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Archives for October 2016

Garden Club Will Host Author

Garden Club Will Host Author

Jan Johnsen will speak about the transformative power of nature at the next meeting of the Southbury Garden Club, 1 p.m. Friday, November 4, at the Southbury Public Library.

Garden Club Will Host Author

Posted: Saturday, October 29, 2016 6:00 am

Garden Club Will Host Author


SOUTHBURY — Professional landscaper and author Jan Johnsen will share her passion for creating peaceful, enticing gardens at the next meeting of the Southbury Garden Club, 1 p.m. Friday, November 4, at the Southbury Public Library on Poverty Road.

Based on her latest book, “Heaven is a Garden – Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection,” Ms. Johnsen will discuss the three features of a serene outdoor setting: simplicity, sanctuary and delight.

Drawing on her 40 years of experience in the design and horticulture professions, the author illuminates the surprising role that layout, power of place, color, trees and even rocks play in enhancing well-being outdoors. Richly photographed with verdant landscapes, the book illustrates how “power spots” can be enhanced, why contemplative gardens are suited for the north side of a house and which trees are best for adding certain unseen qualities to a garden.

Ever since she worked in Japan as a college student, Ms. Johnsen has been an advocate of the transformative power of nature upon our well-being. Her experiences of walking through ancient Japanese gardens made her aware of the power of serene outdoor spaces to calm and refresh.

She studied landscape architecture at the University of Hawaii, then went back home to New York State where she worked under a Versailles-trained French gardener at Mohonk Mountain House. There she learned the secrets of French professional horticulture and its all-natural techniques.

Her unique approach to garden design incorporates ancient practices with contemporary ideas. Her landscapes have appeared in numerous magazines, including This Old House, Landscape Architecture, New York Cottages and Gardens, East Coast Home, Westchester Home, Woman’s Day and Redbook.

Ms. Johnsen is a principal of the design/build firm Johnsen Landscapes and Pools in Westchester County.

She has taught at Columbia University and the New York Botanical Garden, and also writes the popular garden blog, Serenity in the Garden.

The hour-long program will begin at 1 p.m. Interested local residents are invited to attend. Advance reservations are suggested and seating is limited.

Those seeking additional information may call Carol Shaw, 203-267-4025.

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Saturday, October 29, 2016 6:00 am.

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Anyone can design a garden by following a few basic rules

Pathway of wooden steps in Tekoa, Israel (Photo by Joshua Siskin)


This is the moment for Chinese flame trees to show their true colors. In this case, we are talking about the colors of seed capsules, which may be red, pink, salmon, orange, or bronze, depending on the weather and the quality of light. Chinese flame trees (Koelreuteria bipinnata) are sometimes used as street or parkway trees due to their deep roots that are not known for elevating sidewalks. Depending on availability of water, they will grow anywhere from 20 to 40 feet tall. Chinese flame trees are cold hardy and should handle Antelope Valley winters without complaint.

You do not need to take a course in garden design in order to design a garden.

In fact, there is only one principle to which you need to adhere in order to achieve reasonable success in any garden design endeavor. And that principle, although it is found more typically in political or military strategy than in horticulture, can best be described as “divide and conquer” or “divide and rule” — words that were first made famous by Phillip II of Macedonia, whose son was Alexander the Great.

As a garden design principle, divide and conquer refers to breaking up a yard or other plot of ground into various parts. By doing so, you give the eye a chance to focus on discretely divided plant groupings, one by one, as opposed to getting lost in a melange of undifferentiated species that make a lot of noise, but not much of a melody, when combined haphazardly together.

While I will admit that the wild look has a certain appeal, it is more often frustrating than calming to the senses. Also, if a garden, ultimately, does not offer some sort of retreat or respite from the cacophony and confusion of the world out there, what is the purpose in having one?

Although there are no hard rules that apply to divide and conquer, it seems, generally speaking, that a small garden lends itself to a more symmetrical than asymmetrical presentation when it comes to drawing lines of separation between one section of plants and another. The larger the space, the freer and more flowing and curvaceous the lines of separation would naturally become.

Dry riverbeds flow

So-called dry riverbeds are increasingly used as a means of dividing and conquering yards and garden spaces. Tina Purwin, in front of her home in North Hills, has created a stunning and inviting dry river bed that extends nearly to the street. It is the warmest and friendliest such feature I have yet to encounter.

More often than not, dry river beds are composed of small stones or gravel of only one color, usually a dull white or grey, surrounded on both sides by ornamental grasses that tend to look weedy at times. Purwin has softened this effect in three ways.

