townhouse in Perth Amboy

Who did the work

Liberty Home Improvement of Hillside installed the siding. Amejka says he hired various trades professionals for other projects.

How long it took

A year and a half, from January 2013 to June 2014

How much it cost

About $75,0000

Where he splurged

“I splurged on the stainless steel front door and the glass garage doors,” Amejka said. “The door was a little expensive ($3,800 ), but the impact was priceless. The metal front roof was also a very different application for a private residence in that area.”

How he saved

With “finds” such as a kitchen from Green Demolitions that had previously been a showroom display, and a miss-sized order that had been returned to Lowe’s and marked down for clearance.

What he did himself

Demolition, painting, landscaping, interior design. “A lot of the stuff I helped one contractor with,” Amejka said. “I was his assistant, so he gave me a break on the pricing.”

What he likes most

“It was very gratifying to have the end product be exactly what I wanted,” he said.

What he’d have done differently

“I would have left the cedar siding a little more natural instead of putting the orange tint on it,” he said.

Kimberly L. Jackson may be reached at Find Entertainment on Facebook.

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Get to know your new candidates running for Madison City Council

MADISON, Ala. – After three Madison City Council members called for new blood in the council by announcing they will not seek re-election, multiple candidates have stepped up to fill the soon-to-be-empty roles.

Council members Tim Holcombe (D1,) Ronica Ondocsin (D7,) and Mike Potter (D4) said in June they will not seek re-election for a council seat. It’s no secret Mayor Troy Trulock and some council members butt heads on issues that affect the city. We’ve reported on their fight about a lack of communication before passing the 2016 budget. It continued with city manager possibilities, and then over the Donald Trump rally costs to the city of Madison.

The municipal election will be held on August 23, 2016. Incumbents Steve Smith (D2,) DH Klein (D3,) Tommy Overcash (D-5,) and Gerald Clark (D6) are running for re-election.

New Candidates:

James Ross

James Ross – D1


  • 30 Year Military Retiree, US Army (Former Command Sergeant Major, US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Redstone Arsenal, AL)
  • MA in Organizational Leadership, University of Texas at El Paso, UTEP
  • BA in Homeland Security, American Military University
  • Director of Huntsville Operations, TMC Design Corporation
  • Active Top Secret Security Clearance
  • Three Children in the Madison School District
  • Air, Space, and Missile Defense Association (Board Member, Ex Officiato)
  • Air Defense Artillery Association (Executive Committee)
  • Madison Basketball Association (Head Basketball Coach, Youth 10 Under)
  • Madison/Huntsville Chamber of Commerce (Active Member)

Campaign Priorities:

  1. Continue economic growth and support small businesses
  2. Support our schools and enhance public safety
  3. Improved infrastructure with an emphasis on roads
  4. Work with other city officials and eliminate in-fighting that is hurting our progress
  5. Be an active voice for the citizens of Madison

James Ross’ campaign Facebook Page:

David Chisgar

David Chisgar – D1

Madison resident David Chisgar announced recently his intention to seek the District 1 Madison City Council seat in the upcoming August election. “I feel very fortunate to live in this community. Madison is a unique city with unlimited potential. I want to be a voice for smart growth– to keep our schools top notch, improve our infrastructure, and strengthen business development. We have some truly wonderful local businesses that deserve our city’s support to
continue to thrive.

“With two children about to enter Madison City Schools, I have a deep commitment to ensuring our district receives the funding it needs and deserves. I also want to see our roads and parks improved. Lastly, Madison needs to value its current business owners, as well as seek new retail, restaurants, and entertainment. Revenue generated from business sales tax is vital to smart growth.”

Chisgar, and his wife, Matti have been residents of Madison for 10 years. They have two boys, ages 5 and 3. “Our ties to this community are very strong. Our youngest son was born in Madison Hospital not too long after it began deliveries. And our 5-year-old is excited about starting kindergarten this fall at West Madison Elementary School.”

Chisgar works on Redstone Arsenal as an engineer. He received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of South Florida, and also holds a Masters of Business Administration earned at University of Alabama in Huntsville. He is an active member of Trinity Baptist Church, volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, and is currently enjoying helping coach his son’s T Ball team at the Hogan YMCA.

