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Archives for April 1, 2017

A garden design competition for the formerly homeless is truly inspiring

When imagining how they must feel, she concentrated her garden plan on that sense of security: “I thought I might appreciate intimacy, having my own space in the garden, and the possibility to grow my own food, not just from an economic perspective but also to feel anchored somewhere and to benefit from the self-satisfaction that gardening gives you.”

The concept made her the winner of the Kilsaran Home Student Garden Competition 2017.

Kilsaran, which produces a range of hard landscaping materials for gardens, have been running this competition for the last four years and it has generated some fantastic designs over that time. 

Last year’s winner went on to work with Diarmuid Gavin on his show garden for RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

This year they wanted to broaden the brief to students with an engaging and worthwhile project, namely the Peter McVerry Trust and its project in Athy, Co Kildare, where permanent homes for previously homeless people are being built. 

Diarmuid Gavin was once again the head judge, and emphasis was put on the suitability of the design to the new residents and the various requirements that they would have.

Manon’s design was chosen because of her overall concept. She divided up the space into individual areas to suit the needs of the residents and showed creativity and a flair for design in the use of hard and soft landscaping products. 

A student of the landscape Design Academy in Dublin, the win will see her proposed garden brought to life for the Peter McVerry Trust and she will receive a cheque for €3,000.

Celebrating the annual Kilsaran Home Student Garden competition were Michelle Jordan, Landscape design Academy of Dublin, David Remaud, College of Amenity Horticulture Botanic Gardens, gardener Diarmuid Gavin, Emma Ervine, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise and Manon Bordet Chavanel, Landscape Design Academy of Dublin, this year’s winner with her design for the Peter McVerry Trust houses in Athy. Picture: Maxwell

Kilsaran called on all students of horticulture, garden design, landscape architecture and other similar courses to get involved in the competition. This attracted a broad and mixed list of submissions and designs. 

Mr Gavin spoke at the announcement of the winner and said: “We’re delighted for all the finalists, especially Manon. Judging this year’s competition was so difficult. The standard is going up every year but this year was exceptional.

“There was very little between first and fourth. We just felt Manon’s designed would be more sustainable and timeless for the people the McVerry Trust will be helping.”

Manon has achieved what she set out to — she has created a design which provides an area for intimacy and to be alone, but also incorporates a decent-sized grass area, important for those young enough to play ball and generally have fun in the garden.

A garden needs to be that, it needs to provide for all members of the family whether it’s the parents who may want to grow fruit and herbs, or the children who may want nothing more than an outdoor play room. 

The lawn area is flanked by a substantial ‘wildflower’ area which looks lovely in the design. However, when real life takes over, it may well be colonised by the future sports stars as an extension of the grass.

When choosing the plants for the soft landscaping scheme, Manon paid particular attention to non-toxic plants and plants that are edible, but not forgetting the ornamental value that a garden must provide, she also focused on attributes such as flower colour, texture, foliage effect and scent to create a garden that provides interest throughout the year.

One of the features of her planting that I particularly like is the mixture of ornamental with edible plants. 

Crocosmia is planted next to Rosa rugosa with sage and fennel and the extremely elegant tall grass, Panicum virgatum will look stunning next to the stately yet edible artichokes.

Manon has managed to create different zones in the same expanse of paving, carving out private seating areas next to communal spaces — and the kids aren’t forgotten with a giant outdoor chessboard built into the paved area.

There have been many pages written about gardening and the benefits it has in terms of therapy and overall mental health. 

I have no idea of what it is to be homeless, and I don’t like to imagine the challenges and fears that being in that situation must involve, so it’s a positive to focus on the achievement of the Peter McVerry Tryst in providing homes and the overwhelming relief that must come when someone is lucky enough to be housed in this new facility in Athy.

I have no doubt that the garden and outdoor space, so well designed by Manon, will play an intricate part in making this facility home for the families that it serves.

Article source:

Native plants make for easy and attractive gardens – Springfield News

Whether you have a small yard in the city or a large acreage in the country, native plants can give you options to grow on.

