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Archives for November 2016

On the Market: Darien property comes alive in warmer months …

More Information


STYLE: New England Cape

ADDRESS: 18 Stony Brook Road

PRICE: $1,895,000


FEATURES: walking distance to the Metro North train station and high school, close to shops and restaurants, 1.26-acre level and sloping property, bluestone patio, hot tub, energy efficient features, two fireplaces, professional landscaping, shed, perennial gardens, stone walls, sprinkler system, skylights, workshop, new wall-to-wall carpeting on second floor, ample amount of closets, attached two-car garage, attic storage, cedar closet, five bedrooms, five full updated baths

SCHOOLS: Royle Elementary, Middlesex Middle, Darien High School

ASSESSMENT: $1,211,280

MILL RATE: 15.77 mills

TAXES: $17,856

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Changes in Landscapes and Buildings Could Help Fight Flooding

( TNS) – A curbside garden filled with native plants that attract and feed bees and butterflies. Roofs covered with plants that slow the flow of water. Barrels and tanks that collect the rain pouring off rooftops.

Water quality experts believe that these types of landscape and design features, known as low-impact development, or LID, are both an important part of solving San Antonio’s problems with environmentally degraded waterways and flooding, particularly as the city continues to grow.

City planners expect about half a million new residential units here by 2040. With that comes more pavement and rooftops, surfaces known as impervious cover that prevent stormwater runoff from absorbing back into the ground and can make flooding more destructive and deadly.

Data from the U.S. Geological Survey show that the top annual floods along some San Antonio’s urban creeks and rivers have become more intense. All the city’s creeks and the San Antonio River carry levels of E. coli bacteria too high to allow safe swimming. San Antonio River Authority biologists say the cause is human and animal feces that wash off of impervious surfaces and into waterways when it rains.

These problems leave the city, Bexar County, SARA and others grappling with how best to manage flooding and water quality and whether the most effective way is through regulations or voluntary incentives.

The options come down to this: Continue to only send stormwater runoff downstream using pipes, culverts and similar hard infrastructure, which is the traditional method, or also incorporate LID tools.

LID includes about 10 landscaping and design features that let more water infiltrate the ground on site. Most involve plants, usually native ones, set in well-drained soil or gravel designed to catch storm runoff. Among them are permeable pavement, bioswales and rain gardens that act as natural filters. They capture the first flush of rainwater, the runoff most likely to carry concentrated pollutants that have built up over dry periods.

Such features also can help reduce flooding. Rain falling on pastureland will produce less runoff than rain falling on a new subdivision or strip mall that’s covered in pavement, experts say. LID mimics predevelopment conditions, slowing the stormwater as it travels off a site or giving it more time to absorb into the ground.

The point is “to go upstream as far as you possibly can and begin to treat water there and begin to capture water there and let the runoff soak into the soil instead of having huge detention facilities that are downstream,” said Larry Clark, landscape architect and vice president of Bender Wells Clark Design.

The firm has worked on LID projects across the city, including a large plaza of permeable pavement at VIA Metropolitan Transit’s new Centro Plaza. “All of those sorts of elements help reduce flooding on a small storm event particularly, and it just slows it (runoff) down and redistributes it so plants … help clean it up,” he said.

Increasingly, LID features are being incorporated into public buildings, such as the Convention Center expansion, the DoSeum’s new building on Broadway and the Mission Branch Library and Mission Marquee Plaza on the South Side. Clark’s VIA plaza site is more complex, involving a huge underground cistern and filter system that’s capable of handling a 100-year storm event and slowly releasing excess stormwater over a day.

Current flood projects in Bexar County

For now, with some minimal exceptions, San Antonio and Bexar County developers and builders do not have to include LID elements in their projects, though city and county codes encourage it.

Local officials have stitched together a tapestry of incentives and rebates to convince a skeptical development community that there are benefits to changing how they’ve done business for decades but without unduly increasing their costs.

SARA, the local champion of LID, developed a manual that outlines 10 such design features in depth.

“We have to come up with pragmatic rules that make sense,” said Steve Graham, SARA assistant general manager, and institute measures that “don’t double the price of the project.”

LID features, since they incorporate plants, also offer some aesthetic benefits that are harder to tie to a dollar amount, SARA watershed engineering manager Patrice Melancon said.

“People would rather be surrounded with green space than by concrete,” she said.

Old ways and new

Some engineers who design traditional drainage systems, “what they learned in school,” are now more open to considering LID techniques, said Afamia Elnakat, an engineering professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio who previously worked for Pape-Dawson Engineers and the engineering firm CH2M.

“The more they do it voluntarily, the easier it will be to promote positive change,” she said.

She would support modifying the city’s development code to incorporate LID, though in some locations, traditional methods, what she calls “hard engineering,” can be more effective.

Some think LID is more expensive to maintain, but that could be a misconception. Both require maintenance, but unkept LID projects might be more conspicuous. Cracked and clogged pipes and crumbling concrete can go unnoticed more than overgrown rain gardens or bioswales, she said.

“When you don’t maintain LID, it’s obvious because you might have water puddling, you might have a mosquito problem,” Elnakat said.

LID features may add some cost, but they can save in other ways, said Clark, the landscape architect. They can also be more affordable if they are included in a project from the beginning.

