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Archives for December 26, 2016

Gardenista offers garden inspiration in new book

A charming courtyard garden is featured in “Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces.”

A charming courtyard garden is featured in “Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces.”
Photo by Matthew Williams

I think gardens might just be one of the best gifts we can create for ourselves and others. They provide places to play or entertain, spots to reflect and refresh in serenity, opportunities to learn and reap tangible benefits, and an easy way to keep us in contact with the natural world.

A thoughtfully created garden book can provide the same benefits, and Michelle Slatalla’s new book, “Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces” (Artisan Books, $40), may inspire possibilities in your own garden.

The Mill Valley resident is the editor in chief of the online platform Gardenista, and the philosophical approach to gardens that informs the website is also found in her book.

“We cover gardens and plants but that’s just part of it. We believe in integrating outdoor spaces and think of it as an extension of indoor space. It doesn’t have to be separate or complicated,” she says.

The gardens depicted in Slatalla’s book represent many styles in various climates, from Southern and Northern California to Cape Cod to the English countryside. They range from cactus and dry gardens to English cottage gardens.

“I was surprised to see how each garden is so special,” she recalls. “They each reflect the personality of their owner and could only belong to them. They aren’t cookie-cutter gardens.”

Her young Mill Valley garden, with its small, flat front and back yards, is included, too, and is typical of many small gardens across the country.

Readers can see how Slatalla incorporated an edible garden in part of her driveway, an outdoor shower in a corner of her back garden and a patio adjacent to her home. And, true to her belief in living in both worlds, indoors and out, she has a wheeled kitchen table that she rolls out for parties and impromptu family meals.

But the beauty in this book may very well be its

generous nature. Gardeners, as a rule, like to share tips and ideas and other garden goodies and this book embraces that same spirit.

“We very distinctly wanted to offer inspiration and practical advice,” Slatalla says. “It’s as if Architectural Digest met Consumer Reports.”

Helpful captions identify paint colors and why they work in that setting, or where a bench was purchased. “There’s at least one takeaway that you could use in your garden if you like the style and have the climate,” she says.

Chapters include DIY projects, drainage solutions, a list of 100 useful — and timeless — outdoor objects and where to find them, advice on where to splurge or save and when to call a professional, and a “Steal This Look” feature for each garden.

Slatalla is hopeful the book will inspire gardeners as they plan their gardens this winter.

“Gardens are very, very forgiving and the beauty of them is that they will pay you back in so many ways,” she says. “Even if you don’t have time to garden but just plant a few cosmos, when you walk past that same clump, you’ll have 15 new blooms.”

Slatalla offers 10 rules to live by

• Outdoor space is living space, and should be as carefully considered as any other room in your home.

• Curb appeal counts. The experience visitors have as they walk up to your front door makes them feel at home.

• Spend on permanence. Investing in quality hardscape materials gives your garden good bones.

• Plant for the garden you will have five years from now: sow seeds, buy small pots and trade cuttings. Your patience will save you lots of money in the long run.

• A hedge makes a better neighbor than a fence.

• Buy beautiful tools and you will enjoy using them for a lifetime.

• Make the garden part of your daily routine by planting something you can eat for dinner (parsley counts).

• A dash of color, whether from paint or plants, sets the mood for an outdoor space.

• The view from your bedroom window should include something that blooms every spring.

• Choose personality over perfection; a little wildness in the garden is a good thing.