First, the stones she has chosen are large and include some that are charcoal gray or rose colored to contrast with the white. The size of these stones is also a plus, giving the bed a solidity and stateliness that is sorely missing in gravel beds.

Second, she has selected flowering plants such as lavender, ornamental sages, and lantana that add more color to the overall effect. Not only do they flower, but they have a shapeliness about them that is also a welcome sight, as compared to the unruly if not shabby mien of those ornamental grasses.

Third, as mentioned, the bed meanders all the way to the street, a welcoming visage for passersby.

Adjacent to the riverbed at the front of her property, Purwin has surrounded a catalpa tree with decomposed granite (DG). The circle of DG echoes the roundness of the stones, in addition to serving the practical purpose of mulching the ground so as to minimize evaporative water loss under the tree.

Ground covers vs. trees

Once the DG is in place, some designers opt for placing ceramic or other artistically crafted containers upon it. Planting living ground covers in the ground under a tree is never a good idea since they take away water and nutrients from the tree and can cause real problems if allowed to grow up to the trunk or to cover woody roots that extrude above ground.

However, placing pots on top of DG, even under a tree, is not a problem. In such cases, a variety of colorful succulents are recommended since they will add vitality to the DG expanse and will only need to be watered on an occasional basis.

The most common method for dividing and conquering an extensive yard or garden space is by creation of pathways. You can make your pathways out of almost anything and spend a lot or a little in the process.

Wood chips from a tree trimmer work just fine for making informal pathways as long as you are prepared to replenish them every six to eight months. Or you can opt for simple stepping stones.

Menachem Weinberg, a rabbi who lives in Tekoa (a village in Israel’s Judean Hills 10 minutes from Jerusalem) decided to make the simplest of all pathways. He procured small planks of water-sealed wood, around 24 inches long by 8 inches wide and simply laid them on the surface of the ground. The same thing could be done with large ornamental stones, whether they are left completely above ground or partially dug into the earth but still extending above ground level, a technique that is sometimes used in constructing pathways in Japanese gardens.

You can make as many pathways as you desire, whether laid out symmetrically or winding freely about. The more pathways you create, the more planters you will have and more possibilities for experimentation you will invite.

You can devote one planter to fragrant species, another to milkweeds and other plants that attract butterflies, another to bulbs and rhizomes, another to bramble berries, bush berries, and strawberries, another to vegetables, and still another to succulents and natives. There are so many horticultural possibilities and you only get to live once, so why limit yourself?

For more information about area plants and gardens, go to Joshua Siskin’s website at Send questions and photos to

Tip of the week

This is the moment for Chinese flame trees to show their true colors. In this case, we are talking about the colors of seed capsules, which may be red, pink, salmon, orange, or bronze, depending on the weather and the quality of light. Chinese flame trees (Koelreuteria bipinnata) are sometimes used as street or parkway trees due to their deep roots that are not known for elevating sidewalks. Depending on availability of water, they will grow anywhere from 20 to 40 feet tall. Chinese flame trees are cold hardy and should handle Antelope Valley winters without complaint.

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How new buildings are going green

One of the elements that can greatly enhance the value and enjoyment of a home is beautiful landscaping. But with certain parts of the country facing water restrictions, and many others simply wanting to go green, both residential and commercial property owners are finding it increasingly difficult to keep lawns and hedges thick, green and free of dead zones.

“Many builders and decorators have begun incorporating artificial vegetation in their landscaping treatments, both to sidestep new watering regulations and reduce environmental impact,” says Dallas-based real estate developer, Braden Power of Power Properties. “Although most people haven’t yet begun to notice, ‘faux foliage’ is now sprouting up in various renovation projects around the country, including exclusive hotels and country clubs.”

Power says the new trend to use simulated greenery in building projects is about more than just water conservation: “Simulated plants are very environmentally friendly,” says Power. “Because insects aren’t attracted to them, there is no need to spray pesticides, so there is zero contamination of the soil and groundwater. And because fertilizer is not used, there isn’t a problem with nitrate runoff into nearby streams and lakes. When simulated grass is used, there is no monthly lawn service to pay for, nor is there any pollution from gasoline powered mowers, hedge clippers or leaf blowers.”

Despite the environmental benefits, Power says most people who hear the term “artificial plants” are at first quite skeptical, especially when “artificial grass” is mentioned.

