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Archives for December 2016

Wicker Garden Club’s DIY 8-Week Landscaping Workshop Starts in January

 A rooftop garden by Chicago Specialty Gardens, a teacher in a past garden design workshop.

A rooftop garden by Chicago Specialty Gardens, a teacher in a past garden design workshop.
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WICKER PARK — Have a rooftop and want to create a magazine-worthy natural oasis? Need to add greenery to your front or backyard but don’t want to hire a landscaper?

A popular Saturday morning DIY landscape design class that attracts students from around the city who want to create gardens for their homes, businesses and empty lots begins its next series in January.

Organizers from the Wicker Park Garden Club, who tend to the neighborhood’s namesake park gardens, say they’ve assembled a lineup of six professional designers and 15 avid gardeners to lead its 11th season.

The classes teach participants how to create a landscaped garden as well as draw up a blueprint for the planting season in spring.

Activities will include creating a site plan, determining usage and bed areas, incorporating architectural influences, selecting plants for sun and shade and understanding native and sustainable plant palettes, among other topics.

Each week will spotlight a different design focus and require homework. The final week will culminate with each student delivering a semi-formal presentation on his or her landscape garden plan — a blueprint for spring when outdoor work can begin.

“Winter is a great time to create and plan,” said Doug Wood, president of the Wicker Park Garden Club.

Wood said that this year’s class has a maximum capacity of 50 students, more than the previous years’ 40 because other years have sold out.

Scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays from Jan. 7 to Feb. 25, the series costs $120.

The classes take place in the Wicker Park Field House, 1425 N. Damen Ave. Attendees can pay at the first class, or in advance, if a gift for someone else. Register by emailing

This year’s poster for the landscape design workshop. [Doug Wood]

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Top 5 ways to improve your landscape in 2017

Planning is usually a good idea and having an understanding of how you want your landscape or garden to look in the end is helpful in reducing unwanted problems and extra maintenance.  The associated problems and maintenance with trees and shrubs planted too close to sidewalks, patios, buildings, and each other end up being expensive, time-consuming, and unnecessary. 

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Tim’s Tips: Weather played a big role in 2016 gardening season

It is the end of December, and I usually reflect on what has happened in the last gardening year. By all standards, it was an odd year.

We had a relatively snowless year. Everyone had high hopes for an early spring. Many of you wouldn’t have thought that an open winter could have led to the death of so many plants in perennial beds. All the alternate freezing and thawing led to major destruction of the roots of so many plants.

When spring arrived, we had so many days of fog and misty weather. It felt like it rained a lot, but it really did not rain a lot.

When the weather finally broke, people were in a planting mood. Soon, the summer came and with it a lack of rain. Water bans went into effect, and many people could not keep their plants alive.

Once the regular growing season ended in the fall, the rain became more common. I remember people who told me that they wanted to repair the summer damage to their lawn and that they were going to give reseeding the lawn a chance. The rain did come, and those who reseeded their lawns had good success at getting the seed to grow.

So what does this tell us about gardening? In so many cases, it’s all about the weather. If we get too little rain, you can water your plants. If the lack of rain continues and water bans go into effect, you may lose some of your plants.

On the other hand, if we get rainy days after rainy days, the plants can get fungus diseases and the plants may die. But in those seasons when we get some rainy days and a lot more sunny days, the payoff can be great. Beautiful flower beds and beautiful containers of flowers. Vegetable gardens will provide a bounty that at times is more than you can handle.

The takeaway from all of this is that gardening is a constant learning process. You learn from what Mother Nature gives us to work with concerning the weather. You learn to use gray water in the dry seasons, and you learn to spot and treat fungus diseases in the wet seasons.

Unfortunately, we do tend to remember the really bad years and forget about those beautiful growing seasons. I would guess that is human nature. But as the weather warms in the spring, true gardeners get the itch and the planting season begins again.

Winter may be upon us, but spring isn’t too far off. Let’s start planning for the spring to come. When it is time to plant those first packs of pansies, we will know that gardening season is upon us once again.

Well, that’s all for this week. I hope you have a safe and happy New Year’s celebration.

I’ll talk to you again next week. 


Tim Lamprey is the owner of Harbor Garden Center on Route 1 in Salisbury. Do you have questions for Tim? Send them to, and he will answer them in upcoming columns.

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Agromin gardening tips: New year brings new gardening opportunities

While January and winter weather means an end to gardening activities in many parts of the United States, it is prime time to plant in southern California, 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 fruit trees: A variety of bare root fruit trees are at nurseries ready to be planted in January. Varieties include apricot, blueberries, plum, apple, pear, peach and raspberries trees.
Give the trees a boost by adding organic compost planting mix to the soil to increase soil aeration and to keep in moisture.