For example, at Hemisfair, new underground infiltration planters capture water off the pavement so it can be soaked up by plants. The remaining water slowly flows through a pipe and into the San Antonio River, Clark said.

That considerably reduces the amount and size of pipes and the number of stormwater inlets needed for a project, he said.

Generally, the cost of LID fluctuates based on the size and configuration of a site, said Irby Hightower, a founding principal of Alamo Architects.

“If you’re dealing with something that’s like an area that would normally be landscaped anyway, there’s very little cost,” Hightower said.

But in highly dense urban areas with little or no green space, costs can climb, he said. Large underground storage tanks can get expensive, or LID might result in a project having less parking.

That’s why some developers are still wary of LID or making it required. Additional costs, say on a single-family home, are always passed on to the buyer.

“I think the position of the development community is, if it proves out to be less expensive and beneficial, they’ll do it,” said Michael Moore, proprietor of Ironstone Development. “If it’s expensive and doesn’t provide any positive aspects to the drainage plan, they won’t do it.”

One LID method most widely used in San Antonio is a sand filter — usually a large detention structure that is heavily lined and uses sand to filter pollutants carried by runoff from buildings and pavement. Graham, with the river authority, calls sand filters “an abomination to the eye,” especially when property owners allow trash and weeds to accumulate there.

One reason so many developments use them, especially over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, has to do with the state’s aquifer protection regulations. To avoid the risk of polluted stormwater getting into the aquifer, state regulations require the retained water to be piped into a storm drain then into a creek or river, not allowing it to go into the ground.

To protect the aquifer, San Antonio has put some limits on impervious cover — buildings and pavement — over the recharge zone. Most developers,however, have been able to bypass the limits by relying on “vested rights,” as the Express-News reported in June. Four out of five projects — nearly 1,380 total — avoided impervious cover restrictions, according to San Antonio Water System data.

What other cities do

Some cities, including Lake Tahoe and Austin, have tried to address impervious cover and pollution through tighter rules on development. In some areas close to waterways, Austin prohibits impervious cover.

Graham said Austin’s policies go too far toward “environmental wackoism” and would not work in San Antonio. Still, there needs to be more done here to encourage LID, he said. The current incentives available here “aren’t strong enough.”

San Antonio developers, property owners, construction companies and engineers have resisted attempts to even bring up the idea of impervious cover restrictions beyond the recharge zone.

The most recent debate came in September, when the city’s Planning Commission voted to strip the city’s SA Tomorrow Sustainability Plan of language suggesting expanding the city’s impervious cover requirements beyond the recharge zone, “if deemed necessary.”

The language was opposed by the San Antonio Real Estate Council trade group, which said in a statement that it supported cover limits on the recharge zone but not elsewhere.

“The proposal that impervious cover limits should be applied citywide without a good reason is deeply concerning,” the statement read. “We are aware of no scientific rationale that has been put forth to support this proposal. There has been no cost-benefit analysis. Including such a proposal in the Sustainability Plan sends the wrong message to companies that are considering investing in San Antonio. Impervious cover limits increase the cost of doing business by requiring more land for every project. Impervious cover limits also increases sprawl, which is diametrically opposed to many of the goals of SA Tomorrow.”

Nothing about the SA Tomorrow plan is binding. Any changes to the city’s Unified Development Code would have to go through the City Council.

Council divided on mandates

The council is divided on how to tackle development issues long-term.

In an email last week, District 9 Councilman Joe Krier said he doesn’t know that imposing impervious cover regulations beyond the recharge zone “would outweigh the higher construction costs that would result — costs that builders always pass on to the buyers.”

District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher expressed similar concerns that the city “could harm needed development if we start over-regulating.”

District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña said he has watched the same push-and-pull over impervious cover play out since 2004, when former Mayor Ed Garza appointed a committee to examine whether the city had let too many property owners avoid restrictions on the recharge zone.

Most of the time, elected officials have given in to pressure from the business community, he said. This affects historically disadvantaged communities that have to deal with flash flooding created by rapid development upstream, he said.

“At some point, city policy should not only incentivize but require LID features,” Saldaña said.

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said in an email that limiting impervious cover is “worthy of consideration,” especially around the city’s creeks and river. LID “can be an important part of ensuring environmentally conscious growth and development,” she said, but it could have consequences for the availability of affordable housing.

“Low-impact development features like these are expensive and may be unattainable for many property owners,” Viagran said.

District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who’s become an ally of water conservationists across the city, said that right now, people are still getting comfortable with the notion of low-impact development, but he believes that the city needs to act faster.

“We know in terms of sustainability and best practices here and across the world that low-impact development helps control costs, is better for management of resources, natural and financial, and is something that we eventually need to get to,” Nirenberg said.

Last summer, council members ultimately compromised when it was their turn to adopt the SA Tomorrow Sustainability Plan. They agreed that a “representative” stakeholders group “study and consider” whether to expand the impervious cover ordinance.

Mayor Ivy Taylor said in an email that the stakeholder group could begin meetings and discussions after a similar group, led by the city’s chief sustainability officer, Doug Melnick, revisits parts of the city code that deal with too much lighting interference near military bases, particularly Camp Bullis.

The impervious cover group won’t convene until at least the spring, Melnick said.

Taylor said she recently met with SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott and board Chairman Mike Lackey “to begin discussions about their role and guidance regarding this process.” She did not answer questions about whether she supports changing the code.

