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Archives for January 5, 2017

Garden City web designers celebrate

Palmerworks Web and Print Design is a Garden City company that specializes in affordable websites for small businesses. In 2017, Palmerworks will celebrate fifteen years in business, and owners Rick and Katherine Palmer will mark their twentieth wedding anniversary.

From hobby to small business

The company began In 2002, when the couple lived in the Washington, D.C. area. Rick Palmer was working as a writer/designer in the communications department of an international union. Katherine Palmer telecommuted to her job as writer, editor and web designer for an engineering firm in Westland.

The couple began creating websites as a hobby and soon decided to begin their own part-time web design company. Their first customers were an auto repair shop and a music store in Maryland. They enjoyed working with their new clients and decided to focus on small business websites as their specialty.

In 2006, Rick Palmer was transferred back to Michigan, and the couple purchased a home in Garden City. He had been a lifelong resident and was a graduate of Garden City East. Katherine Palmer graduated from Cambridge Adult Education and worked for 10 years as a secretary for Garden City Schools while completing her bachelor’s degree in English at University of Michigan-Dearborn. They were both happy to return to their hometown.

Serving the small business customer base

The couple began to build their business in earnest. Soon, they had dozens of clients and discovered that the small business customer base was underserved in the Detroit area. There were few choices in web designers and they often quoted exorbitant prices. Small business owners were often forced to attempt to design their own sites.

“Several of our clients came to us after wasting time and money trying to create their own websites using companies like Wix or GoDaddy,” said Rick Palmer. “They found they lacked the expertise needed to design a professionallooking website, and Palmerworks was glad to step in and help.”

Palmerworks meets personally with clients to discuss their website needs, which is almost unheard of in web developer circles. Their clients welcome the specialized attention, and the simple explanations of the website process that are free from industry jargon. Many web designers require customers to provide their own written content, photographs, and graphics.

Palmerworks has a different approach. In addition to designing the site, they will also write the content, visit the business to shoot photos, and develop graphics and unique logos. They help select a domain name and provide hosting and maintenance, all for an affordable price.

“Our prices are very competitive,” Katherine Palmer said. “We charge toward the low end of the scale. Clients would tell us horror stories about being quoted thousands of dollars for a basic website. Even now, we’ll create a full-featured website for well below a thousand dollars.”

Building websites in the Garden City area

Palmerworks designed the website for the Garden City Business Alliance and has created signs and print media for their annual events. They also designed the Garden City Taste Fest website and the new GC Business Guide. Some of their other area websites include the Garden City DDA, the Great Bacon Run, Guardian Martial Arts, the GC Cafe, and the 2015 Alumni Arts and Crafts festival. They write weekly blogs for SERVPRO of Westland and several other sites. The company created and maintains the Garden City Friends of the Library website as a community service.

A diverse cross section of clients

In 2012, Rick took an early retirement to focus on the business full time. The company now has a diverse cross section of nearly forty clients in Michigan and around the country, including Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and D.C.

The Palmers say they have seen small business websites evolve from a luxury to a necessity. Technology has advanced, and the company has adapted their designs to meet current needs. For many people, their phones will be their first contact with a small business. All Palmerworks sites are mobilefriendly and automatically scale themselves for readability on many differentdevices and smartphones.

The Palmers also design print products, such as full-color newsletters, posters, and flyers.

Visit to see a portfolio of their websites and services or call them at 734-252-9321.

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Two Raised Garden Beds Types: Traditional and Modular


The benefits of raised bed gardening are well known and embraced by those who appreciate structure and organization. The ability to bypass non-ideal soil conditions, maintain good drainage with proper moisture retention, creating a contained yet accessible growing environment, and protect against weeds and pests means higher yields and less headaches for the modern gardener. Depending upon your skill level, construction know-how, or time availability there are different approaches you can take to readying your growing area. Below is a quick 101 on two design methods: Traditional (DIY) and Modular Kits.

Traditional Garden Bed (DIY)

Traditional Raised Garden Beds utilize wood boards attached together with screws or nails to make a rectangular frame.  The frame is then filled with soil and planting commences.