Native plants are good choices for landscaping for a variety of reasons. For some people, choosing native species is about connecting with nature on a more personal level. Others opt for natives because they have a limited time to devote to landscaping projects. For some, it’s both reasons. More and more people are discovering that the plants that occur naturally in our prairies, forests, wetlands and glades can give us excellent landscaping ideas about what we can do around our home.

People can learn more about using native plants at the Native Plant Sale and Workshops that will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Springfield Conservation Nature Center. In addition to featuring a number of regional businesses that will be selling native plants, this event will also feature several guest speakers that will discuss benefits of incorporating native plants into landscaping strategies.

Many of the grasses and flowers that adorn our yards are exotic species — plants that were brought here from other parts of the world. Maintaining the beauty of these plants is often a high-maintenance job. Many exotic species require high amounts of water, fertilizer, pesticides or some other type of labor-intensive chore that takes more of your time — and money — than you had originally intended. In many situations, native plants — the trees, flowers and grasses that were here to begin with — can be just as beautiful to look at and a lot less trouble to grow.

There are many benefits associated with a well-planned, diverse native landscape. One of these is wildlife attraction. The songbirds, butterflies, small reptiles and mammals that you go to parks and other public facilities to see can often be enticed to your backyard with the proper plantings. These plants provide food, nesting and other habitat essentials needed by these animals. Those instinctual needs will draw a variety of wildlife to specific plants, whether those plants are growing at a nature center or in your backyard.

As mentioned above, native plants usually require less care than exotics. The reason for this is simple; millions of years of evolution have adapted these plants to the conditions found here. That means they’ve grown accustomed to the soil, weather patterns, insect pests and other factors that affect plant growth in this region of the country. Exotic plants have few of these inherent adaptations and, in some cases, can only be sustained through extensive “life-support” procedures such as heavy watering, fertilization and pest-control applications.

In many cases, once native flowers and grasses get established in an area, homeowners don’t have to worry as much about weeding, either. Remember, these plants were holding their own in our local soil millions of years before we came along. Their large root systems and effective seed dispersal systems are effective at sustaining their populations.

Native plants come in many shapes, colors and forms. Those interested in growing indigenous plants have a variety of flowers, shrubs, grasses, small trees and large trees to choose from. The best natural landscaping plan is one that involves a mixture of plant types, but if space for plants is limited – that’s still all right. Native plants can work for you whether you have 10 acres on the edge of town or a single flowerbed along the edge of your driveway.

Some people shy away from native plants because they think a landscape centered on native plant species will have a rougher, “woolier” appearance than the well-manicured flowerbeds to which they’re accustomed. That’s not necessarily a fair criticism because people can still control the neatness of their plantings. Just because you have native plants doesn’t mean you can’t mow, weed-eat, edge and do other aesthetic maintenance procedures that are done with non-native plantings.

No registration is required for the native plant event at the Springfield Nature Center. For more information, call 417-888-4237. The Nature Center is located at 4601 S. Nature Center Way.

The Grow Native Program, a joint effort of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Department of Agriculture, also contains good information about how native plants can fit into your backyard plants. Information about this program can be found at your nearest Missouri Department of Conservation office or at

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.

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UNH greenhouse gives glimpse of spring

DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire is offering this weekend, an antidote to the apparent March going out like a lion snowstorm.

Every year, area residents look forward to a visit to the Macfarlane Research Greenhouses on the UNH Campus. Friday provided that opportunity as a steady stream of people arrived, many of them before the impending bad weather.

“I was planning on coming (Saturday),” said Oona O’Neill, of Barnstead. “But decided today would be a better idea.”

Oona was researching some landscaping ideas for her Parker Mountain Road residence and found some instruction available from the display set up by the New Hampshire Landscape Association.

Jim Rivet, of Madbury, a long time landscape professional, was there to assist people as they planned for spring.

