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Archives for June 8, 2017

Gardening tips: Dealing with black fungus and lily beetles

Expert Robin Mercer, from Hillmount Garden Centre, shares what’s on the mind of his customers at the beginning of June

He explains: “At this time of the year customers come to us with a range of problems that they’re having in their gardens.”

We’re going to look at two of these issues this week and get Robin’s expert advice.

1. Black fungus on lawns

“The fungus has been rife because of the weather conditions here. This fungus can actually spread with your lawnmower and that can happen quite quickly.

“The main thing is to get it caught and get it sprayed.

“There are fungus killers that you can buy that will sort the problem. The reason that you get it is because the lawn is compacted too much.

“So in the Autumn time you want to get a digging fork and fork it then put some grit sand which will prevent it for next year. If you can catch it now and control it now then you’re on top of it.

“But if you don’t do anything now then it can turn like jelly and becomes a bigger problem.”

Another issue that people are having, according to Robin, is the lily beetle.

2. The lily beetle

Scarlet lily beetle

“People are asking what is happening their lilies at this time of the year. They’re being eaten and people think that it’s caterpillars or slugs or something like that.

“However, what they’re finding is these ladybird-like creatures. They look exactly like ladybirds – but they’re actually lily beetles.

“It’s a real problem. They can devastate lilies really quickly. You can buy a general insecticide spray which can be used to help you keep on top of it.”

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Major reboot of Topanga house and gardens was a passion project, builder-owner says: ‘I was hopelessly in love…’

When experienced home builder and sometime illustrator Bill Buerge calls the restoration of the Mountain Mermaid his “ultimate challenge,” he isn’t kidding.

“Piles of exterminated bees, horse manure and goat poop littered the floors. Most of the plaster had fallen from the walls,” he recalls. That’s just on the inside of the 7,000-square-foot Spanish Colonial Revival-slash-Mission Revival structure nestled in Topanga Canyon.

Out in the five-acre garden, invasive plants ruled. Large eucalyptus trees were especially troublesome. Roots snaked beneath the property and up through the shower floor 50 feet away. Meanwhile, water runoff chipped away at the foundation, causing the whole structure to list.

It was enough to scare away a few buyers, but not Buerge. “I was hopelessly in love with this floundering water-logged Mermaid,” he says.

It took Buerge about three years to address the major issues and gain a certificate of occupancy from the Department of Building and Safety. He has been fine-tuning the property ever since. In the meantime, he also turned his attention to the Mermaid’s gardens.

At first, Buerge read books, joined gardening clubs and worked with landscape designers to rework the Mermaid’s gardens. Eventually, he gained enough confidence to undertake the garden design himself.

Today, the Mermaid is once again a place of beauty — not to mention the site of many photo shoots and events. The once desolate garden is now a serene retreat of meandering paths, cool shade and 15 flowing fountains. “Birds and bees abound. Snakes slither. Lizards patrol. Bunnies hop. Raccoons, possum, coyotes and bats come to life at night,” says Buerge, “It’s a magnet for wildlife.”

It has the paperwork to prove it too. The Mermaid’s lush garden is one of the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitats. It’s a designation that Buerge says came naturally. The garden already met the prerequisites for certification. It provides food, water, shelter and places for reproduction.

Buerge employs two men, Sergio Jimenez and Stevie Montes de Oca, to maintain the garden and the structure. The two prune, rake and repair throughout the property. Rather than use chemical pesticides, the gardeners pull weeds by hand and spray the leaves with soapy water, which can kill spiders and ants that harm the foliage.

Butterflies are the garden’s special guests. Monarchs, western tiger swallowtails, mourning cloaks and California sisters are just a few of the garden’s VIPs.

For them, Buerge and his two gardeners plant several kinds of milkweed, lantana and sedum, which are magnets for these winged creatures. California natives, succulents and grasses add to the garden’s verdant surroundings.

Butterflies even have special accommodations at the Mermaid. Once spotted in the gardens, a caterpillar egg is carefully transferred into a 100-square-foot mesh enclosure built by Jimenez, where it is protected from predators. Jimenez says there are plans to build an even larger 1,000-square-foot enclosure in the near future.