“People usually conjure an image of the artificial turf they use on football fields, but they don’t realize that there are hundreds of artificial grass options, varying in color, texture, density and durability — similar to ratings of carpeting,” says Power. “There’s even a line with multi-colors and a ‘dead grass’ look at the base for realism; and it’s very soft on the feet.”

Power says he acquired a hands-on education in the use of artificial vegetation during the renovation of a courtyard apartment building in east Dallas. “We named the building ‘The Greenhouse’, which is ironic, because although it now has the appearance of a lush botanical garden, there are only two live plants on the entire property,” says Power. “The grass, trees, ferns, privacy hedges, vines and leafy ground vegetation are all stunning simulations.”

Power, who has been renovating multi-unit residential properties for 25 years, says through his exterior design service Bel Air Outdoor Living, he is available to consult with architects, developers and builders who are seeking ideas and resources for “going green” in their next construction or renovation project.

“With a little imagination and the right materials, it’s easy to create an enchanting eco-friendly, ‘drought-proof’ oasis on virtually any property — one that doesn’t require watering, pesticides, or continual maintenance,” says Power.

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Researchers reproduce evolutionary path with designer lignin

When scientists reported in 2014 that they had successfully engineered a poplar plant “designed for deconstruction,” the finding made international news. The highly degradable poplar, the first of its kind, could substantially reduce the energy use and cost of converting biomass to a number of products, including biofuels, pulp and paper.

Now, some of those same researchers are reporting a surprising new revelation. As University of Wisconsin–Madison biochemistry Professor John Ralph puts it, “Nature was already doing what we thought we’d laboriously taught her to do.”

To make the hybrid poplar, Ralph, Shawn Mansfield, Curtis Wilkerson, and other Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center researchers had incorporated an exotic gene conferring weak bonds into the plant’s lignin, the hard-to-process compound that gives plant cell walls their sturdiness but makes them difficult to process in an industrial setting. The resulting lignin, dubbed zip-lignin, readily breaks down under simple chemical conditions.

This new GLBRC-led study, published Oct. 14 in Science Advances, shows that those poplar trees and many other plants from all over the phylogenetic tree have actually evolved to naturally produce zip-lignin. In other words, not only can we potentially breed for degradability in plants, but humans may have been doing just that—selecting certain plants for easier processing—for thousands of years.

“We didn’t know the plants were making the native zip because we couldn’t detect it,” says Steve Karlen, a research scientist at UW–Madison and the paper’s lead author. “When we added the new gene we thought we were adding functionality, but we were actually increasing what was already there.”

Even though the team couldn’t at first detect native zip-lignin in poplar trees or in angelica, the Chinese herb from which the group had taken the gene, its absence did raise some questions. Ralph had long suspected that some plant somewhere was naturally creating zip-lignin. And Karlen wondered how angelica, or any plant for that matter, could be making the molecules that confer weak bonds in lignin but not incorporate them.

Using a method that Ralph’s group had developed decades ago, plus a new and highly sensitive mass spectrometer, Karlen sharpened his focus, finding a way to detect low levels of native zip-lignin in poplar trees. With the help of Philip Harris, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, Karlen began a full-scale phylogenic study, seeking to determine what other plants might contain native zip-lignin.

Karlen was soon elbow-deep in greenhouses, gardens and landscaping beds all over the UW–Madison campus. Examining the more than 60 plant samples brought back to the lab revealed that zip-lignin is found in an exceptionally diverse array of plants: in balsa, in birds of paradise, in all the grasses he sampled, and in about half of the hardwoods, to name just a few.

With collaborator Laura Bartley, an associate professor of microbiology and plant biology at the University of Oklahoma, Karlen also found zip-lignin in rice. Since an entirely different gene was responsible for making this lignin, the team determined that plants have independently evolved to make zip-lignin, essentially developing a common feature through entirely different means.

Although Karlen and his collaborators don’t yet know what the evolutionary advantage of native zip-lignin might be for plants, its widespread presence broadens the scope of their research and holds out the possibility of increasing, either through engineering or breeding, the degradability of a surprisingly vast array of plants.

“The fact that natural plants are already doing this means there are a lot more genes available for doing this than we knew about,” says Ralph. “And that means a much broader opportunity to learn from and take advantage of what these natural plants are already doing.”



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Upcoming home and garden events around Sonoma County and beyond

SONOMA: Create your own indoor garden

Gardens can be any size, even small enough to fit on the top of a table.

Garden writer and former Press Democrat columnist Rosemary McCreary, author of “Table Top Gardens,” will show how to create miniature indoor gardens during the Nov. 3 meeting of the Valley of the Moon Garden Club.

