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Archives for August 10, 2017

Gardening: August is here; some tips to deal with all it brings

August is here and temperatures this month will have highs of about 90-95 and lows in the mid-70s. With more than eight inches of rain this is usually one of the wettest and most humid months.

More: Gardening: Small and annoying things that bug you

More: Gardening: Stay safe in the summer swelter

Keep in mind that though it may be a wet month, transpiration is very high during the hot weather. I wrote about this in another column. Transpiration is a plant process in which water is absorbed by the roots, passed through the vascular system and exited from the plant into the atmosphere. It is a process which cools the plant much like perspiration cools us. This means lawns and plants need large quantities of water more frequently in the hot summer. So be alert for signs of insufficient water between rain showers and keep your sprinklers on to avoid damage.

There are diseases other than Zika carried by mosquitos. With a lot of rain the mosquitos can increase in numbers. It is very important for everyone to check for any places around your home or business where water collects as you may be raising mosquitos.

You should get rid of old tires, buckets and other containers, or you should keep them empty of water. Repair leaky outside faucets and move air conditioner drain hoses frequently to avoid damp soil. Also change and scrub bird baths or watering pans for pets at least twice a week.

Don’t discard your bromeliads. Instead treat the cups every couple of weeks with Thuricide which will kill the larva or rinse them out with water. All of the mosquito species require water for breeding. Mosquito larvae are not adapted to life in moving waters so circulating ponds should not be a problem. They occur instead in quiet water.

Since half the land area of Florida is subject to flooding, mosquitos breed in large numbers throughout the state. Mosquitos do not breed in the heavy undergrowth of weeds or shrubs. Although these places offer excellent refuge for adults as anyone gardening can attest, they do not provide a suitable habitat for mosquito larvae. Actually, up until this year, the populations of mosquitoes have lowered dramatically on Marco Island. I believe it is due to all the shrub spraying people do around their homes. While I don’t think this bodes well for our beneficial insect populations it is a blessing in disguise as far as mosquito populations are concerned. In addition to fresh water mosquitos, we are surrounded by mangrove islands which is a great breeding ground for the salt marsh mosquito.

The wet weather of August also provides ideal conditions for the growth of fungi. Root- rot, leaf spot, stem rots and rust are a few disease problems on lawns and shrubs which are fueled by the heavy rains. Remove diseased leaves and stems from the garden and apply a fungicide to prevent fungus from infecting healthy tissue. And, remember to clean your pruning tools with a mild bleach solution to prevent spreading disease while cutting healthy tissue with those same tools. Take-all Patch is a serious lawn disease which can cause your lawn to melt away with the heavy rains.

Caterpillars are around in great numbers this year. I have noticed large numbers of sod webworm moths flying from St. Augustine lawns. Stinging caterpillars are also probably around right now. Several varieties of stinging caterpillars can be found on shrubs and trees including the I.O., saddleback, puss and hag. The sting comes from the spines on their backs which are connected to poison glands. Their sting is extremely painful and can cause severe allergic reaction in susceptible people. These caterpillars can be controlled with Thuricide or Seven.

Scales and whiteflies are also active on ornamentals causing sooty mold. Treat with horticultural oil, Merritt or Tempo for control. Chinch bugs, sod webworms and grubs can all damage your St. Augustine lawn this month. Treat as needed with Tempo or other products labeled as effective on chinch bugs, Dylox for grubs and Dipel for the sod webworms.

If you see a white web on the branches and trunks of your trees, don’t be alarmed. It is a psocid, a tiny insect that feeds on the algae on the trunks of many trees. They spin the web for protection from those August rain showers. There is no need to treat for this problem.

It is best not to fertilize your lawn in August. If you feel you must fertilize St. Augustine use an organic such as milorganite or iron for a greener color. Do not use a high nitrogen fertilizer now as it will fuel bug and disease problems. It can also make the lawn more susceptible to water stress which can be a problem in times of high transpiration as the rapidly growing grass requires larger quantities of water.