David Chisgar’s campaign Facebook page:

Maura Wroblewski

Martha Wroblewski – D1

Maura Wroblewski and her family have lived in Madison since 1999. She has been married to her husband, Ron, for 25 years. Their children, Zach and Sarah, attended West Madison, Liberty and graduated from Bob Jones. Zach graduated from Berry College this past May with a Political Science/Secondary Education double major and received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach overseas for the 2015/2016 school year. Sarah will return to Marion Military Institute as a sophomore with the hopes of a career in the Air Force. With her children grown Maura will have the time and energy to work for the citizens of Madison.

Maura and her family are members of Asbury UMC where she helps teach the Christian Families Sunday School Class and was Chair of the Asbury Community Thrift Store for many years. She works part time at the Hogan YMCA as Weekend Manager. “By working part time she will be able to work full time for you!” she says on her campaign page.

Maura’s priorities are road improvements particularly for Balch, Brownsferry and Gillespie Roads with particular attention to the Gillespie/Balch intersection. She would work for an increase of bike paths and sidewalks along those three roads. Another priority is an increase in retail establishments, with a priority to fill vacant storefronts, and to bring the gas station at the corner of Gillespie and Bach into the city limits through tax incentives. Maura also has a plan for no kill, foster driven animal shelter paid for through private donations and not tax dollars. Lastly, the crown jewel of Madison is our school system. It is (past) time for Limestone County to release those tax dollars that Madison City/Limestone County residents pay back to Madison City Schools.

Maura Wroblewski’s campaign Facebook page:

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson – D4

Brad Johnson is running for the Madison City Council, District 4. Johnson has lived in Madison for most of his life. He and his wife, Emily, have been married for nine years and have been sweethearts for 17 years. Brad and Emily are the proud parents of three beautiful daughters, Elaina, Bristol and new baby Addie. Brad and his family attend Trinity Baptist Church in Madison.

Johnson began his career in the insurance business at age of 19. In 2007, he started his own insurance small business and has grown it from inception into a very successful Allstate insurance firm with a large and growing client base.He has won many awards during his career, including being recognized as the number one agent in Alabama and the Southeastern United States in customer service satisfaction in 2015. Johnson is currently ranked number one in the nation of over 10,000 agencies with Allstate in customer service satisfaction so far this year. He has been named the multi- line agent of the year in Alabama and the Southeast United States for the past 3 years.

Johnson’s primary goals as City Councilman are simple and achievable with hard work and commitment:

  1. To grow revenues by focusing daily on the business growth of the city and attract large and small businesses; to foster the growth of new businesses of all sizes and types; to always be a good steward of the Madison taxpayer’s money and cut out wasteful spending.
  2. To focus on working diligently with the Madison City School System to ensure it offers Madison children the best schools and education in all of the State of Alabama and continue to assure their bright futures.
  3. To work hard to solve the aging, overburdened and road system and other infrastructure problems and issues of the Madison community through new, creative, and innovative ideas; working hard to implement fixes like installing traffic lights, repairing potholes, and adding turn lanes in key locations to help traffic flow more smoothly.
  4. To work hard and diligently to build sound, healthy, and productive working relationships with the Mayor, other council members, city department heads and employees through effective communication, openness, and transparency while practicing basic civility and sound business ethics. To work together, as city leaders, to effectively serve the residents, business owners, and civic leaders of Madison. He will remain open and welcoming to the input, ideas and criticisms of Madison’s voters and residents.

Brad Johnson’s campaign Facebook page:

Greg Shaw

Greg Shaw – D4

Greg Shaw is seeking his first term to represent District 4 on the Madison City Council. Shaw believes he has the understanding of an employer, the management skills of a small business owner, a keen insight into the City’s infrastructure and an awareness of issues facing Madison City Schools, to be an effective representative on City Council.

Having lived in Madison since 1984, Greg and his wife, Kimberly Romans Shaw, are products of Madison City Schools. In 2010, Shaw was named into the Bob Jones High School’s Hall of Fame for his community contributions to Madison as a BJHS graduate. The Shaws have been married for over 16 years and have two children, Maddie, 11, and Reed, 3.