With the help of his daughter, Luna, Jimenez makes sure each butterfly has enough to eat and drink. When a giant swallowtail butterfly hatches, for example, the two set aside organic citrus fruits for them to feed on.

Buerge says special consideration is given to these winged creatures because of their dire straits. “They’re the most beautiful creatures in nature, but they are getting wiped out around the world.” For example, the monarch butterfly population has declined 90% in the last two decades.

Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, California director for the National Wildlife Federation and author of “When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors,” says places like Buerge’s gardens are important links for wildlife trying to make their way in the world.

“A garden and an edifice like this can quickly begin to look rough around the edges, malfunctions and deteriorates without constant attention,” she said. “But we are terribly passionate about the place and its resident wildlife, don’t mind the effort, and love what we do.”


Setting up your own wildlife habitat isn’t as complicated as you might think. Here’s a list of what you need, whether you have a balcony or a sprawling garden:

  • Food. For cramped spaces, set out a bird feeder. Larger gardens should have plants that produce nectar and pollen in the spring and summer and berry in the fall and winter.
  • Water. Set out a shallow dish of water or consider a pond.
  • Shelter. Plants can provide natural cover for creatures in need of shelter — even dead trees can work. If you have limited space, think about cozy bird houses.
  • Place to care for their young. The three basic survival needs are covered above, but for the cycle to be self-perpetuating, wildlife need places where they can care for their offspring. Many places for shelter can also double as locations for wildlife to raise their young, such as birdhouses. You can also provide host plants for butterflies to munch on while in their caterpillar stage. Monarchs eat only milkweed at this stage, for example.
  • Go green in the garden. Just as we need clean environments to survive, so do wildlife. Veer away from chemical pesticides and think about harvesting rainwater to help keep your garden green.

Need more ideas? Check out the wildlife federation website.

Vivid Sydney


A look back at 2016 highlights from Vivid Sydney

A look back at 2016 highlights from Vivid Sydney

Carrizo Plain's fields of gold


The national monument, about 70 miles from San Luis Obispo, is ablaze with color

The national monument, about 70 miles from San Luis Obispo, is ablaze with color

Artisans achieve the perfect balance in their live-work rental in Watts


Andrew Paulson, left, and husband Sean Dougall collaborate on weavings, furnishings and ceramics at their live-work studio in Watts.

Andrew Paulson, left, and husband Sean Dougall collaborate on weavings, furnishings and ceramics at their live-work studio in Watts.

Preparing for spring gardening


Getting your pots ready for spring planting.

Getting your pots ready for spring planting.

Here's Isla Holbox


Isla Holbox is a flat, sandy, increasingly popular island off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Why is business booming? Because and a great place to see whale sharks.


Isla Holbox is a flat, sandy, increasingly popular island off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Why is business booming? Because and a great place to see whale sharks.



11 a.m.: This article was updated to include more history about the house.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.

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Party Planning for the Instagram Age

“If people are going to talk about your party, it’s going to be because they’ve seen it,” says Ron Wendt over the phone from an upcoming party site in Southampton, N.Y. “If they weren’t invited then they’re going to be talking about a photo that they’ve seen.”

Wendt is the design man behind some of fashion and society’s most prestigious parties, a recent roster of which includes the Society of MSK spring ball, Chanel’s New York Public Library dinner, Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades installations in Miami, and the opening of the Cartier Mansion on Fifth Avenue last fall. As spring gala season reaches its peak in New York, he is busier than ever.

“I love gardening — I love flowers, but it’s also about color and texture, which is just like interior design,” he says of his business, which he runs with partner Philip MacGregor. Wendt, who has been in business for more than 20 years, began his career in garden design. “It started out with us just doing flowers but early on, as the company grew, we started doing a lot of high fashion brands — we worked immediately with Chanel. The fun part is working with color and texture and interpreting what these brands are really looking to convey to their audience. It’s always interesting, it’s always different.”

He has continued to work with Chanel, as well as Vuitton, for which last year he brought in 24,000 pounds of sand to create beaches in the Miami Design District store. Recently, he did a party on the West Coast for Chanel for the Camellia jewelry collection, as well as a Cartier event in Beverley Hills. 

