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Archives for July 18, 2016

Garden team have high hopes of transforming Oxfordshire’s landscape

EVERY now and then a dream partnership comes along that changes everything: Lennon and McCartney, Morecambe and Wise, Gilbert and Sullivan.

Now a new partnership is on the scene with the hope of transforming gardens across Oxfordshire and further afield.

Pete Bownes and Jack McKenna are the team behind Kew Green, an Oxford-based landscaping company that earlier this month picked up a silver medal at the Royal Horticultural Society Hampton Court Palace Flower Show for a Japanese summer garden.

The company was set up eight years ago but Mr McKenna, who has qualifications in landscape architecture, joined a few months ago and the business rebranded.

Now, following on from their Hampton Court Palace award, the pair are ready to take on the world.

Dad-of-one Mr Bownes said: “When Jack came along with his design head we started doing a new sort of landscaping.

“It is a little bit more interesting, it is more design led and we felt like we were creating something rather than just laying a patio.

“It is something that is popular in Oxfordshire.

“Back in 2008 with the recession people were not spending money on their houses and gardens but that has changed.”

Mr McKenna, 24, said: “Our gardens are an extension of the house really, that is how we look at it.

“We try to bring what the person does inside outside and reflect it in the garden and design it around that.”

The pair’s Japanese garden at Hampton Court Palace was designed by a London firm but on most projects Mr McKenna and Mr Bownes do all the work from start to finish.

They recently finished a project which saw them transform the garden of a house in Kennington.

Headington resident Mr McKenna said: “The owner contacted us last June wanting some work done on her garden.

“She had recently had an extension that was quite modern and she wanted a garden to tie in with that and a place to entertain.

“I was still at university at the time and I worked with Pete on some design work.

“It is good to see it turn from a plan to reality. We are on site all the time so if there any problems or anything we want to change we can sort it at the time.”

Mr McKenna and Mr Bownes are about to start work on a five-week project to create a wildlife garden at a house in Radley.

The company also picked up a gold medal at the Blenheim Palace Flower Show last year.

Mr Bownes said: “When we work on a garden it becomes our garden as well to a certain extent, it is nice in that respect.

“Hopefully we will end up with a county covered in Kew Green gardens.

“We have got a lot of enquiries.”

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Upscale playhouse designs get some love

Extravagant playhouses might be on the rise as Grand Rapids architect Wayne Visbeen will be featured on a television series designing and building playhouses for clients, including National Basketball Association star Steph Curry.

Visbeen initially thought the playhouse industry might be a fun experiment — usually each design takes him less than 10 minutes — but the architect said he’s pleasantly surprised with where it’s ended up.

It started when Tyson Leavitt saw Visbeen drawing a home on stage at the National Association of Home Builders International Builders Show in Orlando, Florida. Leavitt, who owned a landscaping company in Canada, starting chatting with Visbeen and wanted him to help design his new house.

In March 2015, Leavitt called Visbeen and said he was going to sell his landscaping company to design playhouses and wanted Visbeen to do the drawings.

Leavitt flew to Grand Rapids to meet with Visbeen, who ended up drawing nearly 30 playhouses in the first meeting. Through the discussion, Visbeen became a partner in the company, Alberta, Canada-based Charmed Playhouses.

At the time it started, Visbeen wasn’t sure what to think beyond it being a fun endeavor, but now that business is speeding up he’s happy he went along with it.

“You never know,” Visbeen said. “I throw a lot of lines out to see what hits. We had no idea it would turn into a TV show where people can see me draw live and see what I do.”

When the initial business idea was taking shape last year, Visbeen asked Leavitt to help build a playhouse he was already working on in Grand Rapids for a child through the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.

A TV network learned of the installation and sent a producer from a production company to see if the idea of playhouses was show-worthy. The producer ended up making a “sizzle reel” and headed to dinner with Visbeen and Leavitt to learn how the process works.

On TV at dinner was the 2015 NBA Finals game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, just after Curry’s daughter, Riley, had become the talk of the series for her interruption of a press conference.

Visbeen suggested he draw a playhouse for Riley, eventually making one to resemble the Oakland Bay Bridge, and put it on social media. Curry’s wife, Ayesha, saw it and contacted the company, wanting to do a playhouse.

Designs have ranged from pirate ships to climbing towers to observatories, with prices ranging from $7,500 to more than $100,000.

“It’s fun, spectacular,” Visbeen said. “I can be with a client and within two to three weeks have designed, built, delivered and installed a playhouse.”