Don’t-miss events

• With all the garden chores coming up in fall and spring, handy children could really a use a cool crate toolbox. They can make their own at a free workshop from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 7 at Home Depot at 111 Shoreline Parkway in San Rafael. Call 415-458-8675 or go to

• Ready, set, prune! In this free “Fruit Tree Pruning and Planting” class, gardeners will learn techniques to prune one fruit tree or a home orchard for fruitful production and how to choose a pruner. Classes will be at 9 a.m. Jan. 7 at Armstrong Garden Centers at 130 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in San Anselmo (415-453-2701) or 1430 South Novato Blvd. in Novato (415-878-0493). Go to

• Make your own tech and electronic gadget, sculpture, robot or home device in an ongoing state-of-the art makerspace. No experience necessary. The four-session once-a-week course starts Jan. 11, Feb. 8 or March 8 at the Tamalpais High School Wood Shop at 700 Miller Ave. in Mill Valley and costs $100. Register at 415-945-3730 or For details, go to

• Children in kindergarten through fourth grade can learn to have “Sew Much Fun” with Sewing Sally and hear stories while making animal habitats, Valentine’s Day’s heart, shamrocks, and groceries all out of felt at Bacich Elementary School. The cost is $181. Classes start in January; dates and times vary. To register, call 415-927-6746 or go to

• Keep pruning! Learn how to create aesthetically pleasing and healthy and productive fruit trees with garden designer Elizabeth Ruiz in a “Fruit Tree Pruning 101” seminar at 1 p.m. Jan. 22 at 401 Miller Ave. in Mill Valley; 10 a.m. on Jan. 29 at 700 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in Kentfield (415-454-0262); and noon Jan. 29 at 2000 Novato Blvd. in Novato (415-897-2169). The seminar is free for Rewards members and $10 for members; membership is free. To register, call or go to

PJ Bremier writes on home, garden, design and entertaining topics every Saturday and also on her blog at She may be contacted at P.O. Box 412, Kentfield 94914, or at

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GREEN THUMBS UP: Last Minute Gifts for Gardeners

During the month of December, the days seem to fly by and suddenly, the time has come to make those special last minute acquisitions for friends and family. For the gardeners on your list, there are innumerable resources available locally to procure practical, decorative, or whimsical gifts that will educate and delight both the casual dirt-digger and the passionate hobbyist on your list.

Gardening reference books and magazine subscriptions are particularly welcome during the dreary winter months to inspire and inform the gardeners on your list. While the internet can provide a wealth of information on all aspects of identifying, growing, and maintaining plants, I still prefer browsing through magazines, catalogs, and books for information on new plants and design trends. Comprehensive horticultural reference books can be quite expensive and may be considered an extravagance by passionate gardeners who prefer to spend their money on plants, but with the incredible diversity of plant material currently available on the market, updated references are practically a necessity. Books that cover gardening basics such as landscape or garden design, ornamental trees and shrubs, and pruning techniques are an absolute must for every gardener’s bookshelf. Experienced gardeners may enjoy references which focus on specific topics such as sustainable landscapes, shade gardening, perennials, vegetable gardening, container gardens, planting for wildlife, native plants, or even more specialized plant collections including roses, herbs, daylilies, or hostas.

Subscriptions to one or more gardening magazines such as Fine Gardening (, Organic Gardening ( and Horticulture ( offer yearlong guides to the latest trends in gardening, delectable new plant introductions, and innovative design concepts that are particularly welcome during the winter months. Once I have placed an order, I purchase a copy of the magazine at my local garden center and wrap one issue for the recipient to open, especially if there is insufficient time to receive a special gift notification.

Heavy duty trowels, pitchforks, spades and shovels, loppers, pruning shears and saws, and a diversity of cultivators and weeding devices can be purchased at local garden centers or hardware stores. Perhaps my most valued tool is my Felco pruning shears. Inexpensive pruners tend to produce ragged cuts because they are easily bent out of shape. High quality pruners, like the Swiss-made Felco, are worth the additional cost for their durability and precision. Avoid anvil-style pruners that have one sharp blade with an opposing flat blunt edge as these tend to crush stems and produce uneven cuts. Clean cuts are essential for the health and survival of trees and shrubs and few pruners can match the quality of the Swiss-made Felco by-pass pruners which are available in several styles, offer replacement parts and blades, and are the pruner of choice for professional nurserymen.