Incentives or requirements?

To kickstart LID, both incentives and requirements are beginning to make their way into local policies.

In San Antonio, LID is mandatory only in areas that abut the San Antonio River.

Elsewhere in the city, with LID being voluntary, San Antonio adopted its first incentives, giving developers some leeway on other city requirements. For example, if a development incorporates some LID features, that will count toward meeting the city’s tree preservation requirements, said Gene Dawson Jr., president of Pape-Dawson Engineers.

So far, the city’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department has approved three projects that meet the LID ordinance requirements. That doesn’t include projects that might have been submitted through the city’s Development Services Department, such as individual rain gardens or projects that aren’t related to new development.

Most developers assume these rules won’t be voluntary forever.

For one, the Environmental Protection Agency is increasingly pushing cities to control the quality of their stormwater runoff, Dawson said.

As the city changes, and there are more redevelopments, such as those at the Pearl and Lone Star breweries, Dawson expects that more LID projects will start to appear.

But for the development community to adopt the idea on a widespread basis, the LID rules “will have to have more teeth and become more mandatory,” he said.

LID continues to be studied. Last year, voters approved reauthorization of a sales tax for the city’s aquifer protection and linear parks. As part of that, $10 million was set aside for the first time to study LID projects over the aquifer recharge and contributing zones.

The city will take two of the demonstration projects to the City Council for approval early next year, said Grant Ellis, the parks department’s natural resources manager.

For the past two years, SARA has offered incentives for LID features. Private developers, as well as public entities, are eligible for reimbursements between $15,000 and $100,000 for construction costs.

Last fiscal year, SARA gave out $345,000; this year, the agency is on track to pay $520,000 in reimbursements by the time the application period ends in January.

“This is an attempt to help developers transition into this new style of construction and understand what the costs are and help offset some of that, help in the learning process,” said Jake Aalfs, a landscape architect for the river authority.

SARA also offers a $22,000 grant program to schools with kindergarten through 12 grades in Bexar, Wilson, Karnes and Goliad counties to fund on-site stormwater management features.

The river authority is working with the city to tack on LID features to any of the drainage projects currently slated for the 2017 bond, which voters will consider in May, Graham said.

The city is doing its part to incorporate natural elements when possible. Among the drainage bond projects being considered is a plan to improve Panther Springs Creek off Blanco Road. The city plans to keep the existing natural channel as part of the new water conveyance system.

“The old way to have done that project would have been a concrete ditch,” Graham said.

As part of a 10-year, $500 million flood control program, Bexar County developed an Ecological Assessment Protocol to identify and try to preserve natural resources, such as heritage trees, endangered species habitat and karst features, when planning and building its drainage projects. Engineers working with the county try to incorporate natural channel design when they can.

“If, within my flood control project, I can incorporate some water quality benefit within reason, then we do it,” said David Wegmann, Bexar County engineering services manager, who’s overseen the county’s flood control program.

LID has been incorporated into major street projects funded by previous bonds, such as Hausman Road and Ray Ellison Drive. SARA is retrofitting its headquarters in Southtown to include LID features, such as bioretention units and a permeable pavement parking lot. It is also adding rain cisterns at its Euclid office, where there’s already a rain garden.

It’s those kinds of publicly funded projects that are likely to convince the development community of LID’s benefits.

“I think before we see it from private industry clients, we will have to see it from public developments,” UTSA’s Elnakat said.

Even if LID rules become mandatory, it will be years before there’s a large, measurable effect in a city as developed as this one, said Dawson of Pape-Dawson Engineers.

“You’re not going to change stormwater quality overnight with one low-impact development or 10 low-impact developments or 10,000 acres of low-impact development when we have 700,000 acres of Bexar County,” Dawson said. “It will take a next generation of development before we can look back and say because we approached future development with low-impact criteria that it will make a difference.”


©2016 the San Antonio Express-News

Visit the San Antonio Express-News at

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State of the Industry Features – State of the Industry: Q + A with Ellen May

For two decades, Ellen May served as executive director of ECGC Distributors Ltd., a peer-to-peer networking group owned by 10 of the leading independent garden centers in the U.S., including Calloway’s Nursery, Petitti Garden Centers, Al’s Garden Centers and Mahoney’s Garden Center. After 20 years working with some of the biggest names in the IGC industry, we asked the recently retired executive director to reflect on what garden centers are doing well and what they can improve on for our 2016 State of the Industry issue.

Garden Center: What do you think garden centers across the country are doing well?
Ellen May: Retail in general across this country is very homogenized and it’s boring. If you go into a Target, you can go in Allentown, Pa., or Portland, Ore., and it will look the same. But that’s not true with garden centers. One of the things that has been so awesome about the folks I worked with is that they are architecturally very sensitive to their locality. Being a non-homogenized retail operation is to your benefit. The wave of going local, whether it’s local products or local involvement, is really critical. You need to be the best community partner that you can. It’s not just beautification. What garden centers sell is a beautification strategy; they are problem solvers.

GC: Can you expand on that?
EM: Beautification is not only pleasure for the eye; for those communities that really understand it, it’s an economic development strategy. You’re much more likely to attract businesses to your community if it’s beautifully landscaped and there are all of these wonderful flowers. At the same time, because of the nature of the products that they are selling, [they provide] environmental solutions. They can teach people how to improve ground water. That’s why we plant along roads, that’s why we have rain gardens, which many communities are putting into their planning and zoning so that the groundwater is cleaned as it goes through the garden.