When there have been heavy rains the acid loving plants like ixora, gardenia and azalea could use a feeding this month to carry them through their blooming period. Don’t forget to feed rose bushes regularly as well. A good nutritional spray can be helpful for all your plants at this time. Nutritional sprays trans-locate directly through the leaves and so avoids the problem of leaching through the soil which can occur with heavy rains.

The last pruning of the poinsettias must be done before September if there are to be flowers in December for the holiday season. You should also not do any more severe pruning of gardenias beyond August as you will remove the old growth required for flowers in the spring.

Prepare your flower and vegetable beds for fall planting. Rid the site of nematodes and disease using clear plastic solarization or fumigants. Add organic matter to the soil and then let it rest in preparation for fall planting in October and November.

It is unbearably hot out there in the garden but you need to put on a good hat and your sun screen and stay on top of your gardening or the bugs, diseases and weeds will take over.

Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at or 239-394-1413.

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5 garden tips for this week, Aug. 5-11 – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

The next harvest

Plant tomatoes now for autumn harvest and prepare a garden spot for winter vegetables. Blend in plenty of homemade compost or other organic matter for best results. Begin planting winter garden vegetables before the end of August. These include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, kale, leeks, lettuces, peas, radishes and turnips. By the end of September you can add bulbs, such as garlic and onions, and also spinach.

Feeding time

Feed roses within the next few weeks for abundant fall flowering. Use a balanced plant food formula that has all three main ingredients — nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium — indicated in a number formula such as 8-12-4. This tells the percentage of each ingredient in order. For roses use any brand of plant food that has all three numbers, with the middle number highest. Also — but only if you did not get around to applying it in spring — scatter a quarter cup of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) around each plant now to enhance their fall performance.

Sprucing up

Remove spent blooms on hydrangeas. Those huge, colorful “bouquets” on each stem are gorgeous in full bloom, but now they are brown and unattractive. Cut off dead blooms just below the flower heads. Lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus) has also finished flowering for the season. Cut back spent flower stalks to the point of origin, or as low as possible without damaging foliage.

Great garden pick

Aloe vera is a succulent perennial valued for its healing effect on burns, wounds and insect bites. It is easy to grow either outdoors or indoors. Pieces of its fleshy leaves may be cut off anytime they are needed. Apply the fresh juice from cut leaves directly to skin ulcers, burns, sunburn, insect bites and even fungal infections. It’s a good plant to have around.

Wash away pests

Still have those nasty giant whiteflies on your hibiscus or other plants? Wash them off the undersides of the leaves two to three times each week with a high-pressure water stream so they give up and go away, at least for a while. It also helps to spread a layer of Worm Gold earthworm castings under the plants. They don’t like it, so they leave.

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A little fertilizer might help as your plants recover from summer’s worst heat

As days grow shorter and nights grow longer in mid-August, plants have cooler nights to recover from hot daytime temperatures. You’ll see a flush of new leaf and twig growth as well as increased flower bud production during the next few weeks. Heat and drought stress in late June and all of July cause plants to become semi-dormant in order to survive our extreme summer conditions. Growth that slowed or stopped last month will resume (slowly) this month.


There’s no good reason to fertilize a semi-dormant plant, but as plants regain vigor this month they will need nutrients. Here’s a quick guide to late summer/early fall fertilization for our central San Joaquin Valley climate.

Roses – Roses bloom reliably six to eight weeks after fertilization. Our roses are at their best of the year in September/October when we have few insect or fungal disease problems. Deadhead any old flowers and feed each rose in mid-August with a half cup of a low-nitrogen, higher phosphorus fertilizer, say a 4-6-5 formulation. You don’t necessarily need to buy a rose-only fertilizer. The formulations for some tomato and vegetable fertilizers are very similar and will have the same effect.

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Fall offers second chances to garden. Here’s 5 tips to get you started

It’s nice to get second chances – and that’s what a fall garden meant last year for Jerri New.

Her spring-planted green bean crop did poorly because of the summer heat, but a fall planting offered her a bounty for canning and freezing.