A kneeling pad or a specialty ‘garden kneeler’ (equipped with a steel frame to make it easier to get up from the kneeling position while converting to a sturdy bench seat when flipped over) might be a perfect companion gift to accompany these hand tools. A pocket-size clipper for snipping spent blooms and gardening gloves make terrific stocking stuffers.

Most gardeners share a love of nature and wildlife in addition to their passion for plants. Hummingbird feeders, bird feeders, birdhouses, and birdbaths can be enjoyed by all ages. Garden accessories in the form of statuary, benches, sundials, decorative containers, and garden ornaments are additional suggestions for gardening enthusiasts. These gifts may require that you be familiar with the style, taste, or exposure of the recipient’s garden. A sundial, for instance, might not be an appropriate gift for a gardener with a mostly shaded site.

A membership to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society ( makes a wonderful gift with multiple benefits including tickets to the Boston Flower Show, gift certificates to Weston Nursery and White Flower Farm, a magazine subscription, discounts at selected nurseries, plus reduced rates on educational programs and special events. Acres of beautiful grounds are open free of charge to members at the Elm Bank Reservation in Wellesley in addition to free entry to hundreds of botanical gardens throughout the country.

In this time of hectic schedules, the all-purpose gift certificate to a local nursery or catalog company is often the ideal present for the gardeners on your list. This quick and easy solution enables those of us who passionately collect plants to shop guilt-free for plants, tools, or garden ornaments.

—Suzanne Mahler is an avid gardener, photographer and lecturer who has been developing the 1.5-acre property surrounding her home in Hanover for more than 30 years. Her weekly gardening column ‘Green Thumbs Up’ has appeared in GateHouse Media New England newspapers for more than a decade. She is a member of a local garden club, past president of the New England Daylily Society, an overseer for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and is employed at a garden center.

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Salisbury brainstorming for ways to liven up Beach Center

SALISBURY — A move to tap “unrealized potential” and turn the static concrete slab at Broadway Mall into a place where people want to gather could start next summer.

Consultant Phillip Winn, of the Project for Public Places, spoke to a group of local stakeholders at an informal workshop last week. His report came after he spent time in town last summer interviewing officials, business owners, residents and tourists and discussing how to turn the 96,000-square-foot, stark gray mall into a vibrant, multi-faceted area.

Believing there is “unrealized potential” at the beach center, Winn advocated pulling together a work group of stakeholders to meet regularly in an atmosphere of open-minded collaboration. The group can brainstorm ideas, he said, then try some out at the mall this summer.  

Turning the Broadway Mall into a pleasant activity center doesn’t have to be done in one massive and costly redesign, Winn said. The  best way to start the “placemaking” process is to experiment with “lighter, quicker, cheaper” things that can make the spot more colorful, comfortable, interesting and inviting, he said.

He cited examples, noting it could be as easy as bringing in some shade umbrellas, colorful Adirondack chairs people can arrange as they please, or softening the hard surface with pleasant landscaping and running strings of lights around the mall to give it a festive look at night.

The concept of temporary experimenting works, Winn said. For four years, a community in Maine tried things at a local park before moving on a final redesign this year. The effort needed isn’t enormous, he said; it’s as easy as: “Next weekend let’s see if this might work.” 

“You could make the Broadway Mall a better place without doing anything (physical) there by just adding programming and a mixture of events throughout the day and summer,” he said, “even into the shoulder season.” 

He encouraged the town to link into existing programs, like those at Salisbury Public Library or Salisbury’s Council on Aging. 

Town Manager Neil Harrington told the crowd that experimenting doesn’t have to come with big price tags. He’s also willing to put an article on the May Town Meeting warrant to help out.  

“Town Meeting could approve a small amount of money for these experiments, like buying chairs and lights,” Harrington said. “In the end, we’ll have to invest a significant amount of money in the Broadway Mall, but we have to start somewhere. You have to be willing to try something.”