With a cable TV show and lots of media coverage in Canada, Visbeen said he thinks it’s a matter of time until the trend hits the United States in a big way.

He said drawing playhouses is quick, fun and ultimately helps attract more clients for Visbeen Architecture.

“It’s a blast,” he said. “As an architect, I have to deal with codes, restrictions, client budgets and the reality (that) not everyone can do something fanciful in their house and make it last. These can be ridiculous fun with ideas that just flow out of my mind.”

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Fingers crossed for three little kittens





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Meeting Monday on Wooster Square transit setup, study

Mary O’Leary — New Haven Register
At left, Alder Aaron Greenberg, D-8, listens to developer Noel Petra, right, describe his development for the Wooster Square neighborhood in a recent waking tour. Resident Cordalie Benoit is in the center.

NEW HAVEN A planning study of transit-oriented development and connectivity to downtown for the Wooster Square neighborhood will kick off Monday night with the first community meeting.

With the help of a grant from the state Office of Policy and Management, Utile will conduct the $65,000 study that will look at some seven sites for potential development and how they would interact with walking and bus routes (both current and proposed,) bike paths, parking and traffic flow.

A key component will be Fair Street, which is now a dead end at Olive Street.

The contract with Utile, which undertook the city’s Mill River District plan, says without a link “between Union and Olive streets, the block bound by State, Olive, Chapel and Frontage Road becomes a ‘superblock’ and an impediment to pedestrian and bicycle access.”

It says this also forces “circuitous vehicular routes and thus increasing congestion.”

Utile will look at a previous study of Fair Street, which was changed to a dead end during redevelopment in the early 1960s.

With Nelson Nygaard, Utile will also look at a second Farmington Canal Heritage Greenway route through the area as it heads to the terminus at Long Wharf Drive.

“As this area of the city experiences rapid growth and change, the Farmington Canal Heritage Greenway can provide an important release value for travel demand to the area,” the contract reads.

Utile has been tasked with providing up to three overall concept development plans based on an estimated seven site-level test fits, showing new connections between Wooster Square and downtown. Up to four will be chosen by Utile and three more in partnership with the stakeholders group.

One of the four sites that Utile has been asked to look at is the closed C.Cowles factory on Water Street that the city still hopes can be converted to housing.

It is trying to convince the owner, Larry Moon, to remain open to considering housing there after RMS and Company could not reach an agreement on who would pay for potential environmental work at the site.

Cowles has a potential deal with U-Haul. The city says housing, in terms of activity in the area, as well as future business development, is much more advantageous to New Haven.

Ninigret Partners, as part of the study, will also look at retail strategy based on previous reviews by the Town Green Special District and the Downtown to the Hill plan.

Utile has also agreed to identify the mix of new housing required to maintain the current level of diversity, as well as look at affordability.

A stakeholders group has been working with the city for some time now to lay the groundwork for this review. Members of the group recently met and walked a portion of the study area, which has been expanded to include the area of Olive Street and Grand Avenue.

Alder Aaron Greenberg, D-8th, who represents Wooster Square, said Monday’s meeting at 6 p.m. at the Conte West School at 511 Chapel St., is the first of six meetings at which the neighborhood can weigh in.

“It’s an opportunity for the public to bring their ideas and concerns. This starts the conversation in an official way,” Greenberg said.

There will be a stakeholder meeting in early September, another community meeting in mid-to-late September; a community or Downtown-Wooster Square meeting in October and a City Plan Commission meeting in November.

After the stakeholder meeting held in late June, some of the suggestions for the area included:

Make Olive Street one-way to slow traffic and increase property values; put an emphasis on a walkable community; connect the train platforms on State Street to the Smoothie building; upgraded landscaping and the tree canopy; upgrade Russo Park and DePalma Court; develop parking lots along State Street; narrow State Street to slow traffic and encourage development.

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Garden of the Week: The Heenan family

Reading Eagle: Harold Hoch | From left, Joanne and Pat Heenan and their daughter Brighid in the backyard garden of their Oley Township home.

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AAUW Garden Tour to feature flatlands, waterfronts and terraced gardens

Refreshments for tour participants will be served from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Arts Center, 115 2nd St. SW, in Jamestown.

Tickets are $8 in advance and may be purchased at the Arts Center, Country Gardens Floral, 106 Business Loop W.; Don’s House of Flowers, 1107 7th Ave. SE; the Buffalo Mall; The Garden District Inc., 1602 Business Loop E.; Lloyds Toyota, 500 17th St. SW; the Garden Gate, 208 1st St. W; and from AAUW members. Tickets are $10 the day of the tour and after 3 p.m. and are only available at the Arts Center or at each stop on the tour.