Although she has planted vegetable gardens on and off over the past 20 years, New had never planted a fall garden until last year. After the success she had with what she calls last year’s experimental fall garden, she has already planted and planned for a fall garden this year.

“I didn’t even realize until a couple of years ago that you could do a fall garden in Kansas,” she said.

Some plants prefer the cooler temperatures and shorter days of fall, and generally the first frost doesn’t hit this area until late October or even later, which helps to stretch the growing season, according to local gardening experts Rebecca McMahon, the horticultural food crops agent with the Sedgwick County Extension Center, and George Sander, owner of Hillside Feed and Seed.

New consulted her 2017 planting calendar as she ticked off the crops she has planted or will plant in her fall garden. The sweet potato slips went in the ground in mid-July. Toward the end of the month through mid-September, she’ll plant broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots and radishes. In the beginning of September, she’ll plant lettuces in her garden beds near Conway Springs.

Dennice Craig of rural Derby is giving a fall garden a go this year, too. The radish, carrot and pole bean seeds she planted have already germinated, giving her hope that they’ll produce better yields than her spring planting, she said.

Fall gardens are a great way to boost the productivity of a garden plot and get a second crop, said McMahon, who will teach a free fall gardening class on Monday at the Wichita Central Library.

Several leafy green vegetables, such as lettuce, kale, Swiss chard and arugula, and root vegetables, such as beets, carrots and radishes, do well in a fall garden, she said. Garlic and onions also do well.

Sander of Hillside Feed and Seed said he has seen an uptick in recent years in the fall garden customers who come to his shop to buy cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, bok choy and Chinese cabbage. He expects to have both heirloom and hybrid plants ready by the end of August or beginning of September.

“We’ve stepped up our production in the last few years,” he said, in part because he now has a larger growing facility and because there’s more interest. “Some plants just do better in the fall.”

Here are five tips for planting a fall garden:

Do some planning and research. Consider seed germination and the days to harvest of a plant variety. The K-State Extension Office offers a planting guide chart at

Prepare the soil. If you’re planting in an area that had already been planted this year, you’ll need to do some soil preparation again. Do a light cultivation of the soil and add some compost or fertilizer to replenish nutrients. Some gardeners make way for fall crops by removing crops that didn’t do well over the summer or have finished bearing.

Keep seeds moist to encourage germination. Hillside Feed and Seed recommends drip irrigation and good mulch for moisture retention.

Be prepared. Although the first frost generally tends to hit the area around late October, be prepared to protect fall garden plants with frost blankets or row covers in case of earlier frosts.

‘Absolutely try it.’ “Do an experimental garden first and try a couple of crops to see how you like it,” New said. “If you can only grow one thing, it’s worth it. If you don’t like it, plow it under.”

Free fall gardening class

“Growing a Fall Salad Garden” will be presented from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday by Rebecca McMahon, horticultural food crops agent with the Sedgwick County Extension, in the auditorium of Wichita’s Central Library, 223 S Main St. Registration required; call 316-261-8500 or go to

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50 Small Business Ideas for Solopreneurs

Starting a business doesn’t mean you need to hire a whole team. There are plenty of business opportunities out there that you can start and grow completely on your own. If you’re interested in starting a solo business, here are 50 solopreneur business ideas.

Solopreneur Business Ideas

Virtual Assistant

Virtual assistants handle various tasks for businesses like email, scheduling and social media management. It’s something you can do on your own and from your home or another remote location.

Ecommerce Seller

You can also set up an ecommerce site on platforms like eBay, Amazon or Etsy from pretty much anywhere, while also managing the sales and shipping on your own.

Social Media Manager

For social media savvy entrepreneurs, you can offer your services to other businesses to schedule social media posts and manage their accounts.

Social Media Influencer

Or you could focus on building up a following and some influence on your own social media accounts and then work with brands as a social media influencer.


If you’re looking to build a business around your writing skills, you can start your own blog and manage it on your own, then make money through advertisements or sponsored content.

Ebook Author

You can also focus on writing more long form content and then self-publish your own ebooks to sell.

Freelance Writer

Or you could offer your writing services to other businesses looking for blog posts or other types of content.