Not only were there selections for people looking at plants and agricultural advice, but UNH Marine Educators, a volunteer organization, were there to advise of the many programs available, things like trips to the Isle of Shoals as well as biologically oriented trips to the Great Bay, and even boat building.

Since many were oriented towards gardening, Jesse King advised of a boat trip to Appledore Island to visit famous poet Celia Thaxter’s garden.

Friday visitors had many things to interest them, including how to create a water feature in a home garden. Also, they were educated as to why they should eat more berries and even how to grow small fruit in a home garden.

Researchers also presented programs on vegetable and fruit breeding. A presentation on aquaponics, was effectively led by Dr. Todd Guerdat, who captivated many with his descriptions of the UNH’s Project Oasis, Optimizing Aquaponic Systems to Improve Sustainability.

The Spring Open House gives many an opportunity to purchase plants to be taken home for use.

Karen Spillane, of South Berwick, Maine, had taken prior advantage of the plant sale and was happy to arrive on Friday. She departed from the greenhouse with a box full of plants including the featured plant of the weekend — the pansy.

The focus for many was psychological as the event for them was the beginning of spring.

The Open House continues Saturday, April 1, at the Macfarlane Greenhouse from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Article source:

SKALICKY: Gardening with native plants



Posted: Saturday, April 1, 2017 7:24 am

Updated: 7:25 am, Sat Apr 1, 2017.

SKALICKY: Gardening with native plants

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. (417) 895-6880

Christian County Headliner News – Ozark, Missouri


Whether you have a small yard in the city or a large acreage in the country, native plants can give you options to grow on.

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      Saturday, April 1, 2017 7:24 am.

      Updated: 7:25 am.

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      Gardens with a twist! Nature inspires exhibits at UD, Springfield

      Folks in our area have two unusual ways to welcome Spring this year by checking out the current exhibits at the University of Dayton’s Roesch Library and the Springfield Museum of Art. Both exhibitions initially create quite a surprise when you step inside the galleries.

      In Springfield, you’ll have to get close to the sculptures — of colorful blooms and moths and landscapes — to realize they’re actually made up of recycled objects. Michelle Stitzlein creates the magic with bottle caps, piano keys, electrical wires, license plates, even old slide carousels.

      At UD you’ll see an rare sight for a library— a floor planted with hundreds of live annuals and perennials.

      Mary’s Gardens

      UD’s exhibit, on view through May 10, pays tribute to a sacred tradition of planting gardens to honor the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. The practice dates back to the Middle Ages, when the gardens were often shaped in the form of a cross and included a statue or shrine. “You’d bring flowers to your mother,” explains Sarah Cahalan, director of the University’s Marian Library. “They thought of the garden as a teaching tool and used the flowers to tell about Mary and Bible stories.”

      The ancient concept got a big boost in America in the 1950s when Philadelphia engineer John S. Stokes Jr. spearheaded a movement to encourage more people to plant all types of Mary Gardens.

      MORE ARTS NEWS: John Legend plays surprise concert!

      “He was a Quaker who converted to Catholicism and experienced his conversion in his family’s garden,” Cahalan says. “He had a lifelong commitment to social justice causes and he was a gardener who was excited about the idea of democratizing Mary Gardens and adapting them to all kinds of spaces. He wanted there to be options for people who didn’t have a lot of space or time, so he had suggestions for kitchen gardens, dish gardens. He produced literature and garden plans and he would even send free seeds to people.”

      A Mary Garden is typically filled with flowers and plants with names that describe an aspect of Mary’s life, her appearance or her virtues. Examples include the Bellflower, known as Our Lady’s Nightcap; the Bleeding Heart, dubbed Mary’s Heart, and Foxglove, known as Our Lady’s Gloves. The Daylily was named for Mary’s husband, Joseph, often depicted with a lily in his hand.

      When UD came up with the idea for a library Mary Garden, they contacted 1990 alum Marty Grunder, who offered his help. Designing the unusual garden for Grunder Landscaping Co. was Brent Ogburn, director of business development.

      When Ogborn first heard about the assignment, he checked out the library groounds, trying to determine how the garden would fit.