GC: How can garden centers get more involved in community planning/landscaping?
EM: Of all my years sitting on the county planning commission, the planning department and planning commissioners are not always knowledgeable about landscaping, and yet every project that goes before a planning commission is going to have a landscape plan with it. I’m not saying [garden centers] have to do it, but they could be a facilitator, and therefore very visible. There are many avenues I see that they can take to make themselves even more visible as a very strong local community partner. Take education. Almost every person I worked with was a huge entrepreneur who built their business from nothing. Now you’re into the next generation who is going to take over what was done before them, but the ones in my age bracket built it. And I think it’s a really powerful message to kids that you don’t have to go get a Ph.D. [Horticulture] is an industry that if you are entrepreneurial enough, you can make a good darn good living.

GC: Should garden centers reinvent or redefine themselves?
EM: They’re not garden centers anymore. I don’t know what the appropriate term is, but they are far more than garden centers. It’s about the environment, it’s about safe food, it’s about beautification. There’s research that plants decrease hospital stays and increase worker productivity. There are all kinds of positive results, and the term “garden center” doesn’t say it. I think we need a brain trust for someone to come up with something much more appropriate.

GC: How can garden centers improve?
EM: Our nation is incredibly culturally diverse. And people need to start looking at the cultural makeup of their community. We’ve got to sell more than European concepts, beyond culinary herbs. I don’t know what the answer is, but there’s an opportunity to do some more significant research. I think there ought to be focus groups of different ethnic groups. If I were running a garden center in Detroit, [for example] I’d run focus groups with Arab neighbors, some that were first generation, second generation and third generation, and see if I was meeting their needs.

We need more female decision makers. Eighty to 85 percent of our customers are females. That’s not going to change with Gen X or Gen Y or anybody else. Until Julie [Kouhia, CEO] took over Molbak’s, my board was 100 percent male. I just scratched my head, and thought, who are your customers? It’s just absolutely mind boggling.

GC: What are some perhaps smaller steps garden centers can take to improve their businesses right now?

Independent garden centers’ unique look and feel is refreshing in a world of homogenized retail, says Ellen May.

EM: I really think they ought to raise their prices. They undervalue the product. People get very concerned about it, but when I think of everything else I need in my life and how much it has increased over time, and you raise your price two, three cents, I don’t even notice. They need to raise their prices because their cost of doing business is increasing. They still need to think about health care and rising minimum wage.

GC: You’ve talked about the importance of leadership and retention rates in garden center retail and mentioned that it was higher than other retail industries.
EM: At least the [retention rates] were higher from the statistics of ECGC. I can’t vouch for other garden centers, but I was always very surprised and pleased at how high our [average] retention rate was at ten-and-a-half years when the average in retail is 1.9 years.

GC: Why is that so important?
EM: It’s all about the economics of it. It’s really nice to have continuity, because you’ll find customers who look for particular folks, and it’s really nice if that same person is there all of the time. It also is a huge cost savings. It’s very expensive to recruit and train. I would hear the HR directors talk about how difficult it was to recruit. With the advent of social media, there are a gazillion places that you can go to post opportunities, but that doesn’t mean that they are good or that people are going to find them.

GC: So what would your assessment of the State of the Industry be for retailers?
EM: Things are going really well. It’s not the boon times that it has been in the past. There were times back in the early 2000s when they were seeing double digit growth. It seems to follow the economy itself. [The industry is] definitely recovering, but not double digits. Service areas like landscape design/build/installation are very healthy. [ECGC] for the most part felt good enough that they are expanding and investing in their businesses. One of the challenges is people tend to look month to month and year to year instead of five years.

GC: What’s the risk of looking month to month or year to year?
EM: You don’t see a trend year to year. It could have been a bad weather year. I’m not saying year to year isn’t important to look at, but if you want to see trends you have to pull it out further. [ECGC] did that comparison. We did it consistently every month, there was a very detailed report that was shared. And because we were national you could see, was that because Boston didn’t get rid of their snow until April, or was it something that was really happening to everybody else, too.

GC: What was the advantage of IGCs in different regions talking about these trends?
EM: So many times they think their business is so weather dependent. And it is but then it isn’t. If you see that there is a huge upswing as there were a number of years ago in perennials and it’s all regions, then it tells you something.

GC: That’s what we’re seeing with succulents and cacti this year.
EM: Absolutely. And why is that? Weather and they are darn easy. And yet they give you the color and the texture, and they are in all the magazines.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Twin Valleys Garden Club continues 89-year community service tradition

Submitted photo Seventeen fresh floral table arrangements created by members of TVGC await delivery to the Coatesville Veteransí Medical Center for a recent special commemorative dinner.

Submitted photo
Seventeen fresh floral table arrangements created by members of TVGC await delivery to the Coatesville Veteransí Medical Center for a recent special commemorative dinner.

Twin Valleys Garden Club lives its long tradition of service to the community through a wide variety of community projects. Around 20 gardeners in this northern Chester County club meet monthly for educational programs, hands-on workshops, and outreach activity planning.

Recent activities include creating fresh floral arrangements for area Veterans’ Center events, participating with local associations in their conservation and education efforts, and maintaining a public garden at Historic Yellow Springs. Some of these projects recur each year while others are one-time activities.