To construct the traditional garden bed frame, you will need the following tools and materials: Tape measure, marking pencil, saw,  hammer or screwdriver/drill,  nails or screws, and enough board length to make your desired raised garden layout. Cedar wood is generally used due to it’s longevity and natural resistance to insects. You’ll measure the boards and mark them to be cut at your desired length, saw the boards at the marks, position the boards in your desired layout and carefully nail/screw the corners of the layout together making sure not to split the board ends. 


If your gardening aspirations exceed the confines of your current garden bed, you can expand your bed by carefully dismantling one end of your garden by removing the nails or screws from two corners, adding additional lengths of board with a backing board or anchor post for the new board ends and now open old board ends to attach to, and then reattaching the end board to the now larger garden.  Note: Be careful when removing nails or screws from boards and then reattaching them. The wood will have a higher chance of splitting.

Are Traditional Raised Beds Right for You?

While certainly an attractive technique for a handy DIYer, traditional methods can be cumbersome to time-strapped gardeners or those who are not super handy.

If you fall into the latter categories and don’t want to a spend a few hours designing and constructing or you struggle with constructing in general, entrepreneurial spirits have prevailed at making raised bed gardening easier and more accessible for you.  

Modular Garden Beds (Gardening ‘Lincoln Logs’)

Modular raised garden kits feature boards (typically cedar as well) that are pre-cut and designed to slot together by hand with connecting pins that slide into the boards holding them together. This design forgoes the traditional need for a saws, hammers, drills, screw or nails, reducing assembly time to minutes. Due to the plug and play design, a litany of layouts can be created in short time by simply adding more boards and/or stacking them to created deeper sections.


Expanding modular raised garden beds is a quick task. Gardeners simply pull out the connecting pin mentioned above, this is done by hand hand but may need some persuading if the wood of your modular bed has shifted, and additional boards are slotted into the now open end of the garden bed.  (if these sound like gardening ‘Lincoln Logs’, then you have the right idea!). After sliding board ends together the connecting pins are slid back into the pre-drilled hole on the top of the board ends, holding everything together firmly. So no cutting, screwing/nailing, or anchor posts to be concerned with.

The Takeaway

Compared to traditional raised garden methods modular garden beds are usually more expensive, however this added cost is to be weighed against time and effort saved for assembly and future versatility.

If starting a raised garden is on your to-do list but you aren’t confident in your carpentry skills or thrilled with the idea of bending over planks of wood, consider a modular raised garden kit. If you’re a confident DIYer and then traditional methods should suit you fine. Whichever your preferred method, at the end of the day what matters most is that you get out and grow!

Bryan Traficante co-founded GardenInMinutes in 2013, turning a passion for home gardening and innovation into a family-owned venture to make starting a quality garden, easier. Bryan and his family invented the Garden Grid watering system which combines square-foot planting principles with ground-level adjustable irrigation and no complicated assembly. They also craft tool-free, modular garden kits  and provide time saving gardening insights on their blog and social media pages. Find Bryan and GardenInMinutes on Facebook and Twitter, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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Get Growing: Reading Hospital’s new health center features special gardens that aid healing

Gardening is hard labor. All that digging, bending, stretching, kneeling, pulling, raking and lifting is strenuous. It’s also great exercise involving the need for repetition with weight and strength-conditioning exercises. It’s physical work that takes effort. At the end of the day, you know that you’ve had a workout. No need to go to the gym for more.

Most days, that’s a good feeling. Getting some exercise in the outdoor fresh air is healthy. Sleep comes easily when you are tired from a good day working outdoors. Resting your body should take care of the effects of the day’s workout, refreshing you to begin another.

But some days, that workout does you in. Reaching for that little bottle in the medicine cabinet for pain relief or muscle relaxation once in a while soothes the aches. However, when it starts to become a necessity every day, there’s a problem developing. That’s when it’s important to take notice and take action. Self medicating is a temporary measure, not a permanent alternative to professional care.

When the pain affects your ability to enjoy working in the garden, it’s time to re-evaluate the problem vs. the cure. Often, there is a simple reason and a remedy. Go for it. I’m speaking from experience.