Add Artichokes: Add artichoke plants to your garden. Plant them 4 feet apart. They start their growing process in winter and begin sprouting artichoke heads in spring.
These hardy, perennial vegetables can produce artichokes year after year.

Plant Garlic Cloves: Separate cloves from a garlic bulb. Plant them with the pointy part up the clove up—and about 7 to 8 inches deep. Garlic plants will soon poke their heads from the soil
and grow during winter. They can easily withstand cold winter nights. The new garlic bulbs with their juicy cloves will be ready for harvest in late spring or early summer.

Keep Applying Mulch To Cut Down On Weeds: Every rainfall (no matter how infrequent) means more weeds in the garden. Weeds seem to go more quickly than any vegetable or flower plant.

To keep weeds under control, make sure you have a several-inch layer of mulch wherever weeds may appear. If weeds are already taking root, remove them before covering the area with mulch.

Plant Wildflowers From Seed: First, rake the flowerbed area. Sprinkle California poppy and other wild flowers and cover gently with soil. Sow more seeds just before a rain to encourage continued flower production in spring.

Move Living Christmas Trees Outside: Living Christmas trees should stay indoors for as little time as possible. Once planted outdoors, pine trees can easily grow 40 to 50 feet tall.

Their strong root system, over time, will spread and can easily crack concrete walkways that stand in their way. Make sure you plant your tree in a location that can accommodate such a large tree.

Purchase A Rain Barrel: Don’t let rainwater roof runoff go to waste. Many cities and counties offer rebates when purchasing rain barrels. These barrels can typically hold 50 gallons of water – water that can be used to irrigate your garden.

For more gardening tips, go to

This article was released by Agromin.

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Vermont Garden Journal: 6 Tips For Starting A Windowsill Herb Garden

Feel the need to get your hands a little dirty during the winter? No problem. Just bring the gardening indoors!

If you love gardening, one gift you may have received are seeds for starting a windowsill herb garden. That’s great; however, you may need some tips on growing herb seeds indoors this time of year.  

Some of the easiest herbs to grow from seed are chives, thyme, mint and cilantro. Use individual pots or a long trough and plant herb seeds in the slightly moistened potting soil.

  • Mint seed needs light to germinate so don’t cover these small seeds with soil. Sow cilantro seeds thickly.
  • Harvest whole plants when small, and still ferny, to use in cooking. 
  • To help speed along the process for all these seeds, use an electric seed heating mat placed under the pots to keep the soil at 70F; ideal for germination.
  • Wait to sow basil, sage and dill until the days are longer.
  • Place the seedlings in a window with at least six hours of sun a day. If you don’t have a sunny window, consider getting grow lights that fit in a small space.
  • Keep the soil barely moist and clip and eat the leaves as soon as they are big enough to harvest.

This week’s tip:  if you’re feeding the birds, remember to clean the hanging feeders every two to four weeks. This will reduce the likelihood of disease causing bacteria from getting started. Use a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water and let the feeder dry before refilling with seed.

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Olive Garden server fired after customers said he lied to get mo … – WALB

An elderly man feels that he is being targeted by burglars, again.

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Olive Garden employee fired after customers say he lied about having cancer for tips



SOUTHAVEN, Miss. — A Southaven Olive Garden employee is off the job after customers say he lied about having cancer to get bigger tips.

WREG spoke with three people who all had similar stories of feeling like they were tricked by this waiter, but police told them the waiter can’t face charges since they willingly gave him the money.

“We all felt sorry for him,” said Steven Blake Hughes.

Hughes said he was celebrating a friend’s birthday there in October when the service was below average.

He said his waiter told him he had a lot going on his life, including his cancer coming back.

“He kept going and kept going and kept going like we’re supposed to feel more sorry for him, so when we were going to leave a tip, we were going to leave this huge tip.”

Hughes says he shook it off as an odd meal.

He couldn’t believe it when he saw social media posts circulating this week with similar stories and a man’s picture, Jason Kisner, linked as being the waiter.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, that is the gentleman that talked to me,’” he said.

A woman told WREG a similar incident happened last month. She said she doubled his tip after he sighed deeply and revealed a fight with cancer.

She said a red flag went up when she heard him bragging to another waiter about getting a $100 tip the night before.

“That’s just not ethical,” said Hughes.

Then another woman posted how her mother tipped the waiter $100 this week after hearing his struggle with cancer.