TVGC members live and garden in the Pickering and Great Valleys from Malvern to East Nantmeal. Each member brings her own talents and interests to the club whether she is a gifted arranger or horticulture expert, someone who grows her own cutting gardens spring through fall or specializes in container gardening. A member may grow dazzling indoor orchids or nurture pollinators by featuring native plants in her garden, or she may be a novice gardener who is eager to know what grows best in our soil and climate.

All members regularly share their best gardening tips with other members and their guests. Members choose the outreach projects in which they will participate according to their talents, interests and calendars. The club as a group also enjoys local and regional garden tours and club trips.

Interested readers wanting more information on TVGC and the club’s upcoming programs, trips and projects, including holiday decorating, may visit or email June at

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5 garden tips for the week starting Nov. 26

First avocados, then guacamole

Harvest Fuerte avocados from now through March by cutting stems close to the fruit, not breaking them off. The crop is ready when picked fruits soften without shriveling, so try a few first to see how they do. Then taste-test to make sure they are ready. Guacamole, dips and an astonishing array of mouth-watering recipes await your creative touch. Find them by searching “avocado recipes.”

Out with the old

Although this is an easy task, it is vitally important. Pick up and dispose of any old fruit — whether it is on the ground or dried up and clinging to the tree. These so-called “mummies” harbor reproductive disease spores that can devastate trees next spring and reduce the quality and quantity of next year’s harvest.

Daylily care

Divide overgrown or declining daylily clumps any time from now until early March. First cut back the tops to only about 3 inches. Then carefully dig the plants — inserting the shovel about a foot away from the center, all the way around the plants, in order do minimize damage to the fleshy roots. Clean off the dead leaf debris. Divide into clumps with three to six plants together and replant them a foot or more apart in a sunny location at the same depth as before.

Division of labor

Divide and replant Agapanthus (Lily of the Nile). When clumps get too big or crowded, dig all around the clump 6 to 10 inches deep then tilt the handle of the shovel to lift the clump out of the soil. I like to break or cut the older rhizomes apart so the each new clump has three to five foliage fans. Then replant the new clumps so they can settle in over the winter and be prepared to bloom again next spring.

Spice up your life

Save your home-grown spices to savor later by drying them now. Harvest and dry mint leaves before plants go dormant. Basil will die back, so preserve those flavorful leaves while you can. Parsley, rosemary and thyme will remain usable on the plants as fresh herbs throughout winter; or you could hang any of these herbs in loosely-tied bundles to dry, then store the whole, dried herb leaves in air-tight containers to retain freshness.

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Outdoor showers make a splash

Perhaps not surprisingly given our climate and the ever-increasing trend towards resort-style homes and gardens, outdoor showers are becoming more and more popular in Australian backyards.

“Outdoor showers are a fabulous addition to a garden not only because they are functional but also for that outdoor lifestyle feeling they create,” landscape designer Monica Palmer, of Slightly Garden Obsessed, said.

“Our love for pools and coastal living has created a need for a permanent outdoor wash-down area.

Showers are becoming increasingly popular in Aussie backyards. Picture: Tim Davies Landscaping

“And also the outdoor space of the home is becoming a more thought-about area. It really has become an extension of the living spaces inside.”

Daniela Santilli, of Reece Bathrooms, agreed that outdoor showers were a wonderful — and increasingly common — addition to the garden, “whether you’re a block away from the beach or in an inner suburb”.

“Outdoor bathrooms have always been popular with sun-loving Australians, and we’ve seen a surge in appeal with shows such as The Block regularly featuring outdoor bathrooms,” Ms Santilli said. “People are also becoming more open to the idea of bathing outdoors, to reconnect with nature and create a more sensual bathing experience.”

Ms Santilli said adding an outdoor shower was easier than people might think, whether it’s a luxurious outdoor bathroom complete with hot water for bathing, or a simple freestanding cold-water shower for post-swim rinse-offs.

Outdoor showers can be as simple or high-end as you like. Picture: Reece

Installing the latter was almost as simple as fitting a garden tap, with no council permission required — though Ms Santilli does recommend using a licensed plumber.

“Outdoor bathrooms can be as high-end or as simple as you like, depending on your budget and outdoor bathroom requirements,” she said. “You may just need a shower to wash off the sand or chlorine and can simply position a freestanding outdoor shower on your decking or in the garden.

“Alternatively, you may want to transform your garden area into an outdoor bathroom sanctuary and opt for bamboo frames, ferns and additional water features to make it a tranquil escape.”

Ms Palmer, who recently launched her own collection of outdoor shower units, said she was prompted by growing demand coupled with a lack of locally available products.

Monica Palmer has created a range of outdoor showers.

“Over the last couple of years I found I was including an outdoor shower area in just about every garden design,” she said.

“The choice in the market was limited, they were well over $1200 and came from over east or overseas. I wanted to offer my clients a style that would complement their home design. This has now expanded to supplying to industry and customers beyond my clients.”

The collection, which includes copper, brass and matt-black designs, is available from Eco Outdoor in Osborne Park, the Slightly Garden Obsessed design studio in Cottesloe, or from

The West Australian

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For Christmas, give these books to the gardener/reader in your life

With the arrival of winter in Maine, gardening moves inside and into the realm of the imagination. Gardeners exchange rakes and hoes for books, and turn from cultivating gardens to cultivating their (horticultural) minds. It’s merely a coincidence that many of us enjoy receiving books as gifts.