      “I was surprised to find out from Marty that the garden was going to go inside the library,” he says, adding that the project turned out to be both fun and educational for all those who collaborated on it. “I did a lot of research and studied John Stokes. I found that there were Biblical meanings for both perennials and annuals, so we’re going to change the annuals throughout the exhibit to reflect different reasons. I learned a lot about Mary and the meaning she has in the Catholic religion. It was very humbling for me.”

      MORE EVENTS: ‘Saved By The Bell’ star coming to Dayton.

      The exhibit includes a video with clips of John Stokes in conversation on various topics. You can pick up flyers that list the flowers on display and bookmarks with seeds embedded in them. The UD bookstore is selling a Mary’s Garden Eco-cube kit that includes a statue of Mary and everything you need to grow one of five different Mary’s Garden plants.

      The Stokes archives

      Because Stokes did much of his research at UD’s Marian Library, which houses the largest collection in the world of printed materials and artifacts about Mary, he bequeathed his materials to the University. That bequest inspired the current exhibit; the second floor of the show includes six cases of items from Stokes’ personal collection —including a map of the garden that first inspired him and brought him to tears.

      The two statues on the first floor come from the collection commissioned by Stokes. Members of the Stokes family were on hand for the opening.

      Paintings of Mary

      You’ll find the third part of the UD exhibit on the library’s seventh floor. It includes 25 paintings of Mary by Cincinnati artist Holly Schapker. “You’ll see her as an older woman, as a teenager,” Cahalan says. “You’ll see her as everywoman — with different ethnicities. And you’ll see paintings of Mary that incorporate the symbolic flowers.”

      Cahalan says UD’s garden can also be traced back to the Garden of Eden, in her faith tradition. “Heaven is represented as a garden in many religious traditions,” she says. “Our garden is a resource for people across faiths to think about the spirituality of our interactions with nature and God’s place in nature.”

      Springfield exhibit is seen around the globe

      Artist Michelle Stitzlein is obviously thinking about human interactions with nature as well.

      Stitzlein has been making art since she was a young child. “I live and breathe art and I don’t feel like a person unless I’m creating,” says the graduate of the Columbus College of Art Design who lives in a rural area in Baltimore, Ohio, outside Columbus. “I love nature and love being outdoors. I like to work with my hands and challenge myself.”

      You’ll see how she’s met a variety of challenges in her current Springfield show, “Industrial Nature.” She reasons that since the world has only so many resources, an important part of the challenge is creating artwork without going out to buy new supplies —paints, paper. “Instead I create with what I have on hand, whether it be in the trash, the garage or an attic,” she says. “I see possibilities.” Her drill, she says, is her paintbrush.

      The result is an artist who turns computer mice, headphones and bicycle tires into moths; transforms headlamps, holiday globes and bottlecaps into lichen and fashions elegant flowers from electrical wires, computer cable and enamel pots. Who knew what you could do with the black hangers we take off each pair of new socks or the clothing tags that identify sizes on department store racks?

      World-wide response

      The museum’s executive director, Ann Fortescue, says the response to Stitzlein’s show has been off the charts.”We are getting messages from Japan, Ukraine, Finland, New Zealand, France, Spain, Mexico, and various places in Africa and South America,” she says. “Our Facebook page of the images of Michele’s exhibition have 287,000 views and 2,350 shares around the globe.

      “Kids are fascinated,” Fortescue says. “It’s like ‘Where’s Waldo?’ It elicits wonder and delight from both adults and children.”

      Fortescue believes the exhibit images are resonating with people because they are highly creative, beautiful and whimsical. “It’s also completely accessible,” she says. “It has a kind of magnetism, a curiosity factor. You look at it from afar and as you draw closer you realize she has created this incredible landscape, textile, lichen, moth — all from these everyday objects. She has such a different way of looking at things — what we see as clutter and junk she can see coming together in this creative way. Pill bottles and thread spools never looked so good!”

      MORE ON THE ARTS: Rubi Girls on the bill for WYSO benefit show.