Copywriting is another popular writing business. You can specialize in writing copy for websites, product descriptions or even advertisements.

Graphic Designer

For design savvy entrepreneurs, you can start your own graphic design business and work with clients on a one-on-one basis.

Web Designer

Or if you’re more tech savvy, you could focus on creating websites for clients as a web designer.

Software Developer

If you’re looking to build more in-depth solutions, you could focus on developing software programs for clients or to sell to customers.

App Developer

Or you could focus more on mobile technology and develop apps for clients or develop your own apps to offer for sale.

Event Photographer

Photography is another area that lends itself to solopreneurship. You can focus on photographing events like weddings, allowing you to manage all aspects of your business on your own.

Stock Photographer

You can also take photos and then offer them for sale on stock photo websites.

Business Consultant

If you have some business expertise, you can offer your services as a business consultant, working with clients in person, over the phone or online.

Life Coach

Even if you don’t have a lot of business experience, you can work with clients on other areas of life like finances, organization and even personal relationships as a life coach.

Public Speaker

For entrepreneurs with expertise in a specific topic, you can offer your services as a public speaker for various conferences and events.


Another opportunity to work with business clients, you could offer bookkeeping services for businesses looking to outsource that function.

Tax Professional

You can also focus mainly on helping businesses and individuals prepare their tax forms.

Affiliate Marketer

Affiliate marketing allows you to share links to specific businesses or products and then earn a portion of the sales you direct to those companies.


Podcasting is easier than ever to set up on your own. You can host your podcast, build your website and make money through advertisements or affiliate sales.

Event Planner

If you enjoy organizing and working with different vendors, you can set up your own business as an event planner.


While running an entire bakery on your own could be tricky, you can build a baking business as a solopreneur where you provide baked goods for events or on a wholesale basis to other local bake shops.

Coffee Cart

You could also sell coffee on a fairly small scale by starting your own coffee cart that you can take to events, shopping centers or office buildings.


If you’re looking to share your knowledge with others, you can do so on a one-on-one basis by working as a tutor.

Online Course Creator

Another way to share your knowledge with others, you can create your own online courses and then sell them to students so they can work on their own time.

YouTube Personality

YouTube makes it fairly simple for you to start your own channel on your own. Then as you build a following, you can earn money through the site’s ad sharing program.

T-shirt Designer

Sites like CafePress and Redbubble make it easy for you to design your own t-shirts and other printed goods. And they’ll even fulfill the orders for you, so it’s something you can manage as a solopreneur.

Jewelry Designer

You could also create your own jewelry and sell it at local craft fairs or on sites that specialize in handmade goods like Etsy.


Or if art is more your strong suit, you could sell your paintings or drawings in some of those same venues.

Soap Maker

You could also manufacture your own soaps and similar spa products and sell those wholesale or online.

Child Care

If you have some experience caring for children, you can provide some in-home child care services or even run a daycare service out of your home.


A relatively simple business to start, you can provide housesitting services for homeowners who are out of town.

Dog Walker

For those who like to spend time around animals, you can also provide dog walking services as a solopreneur.

Auto Detailing

You can also provide car washing and auto detailing services where you market your services online and then travel to your clients.

Bicycle Mechanic

If you can fix bicycles, you could also provide bicycle mechanic services on your own out of a small garage.

Grant Writer

To help businesses and non-profits raise funds, you can provide grant-writing services on a freelance basis.

Resume Service

Or you could help job seekers create and improve their resumes and cover letters.

Errand Service

You can start your own errand service as a solopreneur where you assist customers with various errands like laundry and grocery shopping.

House Cleaner

Or you could build up a base or regular clients and just specialize in house cleaning services.


If you’re handy with various projects around the house, you can offer handyman services to homeowners in your area.

Lawn Service

For those who enjoy working outside, you can start your own lawn mowing service where you provide weekly maintenance during the summer.


Or you could specialize in setting up or maintaining gardens and more intricate landscaping projects.