Here are some of the gardening books I’ve read this year and can recommend.

A few others to read

781041-herbs781041-herbs• “Herb Gardening: How to Prepare the Soil, Choose Your Plants, and Care For, Harvest, and Use Your Herbs.” By Melissa Snyder. Countryman Press, 264 pages, $19.95.

A comprehensive book with an easygoing, conversational style, “Herb Gardening” offers everything the herb gardener needs to know.

• “The Rooftop Growing Guide: How to Transform Your Roof into a Vegetable Garden or Farm.” By Annie Novak. Penguin Random House, 256 pages. $23.

Rooftop gardens have been a trend for a decade or more. “The Rooftop Growing Guide” describes how to plant one, from figuring out weights to picking the right plants to dealing with pests.

• “Garden Design Bible.” By Matt James. Mitchell Beazley, 256 pages. $34.99.

• “Garden Design Bible” offers 40 different garden designs – ranging from small balconies to entire estates – each of which you can create, depending on what sort of outdoor space you have.


 “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World.” By Peter Wohlleben. Greystone Books, 272 pages. $24.99.

1114315_781041 trees.jpg1114315_781041 trees.jpgTrees are a social species. They intertwine their roots, sharing nutrients so that healthy trees can assist those that are ailing. Huge stumps of old trees may be fed by smaller, healthy nearby trees (the stump’s children, perhaps?), getting a bit of chlorophyl, which prevents them from rotting long after they really should have.

Trees warn their neighbors of trouble. When the leaves of an acacia are eaten by a giraffe in Africa, for example, that tree gives off a scent warning nearby trees it is in danger. The neighboring trees then send poisons to their leaves so the giraffe will leave them alone.

“The Hidden Life of Trees,” which contains these nuggets of information, is the most fascinating plant-related book I have read this year. In addition to describing trees’ social network, the book explains why old-growth, wild forests are healthier than planted forests, and it predicts how forests will react to climate change.

Author Peter Wohlleben is a forester in Germany, so the book concentrates on the beech forests where he works. But the principles are easily transferred to the oak-maple-pine-fir forests of Maine.

 “Heirloom Plants: A Complete Compendium of Heritage Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs Flowers.” By Thomas Etty and Lorraine Harrison. Ball Publishing, 224 pages. $29.99.

“Heirloom Plants” is filled with drawings; it’s designed like an old-fashioned garden catalog. It is the kind of book that’s perfect to dip into when you want to look something up or spend a few minutes learning something new.

The book opens by defining what heritage plants are and presenting arguments for growing, saving and swapping the seeds of open-pollinated plants. Among the reasons you should, it says: by saving the seeds of plants you grow, you can create what are known as landrace seeds, which are precisely adapted to your specific garden.

 “All the Presidents’ Gardens.” By Marta McDowell. Timber Press, 236 pages. $29.95.

1114315_781041 presidents.jpg1114315_781041 presidents.jpgBecause the geography of America is so diverse, it would be impossible to write a history of gardening in the United States – a work like that would run to many volumes. Instead, Marta McDowell writes a history of the gardens of American presidents. She uses presidential gardens as a lens through which to examine gardening trends over the centuries and to give insights into the personalities of the presidents themselves.

Up to James Monroe (1817-1825), all of the presidents were serious farmers, and in the early years of our nation, the White House gardens provided food for the president and his family. Later on, flowers superseded vegetables in importance (although with First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House Kitchen Garden, the pendulum may have swung back), and a greenhouse was built on the grounds.

Over the decades, the head gardeners at the White House have changed less frequently than the First Families, and occasional conflicts have arisen between the gardeners and the families. Whether you approach “All the Presidents’ Gardens” from the perspective of gardening or history, you’ll find the book informative and entertaining.

• “Shakespeare’s Gardens.” By Jackie Bennett with photographs by Andrew Lawson. Frances Lincoln Press, 192 pages. $40.

1114315_781041 shakespeare.jpg1114315_781041 shakespeare.jpgBeyond some bare facts and the plays and sonnets themselves, scholars know surprisingly little about William Shakespeare’s life. But now writer Jackie Bennett has pulled together plenty of facts about the gardens he knew, lived in or created – many of which can still be visited in England today.

Naturally, those gardens have changed in the 400 years since the playwright’s death, changes that Bennett outlines in her totally entertaining book.

“Shakespeare’s Gardens” also addresses how Shakespeare described plants in his works – which he did often – and it explains the symbolism of those plants.

• “The Homebrewer’s Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare and Use Your Own Hops, Malts and Brewing Herbs.” By Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher. Storey Publishing, 224 pages. $16.95.

This is the second edition update of a 1998 book by two brothers who are organic farmers in Winterport. The book is in four parts: The first part details growing hops, from how to get started to dealing with hops pests, including the Japanese beetle. Next comes sections on herbs you can add to beer, malts you can grow and finally recipes. With the boom in Maine brewing, there could well be a home brewer in your life – this book would make a handy gift.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]





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KET: Kentucky lawmakers and economic experts debate ideas for state tax reform

By John Gregory | KET

There seems to be unanimous agreement in Frankfort that the commonwealth’s outdated tax codes need to be reformed.