      In anticipation of the Springfield exhibit, Stitzlein invited residents in the area to donate their old garden hoses. The result is the amazing 30-foot work you’ll see when you first enter the gallery. It’s created from 300 discarded hoses. The majority came from patrons of the museum, residents of Yellow Springs and Springfield. “They put a crate in front of the museum for six months and I would come every two weeks and fill up the back of my pick-up,” says the artist.

      All of her work, she says, is inspired by nature. Almost nothing is altered. “I love the stains, the rust, the patina, ” Stitzlein says. “It’s all part of the work.”

      Although everything she does in inspired by nature, Stitzlein says visitors will be hard-pressed to identify a particular species or type of plant, tree, animal or insect. “They are completely from my imagination.”

      What does she hope visitors will take away? “Whatever they need to experience,” she says. “My work is made with a lot of things from the waste stream. All of this would have gone into a landfill. Maybe we need to pull back on all of the stuff we’re putting into those landfills.”

      WANT TO GO?

      What: “Mary’s Gardens” presented by University of Dayton Libraries. Including a living indoor garden exhibit, mementos from the collection of John S. Stokes and paintings by Cincinnati artist Holly Schapker. Flowers will change April 17 and April 28 to reflect various seasons.

      Where: Roesch Library at the University of Dayton

      When: Through May 10. Exhibit hours are generally 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Exceptions are April 13 when hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; April 17 when the library will be open from noon to 10 p.m. and May 5-9 when it will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The library will be closed April 14-16.

      Admission: Free

      Tours: Individuals as well as groups are invited to sign up for a 45-minute tour of the three exhibits. Pre-registration is required.

      Parking: On weekdays, you can pass through the main campus entrance on Stewart Street just east of Brown Street and follow the road to the visitors center to obtain a free parking pass. On weekends, you can park in Lot B without a pass.

      You can get more information or register for a tour day online at

      WANT TO GO?

      What: “Industrial Nature: Works by Michelle Stitzlein”

      Where: Springfield Museum of Art, 107 Cliff Park Road, Springfield

      When: Through May 28. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 12:30-4:30 p.m. Sundays.

      Admission: $5 for adults; $3 for students ages 17 and younger and museum members. The museum will accept the Culture Works Passport, a DAI Membership card, and a WYSO Members Card.

      SPECIAL PROGRAM: Artist Michelle Stitzlein will present a Gallery Talk at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4. Doors open at 5:30 and the presentation is free.

      More information: (937) 325-4673 or www.springfieldart. museum

      Article source:

      The future of your yard: Edible landscapes and beyond – The Coast …

      “How do we get people to eat food out of their own gardens?” is a question Kevin Muno asked himself several years ago. Now as president and CEO of Ecology Artisans, he and his team have found the answer to that question and then some. They are quite literally changing the landscape in North County and beyond with a goal of “creating productive and beautiful landscapes, farms and developments that harmonize and align with natural ecosystems.”

      With projects ranging in size from raised garden beds to entire food forests and dry-farmed vineyards, Muno and his partners have expanded their vision and have been able to make their dreams reality. The beginnings of Ecology Artisans took place in a permaculture design course the partners had enrolled in. “It was a six-week-long course that teaches you to mimic nature in a landscape,” Muno said. “It is a set of tools, techniques and principles for living sustainably and restoratively.”

      Ecology Artisans has grown to a 10-employee company that services the entire county. Services include irrigation, planting, rainwater harvesting, landscape design and installation and more. However, one of Muno’s biggest goals is to educate residents. The collective experience and education of the team make it uniquely qualified to help the community learn how to live sustainably while making their properties beautiful. On the horizon for Ecology Artisans is a series of workshops on topics such as composting, edible landscaping, rain gardens and rain water harvesting.