McCreary, who also is a master gardener, will show examples of tabletop gardens that include intriguing combinations of plants, including grasses, succulents, orchids, bulbs and evergreens. These tiny landscapes can be grown under glass, in bowls and even in water.

Copies of her book, which offers instructions for 40 indoor garden designs, will be available for sale at the meeting. Nonmembers are welcome to attend for $5. Refreshments are served, and the meeting always includes a drawing for a plant.The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. with a meet and greet, followed by the formal meeting at 7 p.m. It is held at The Veterans Memorial Building, 126 First St. West.

WINDSOR: Holiday from garden

The fall and winter garden offers many surprising things that can be incorporated into holiday arrangements, wreaths and garlands. Master Gardener Sue Lovelace will lead a free workshop Nov. 5 at the Windsor Library describing how she collects and prepares plant material foraged from the landscape. She will focus on design ideas, tools and supplies, and will show slides of her many creations. 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 9291 Old Redwood Highway.

HEALDSBURG: Decorative arrangements

Artist Louesa Roebuck and designer Sarah Lonsdale, authors of the book “Foraged Floral,” will lead a Nov. 6 workshop on creating unusual arrangements from commonly available material from the landscape. The event is from 3-6 p.m. at Healdsburg Shed. Cost is $85 and includes a copy of the book, a reception and book signing.

Roebuck, who splits her time between the San Francisco Bay Area and L.A., is an artist and floral designer. She has created installations from foraged and gleaned materials for high-end clients like Vivienne Westwood, John Baldessari and Alice Waters. She also worked in the fashion industry and is a painter and textile artist.

Lonsdale is cofounder of Remodelista and is the author of “Japanese Style.” She spent a decade in Tokyo working in television and advertising and now lives in Napa Valley.

Shed is at 25 North St. For information, call 707-431-7433 or visit

VALLEJO: Model neighborhood on Mare Island

Blu Homes, which manufactures high-design prefabricated homes, has created a model home village next to their production facility on Mare Island.

The model neighborhood includes the Breezehouse and garage, a modern two- story Solaire home and the Lotus Mini accessory home.

The company arranged the model homes in a village setting so people can see and explore them in a natural setting, with landscaping and exterior features like xeriscaping, hardscaping and decking designs that let the outdoors in.

Blu Homes makes premium prefab homes with custom-quality features like high ceilings, walls of glass and luxury finishes.

The model home village is open to the public 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 1205 Club Drive. For information, call 866-887-7997 or visit

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GARDENING: tips to help you pick your apples and store them for the winter

ONE of the great advantages of apples over other orchard fruits is that many of them can be stored for use after harvest, writes TOM ATTWOOD. However, storing apples needs a good pinch of dedication.

The time of ripening is a good indicator of the storage potential of an apple variety. Very early season apples generally do not keep. They should be eaten straight off the tree.

Mid-season apples usually keep for 2-3 weeks. The best way to keep them fresh is to put 5-10 of them in a polythene bag, make a few air-holes, and store them in a fridge.

Late-season apples usually keep the longest. Most can be stored in a cold place until Christmas, and a good number of varieties will keep well into the New Year.

There is no obvious rule of thumb for which varieties will store best, although you can sometimes assume that the later a variety ripens the longer it keeps – Fuji, Braeburn, Granny Smith being good examples. Traditional cooking apples also keep well, in the days before refrigeration this was an important quality in a cooking apple.

Some tips to help you pick your apples and store them for the winter:

Only choose varieties that are known to store well.

If you are picking with the intention of storing your apples, it is best to pick them slightly under-ripe

Remove any that are damaged, especially bruised apples.

If daytime temperatures are still warm, you will have to put the apples in a fridge. Once average temperatures fall to just above freezing you can move them to a frost free shed/garage. If storing apples in a fridge, put them in polythene bags, 5-10 to a bag, and make a few air-holes. This helps air circulation and counteracts the dry air found in a fridge.

Apples are best stored on trays in traditional wooden boxes, seed trays, or cardboard boxes – good air circulation, ventilation, and humidity is vital.

Check the apples regularly and remove any that are going off.

When using the apples, start with the larger ones (for any variety) as the smaller ones tend to keep longer.