“They are very specific type of clients — there is always an object to meet,” he says. “Most of them are Paris based, and they have very specific directives they’re looking for. But then there’s an interpretation, because this is New York, and it’s not Paris, and there’s that tweaking and that balancing between the directive. You never really think that it’s going to be different but it always seems to be. There’s always an interesting take, whether it’s for fashion or for jewelry or for fragrance.”

As anyone who has spent a handful of nights out on the town — or sat at home scrolling on Instagram — will speak to, social media has drastically changed the way party planning is thrown. It’s not enough to simply have a beautiful tablecloth and fresh flowers; an Instagrammable backdrop is a must, as are photogenic props and pops of color. For a recent event, the School of American Ballet winter ball, Wendt hired Fashion Institute of Technology students to help create enormous pink flowers made from 5,000 pieces of Italian crepe paper.

Ron Wendt's work for the School of American Ballet gala.Ron Wendt's work for the School of American Ballet gala.

Ron Wendt’s work for the School of American Ballet gala

“Oh totally,” Wendt says when asked if Instagram has changed the way he thinks about design. “It goes even further — it ups the ante. People need to realize that especially if it’s a charity ball, or something like that where you’re trying to draw in a crowd, it really does matter what is seen and what photos are taken. What is your backdrop? How are guests being framed? What does the decor look like? Oddly, I have to admit that until you asked, I hadn’t actually thought of it. But yes, it definitely does.”

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Landscape garden business services massively undervalued by householders, survey finds

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Annual Garden Walk set for June 25

St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and ecology, watches over a garden during last year’s Garden Walk in the Farmbrooke and Stonycroft neighborhoods. This year’s walk, on June 25, will take place in the San Marino neighborhood.

Posted June 7, 2017

SOUTHFIELD — Forget Pinterest — homeowners in the San Marino neighborhood and members of the Parks and Garden Club will be on hand this summer to provide real-life garden inspiration.

Community members are invited to stroll through the San Marino neighborhood, located near 12 Mile and Inkster roads, 2-5 p.m. June 25 and admire the neighborhood’s gardens and yards. The annual event is hosted by the Southfield Parks and Garden Club.

Event attendees are asked to sign in at the Fountain Park Office Plaza, 29000 Inkster Road, on the northeast corner of 12 Mile. A tour shuttle bus will make continuous loops at each garden stop, including transportation to and from the parking area. Tickets cost $10 per person and may be purchased in advance or on the day of the walk.

Fourteen homes and gardens will be featured on this year’s walk, according to Southfield Parks and Garden Club President Jon Adams.
The annual event, now in its 11th year, features a different Southfield neighborhood each year, with a goal of promoting curb appeal and showcasing the diverse housing stock within the city.

“San Marino is a typical 1950s kind of construction,” Adams said. “It’s mostly ranch-style houses, but there are a few colonials and tri-levels,” Adams said. “Every year, we choose a different neighborhood. We do it to showcase a different part of the city and instill pride in our city neighborhoods, and for curb appeal.”

Last year, the event was held in the Farmbrooke and Stonycroft neighborhoods, near 10 Mile and Lahser roads.

During his time in office, one of the things Southfield Mayor Ken Siver has been focusing on is curb appeal and neighborhood pride in the “Center of It All.”

“It’s a great event to come out and get gardening and landscaping ideas from homeowners in San Marino,” Siver said.

If you’ve hit an inspirational roadblock for your garden this year, sometimes the best remedy is checking out what your neighbors have done, Adams said.

“We have generally between 60 to 100 people come out each year,” Adams said. “You get a chance to talk with each other, the homeowners and the Garden Club members. You can ask questions about what this plant is, what that plant is, and get some ideas about what they can do at their own place.”

Money raised at the event goes toward funding the Parks and Garden Club’s efforts in the community, Adams said, including the Emmanuel Community Farm, which grows and harvests fresh, organic produce for those in need.

Adams said the group will also be planting period landscaping at the Mary Thompson Farm, 25630 Evergreen Road, as well as many other projects in the city.