Farmers’ Market Vendor

While running an actual farm might be difficult to do on your own, you could set up a small produce garden and then sell items at local farmers’ markets.

Travel Consultant

Travel agencies have struggled mightily in recent years. But some travelers, especially large groups, could still use help arranging their travels and finding the best deals. You can help them do just that by starting a business as an independent travel consultant.


If you know more than one language, you can start a business as a freelance or contract translator.

Party Entertainer

You can use a number of different skills, from music to juggling to face painting, to start a business as an independent party entertainer.

Personal Trainer

For athletically inclined entrepreneurs, you can start your own business as a personal trainer who works with clients one-on-one.

Yoga Instructor

Or you could offer fitness and wellness classes to bigger groups of customers. Yoga and pilates are a couple examples of things you can specialize in.


You can also start your own business as a masseuse, offering services to clients on a somewhat regular basis.

Freelancer Photo via Shutterstock

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Open house shares revitalization ideas | News | sewardindependent …

Seward residents got the chance to give input on ideas to revitalize the downtown area.

On July 31, RDG Planning and Design held an open house at the Seward Civic Center to share ideas and receive feedback on the revitalization plan it is putting together for the city.

These plans include creating gathering spaces, facade improvements, pedestrian bump-outs, gateway signs, shading the bandshell and improvements on highways 34 and 15.

In December 2016, Seward was chosen to receive a $30,000 grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s Community Development Block Grant program.

The city of Seward matched $7,500—25 percent of the grant.

The CDBG grant is a two-phase process. The $30,000 is to be used to create a plan to improve downtown—which RDG was contracted to do. That plan will be submitted for the second phase, which is a competitive grant application.

The second phase would provide $350,000 to implement the plan created in phase one.

During the open house, Amy Haase of RDG said these plans are in preliminary stages. She said some ideas are more short-term goals than other ideas, like the highway improvements.

Those long-term ideas are not in the running for the second phase grant application, Haase said, adding that the application will focus on a specific project.

The city can still use the rest of the plan developed by RDG, Haase said.

Nick Klimek, also of RDG, said the goal of these preliminary ideas is to improve on what Seward has and to start a conversation that the city can use to continue improvements.

“This shouldn’t be a one-off,” Klimek said.

During the open house, Klimek went over some of the ideas.

One was to improve pedestrian zones in the downtown area. He said downtowns are best viewed on foot. Those plans include pedestrian bump-outs, which round-out and extend sidewalks at road crossings and shorten the distance for those crossing the streets.

Improving pedestrian zones also means pulling people into the area, Klimek said. One idea is to create a sidewalk that goes northwest through Memorial Park, located on Third and Seward Streets, to what is currently a gravel parking lot owned by the Farmers Cooperative on Fourth and Jackson Streets.

Klimek said the sidewalk could pull people toward the bandshell and the rest of downtown.

He also said the plans include the city purchasing the parking lot if it were to go on sale and turn it into public parking.

A second idea is facade improvements to downtown buildings.

Haase said the city could set up a program and guidelines for facade improvements, which may include a match from the building owners.

“They [the city] want to make sure there’s plenty of skin in the game,” Haase said.

She said anyone in the district could apply for those funds.

Another idea would include adding shade, perhaps in the form of a canopy, to the bandshell.

Klimek and Haase said that idea was brought up only recently.

“That’s one of the projects we’re going to be looking at harder,” Klimek said.

Preliminary plans also included creating a water play space on the northeast corner of the courthouse square. Klimek said this would require the county to be on board.

He added that area could be turned into a fountain that can be used by the public and turned off for events like the farmers market or the Fourth of July.

A long-term idea would require the city to purchase the Herpolsheimer’s lot on the southwest corner of Seventh and Seward Streets, if it were to go on sale. It could be turned into a gathering space with public parking and an area to hold events.

The highway improvements would require cooperation with the Nebraska Department of Transportation, which has already begun planning a project for Highway 15 in its five-year plan.

The Highway 15 project—which is a long-term idea and might not use the CDBG funds, according to Haase—would resurface the road through downtown and widen the highway north of Jackson Street to a three-lane road with a shared turn lane.