But good luck finding a consensus on what that overhaul should mean for individual and corporate taxpayers as well as for a state with mounting education, infrastructure, and public pension expenses.

Ahead of the 2017 General Assembly session, KET’s Kentucky Tonight explored the latest thinking on tax reform. The guests were Sen. Christian McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill), chair of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee; Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville), a member of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee; and Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

The Goals of Tax Reform

State policymakers on both sides of the aisle have argued for years that the tax codes need to be updated, but none of them have mustered the political will to make it happen. McDaniel says it will take a strong executive with a mandate to pursue reform and the courage to accept that the process will create winners and losers. The senator says a reform effort should result in one comprehensive bill that addresses all state revenues and brings Kentucky’s tax policies in line with the modern economy.

“If we are going to really do this, everything that government collects will have to be on the table,” says McDaniel. “It’s going to be a tremendous undertaking and one that has to be done very contemplatively, one that has to be done with a great deal of respect for the positive or negative impact that it bears on the economy of the commonwealth.”

Senators McDaniel and McGarvey disagree on whether reform should result in new revenues for Kentucky. The Republican contends that the state already has adequate funding if properly appropriated to budget priorities. McDaniel says tax reform is nothing more than a tax increase if it results in an immediate boosting of revenues into state coffers.

McGarvey argues that the state’s current tax policies are based on a manufacturing economy that no longer exists in Kentucky. The Democrat contends that government agencies and programs aren’t working like they should because their budgets have been cut multiple times in recent years. McGarvey says that’s why an updated tax code must generate additional moneys for the commonwealth.

“We need to make it more modern, we need to make it more efficient, we need to make it more fair so that we have what we need to address the basic needs and obligations of state government and have the tools to also grow and encourage businesses to come to Kentucky,” McGarvey says.

Possible Changes for Individual Taxpayers

That doesn’t necessarily mean a tax increase, though. McGarvey says the state could lower the individual tax rate on most Kentuckians and still have enough money to pay for education, health care, infrastructure and public pensions if lawmakers are willing to broaden the tax base. One option for doing that is to levy the sales tax on more services.

Jason Bailey says Kentucky currently taxes about 28 kinds of services, whereas other states tax more than 150 service categories. He says the state of Iowa taxes a broad range of services but at a relatively low rate. Other states target luxury services such as dry cleaning, professional landscaping, or limo rentals and tax them at a higher rate.

Another reform option is to shift away from personal income taxes and generate more revenues from sales taxes. Since that strategy focuses taxation more on consumption than on income, Bailey says it would disproportionately impact lower- and middle-class Kentuckians. For example, he says that getting 25 percent of state revenues from sales taxes rather than the income tax would, in effect, result in a tax increase for the bottom 60 percent of wage earners while giving the top 1 percent an $8,000 tax cut. Plus, he warns that an emphasis on sales taxes may not generate sufficient funding for state government operations.

Lawmakers are likely to also consider the fate of the state’s inheritance tax. Gov. Matt Bevin and other Republicans want a full repeal of the tax that’s been in place since 1906. Bailey says most Kentuckians never pay the tax because current law exempts close relatives from having to pay for what they inherit. Yet the state still collects about $50 million a year in inheritance taxes, according to Bailey.

“It’s a very progressive tax – it asks more of those who have more,” says Bailey. “Our tax system overall doesn’t do that. In fact middle-income Kentuckians pay about 10 percent of their income in state and local taxes. Those at the top pay only about 6 percent… So we have sort of an upside-down tax code now.”

Bailey says repealing the inheritance tax would be a tax break for upper-income individuals and deprive the state of needed revenues. McDaniel warns that lawmakers must be careful to craft tax policies that will encourage wealthy Kentuckians to remain in the commonwealth and not be tempted to move to a state with more advantageous tax policies.

Rethinking Corporate Taxes

That philosophy also applies to business and corporate taxes. McDaniel contends it’s all too easy for a company to move their operations to states that can offer them better deals on corporate taxes.

“If you don’t have businesses, you don’t have jobs, and if you don’t have good jobs, you don’t have good incomes,” says McDaniel. “It’s that simple: We have to have reform that attracts and retains the highest quality businesses if we want to have good jobs and good revenue for the commonwealth.”

Several state governments, including Kansas and North Carolina, have enacted major tax cuts in recent years as a way to boost economic development. As appealing as lower taxes are to voters and corporations, Bailey says they don’t necessarily attract new business or help a state’s overall economy. He says the drop in revenues that Kansas subsequently experienced forced lawmakers there to make massive budget cuts and caused the state’s credit rating to be downgraded three times. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s state government, which Bailey says once had the highest income taxes in the South, now finds itself slashing services and hiking public university tuitions to compensate for the revenues it lost to tax cuts.

“You have to make sure that what you’re doing is connected to reality,” Bailey says. “There’s this assumption that if you just lower taxes for businesses or those at the top, that you’ll get entrepreneurs and business to flock to the state. It just doesn’t pan out.”

McDaniel acknowledges that the Kansas tax overhaul did have some flaws, and it assumed mineral extraction revenues that didn’t materialize. But he says the state has experienced more job growth in the past 24 months than it had in the previous 14 years. McDaniel says Ohio experienced economic growth after lawmakers lowered business tax burdens and broadened the state’s tax base. The senator says Kentucky lawmakers can learn from the experiences of other states as they go about crafting a new tax policy for the commonwealth.