For tickets or more information, call Adams at (248) 356-2281, email or visit

About the author

Staff Writer Kayla Dimick covers Southfield, Lathrup Village and Southfield Public Schools. Kayla has worked for C G Newspapers since 2014 and attended Oakland University and St. Clair County Community College.

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Elaine Sanders: Thinking outside the box

If you dream of growing your own fresh produce but don’t think you have the means, read on. Nowadays, growing your own food is all the rage, and innovative solutions abound so no one is left out. Foodscaping, a trend boasted at this year’s Montreal Botanical Garden’s Great Gardening Weekend, makes it okay to grow food in untraditional places. Following are solutions to overcome three common food gardening challenges that will make you eager to grow more.

Lack of sunlight

True, most vegetable plants — especially popular, warm-weathered edibles like peppers, eggplants and tomatoes — require a minimum of six hours of sunlight daily to grow a bountiful harvest, so a sunny gardening space will offer the most plant choices. But if your exposure isn’t south-facing, don’t despair. Leafy greens like spinach, chard and salad greens, as well as herbs like chervil, parsley, chives, lemon balm and mint will thrive when grown in lesser amounts of sunshine. Certain root crops such as beets and carrots will also grow, albeit smaller with less light.

But why stick with traditional veggies when you can easily harvest exotic species like fiddleheads? These young shoots of the native Ostrich fern require only the dappled shade of deciduous trees and rich soil to flourish. Gourmet mushrooms will also grow in similar conditions. For berry-lovers, there is American black currant, which will still flower and produce delectable fruit with up to half a day’s shade in moist soil.

Also, grow some veggies in containers, which makes them easy to relocate to areas of sunlight as it moves over your space. Even heavy containers can be moved if mounted on wheeled trolleys. For north-facing or fully-shaded sites, try sharing sunlit land with neighbours, joining a community garden, gardening on rooftops or as a last resort, by sunny windowsills and under grow lights.

Lack of yard space

If you already grow perennials but have no room for a separate vegetable garden, interplant a few edible ornamentals among your flowers. Herbs are not fussy about soil and kale, cabbage, rhubarb and chard are highly decorative vegetables, suitable for planting among flowers in richer soils. There are also numerous edible flowers worthy of growing either on their own or alongside vegetables: calendula, daylily, dianthus, marigold, nasturtiums, pansy, roses and viola to name but a few. They are tasty and help combat pests while attracting pollinators to boost vegetable yields.

With traditional vegetable gardens, succession sowing will create a continuous flow of crops and maximize garden space. For instance, sow seeds of shallow-rooted, quick maturing radishes over slow to develop carrots, and sow salad greens every week until summer, then replace them with heat-loving produce. With careful planning, your garden space will be producing to its fullest.

Bad soil

A thriving vegetable garden requires fertile, well-structured soil to deliver maximum nutrients and water to plants. If soil is your nemesis, raised beds filled with good compost is the path to your food gardening success. Raised beds are essentially boxed containers usually made with rot-resistant wood and placed on the ground over the soil or on sunny patios. They allow gardeners to control the soil plants are growing in, drastically improving odds of gardening success. Soil in raised beds also warms up faster in the spring so you can stretch the gardening season a little and according to Tara Nolan, author of Raised Bed Revolution. Raised beds are a great way of controlling insect pests and weeds and making gardening accessible to those who cannot garden in traditional means because of a disability or age.

No yard

If you live in a condo or apartment and don’t have access to a yard there is still hope —thanks to containers. Even on the smallest balcony you can grow a variety of edibles in window boxes, hanging baskets or grow bags. Use your vertical space to grow vines and climbing vegetables against a trellis or along string tied to balconies. Get creative and practice “extreme gardening”, a term used by gardening expert Albert Mondor to describe urban gardening in places you wouldn’t normally expect nature to, even on a sunny wall and in anything that will hold soil and can be recycled. Shallow-rooted plants are best suited for this purpose. Not having a yard is no longer a reason not to garden.

Don’t let lack of sunlight, little space or bad soil dissuade you from growing your own food at home. Be aware of your site’s challenges and think outside the box to help you grow the fresh-picked produce you’ve always dreamed of.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at

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