The Shaw family resides in Cedar Springs Station on Mill Rd. Shaw became active in the architectural control committee (ACC) at its inception. He served on the initial ACC board that established the neighborhood’s governance as it transitioned control from the developer to the homeowners. Once properly transferred to the homeowners, he served as President of Cedar Springs HOA for two additional years. The Shaws continue to support Cedar Springs ACC regularly when there is a community project.

Shaw holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Auburn University in Horticulture (’96.) He established Southern Scape LLC almost 20 years ago and located it in Madison (Palmer Rd – District 4). Today, he employs 35 full time employees and another 10-15 seasonal personnel. His company has worked in over six states across the southeast doing commercial and estate landscaping on major projects. He has opened a second location in Nashville, Tennessee to better serve customers. His leadership as owner of Southern Scape LLC earned him recognition by the professional organization LandOpt as their 2012 Rookie of the Year.

Shaw’s professional career has exposed him to working with federal, state and local governments across the state of Alabama. He served on a State of Alabama commission to improve the bidding process to create a more fair and balanced system for the State as well as contractors.

His insight into Madison City Schools (MCS) is more than as a former student and current parent. In addition to being involved with his daughter in the system, Shaw has continued to support the Board of Education (BOE) serving on committees. He served in 2014 on the salary supplement committee for coaches at the invitation of MCS Superintendent, Dr. Dee Fowler. In 2015, the BOE president, Dr. Terri Johnson, enlisted his service on a similar committee for principals. He now continues to serve Dr. Fowler on a MCS committee focused on generating revenue. Greg is very aware of the growth issues facing MCS and the issues associated with Limestone County. He is committed to supporting their resolution in an equitable manner.

He believes his professional knowledge will allow him to be an effective Council advocate in continuing to improve our infrastructure by working with Engineering, Public Works (PW) and Madison Utilities (MU).

Greg Shaw’s campaign Facebook page:

Dan Shanahan

Dan Shanahan – D5

“I am a proven leader who wants to move Madison soundly and securely into the future.  I would appreciate your support for my campaign. He is a proven leader with over 30 years of service to his country in the US Army,” Dan Shanahan said.

Shanahan is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. He has two Master Degrees in Public Administration and in Strategy.

Dan Shanahan’s campaign Facebook page:


Kathryn Wall Norman

Kathryn Wall Norman – D6

Kathryn Wall Norman’s campaign platform:

  1. I am not a career politician! I have no past political experience, but I am learning quickly. I am, in my lifetime, a long time small business owner; a registered health care professional who worked a long time at a local military hospital; a wife, daughter, mother and grandmother; I am a politically attuned citizen of Madison; and I am now a young retiree. I will work FULL TIME as a council member. As a council member, I will have an open door policy and have respect for all the citizens who live in Madison. This “Open Door Policy” will not only be for the citizens of Madison but will also be for our 300+ city employees to come openly talk and get the respect and voice they deserve. I promise to actually listen and “hear” what you have to say and work hard to be fair and to always do the right thing.
  2. The Council and Mayor should work as a TEAM for the betterment of Madison. The tactics of playing the “blame game”, the practice of undermining, the frequent finger-pointing, the political moves and strategies to discredit, and other unsavory practices must stop. The Council, Mayor, department heads and employees must all work together in harmony to achieve future success for the City of Madison.
  3. Tax dollars in Madison should be spent thoughtfully and for the betterment of Madison, for all of Madison’s citizens. Madison’s City Council should have a “wants vs needs” list and the Council must work on the “needs list” as a top priority. Council should keep the “wants list” for when we, as a City, can afford to do the projects. This is very much like our own “household budgets”.
  4. Madison citizens are animal lovers and support efforts regarding their pets. It is critical that the City of Madison find a way to help our Madison Animal Control have a better shelter and a no-kill shelter for our pets who are missing or ones needing a new home. I would like to see the City’s animal control efforts become a “city and volunteer joint venture” using city property; use a joint partnership model of city employees and volunteers; and seek to fund the increased efforts with a combination of city and private donation money. I will work to make the Animal Control a department separate from the Police Department and its budget and to make it a thriving, viable, self-supporting entity and something everyone can be proud of.