After years of discomfort and trying to determine where it originated – back, knee, hip, muscle, skeletal, alignment – I consulted a team of professionals, and we finally tracked it to an arthritic hip. I’m happy to report success after a recent hip replacement surgery. The pain is gone. Hopefully, next year will be pain free in the garden, allowing mobility and freedom of movement. I’ll have my youthful (old) self back again. It will be a blessing.

The surgery took place at the newly opened Reading Health System’s HealthPlex. Two discoveries were made. The first, how the process of healing within my own body and mind works, and the second, the newly constructed healing garden and green rooftop at the hospital.

What a gift the garden is for the hospital’s patients, families and visitors. To wander outside and see the naturalistic garden year-round is therapy. Studies have proven that when patients can see trees, flowers and greenery, they heal quicker.

The green rooftop and healing garden were designed and installed by Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects from Wayne, Delaware County, assisted by Ballinger Architects and RoofMeadow. I spoke with Jonathan last year while descending the curved, accessible walkway his firm designed at Chanticleer. The firm clearly has a gift for the vision of simplicity within functional design, integrating native plants. The rooftop is mesmerizing as you travel the walkways through the warm season meadow and relax on the benches near the oval lawn and water feature.

One can access the garden through the Seventh Street main entrance of the HealthPlex or from the patient floors. It’s worth a peek even on a cold winter day. The tears from the biting winds on the rooftop will take away the tears of uncertainty when you are with a loved one experiencing pain.

A walk through the rooftop garden will transcend your worries and bring you in tune with nature. You will be noticing life in the garden from the tiniest insect to the largest flower. A garden creates joy and connects us to the universal Master. Whether you believe in God or fairies helping us through life’s difficulties, it’s hard not to see evidence of a higher being in charge when you look at the detail of a flower or tree.

Release your anxiety and give control over your destiny to this unfolding process. Take a deep breath and exhale your fears. You will find healing start to begin.

Gloria Day is president of Pretty Dirty Ladies Inc. Garden Design Maintenance; a member of Gardenwriters and the Pennsylvania Landscape Nursery Association; and serves on the Pennsylvania Governor’s Residence Horticultural Advisory Committee. She lives in Berks County and can be reached at

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Planned retention pond will be the first with underground tile

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Email notifications are only sent once a day, and only if there are new matching items.

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Suisun police chief updates waterfront anti-crime, vagrancy efforts

SUISUN CITY — Restricting overnight parking in waterfront parking lots, fixing up the city video camera system and more cooperation with businesses and residents are how Suisun police will push forward their effort against crime.

Those were ideas Suisun City Police Chief Tim Mattos put before the City Council Tuesday night as ways to further deal with the petty crime and vagrancy that has plagued the downtown.

Suisun police have been pushing back against the problems that downtown businesses and residents brought to the council at a December meeting.

The parking restrictions are a response to what Mattos told the council has been a significant increase in the number of vehicles using Marina Basin parking lot for long periods of time.

In December alone, police issued 24 citations to people using the parked cars and motorhomes for sleeping overnight.

Currently, a vehicle can park up to 72 hours before police can take action.

Mattos suggested restricting parking in the lots between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. “to give us a tool to remove vehicles from that area.”

A small number of nearby residents and early morning fishermen use the lots too, and Mattos suggested permitted parking may be a solution for that.

Mattos is expected to come back to the council with a specific proposal in the near future for the council to consider.

The council was told the city needs to update the 10-year-old surveillance camera system which has two cameras that no longer work and can’t be repaired.

The system was installed using grant money, but there is no funding to replace or repair them, Suisun City Police Commander Andrew White told the council.

“It is a good idea. It is an extra set of eyes and ears, but we need to update the tech,” White said.

That means developing a comprehensive video camera program which the waterfront business improvement district has voiced interest in partnering on with the city.

White and Mattos were directed to work some way to find the funds needed to pay for upgrading the camera system.

Mattos stated he is pushing forward to create a committee of downtown residents and businesses to continue working on crime prevention ideas there.

That included working with residents to improve landscaping and lighting as deterrents.

Council members stressed that the city has to do the same with its own properties around the downtown.

“We have to clean up our own house too,” Councilman Mike Segala said.