With a seaside boardwalk expected to be completed along Ocean Front South by next summer, and a $1.4 million state grant to construct a beach welcome center and restroom facility, Salisbury is poised to make over the Broadway Mall. For Harrington, the project is needed, even if the redevelopment of the entire Beach Center is years away.

Steven Kelleher, the architect hired to design the welcome center, was at last week’s workshop. Although the final location of the welcome center is yet to be chosen, the information gained at such sessions is vital to blending the building and its purposes into the community, he said. 

“The welcome center is more than just a building and we’re looking for feedback as to what should be in and around it,” he said. “It should work in conjunction with the redesign of the Broadway Mall. If it’s going to welcome people, it needs to be where people are going to be.”

Harrington said there will be two working groups, one for the Broadway Mall and the other for the welcome center. Those interested in serving on either group should contact Planning Director Lisa Pearson at

Angeljean Chiaramida can be reached at 978-961-3147 or at

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ECOVIEWS: Ideas for disposing of your Christmas tree – News …

What are environmentally sound ways to discard my Christmas tree after the holiday? I responded to this question in a column more than a decade ago. The answer is worth repeating.

The question is inapplicable to the estimated 20 percent of the nation’s households that have no Christmas tree in the home and is easy to answer for the multitude of families with an artificial tree that goes back into storage. But in the nearly 20 million homes with real Christmas trees, where should the trees go when their job is done? The question has several ecologically gratifying answers.

One thing about living organisms is that they die. Of course, a Christmas tree is functionally dead before you take it home, unless you happen to get a rooted one you can plant in the backyard after Christmas. (In my experience, these do not die until the next summer.) But at the end of yuletide, most people have to deal with a dead tree in the house. Although the 12 days of Christmas last through Jan. 5, some people say that if your Christmas tree is in the house past midnight Dec. 31, bad luck will haunt you in the coming year. You do not, however, have to be superstitious or a pagan to acknowledge that keeping in the house a tree that sheds highly flammable foliage, making it a potential tinderbox, might, in fact, be a bad idea.

So, you have a dead tree with needles littering the floor each time you jiggle it. Time to get the lights and ornaments off and the tree outside. Once the tree is lying on its side on the front porch, you can begin to consider your options. One ecologically sound approach is to drag the tree into an out-of-sight spot in the yard. If such a discreet location is not possible, and the tree ends up in a spot where everyone can see it, tell your neighbors you are using it to create “wildlife habitat.” Dead trees do, in fact, create wildlife habitat for wood-dwelling insects and fungi, and occasionally for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, depending on the stage of decay, type of tree and its location. You are doing what you say, though the inhabitants of your created wildlife habitat may not be obvious.

A second rationale for leaving the tree in your yard is to use the dry branches for building fires in a fireplace. Old Christmas trees make great fire starters. They crackle loudly, burn brightly and are aromatic. If your tree has been up for a week or more, you can probably start using the branches right away. Be advised that some organizations decry the idea of burning Christmas tree limbs in the fireplace because of safety concerns about creosote buildup. You may want to check into the potential hazards before taking my advice on how to start a fire.

Another approach is to throw the tree into your favorite fishing lake to create habitat for fish. A friend who does this every year claims he catches more fish in that spot. He does not mention whether his hooks are snagged by tiny branches well into summer. But whether better fishing is the result or not, I cannot see any environmental harm in discarding old Christmas trees in a river or lake.

One popular solution many communities use for Christmas tree disposal is to consolidate discarded ones into a giant heap of pine, fir and spruce in a designated area. The trees are then ground into mulch for landscaping around town. Finally, a really simple option exists for people who live in a community where trash pickup includes removal of vegetation. Haul the tree to the curb and forget about it. Whichever of these options you choose, you can close out the holiday season with the assurance of having been environmentally responsible with regard to your Christmas tree. Happy holidays!


Whit Gibbons, professor emeritus of ecology, University of Georgia, grew up in Tuscaloosa. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alabama and his Ph.D. from Michigan State University. Send environmental questions to

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