Kathryn Wall Norman’s campaign Facebook page:

Lena Sledge

Lena Sledge – D7

“I’m a long-time resident of the city of Madison and I care about my city. What happens in Madison directly affects my neighbors and my community. I intend to help promote economic development and community relations by encouraging the retention of current businesses, as well as creating a supportive system that appeals to new businesses. As the city of Madison expands westward with new residents and new businesses, we need to decrease traffic disruptions, improve parking, and address aging infrastructure to support our incoming neighbors.”

Lena Slege’s campaign website:

Lena Slege’s campaign Facebook page:

John Seifert

John Seifert – D7

“Now officially your candidate for Madison City Council – District 7. Thanks in advance for your support. Look for me out in your neighborhood in the coming days and weeks. I want to meet and hear from YOU on your thoughts on the city. My top three goals are follows:

  1. Improve Funding for Our Schools – The schools are our number one asset and reason why people move here. Let’s continue to improve and modernize them to keep up with the city’s growth and challenges ahead. Let’s make sure our taxes support our schools! I look forward to working with Madison City Schools to determine innovative ways in which the city can support their needs.
  2. Improve our Quality of Life: Our parks and recreational areas are in dire need of prioritization within our city’s budget and planning efforts. Let make our facilities second to none in the state and places we can be proud to call our own.
  3. Smarter City Growth: Remember the comprehensive development plan? Yeah, let’s get back to executing the plan and bringing in strategic business in locations and areas that make sense. Development with a plan…bust for development’s sake.”

John Madison’s campaign Facebook page:

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Cheerleaders and sick days: Five questions for California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez

If you follow state-level legislation aimed at helping working people, you’ll see the name Lorena Gonzalez come up often. As a member of the California Assembly, Gonzalez wrote California’s paid sick leave law, but that’s not all:

Assemblywoman Gonzalez also passed legislation prohibiting HOAs from fining homeowners for replacing grass lawns with drought resistant landscaping, created the first workplace bullying training requirement in the nation, and paved the way for stronger safety standards for high school student athletes by classifying high school cheerleading as a sport. She also co-authored the nation’s toughest rules to close the gender pay gap, and passed California’s New Motor Voter Act to streamline the registration for nearly seven million eligible voters.

Even in deep blue California, Gonzalez’s bills don’t always become law, but she’s been instrumental in moving the ball forward there, showing the rest of the nation that laws so often characterized by their opponents as unworkable pie in the sky are in fact sound policy. We asked Gonzalez five questions.

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Gardens ready for visitors in Livingston County

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X factor for high desert gardens in xeriscaping

I’ve become so accustomed over the past decade to Boise’s high desert climate — and the brown, sage-brush covered Foothills — that whenever I visit western Oregon, I’m bowled over by the technicolor array of greenery in that biosphere. It’s like discovering a Crayon box filled with only emerald hues.

My fondness for the lush landscapes of wetter climes has definitely hindered my investigation into plants better suited for the Treasure Valley. But let’s face it, drought-tolerant plants just make sense here.

Portland gets about 40 inches of precipitation each year, most of it from rain. On average, Boise gets just shy of 12 inches of annual precip — and very little of that comes during the blazing summer months.

National Weather Service data show these monthly precip norms: .69 inches in June, .33 inches in July and .24 inches in August.

I’ll admit that when gardening expert Debbie Courson Smith suggested a Dig In video on xeriscaping, images of dreary plants surrounded by rock flash through my head. But my perception of xeriscaping — and the plants associated with it — was wrong.

Xeriscaping is a landscaping designed for arid climates that utilizes water-conserving techniques, including drought-tolerant plants and mulch.

How do I know this? I’ve spent a fair amount of time looking at the plants in the xeriscape demonstration garden outside the front of the University of Idaho Extension building at 5800 N. Glenwood St.

If you’re interested in making your yard more water-wise, I suggest you check it out too or one of the other local native plant/xeric gardens listed in the box with this story.

“We have a wide variety of plants for you to check out seasonally — see what they look like in the winter, see what they look like in the spring,” Debbie said. “They change over the seasons, and that may be of interest to you.”