The council were also told what measures have already been taken, such as the increase of foot and vehicle patrols.

Police have also been posting and removing the illegal encampments around the downtown area.

This included working with Public Works to remove the tree limbs that sheltered encampments on the old Crystal School property and talking with Union Pacific police about the encampments on railroad property.

Mattos said wardens at both California State Prison Solano and the California Medical Facility agreed to ensure newly released prisoners brought to the bus depot will be supervised until they leave on the buses.

Segala said Solano County should look at a policy that would have inmates released from the jail returned to their home of record.

Police are starting an online bicycle registration program to help them investigate and recover stolen bicycles and are working with the waterfront business improvement district on their business watch program.

Councilwoman Jane Day handed over feedback from her Old Town neighbors saying “you have been really making a difference and people are starting to notice.”

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at

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Inaugural Landscaping Camp Will Help Oxonians Beautify Their Yards

Jeff McManus
Jeff McManus, Director of Landscape Services at the University of Mississippi. (Photo courtesy Jeff McManus)

The Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce along with the Economic Development Foundation are hosting the “inaugural” Landscaping Camp here in Oxford in late May as part of the Retirement Attraction Program. The unique event has begun attracting interest from all across the United States. Please share with us, first, the exact dates and cost.

Oxford Chamber: The Landscaping Camp will take place on May 26, 27 and 28. We have an Early Bird special going on now for $300 through January 31, after that the cost will be $375. The cost does not include accommodations; however, we are excited to have The Inn at Ole Miss as our host hotel, where the camp will be held. In addition, if one doesn’t have a place to stay in Oxford they can make reservations with the Inn at Ole Miss at a discounted rate by calling 1-888-486-7666. What are the deliverables for the attendees?

landscaping-camp-something-is-always-blooming-on-campus-even-in-the-winterOxford Chamber: During this two-and-a-half day camp each participant will receive two books written by Jeff McManus at the Opening Dinner/Book Signing. Among activities, one will be able to immerse themselves on a tour of the beautiful Ole Miss campus, learn some great practices from industry leaders, attend educational seminars on how to prune your shrubs, including choosing the right time, as well as growing gardens, attracting birds plus receive timesaving tips for a low maintenance yard and network in a relaxed and inviting atmosphere. To top it off, three tours will also take place en route via the famous Double Decker Bus to the stunning landscaped homes of Dickie and Dianne Scruggs and Sam and Mary Haskell, which are both inspired by McManus, as well as a tour of the beautiful and historical City of Oxford. Jeff McManus is apparently playing a key role.

Oxford Chamber: Absolutely! He loved the idea and has jumped on board with excitement and great ideas to make this event a must to attend. You have already attracted some key sponsors.

Oxford Chamber: We are thrilled to announce our key sponsors, which include The City of Oxford, The University of Mississippi, MaxxSouth Broadband, Rebel Realty and Property Management LLC, The Inn at Ole Miss, Stages Mississippi Magazine and We’re currently looking for Hospitality Sponsors to help us make our guests’ visit even more memorable. The cost of a Hospitality Sponsor is $400. Their logos will be showcased on a “Welcome Banner,” as well as be listed in our program. Why is the Landscape Camp perfect to host in Oxford?

Oxford Chamber: With The University of Mississippi receiving so many accolades of being named “The Most Beautiful Campus” by a number of national publications as well in Newsweek 2011, The Princeton Review and just recently in USA Today’s Readers Choice competition, make it an ideal and proven location.

This Landscaping Camp idea derived from the accolades of the Ole Miss campus and how Americans love to spend time in beautifying their yard season to season, actually turning their yard into another inviting space to welcome their family and friends. According to “Good Housekeeping,” 75 percent of American homeowners spend time or money, or both, tending to their lawns. Attendees definitely should leave here inspired.

Oxford Chamber: We’re rolling out the Green Carpet, creating a sense of anticipation that will result from the seminars and visits to the magnificent landscaped homes, as campers will be enthused to return home and put their new ideas to work. They’ll be excited in taking their homes to a new level of beauty. Is there a website interested parties can link to and register?