“I’ve had family members and I’ve had friends that have died from cancer and it infuriated me at first.”

But their complaints led to resolution. Olive Garden released a statement saying Kisner’s actions are inconsistent with their company’s values and he no longer works for them.

WREG went to Kisner’s address to get his side of the story, but no one answered the door.

“I’m glad what had happened happened but at the same time, he needs help.”

Kisner has been arrested in the past for shoplifting and conspiracy to unlawfully possess a motor vehicle, but Olive Garden told WREG his criminal record didn’t disqualify him from the job.

He was hired in February.

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HAO Design rearranges Taiwanese home to put emphasis on the garden

HAO Design has reorganised this family home in Taiwan so the residents have to walk through their garden to get inside, creating the feeling of “walking from the city into a country cottage”.

Time Tunnel by HAO Design

The Southern Sunshine Home is located in the Kaohsiung municipality of Taiwan. When brought on board to renovate the property, HAO Design first looked at the surrounding environment of the house – picking out its unique strengths.

Time Tunnel by HAO Design

“We assessed it and found four major advantages – a large yard, high roof, good natural light and a rectangular floor plan,” said the architects.

Time Tunnel by HAO Design

The large yard became the focus for the architects, and they altered the original approach by moving the entrance to the side of the house – meaning that, although residents need to walk around the house to get in, the first thing they see is the yard.

“It’s like walking from the city into a country cottage; your body and mind both relax immediately,” they said.

Time Tunnel by HAO Design

A solid wooden platform reminiscent of old Japanese structures was added to the entrance, allowing residents a place to sit and enjoy the garden view.

Time Tunnel by HAO Design

Inside, walls were removed to merge the old living room and dining room into one single, open space. The original entrance has been converted into a raised Japanese-style washitsu room.

Time Tunnel by HAO Design

Portions of the ceiling were also removed, revealing the original sloping roof structure which is four metres high at its tallest point.

“Even though the ceiling is slightly lower in the kitchen, it is connected to the living room, which gives the impression of a bigger space,” said the architects.

Time Tunnel by HAO Design

The house was originally made up of small individual spaces, meaning it received little natural light.

To counteract this issue, a skylight was installed in the master bathroom, and the wooden front door was swapped for glass French doors.

Time Tunnel by HAO Design

HAO Design was founded in 2013. Its past renovation worked include installing swings and a slide in the kitchen of a family home, and adding a wooden bridge-like corridor to connect a master bedroom with a walk-in wardrobe in a house in Kaohsiung.

Photography is by HeyCheese!

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TMS students are designing pollinator gardens

Largely unused courtyards at Talent Middle School are on their way to becoming pollinator gardens in a design and innovation program with students doing the research and creating the plans.

Learning about pollinators, then planning and executing the concept from beginning to end are the type of activities the program was designed to foster.

“This is a big project,” says teacher Heather Armstrong. “They had never done a scaled drawing using a scaled ruler. They are actually doing architectural drawing.”

Students like the challenge.

“I really like doing things I’m slightly not ready for,” says Aiden Watson. “I want to see how things will work out.”

With 48 seventh- and eighth-grade students, the stand-alone School of Design and Innovation within the middle school uses a project-oriented approach to teach science, technology, engineering and math while covering all other education requirements. The program also emphasizes collaboration and teamwork.

The courtyards are on either side of the school’s media center, visible through windows. The smaller east courtyard, 36 by 40 feet, likely will be tackled first and largely devoted to gardens, says Armstrong. The larger courtyard, 36 by 60 feet, likely will end up with class accommodations as well as a garden.

Teachers of other classes have expressed a desire to do more learning in the courtyards. Another class already has removed plants and other items in preparation for the work.

Students have studied the life cycles of pollinators and habitats they need to survive, designed concepts for what the spaces will look like and learned about plantings that encourage bees, butterflies and others. Armstrong estimates students have spent at least one hour each day since the beginning of the school year on studies and brainstorming related to the project.

Knowing the town’s passion for pollinators — Talent was the second in the country to become a Bee City USA — Armstrong approached the city’s Bee City committee about cooperating in the project.

Rianna Koppel, a committee member, secured a $499 grant from the SELCO Credit Union to help with the project. Dolly Warden, who led the effort that made Talent a Bee City, says the committee has met with the students and that more meetings will be held.

Students and advisers will put together costs for the project. Armstrong says she will be looking for grants and in-kind donations to help with tasks such as concrete removal, excavation and building of structures. Material will be needed for raised beds and benches as well as plants and soil.