She warns that some people have the mistaken impression that xeriscaping means zero watering or maintenance. You will need to water, just not as much, and there will be weeds.

I found a bunch of plants outside the UI Extension office that I’d love to get, not just because they’re right for this climate or a good choice environmentally but because they are colorful (evening primrose, wine cups, black-eyed susans, lavender, coneflower) or have interesting texture, leaves (lamb’s ear). There’s a large, old Desert Willow tree that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and it’s got wonderful fragrant pink blossoms.

The Ada County Master Gardeners put out tags that identify the plants, so you can take photos and notes. If you’ve got questions, pop inside and talk to one gardeners. Here are some notes from Debbie and other experts about a few of the plants I found most eye-catching:

▪  Sedum. Easy to find and can play the role of “living mulch,” retaining soil moisture. It produces blooms on low stalks, and the flowers attract pollinators. Available in a variety of colors and textures. Some species used in green roofs.

▪  Delosperma nubigenum, or hardy yellow ice plant. Perennial groundcover. Yellow daisy-like flowers in late spring.

▪  Curliecue sage, or sea foam. Bubbly-looking with little yellow button flowers in late summer.

In an article about water-wise landscaping this past spring, Nell Frazer Lindquist of the Idaho Botanical Garden encouraged readers to consider native plants because they typically need less water and may not need fertilizer.

She noted that Boise’s Draggin’ Wing Farm specializes in growing and selling drought-tolerant plants that are native or well adapted to Idaho.

Pro tip: Don’t feel like you have to re-do or plan out your whole yard. Experiment in a section of the yard that’s particularly dry, as along the driveway.

Though some people who xeriscape their yards do use rocks, you don’t have to use any. To help the soil retain water, put down a bark mulch instead. Or not. It’s really up to you.


  • University of Idaho Extension, 5800 N. Glenwood St., Garden City.
  • Jim Hall Foothills Learning Center’s Native Plant Garden, south side of building, 3188 Sunset Peak Road, Boise.
  • The Idaho Botanical Garden’s Water Conservation Landscape, 2355 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise.
  • The BLM FireWise Garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden, Boise.
  • Suez’s low-water demonstration garden at 8248 W. Victory Road, Boise.
  • Draggin’ Wing Farm’s demonstration gardens at 5300 N. Stinger Drive, Boise.

Classes, info on xeriscaping

▪  Every spring, the City of Boise collaborates with Suez Water (formerly United Water) to offer public free classes on water-efficient landscaping, composting and other topics. Look for notice of those classes in late January or February. They’re typically held at a city library, with 30 to 100 attendees each week.

▪  A water conservation/low-water plant display is in the works at Boise’s main library, 715 S. Capitol Blvd. Also, in August, there will be one at the Hillcrest Branch Library, 5246 W. Overland Road.

▪  Check out the Xeric Gardening Facebook page for information on xeric gardening and local events.

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What To Grow In Your Forage Garden

“Native plants give us a sense of place, of where we live and where we come from. Our local mountains are held together by the vast root systems of native plants. They support the butterflies and bees, the birds and native pollinators that so many people love. A beautiful California native oak takes only the water it needs, sequesters carbon, and gives habitat and food to hundreds of beneficial species of insects, birds, and animals. Foxes, woodpeckers, endangered amphibians.
Each oak functions as a community — providing food, shelter and resources for hundreds of species. In the Los Angeles basin, millions of oaks inhabited the landscape, but were quickly clear cut, chopped down and dynamited to make room for invasive grass for non-native cows and grazing animals. The few remaining oak woodlands are still under incredible pressure. Our native oaks stand testament not only to our own lifetimes, but to six or seven generations to come.

Here in Pasadena, the Englemann oak has been severely impacted and is nearly extinct. So instead of eating the crop that appears every two years, we’ve worked hard to collect acorns from the few remaining trees. Our responsible approach to propagating the acorns will germinate a few hundred new trees.”

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How to create the perfect Japanese garden

At its heart, the perfect Japanese garden is all about using form and structure to create a serene environment. And restraint, of course, so it can be a bit of a challenge for the herbaceous border-loving British gardener

That includes me, because I love playing around with colour and planting combinations. But it’s about thinking in another way – and that can be incredibly satisfying.