Oxford Chamber:
Contact Rosie Vassallo by email at or by phone 662-234-4651. How many participants are you anticipating?

Oxford Chamber: We’re expecting 50 to 100; however, our Early Bird registrations appear to be projecting an even greater attendance. The beautification of the Ole Miss campus appears to be a primary catalyst in the creation of the camp.

Oxford Chamber: People respond to beautiful well-planned surroundings. The University’s beauty has attracted a number of prospective students to Ole Miss, as well as residents to Oxford. Appearance adds to home values, helps attract business investment, and just improves the overall neighborhood reputation. Research shows that beauty is one of the top three factors in creating community attachment, or loyalty, to your particular town, city or neighborhood. Who are some of the experts that attendees will hear from in addition to McManus?

landscaping-camp-photoOxford Chamber: While we are still finalizing our speakers, the new ideas and suggestions that will be introduced to attendees will be significant. Mr. Peng Lee, former research scientist of The National Center for Physical Acoustics, University of Mississippi, will speak on “How To Grow Fig Trees,” while Kristin Lamberson with the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, will address “Creating a Bird-Friendly Landscape.” How will the ultimate success be determined?

Oxford Chamber: Turnout will be key, as well as if one asks for more information regarding Oxford or possibly coming back for another visit. In addition, a brief survey will also be given to each attendee. We anticipate the Landscaping Camp becoming an annual event as Oxford, Ole Miss and natural beauty are all synonymous! And, May is one of our ‘greatest’ months as we are blossoming out all over following graduation.

Steve VassalloSteve Vassallo is a contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at or call him at 985-852-7745.

Follow on InstagramTwitter and Snapchat @hottytoddynews. Like its Facebook page: If You Love Oxford and Ole Miss…

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HERE’S MY VIEW: Seed catalogs warm up the dark, cold days of winter

Posted: Wednesday, January 4, 2017 7:00 am

HERE’S MY VIEW: Seed catalogs warm up the dark, cold days of winter

Tommy Campbell
Editor Publisher

I’m starting to get concerned.

Actually, it’s turning into somewhat of a depressed funk … lol.

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      Wednesday, January 4, 2017 7:00 am.

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      Lets evaluate your 2016 landscaping – Nueces County Record Star

      By the time many of you are reading this you may of recently unwrapped a nice surprise from Santa. Or perhaps finishing up that holiday meal or enjoying your favorite football team on TV. Maybe even celebrated the brand new year of 2017. Ah yes, the holidays are such a great time of year. Even though we tend to get into a “take a break” mode it can be a really good time to look back at the past year and evaluate what we did well and things perhaps we would like to tweak a bit and do a better job or improve upon. It’s a good time of evaluation and planning for the upcoming year.

      This can also be a great time of year to give the same type of evaluation to your landscaping. What worked out well? What didn’t? Keep in mind that reviewing this year’s gardening triumphs and defeats is the best guarantee of success when designing the following year’s garden. Garden design requires a knowledge of plants and you’ve got a whole garden full to learn from. Don’t let that experience go to waste, just because a season is winding down.

      What went right? What always brought a smile to your face? There’s usually at least one section of your garden that works really well. That should be a key to telling you what your style of gardening is, as well as what truly grows well in your conditions. Was it the blue iris that bloomed with the bright yellow daylilies? The hummingbirds flying to your Butterfly Bush? The way your Chinese Fringe Flower made all the other plants pop? Viewing your garden in small sections makes it easy to set up season long eye candy!

      What went wrong? Did the year seem like the endless year of problems? Always out there keeping things cut back? Some weird bugs showed up on your favorite plants and started eating on them and you were not sure what to do exactly? Everything seemed dying for a drink of water but your water restrictions or lack of your own time kept denying their thirst and they seemed to stay alive but not thrive?

      Did you find yourself telling guests, “I wish you’d been here last week, when [fill in the blank] was in bloom?” You need to play with the sequence of bloom in your gardens. Strive for having a different section at peak at different times, rather than trying to have the whole garden in flower all season. And give more focus to colorful and unusual foliage that’s stunning all season.