For more information about the tour and a map of the tour, go to


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more than 50-year-old rhubarb plant, two river-front garden areas and a smoke bush are some of the sights people can see on the AAUW Garden Tour Wednesday.

This is the 27th tour sponsored by the Jamestown branch of AAUW. Proceeds from the garden tour support the AAUW Educational Foundation, AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund and the AAUW Endowment Fund at the University of Jamestown. The tour will be held from 4 to 8 p.m.

There are four stops on the tour this year: Gerhardt and Gayl Lange, 901 2nd Ave. SE; Ken and Rosemary McDougall, 1605 9th Ave. SE; Gary and Jill Riffe, 220 9th Ave. NE; and Al and Renaye Wartner, 602 8th Ave. NW. Refreshments for those taking the tour will be served from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Arts Center, 115 2nd St. SW, in Jamestown.

Gehardt and Gayl Lange

Gerhardt and Gayl Lange moved into their 2nd Avenue Southeast home 18 years ago after their son took over the family farm north of Eldridge. Gayl Lange said the main layout that makes up the garden at their home was there when they moved in.

“We changed a lot of what is within the layout,” she said.

Lange said one of the bigger changes they made was creating a water feature—a pond. She said there was a low-growing cedar bush in that part of the garden layout along with some other plants.

“We didn’t have any sort of overall plan for our garden,” she said about changes she and Gerhardt have made over the years.

Lange said they chose a pond because water features were becoming popular in the area at the time. They took out the cedar plant and dug out the area for the pond themselves. Once the pond was installed, Lange said they took some rocks from the family farm and used them to create a walking path by the pond, then planted hostas around the pond, as well as ribbon grass and irises.

Lange said the garden is a mix of hostas, perennials, decorative grasses and ferns. A unique item in their yard is a rhubarb plant Lange said her mother gave to her shortly after she was married to Gerhardt.

“That was over 50 years ago,” she said.

The rhubarb plant was replanted from the family farm and Lange said she likes it for the large, green leaves it produces.

Al and Renaye Wartner

Having property along the James River can be a challenge, according to Al and Renaye Wartner. Al Wartner said in 2009 and 2010, their yard along the river was destroyed when a flood-control dike was installed.

“It was quite a project to redo,” he said.

The first thing he had to do was get the river bank solidified by installing new boulders and rocks.

“All of the boulders from the hillside had to be replaced,” Renaye said. “It was impossible to retrieve the (old) boulders from the river.”

Al said it took two years to get the river bank secured. Once that was done, he restored the underground sprinkler system and replanted the lawn that had covered the yard around their house.

“I had never planted a yard before with grass,” he said. “It seems to have worked.”

Since 2011, the Wartners have replanted two mature evergreen trees on the east side of their property. They have prepared flower beds and planted shrubs along the river bank to go with the perennial and annual flowers planted there as well.

Al and Renaye said they have been on the AAUW Garden Tour themselves and got some ideas for their garden.

“Anyone looking for ideas on what to do with their yard or garden should go on the tour and see (what other people have done in their yards),” Al said.

Gary and Jill Riffe

The Riffes took two lots to create the home and yard they want to spend their time in. Jill Riffe said the original lot was forested, and they removed 15 to 18 unhealthy elm trees but kept a healthy buckeye tree on the corner of their property.

“In the fall, the red coloring (of the leaves) is amazing,” she said.

Gary said the tree is popular with school children who have to collect different kinds of leaves in the fall for a science project.

With the exception of the buckeye tree and a couple of smaller trees, Jill said every tree and shrub on their property was planted by them.

The Riffe’s yard is terraced behind their home, a feature that was there when they bought the property. Jill said the “crowning glory” of their yard is their flagpole, which has white and red blooming flowers next to it, part of a patriotic theme around the pole.

Jill said she has worked at the Flower Power Greenhouse, which is next to Cash Wise, for 15 years where she learned a lot about annuals.

“I love to mix them up,” she said about her potted plants. “I move them around like furniture.”

Jill said as of last week she had over 100 different perennial flowers in the yard. Riffe’s yard features a wide variety of plants, including a smoke bush, a split-leaf philodendron that has been a part of the couple’s garden since 1979 and a crabless crabapple tree.

Like other stops on the tour, Riffe’s garden and yard includes repurposed items from stones on the walking path to old sewer pipes used as planters.

Ken and Rosemary McDougall

Rosemary McDougall said she and her husband, Ken, built their home in 1996.