Getting started

You don’t have to be an expert. Even beginners can have a go. The key is not to try to replicate what you see on the internet because, unless you spend time studying and visiting a lot of temples in Japan, you won’t be able to. Try to draw inspiration from the style of gardening instead, and play with the methods and techniques. In my own work, rather than creating like for like, I try to use some of the theories that are behind Japanese gardening.

Restraint – there it is again – is key, especially when it comes to colour and planting schemes. In a recent design, we worked with a number of plants and trees that only have one show a year. So in spring, a beautiful flowering magnolia. Then nothing, except some bold evergreen hedging. In early summer a flash of blue from the first irises. Then nothing again until autumn, when the eyes are drawn to the liquid amber of the season’s changing leaves.

Bamboo: a giant woody grass for year-round Oriental charm


Simple Japanese-style tree planting

Trees are often the focus of Japanese gardens. Acers are fairly typical and will ring Japanese bells with many people, but I recommend pines too. Then it’s all about keeping it simple. Planting a single Scots pine, or Pinus sylvestris, for example, in a terrace or gravel courtyard will bring out the beauty of the tree – the texture of the trunk and structure of the branches. Or, if you have a bigger plot, you can repeat a particular tree throughout the space, keeping the Japanese style if not the exact execution.

Accessories for interest

I would suggest accessorising the garden with pots. Containers instantly add height and can be really effective, especially in smaller gardens, courtyards and London plots. In terms of colour and finish I like to be quite bold, especially if your hard landscaping is the typically muted Japanese style.

Dark red pots and garden furniture work well. Or if you want to go for a more classic look, choose containers with a rough render finish and furniture made out of composite material. You can get really beautiful composite tables and benches now. We’ve used ones with cedar battens on the underside for a warmer look and feel.

Japanese-style water features

Moving water within a Japanese space needs to be very slow with minimal turbulence so the noise is low, almost seductive. Still sheets of water create wonderful reflections, which are, of course, another feature of Japanese gardens.

In fact, one of the best ways to show off a tree that’s architectural in structure is to reflect it in water. And then, on a grander scale, if you have an estate, you can work with reflections in a lake. But, although it is lovely to have that kind of work, not many of us are lucky enough to own that sort of space.

Distinctive foliage: Acer, also known as the Japanese Maple


Inspiration for your Japanese garden

One of the most famous – and extreme – Japanese gardens is the Ryoan-ji stone temple garden in Kyoto in northwest Japan. But if you can’t get there, the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, designed by Charles Jencks just over the border in Dumfries, is another really good one to visit. The design was inspired by Japanese theories. And I love the way that rather than masses of planting, it relies on all sorts of wonderful land forming and ground shaping and the beautiful bright red, Japanese-style bridges. I just find it really interesting.

Keeping it interesting

It’s surprising just how interesting it is to design a Japanese garden and to create a space that requires a huge amount of patience to be properly enjoyed. I have been taken aback by how much pleasure it has given me. It’s a different way of thinking about things and those are the kinds of challenges that keep you motivated. You should give it a go.

Products to help you create a Japanese garden

Acers (pictured above)
Distinctive foliage – also known as the Japanese Maple – variety of colours to create a striking look. Prices from £4 to £58 (12 in range). Limited availability in some stores.

Bamboo (pictured above)
A giant woody grass for year round oriental charm. Prices from £20 to £42 (9 in range). Limited availability in some stores.

Rowlinson Oriental wooden Pagoda (pictured above)
Bring a touch of the far east to your garden and create a stunning focal point. Available for Home delivery from, not Click and Collect or stocked in store.

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Tips, tricks to debugging your garden

If you discover that some kind of insect is damaging your garden, what should you do?

The best thing you can do? Keep calm and carry on. The worst thing you can do? Spray your garden with insecticide. Here’s why.

First of all, a little insect damage is actually good for your crops, whether edible or ornamental. It stimulates growth hormones to repair damage and stimulates the plants to produce insect-repelling compounds.

But what if a pest is so numerous that it threatens to destroy your crop? That’s a signal you need to encourage more beneficial insects to live in your garden, the kind that eat pests for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can invite them in by planting nectar and pollen-producing plants, especially ones with umbrella-shaped flower and seedheads, like fennel, dill, and carrot, even the wild carrots called queen anne’s lace.