      An example of raised garden beds created by Ecology Artisans. Courtesy photo

      An example of raised garden beds created by Ecology Artisans. Courtesy photo

      One of Ecology Artisans’ bigger recent projects was installing the earthworks for a food forest on the Leichtag Foundation’s Coastal Roots Farm. “It’s a super cool project,” Muno said. “It’s modeled after ‘peia’ which in Hebrew means to leave the corners of your field open.” One of the goals of the food forest is to help feed those who can’t afford to feed themselves.

      Dry-farmed vineyards are another way some local residents are increasing their sustainability. “They operate totally off of irrigation,” Muno said. Ecology Artisans is currently working on one in Rancho Santa Fe. “A lot of small farms only have citrus planted,” he said. “We now know that citrus is more susceptible to pests and diseases. (It) is also rather thirsty.” The move to more drought-tolerant crops like olives and grapes interplanted with other species attracts bees, butterflies and other pollinators. This not only eliminates the need for pesticides, it also reduces the amount of water.

      By adding sheep to graze the vineyard, you can bring down your labor costs while getting free fertilizer. “We are calling it a regenerative vineyard,” Muno said. He added he expects to see more of these locally in areas that have larger properties.


      What can you do today to become more sustainable?

      Edible Landscapes

      When it comes to your edible landscapes, Muno recommends a “lazy” approach, by planting perennial vegetables. “They live more than one year,” he said. “You plant once, and get it for three years.” Balance is key, for any successful landscape, and perennials reduce the amount of tillage so that the soil doesn’t get disturbed. “Then you disturb your fungal balance,” he said. “Fungus have an amazing ability to bring in water from really far distances. Then you don’t have to till the soil every year.”

      Muno recommends planting winter squash, butternut squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, basil, rosemary and artichokes. “Try to use native plants and flowers as well as try to plant veggies and fruit trees,” he said. For someone wanting to live off their landscape, he advises a polycultural environment, including herbs, and trees such as long-term nut producing trees.

      No matter the size of your yard, there are options for creating an edible landscape. “Raised gardens are super easy,” Muno pointed out as an example. “You can do it in your front or backyard.”


      “One of the cool things about gardening is you can integrate animals,” Muno said. Animals are no longer just for rural residents, either. “On an urban scale, you can have rabbits, chickens, potentially a few milking goats,” he said. “Rabbits can eat leftover scraps. They can potentially be a protein source. They also have a good amount of dung that they deposit in their rabbit hutches. Underneath they have worm bins.” He said it’s a continuous loop. “The worm castings can then feed your chickens,” he said. “One loop feeds another loop.”

      Chickens are popping up in yards of all sizes in North County. “You can do a chicken coup, and you feed them table scraps,” Muno said. “The nitrogen from their coop and the carbon from straw hay make a really cool compost. You use that compost in your garden. It’s free fertilizer.” Ecology Artisans plans to host workshops, helping residents to create their own coops.

      Water: Rain and Gray

      Muno recommends people tie rainwater systems to their landscapes and gardens. “It’s low maintenance, so people don’t have to constantly be out there with a garden hose,” he said. One idea is to plant fruit trees so that they can be watered directly from roofs. “We try to integrate as much passive water as possible and minimize water from outside sources,” he said. The benefits are twofold. “We are putting less demand on city systems and preventing storm water runoff,” he added.

      Rain barrels are another inexpensive way to capture rainwater and reuse on your property. Kits are available at home improvement stores, or there are DIY videos available online. With the amount of rain we have had this winter, rain barrels are an easy way to reduce your water bill.

      Graywater can also be recycled, with innovative systems like laundry to landscape. “You can save 24,000 gallons of water a year for a family of four,” Muno said. Graywater includes water from washing machines, showers, bathroom sinks and tubs. It is considered cleaner than water from kitchen sinks, dishwashers and toilets, as it doesn’t have high levels of organic contaminants or fecal matter. Another bonus is that the county offers some graywater rebates for both simple and complex systems.


      Introducing composting can be a very simple sustainability practice. “On a smaller scale, it can just be a worm bin,” Muno said. “It’s a really good way to do composting.” He said there is also a larger two-bin system, which means you have two areas that you rotate and turn the compost from one to the other.