“We started with a clean slate,” she said about their yard and garden.

McDougall said they hired some professionals to help with the landscaping of their yard. They had the lawn seeded, some trees planted and a patio built. But she said the original plan didn’t work for them, so they redid most of the work themselves, including creating a new larger patio and using the stones from the old patio and creating raised flower beds.

McDougall said she likes all the elements of the yard and garden, but especially favors the window boxes on the house.

“They (the flower boxes) are characteristic of my German background,” she said.

Most of the window boxes on the front of the McDougall home are planted with flowers, while one in the back is used for growing herbs.

The McDougall yard includes a flower bed along the river with a decorative red pump and sitting area by the river as well. She said they had been asked to be on the AAUW Garden Tour before, but this year they felt their yard and garden were complete enough to show to the public.

“Our major projects, the patio and sitting area down by the river, our raised garden beds, are all complete,” she said.

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Garden Tour showcases about 50 properties


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Garden Tips: Harvest vegetables at the right time – Tri

Vegetable gardening is a lot of work, but it is worth it to be able to pick fresh nutritious produce from the garden.

However, not everyone knows when or how to harvest vegetables at the peak of perfection. Since many warm-season vegetables are becoming ripe, let’s talk about harvesting and care of just-picked veggies.

▪ Summer squash: Zucchini and yellow summer squash are best harvested when they are immature and only 4 to 7 inches long. To pick the fruit, cut off the vine using garden shears or a knife. If allowed to grow larger and more mature, the skin gets tougher and the seeds get bigger and harder. After harvesting, wash the fruit with clean water, and use immediately or store in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. They will only store for a week or less.

It is important to harvest fruit as soon as they reach the right stage, because it promotes the production of more fruit. However, you and I know there is always one zucchini on the plant that hides and grows to gargantuan proportions. Sometimes these are thrown out or given away, but creative cooks will remove the hardened seeds and stuff the fruit for baking, chop it up for use in soup or grate it for adding to zucchini bread or tomato sauce.

▪ Onions: Dry onions are ready to harvest when most of their tops have fallen over. When this happens, it means the onions are done bulbing and will not get any bigger.

To harvest, carefully pull them out of the ground and shake off as much soil as possible. In heavier soils, the onions may not pull easily, so lift them using a spading fork. Then cure, or dry, the harvested bulbs in a shaded location with good air circulation.

Keep in mind that sweet onions, such as Walla Walla Sweets, do not store well.

Once the roots are dry and the skins become dry and papery, cut the tops off about 2 inches from the bulb and store them in mesh bags under dark, dry, cool (32 to 40 degrees) conditions.

Of course, you do not need to worry about curing or storing the onions if you want to eat them immediately.

Keep in mind that sweet onions, such as Walla Walla Sweets, do not store well. Yellow onions store the best, followed by red and white onions.

The green stems and immature bulbs of green onions or scallions are harvested whenever they reach the desired size. Wash green onions thoroughly with cool, clean water before eating. Because they are immature, green onions do not store well and should be kept in the refrigerator and used within a week of harvest.

▪ Cucumbers: Like their summer squash cousins, cucumbers are harvested when they are immature and before the seeds fully develop. Cut them off the vine, leaving 1/4-inch of stem attached to the fruit.

The correct size for harvesting depends on the cultivar and their intended end-use, with pickling cucumbers tending to be smaller than those cultivars for salads and fresh eating. Check the cultivar seed packet or catalog to find the correct size for harvesting. Mature cucumbers are undesirable, because they have tough skin, bigger seeds and often a bitter flavor.

Harvest cucumbers regularly to promote continued bloom and fruit production. After harvesting, wash the fruit and then store them in the refrigerator for a week or less.

Harvesting melons can be tricky, so we will tackle that topic another time.

Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

Extremely bitter vegetables

Some bitterness in mature and over-mature cucumbers is normal, but gardeners occasionally encounter extremely bitter immature cucumbers or zucchini.

This is caused by high levels of cucurbitacin, a natural plant chemical. In cucumbers, environmental stress (such as extremely hot weather or wide fluctuations in temperature, uneven soil moisture and poor soil fertility) can induce high levels of this chemical.

With zucchini, extremely bitter fruit on a particular plant is not triggered by stress. Researchers have found that it is a genetic problem and probably because of cross-pollination with a wild cousin during seed production.

Extremely bitter zucchini and cucumbers can cause gastric distress and should be discarded. Also, do not save the seed of bitter zucchini.

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Proctor: Hot weather garden tips

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