Insect scientists also suggest leaving about 10 percent of your garden space planted in whatever happens to grow wild there (except blackberries and poison oak). This will be habitat for native pest-eating insects.

Pests are food for beneficial insects, so by spraying insecticide on your garden, you are wiping out the pests and the good guys. Pests, however, are designed by nature to be the first ones back into a garden that has been sprayed. After all, they eat plants, so the table is set.

Until pest populations build up, there’s not much for beneficials to eat, so they show up last. The result is that your pest problem will be worse than before.

Besides luring beneficials by providing them with food, water and habitat, you can also order them online and release them in your garden. Be aware that it takes time for beneficials to become working members of a healthy garden ecosystem. They won’t cure a pest breakout overnight.

Green lacewings, mealybug destroyers and other beneficials are available locally at Harmony Farm Supply in Sebastopol. Online sources also will ship them to you. Just search “beneficial insects for sale.”

Some caveats about releasing beneficials in your garden. Ladybugs, also known as lady bird beetles, are voracious eaters of small pests like mites and aphids, but the first thing they do when released in your garden is take a cleansing flight to eliminate body wastes built up during processing and shipping. Many will not return to your garden, although some will.

Usually, they are naturally plentiful when insecticides haven’t disrupted the garden’s ecosystem, so if you see some already in your garden, you probably don’t need to release more.

As for praying mantises, avoid them. Yes, they eat pest insects, but they also eat beneficials. So they do as much harm as good.

Instead of insecticides, there are many nontoxic ways to control pests. Floating row covers will keep pests from infesting your crops. For instance, those cute little white butterflies that usually spiral around each other in pairs? They are Imported Cabbage Worm adults, and their larvae are those velvety, squishy, green caterpillars you find on cabbage family members. Row covers over cabbage crops will prevent them from infesting your crops.

Big caterpillars, like the pretty green hornworms with little red tails you find on your tomato plants, can be hand-picked and destroyed if they are causing excessive damage. Otherwise, ignore them, as they are food for beneficial parasitic wasps. Aphids can be washed off plants with a strong jet of water from a hose and they won’t return, although their siblings might.

Beneficial insects and the pests they eat

Assassin Bug — Flies, caterpillars, blister beetles

Bigeyed Bug — Leafhoppers, spider mites

Braconid Wasp — Codling Moth, Imported Cabbage Worm, Tomato Hornworm, Cabbage Looper, Aphid

Centipedes — Soil borne mites, larvae of many insects

Damsel Bug — Aphid, Leafhopper, Thrips

Dragonfly — Each dragonfly can eat 300 mosquitoes a day

Ground Beetles — Slugs, snails, Cabbage Root Maggot, many other pests with a soil stage in their development

Hoverfly — Aphid

Ichneumon Wasp — Caterpillars, Imported Cabbage Worm

Lacewing (and related Western North American native Snakeflies) — Corn Earworm, Aphids, many other pests

Ladybug — Aphid, Spider Mite, scale, mealybugs, other soft-bodied pests

Minute Pirate Bug — Thrips, Spider Mite, Leafhopper nymphs, small caterpillars

Solider Beetle — Spotted Cucumber Beetle, Corn Rootworm, Aphid, caterpillars

Tachinid Fly — Caterpillars, Cabbage Looper, Squash Bug, Stink Bug, Tomato Hornworm

Yellow jackets are considered beneficials, too. You may not want them around when you’re eating outside in July, but they are general pest predators (although they prefer grilled lamb).

— Jeff Cox

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Off with their heads: Alan Titchmarsh’s tips on deheading plants

Other roses, though, can often be encouraged to produce a second crop of flowers if they are deadheaded. The operation can be done in two halves.

First, snip off each individual faded flower from the cluster at the tips of each stem.

You’ll be astonished at how this freshens up the plant, whether it is a hybrid tea, a floribunda or a shrub rose.

Second, as soon as all the flowers have faded on a stem, cut back that shoot by about 9in or a foot, just above a leaf, to a point where the stem is about pencil thickness. 

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