      Have enthusiastic growers crowded out other plants? If you’re wondering how your lilies turned into a jungle, it’s time to think about doing some thinning and dividing. If you don’t have the time for it now, at least mark the plants this fall or winter, so you won’t be tempted to let them be in the spring. New gardeners like instant plants. As your garden matures, you need to be more selective about what gets space in it. If you’re pulling your hair out about too many plants having the run of your garden, consider putting in larger plants and more specimen shrubs.

      Perhaps your garden was beautiful but you just don’t seem to be enjoying it the way you used to. What about those pesky weeds? Did the weeds get away from you? Make a note to mulch earlier next year. Sometimes we get caught up in planting or waiting to see what has self-seeded. Before you know it, it’s July and every weed seed that landed in your borders has now firmly taken hold. Mulching isn’t fun, but it can free up so much time you would otherwise spend weeding and watering. If you really hate to mulch, get more plants. Exposed soil is an open invitation to weeds.

      Did you take the actual time to smell your own roses? Did you spend any time sitting and enjoying your garden or better still, entertaining in your garden? It’s a joy to work in a garden, but you need to take time to appreciate what you’ve created. If you don’t have a seating area (or 2 or 3) in your garden, design one this winter. Whether it’s a small table and chairs, a couple of functional chairs or a stone patio with a fire pit, if you build it, they will come. Nothing pulls guests into the garden faster than a chair with a view?

      These are just a very few ideas that pop into my head when I begin to evaluate my or a clients landscaping. Perhaps it will help you do the same. Now back to those new year resolutions and I think I am getting hungry again…

      Until next time…

      Happy gardening and I wish peace and prosperity to all of you in the new year.


      Send your landscaping and gardening questions to Jimmie Gibson Jr. at or in care of the Prosper Press at Jimmie is the owner of Absolutely Bushed Landscaping Company. He is a resident in Prosper. His landscaping and gardening column runs every other week in the Prosper Press.

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      Tim’s Tips: Resolve to be a better gardener this year

      What is your gardening New Year’s resolution?

      You probably think about all the other things you can change in the new year. Why not make a change or some changes in your gardening for 2017?

      Let me give you a few examples of things you can make a resolution to change in your gardening habits.

      Make a resolution to never mound bark mulch up against the stem or the trunk of plants. Doing this is so very wrong. If you keep the stem of a plant or the bark of a tree wet all the time from mulch being against the plant, over time, the constant moisture will rot the bark or the stem of the plant. Resolve to eliminate mulch volcanoes around the trunks of trees.

      Make a resolution to learn to prune your plants or, if you know how to prune your plants, to do so in a timely manner. Spring flowering shrubs should be pruned back right after they are done flowering. Hydrangeas, for most varieties, should not be pruned back in the fall. If you have fruit trees, do you know when to prune them? Do you know that rosebushes really flower better if you prune them early in the season and regularly during the growing season? Resolve to learn how to prune your plants.

      Resolve to never start your plants from seed, indoors, too early in the season. Most plants only need eight to 10 weeks from the seed being planted until you put the plant outdoors. Vine types of plants, think squash or cucumbers, need only four weeks from planting the seed until they go in the garden. If you figure mid- to late May for putting your tomato plants in the garden, that would mean that you would start the seeding indoors in mid- to late March. Tall, spindly plants that were started too early will not grow as well as short, thick-stemmed plants. Do your research, and make sure to not start your plants early.

      Resolve to plant certain vegetable plants in your garden at the proper time. Did you know that the old saying is that you plant your peas in the garden on St. Patrick’s Day? Of course, if there is 2 feet of snow on the ground, you can’t do this. However, there are many vegetables that need to grow in the cool weather of very early spring. Resolve to learn what you can plant in your vegetable garden early and then get an early crop of fresh vegetables from your garden.

      Resolve to keep up with applying fertilizer to your annual and perennial flowers and your vegetable plants. Annual flowers and vegetable plants need a steady supply of the proper fertilizer to keep the plants healthy and, in the case of vegetables, producing fresh vegetables in abundance. From the time you plant annuals and from the time you plant vegetables, fertilize those plants the entire growing season. You will be amazed at how much better your plants will do if they are getting the proper food that they need.