Next week: creating a sumptuous container of spring flowering bulbs

‘Tom Putt’ growing in our garden

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Agromin Gardening Tips: Add to your garden, landscape

November is the ideal time to add to your landscape and garden. The weather is not too hot and not too cold, perfect for outdoor activity. November is also the start of the rainy season in southern California, and with any luck, rainy weather this month will help new plants take root, says Agromin, an Oxnard-based manufacturer of earth-friendly compost products made from organic material collected from more than 50 California cities. Residents can obtain Agromin soil products in bulk or in bags at Rainbow Environmental Services (gate seven) in Huntington Beach and in bulk at South Coast Supply in Huntington Beach and Los Alamitos.

Plant Pansies: Pansies add quick color to any flower garden. If planted in November, flowers can last through the winter and spring.

Avoid Overwatering: Plants and trees require less water in fall and winter as many become dormant. If the weather remains warm, however, watering is required. Let the weather be your guide. If your lawn sprinklers are on timers, prevent overwatering by installing a water sensor so sprinklers automatically shut off when it rains.

Plant Ornamental Cabbage And Kale: These hardy plants can easily tolerate cold temperatures. Leaves come in purple, red, creamy yellow and white. These colors will deepen as the weather cools. Add cabbage and kale as landscape accents or plant in containers. They prefer full or partial sun.

Divide Perennials: If your perennials are bearing smaller flowers and have dead spots at their base, it is time to divide them into smaller plants. Perennials that should be divided in fall are those that flower in spring and summer. First, moisten the soil around the perennials. Dig deep and remove the entire root clump. Cut apart the individual root clumps and immediately plant them at the same depth. Each divided clump needs leaves and a root ball. Cover the newly planted perennial with composted soil. Dividing and planting now will enable the roots to grow and establish during cooler months, giving them a good start to grow and flower in spring.

Plant Strawberries: Strawberries can be planted just about year round. Plant them now for a January harvest. Space plants one foot apart in rich, loose soil in full sun. Water as needed.

Plant Trees Now: Fall is the ideal time to plant trees. Our fall climate, with cool nights, mild days and moderate rainfall, gives trees a strong start that will serve them well when growing season begins in spring. Cooler weather is also a good time to transplant existing small trees and shrubs.

Scatter Wildflowers: Purchase packets of wildflowers from your local nursery and scatter them in your flower garden when rain is in the forecast. If the weather cooperates and some rain occurs regularly, you can continue to scatter wildflowers after each rain so their germination and flowering schedule is staggered in spring.
Water Seal New Wood Fencing: If you’ve added new wood fencing during the summer, make sure you have applied a water seal to protect the fence from wood rot after it rains.

For more gardening tips, go to

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Real stunners: Alan Titchmarsh on growing tulips

Other personal favourites include the deep-red and yellow-edged ‘Gavota’, white and purple ‘Shirley’ and orange and purple ‘Princess Irene’.

There are few tulips that disappoint, and I’d settle for a bit of everything in my garden – starting off with the Greigii and Fosteriana tulips that are of modest height and which flower from early April, to the double late tulips that can still be giving their all in mid-May.

Most need to be dug up and stored once their foliage has died down, but if you want to take a gamble on your tulips coming up year after year without having to lift them, plant bulbs 8in or 9in deep. That way many will become permanent residents, cheering you up every spring.

Don’t miss Alan’s gardening column today and Tip Of The Day every weekday in the Daily Express. For more information on his gardening products, visit

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Fall garden tips – Jody’s Jottings by Jody Isaackson …

Here are six fall gardening tips from Julie Weisenhorn, Director of the State Master Gardener Program at the University of Minnesota Extension. 1. Keep watering your plants in the fall as long as water drains freely. 2. Bury your bulbs at least 6 inches deep so that the squirrels don’t get them. 3. It’s too late to prune; wait until the plant is dormant and it can heal before spring pests become active again. If you prune now, it may trigger the plant into a growth spurt. 4. If your sugar maple didn’t change color this year, try watering it more next year. 5. When considering a new tree for your yard for next spring, consider a beech tree. 6. Plant evergreens at least 10 feet from the road as they do not stand up well against the winter spray of salt from vehicles and plows. Check out the MPR News website for more fall garden tips.

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Sharum’s Garden Center Tips: How to Plant a Tree

This week, Frank Sharum shows us how to properly plant new trees.

The first step is to check if your tree’s roots are circling around the soil it’s currently in, or if they are growing freely.

The second step is to place the tree in it’s new home in the ground, but make sure that the hole is not too deep. If the hole is too deep, the tree will be drowned by any water that goes into the hole. The tree’s roots should be 1-1.5 inches above the ground.

For more information on how to properly plant a tree, check out the video!

Segment Sponsored by: Sharum’s Garden Center

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