      Depending on the size system you are interested in, the ingredients of your compost and the intended end use, the options available are endless. Muno looks forward to Ecology Artisans’ upcoming workshops so that he can spread the word about the benefits to composting as well as show residents how to set themselves up in their own homes.

      Muno is excited about the future of sustainable living in North County. “It makes us a more resilient, robust and fun community,” he said. “We think Encinitas could be a hotbed for this.”

      For more information about Ecology Artisans, visit, call (858) 769-9058 or email

      Article source:

      Ratings of area garden centers from the best to the bush league

      As we finally near warmer weather, it’s time to start thinking about our gardens and landscaping. Even the greenest of thumbs sometimes needs help — sometimes lots of it. Which plants to buy? How to plant them? Where to plant them? How to nurture them?

      The best-run garden centers have the answers. They employ experts and — maybe most important — emphasize quality. Selling plants is not like selling power tools or lumber. Plants are alive, each one unique and each one vulnerable to disease, injury, and death.

      If you need help, nonprofit Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook’s ratings of area garden centers for quality and price can help you find it. For the next month, Checkbook is offering free access to its ratings of area garden centers to StarTribune readers via this link:

      Running a good garden center or nursery takes knowledge, years of experience, organizational skill and a strong commitment to quality. And since most garden centers buy — rather than raise — most of what they sell, there is room for tremendous variation in buying ability and buying standards.

      The opinions Checkbook collected from Twin Cities area consumers on garden centers they use reflect the big variation in quality among retailers.

      Some stores were rated “superior” for “quality of products” by at least 90 percent of their surveyed customers, but several other retailers were rated “superior” on this question by fewer than 40 percent.

      Surveyed consumers gave Home Depot low marks for quality — its stores scored, on average, lower than almost all of the independent stores.

      But for the selection of plants it sells, Home Depot does very well on price. Checkbook’s undercover shoppers found that Home Depot’s prices averaged 41 percent below the all-store average for comparable items.

      Unlike most types of services and stores Checkbook evaluates, paying more for plants at garden centers does slightly improve your odds of getting better advice, service and product quality.

      Checkbook found that many of the stores rated highest for quality charge higher-than-average prices, but some stores that rate high for quality also have below-average prices.

      For specific plants, Checkbook found enormous nursery-to-nursery price differences — perhaps more variation than in any subject we cover.

      For example, for six liriope in one-gallon containers, prices ranged from $36 to $84; and for a sansevieria in an eight-ounce pot, prices ranged from $7 to $46.

      Before shopping, make a plan. Consider your yard’s soil type, acidity, drainage patterns and sunlight exposure. Match plant types with areas where they are likely to thrive.

      Your plan should show how your property will look right away, and how it will look years from now when your plants have grown.

      Without a plan, you could wind up with an assortment of plants that do not complement each other in size, shape, or color. You might end up with shade where you want sun and with the view from, or of, your house obscured. And you might pay for expensive plants when inexpensive ones would do just as well.

      Seek advice from gardening websites, friends with attractive gardens, and experts at local botanical gardens. If you want professional help, you can hire a landscape designer.

      When making plant purchases:

      • Check roots to be sure they have not dried out. Probe with your finger or look through the drain holes of a container to make sure the roots are whitish, not brown.

      • For shrubs and trees, check for weak or broken branches. Bark should not have scars or holes, and pruning cuts should be flush with the branch or trunk.

      • Check plants for browned or grayed areas or spots on leaves or stems, all signs of disease. And check for insects.

      • In growing season, be sure there is new growth.

      • Get a receipt that shows the common and the Latin names of plants and the size, number purchased, date of purchase, price, and guarantee.

      You should also receive instructions on how and where to plant and on what pruning, feeding, and spraying will be needed.

      • Ask what guarantee you get. Fortunately, even though many plant deaths are the result of improper planting or care — in other words, the buyer’s fault — Checkbook found that most garden centers nonetheless offer broad guarantees.

      Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate. See ratings of area garden centers for quality and price free of charge until May 5 at

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