In addition to the overall corporate tax rate, many businesses may qualify for exemptions or other tax incentives. Those breaks may make good economic sense on a case-by-case basis, but Bailey says the cumulative effect is astounding: Kentucky tax codes now contain $2 billion more in various exemptions than the state actually collects in tax revenues each year. He says tax reform must include an accounting of each of those breaks and eliminate those that can no longer be justified against the greater need to fund public services.

McDaniel counters that more than 80 percent of the $12 billion in tax exemptions currently written into the tax codes go to individuals and not business interests.

Other Revenue Options

The forthcoming tax reform discussions could revive other issues that have been debated for years in Frankfort. McGarvey says lawmakers should once again explore expanded gaming and allowing medicinal or recreational marijuana if all revenue options are truly going to be open to consideration. He acknowledges that both gambling and marijuana are, at best, “band aid solutions” for generating income, and are unlikely to pass muster with many lawmakers.

The Democrat says legislators could also consider a local option sales tax measure that would enable city and county governments to temporarily increase a local sales tax to fund infrastructure projects. That taxing mechanism would require approval of the General Assembly and voters through an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution.

McGarvey also supports creating a state earned income tax credit to offset some of the tax burden on working families and perhaps even refund some of their taxes to them.

“This is money that’s going back into people’s pockets, and then of course it’s coming right back into the economy” as they buy necessities, says McGarvey. “I think that that’s a fair thing for our working class people in Kentucky.”

When the legislature convenes in January, Republicans will control both chambers of the General Assembly as well as the executive mansion. Even with those majorities, McGarvey says he hopes GOP lawmakers will work with Democrats to craft a tax overhaul plan that will be fair for all Kentuckians.

Kentucky Tonight airs weekly on KET:

Mondays at 8:00/7:00 PM CT

Wednesdays at 2:00/1:00 AM CT

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Parents raising funds for new playground at North Attleboro’s Martin School

Martin School Playground

Martin School Playground

Martin Elementary School fourth-grader Ellie Regan runs around on a map of the United States painted on the current playground.

Martin School Playground

Martin School Playground

A group of students and their parents comprise the Martin School Playground Committee. The group is raising funds to improve the facilities, on the current playground at North Attleboro’s Martin Elementary School.

Martin School Playground

Martin School Playground

A set of swings are one of the few amenities available for youngsters to play on at Martin Elementary School in North Attleboro.

Martin School Playground

Martin School Playground

Martin Elementary School second-grader Bridget McKenna, right, chases her friend Maddy Steel, left, as they play on the current playground at the school, in North Attleboro.

Posted: Monday, November 28, 2016 10:45 pm

Updated: 10:58 pm, Mon Nov 28, 2016.

Parents raising funds for new playground at North Attleboro’s Martin School


The Sun Chronicle


NORTH ATTLEBORO – Martin School parents want a playground fit for the 700-plus kids who roam an empty field and blacktop at the elementary school during recess – and they’re ready to get creative.

Parents from the Martin School Association recently purchased an existing playground from a Watertown daycare for a fraction of the cost of a new play structure, association Treasurer Dawn Regan said, adding it will allow the group flexibility in exploring other play area additions.

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Monday, November 28, 2016 10:45 pm.

Updated: 10:58 pm.

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Landscaping Firm In The Woodlands Celebrates 17 Years In Business

Envy Exteriors offer customers in and around The Woodlands, TX their expertise gained over seventeen years of customer care. The service area includes Spring, Magnolia, Montgomery, Cypress and Tomball, TX.

The Woodlands TX: Envy Exteriors and Courtney Milne are pleased to announce that they have reached a milestone of seventeen years in the business of landscaping The Woodlands, TX homes, and businesses. Since 1999 the company professionals has used the knowledge and creativity to turn ideas into art by landscaping and hardscaping services. They strive to produce eye-catching landscapes which reflect the customers’ needs and preferences. As a design-and-build firm, they offer both landscape and construction expertise.

According to a spokesperson for the firm, “We offer irrigation services, arbor installation, and landscape design. Our expertise includes design and installation of driveways, walkways, and other specialized elements throughout the landscape to enhance the experience of being in an outdoor space.”

He continues, “Our services include landscape lighting, irrigation and drainage, turf, plant and tree treatment programs with fertilization, insect and disease control. We design and build outdoor kitchens and entertainment areas, covered structures, walkways and driveways and pergolas. We can renovate decks and construct arbors. We also design and install patios and pools. No job is too large or too small.”

Crafting healthy, as well as aesthetically appealing landscapes is an important part of Envy Exteriors efforts. They are knowledgeable about plants and their water and shade needs. Enjoying the outdoor living space is more likely when the design is attractive as well as functional. The professionals at the firm can design and install an outdoor kitchen or lounge area, as well as a place to entertain family and friends.

Personal contact with each customer is a requirement promoted by the firm’s philosophy and service model. The customer consultation provides a comprehensive evaluation of the desires and preferences. The desires of the customer are included in the planning and discussion. The skilled landscape designers can then turn the ideas into a workable design which is beautiful as well as functional.

For more information about them, visit the web page at


Contact Envy Exteriors:

Courtney Milne
(281) 884-3080
7 Switchbud Place Suite 192-253K, The Woodlands TX 77380

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