Design of the gardens may have been the most challenging aspect, says Armstrong. A licensed landscape architect, Armstrong needed to break the process down into “bite-sized chunks” so that students could understand and then perform the designing.

“The most challenging was the scale drawing,” student Lucero Anguiano says. “We had to do three different designs for each courtyard.” Students and an outside team of advisers will evaluate the designs early next year before selecting one to implement.

Armstrong and fellow teacher Marcel d’-Haem have refined the program in its second year. Last year they had a new challenge each week. Feedback told them that schedule was too aggressive, so they have bigger projects this year such as the gardens.

Middle school gardens will be part of a pollinator pathway up Main Street including pollinator habitat at the roundabout, Front Street and at the elementary school. While the spaces are enclosed by the building on all four sides, pollinators have no trouble locating the plants, Armstrong says.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at 

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The pretend gardener: student discovers hidden life of Renaissance spy

Something odd emerged as a Cambridge student began to research the work of a Renaissance garden designer: although the 16th century Italian artist, sculptor and designer Costantino de’ Servi travelled constantly and never seemed to be short of a bob, he seemed to have completed very few gardens – or any other kind of work.

Wherever there was trouble in Europe, however, be it wars rumbling, alliances being forged, or regime change threatened, de’ Servi seemed to pop up. Then the historian discovered that wherever the supposed gardener travelled and whoever he was nominally working for – and he got as far west as the court of James I in London, and as far east as Persia – he remained on the payroll of one of the richest and most powerful families in Europe, the Medici of Florence. Like any good modern spy who keeps a low profile, there is no known portrait of him.

“In the beginning as I trawled through his correspondence in the archives in Florence, expecting to find evidence of many wonderful Renaissance gardens he had worked on, and found nothing, I was very disappointed. Then as I followed the paper trail, I began to wonder if there was something more interesting going on,” said Davide Martino, a history student at St John’s College, Cambridge.

“I’m not sure you could precisely call him a spy in modern terms,” Martino said. “But his role meant that he could go anywhere and gain intimate access in any court in Europe, and I think it’s reasonable to assume that he was constantly feeding useful information back to his paymasters in Florence.”

One of the few pieces of work that de’ Servi definitely completed was a garden design for Henry, Prince of Wales, son and heir of James I – and far more popular than his father. The project came, as so often in de’ Servi’s career, at a politically sensitive time: the Medici were trying to arrange a marriage between the prince and one of their family, Caterina.

According to de’ Servi’s letters, the marriage plans hit a bump when the teenage prince demanded to see a portrait of his potential intended, and the ambassador from Florence refused to provide one.

De’ Servi left a sketch of a beautiful young woman in the prince’s quarters, and when Henry asked who she was, claimed that it was Caterina. Henry became much more enthusiastic, but died of typhoid in November 1612, aged just 18. His death, widely regarded as a disaster, had profound consequences for English history: his frail younger brother Charles would become king, spark the English civil war, and die on the scaffold in Whitehall.

Martino suspects that the sketch which almost made the match may survive, subject and artist unrecognised, somewhere in the vast drawings collection kept at Windsor Castle – but the period is one of the few where he has also traced a finished piece of work on a garden design.

It is suspected that some of de’ Servi’s designs and drawings lie somewhere within Windsor Castle’s archives. Photograph: Peter Packer/Royal Collection Tr/Press Association

King James preferred his palace at Westminster, but Henry liked the old palace west of the capital at Richmond upon Thames, where his father’s second cousin, Elizabeth I, lived out her last months.

De’ Servi created for Henry a plan for a sophisticated Renaissance garden at Richmond, with elaborate planting, formal walks and water features, but the prince’s death meant it was never completeted. So little of de’ Servi’s work survives – one portrait of a very cross looking Medici princess in the Ufizzi Gallery, one painting in an American museum – that the surviving garden design his papers in the state archives in Florence is precious.

Martino’s work in the archives, made possible through a research grant from St John’s, was a true labour of love: the gardener’s files are only partly catalogued, so working on them was a question of asking for all the letters from a particular year, and toiling through them one by one. There were some surprising omissions: despite Europe lying on the brink of the thirty years’ war, a conflict started by divides within Christianity, de’ Servi made almost no mention of his Roman Catholic faith.

De’ Servi was the son of a diplomat, but his role as travelling artist and garden designer was far more useful cover, evading the espionage claustrophobia of the diplomatic circuit. He ended up quietly back in Italy, wealthy, in a grand house and garden of his own design.

“There is much more to find out about this man – I’m certain of it,” Martino said.

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