      Well, that’s all for this week. 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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      Your garden in the New Year: Sean Murray’s tips for North East gardeners

      The winter months provide us with an opportunity to plan changes to our gardens that can bring us even more pleasure from our outdoor spaces. A New Year and a new beginning for our gardening year, how exciting!

      It’s official: I now love wintertime, no longer thinking ‘oh no, dark winter nights,’ I now think about my reading corner, my place to dream, reflect, be inspired and to plan the year ahead. I’ve piled it high with new and old gardening books, magazines and seed catalogues.

      My old favourite is top of the pile, Dear friend and Gardener, Letters on Life and Gardening (1998). Compiled from letters between two gardening icons, Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto, it’s full of warmth, wit and great gardening banter. I dip into it every winter and it always gets me fired up and wanting to get started in the garden.

      As a garden designer, there’s never really a quiet season. I am spending the winter months absorbed in creating detailed planting plans for client’s gardens that will be planted this spring. When the weather allows, I’m also planting bare root trees such as Malus Evereste, hedges of Fagus sylvatica Purpurea, and shrubs such as Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’. November to March is a great time to get them into the ground, where they establish as quickly as pot-grown specimens and can be a fraction of the cost.

      The new year is a good time to be planning changes you might like to make in your own garden too. With a bit of careful design, you can have 12 months of unfolding treasures, some of which appear most unexpectedly and really catch you by surprise.

      In my own garden Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ is flowering at full throttle along with Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, their combined perfume on a bright, still day is nothing short of spellbinding. A couple of sprigs brought indoors can scent a whole room and never fails to get my thoughts racing about spring. It knocks the socks off synthetic room fragrances any day and it’s free, year after year.

      Making changes to your garden might be something as simple as planting a climber to make use of a bare wall, or something more dramatic like removing that monster of a shrub that fails to earn its place and has outgrown its welcome. Go on, be brave, do it. Just think of the light you can create and the planting possibilities that could replace it.

      Views of the RHS Garden Harlow Carr Winter Walk

      Views of the RHS Garden Harlow Carr Winter Walk
      (Photo: UGC TNE)

      Following a recent inspirational visit to RHS Harlow Carr’s Winter Walk I am ramping up the winter interest in our garden by planting Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’. Its bare black stems will look dramatic against a new planting of Rubus Cocksburnianus, a decorative brilliant white-stemmed bramble from China, which forms a thicket 3 metres tall. It likes most soil conditions, sun, and even grows in exposed sites.

      Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ is a large deciduous shrub and I am just about to plant one so it can be viewed from the house, where its orange-pink winged fruits can be seen all winter. It has the RHS Award of Garden Merit and it’s well deserved.

      Someone has just asked me what will be trending in the garden world this year. I am predicting flowering shrubs will be making a welcome comeback, not used merely as fillers but as real show stoppers, planted together to provide all year-round interest from leaves, stems, bark, fruits and of course, flowers.

      Meadow planting will continue to replace boring, old grass in private gardens and more so in public spaces such as parks and verges, which is great news for our failing bee populations. Planting schemes will focus on hot colours such as orange, cerise, purple and red, grown to contrast with lime greens and silvers. There will also be a continued avoidance of the somewhat ‘wishy-washy’ pastel colour schemes that were so popular in the last decade.

      It’s getting dark outside and my reading corner beckons. Earlier in the day the Avon spring bulb catalogue hit the front doormat and I’m itching to make an order. I know it features snowdrops and each year I am worryingly becoming more captivated by their simple charm and personality to a point of wanting to collect them.

      I won’t be ordering snowdrop Veronica Cross, a new hybrid at £120 per bulb (one per customer) as it’s a bit steep for my pocket. I am, however, making a note in my new notebook under ‘New Year’s resolutions’ to identify the dozens of existing snowdrop cultivars in our garden, planted by previous galanthophiles. You never know, once named, I could be gardening on a gold mine of rarities just waiting to be rediscovered. Rediscover your garden this winter and plan some changes.

      Happy New Year and here’s to a fantastic year in our gardens.

      Sean Murray runs a garden design company based in Ashington, Northumberland,

      Video thumbnail, Take a tour of Durham University Botanic Gardens

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