RDG added plans to place buffers with trees and landscaping between the road and the sidewalk.

“This is an opportunity to say ‘it’d be really nice to make sure we get these,’” Haase said.

Haase also said the state is open to slowing traffic through town on Highway 34.

Currently, Highway 34 is a five-lane road with two lanes in each direction and an alternating turn lane.

The proposed idea would turn the highway into a three-lane road with a shared turn lane and add parallel parking on either side. The sidewalks would also be widened.

Haase said this tells drivers they have arrived in town and to slow down, as well as adding space between the sidewalk and moving cars.

Klimek added that this change would shorten the curb-to-curb distance from 71 feet to 50 feet, meaning pedestrians crossing Highway 34 have a shorter distance to walk across the road.

“Seventy-one feet is a long time to be in traffic,” Klimek said.

Another idea includes gateways along the highway with signs to welcome people downtown.

After the open house, the next step for RDG is to present the ideas to the Seward City Council for direction. At that point, Haase said RDG will narrow the plan for final approval from the city.

During an Aug. 3 phone interview, Haase said landowners whose property is included in these plans have not been contacted yet. She said the city would contact them if those plans were to ever be implemented.

The application for the second phase grant is due in September.

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Social media group offers industry ideas

The Business Side of Landscaping is now open to join for those in the landscaping industry who need a forum to discuss business ideas.

The creator of the group, Jonathon Orcutt, founder of Driven Landscapes, says the group is free to join and has more than 2,000 members.

“Our industry seems to be more focused on mower types, blades, trucks, etc.
and not enough on the business development side of the industry. I hope this group helps to
enlighten people on growth strategies, scalability, and sustainable growth,” he says.

You can access the group here.

This group is not affiliated with Lawn Landscape Magazine.

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Two exhibits that are perfect fit for the Cape

A giant white doily spans two beech trees on the front lawn of Highfield Hall Gardens like the web of a magnificent spider. You might suspect you’re arriving in fairyland. Look closer and you’ll find more mammoth doilies blanketing boulders and wafting in the leaves overhead.

It’s art — nylon fiber crocheted by Ashley Blalock, titled “Queen Anne’s Lace” — and it matches the Stick-style Queen Anne architecture at the restored Falmouth estate, originally built in 1878 by the Beebe family, merchants of Boston.


Art exhibits often take place in sterile white-cube galleries, or artists tailor site-specific works to their habitat. Entire exhibitions rarely synch with their venues, but shows at two Cape Cod museums, Highfield Hall and Heritage Museums Gardens, in Sandwich, deliberately chime with their environments — the architecture, the grounds, the beguiling gardens. The museums highlight the art, and the art highlights the museums.

Oh, and there are fairy houses at Highfield Hall and a carousel at Heritage Museums — not to mention a riot of hydrangeas — so take off your thinking cap, take the kids (or don’t), and go play.

The two museums share some DNA. In 1967, Falmouth philanthropist Josiah Kirby Lilly III bought a Sandwich farm and built exhibition spaces to house the collections of his late father, opening Heritage Museums in 1969. Lilly owned the Highfield Hall estate in the 1970s, and donated the acreage to Falmouth and the buildings to a local arts agency.

Heritage Museums makes a straightforward equation between art and site: landscaping outside, landscapes inside. “Painted Landscapes: Contemporary Views” is in one of three museums on the grounds — there’s also an auto museum, and one displaying congenial Americana such as carved wooden birds and legions of miniature soldiers.

The show in no way challenges preconceptions about landscapes or painting, but curator Lauren P. Della Monica has stocked it with canvases by excellent artists working today. She nods to the past with an introductory wall showcasing works by Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, and more.

Warner Graphics Inc.

Sam Cady’s “Cypress, Pacific Coast” from the “Painted Landscapes” exhibit.


The contemporary paintings range from strict realism to flickering expressionism and layered abstraction. Realist Sam Cady sets us directly beneath an ailing tree in “Cypress, Pacific Coast.” He fills the canvas with intimations of mortality and extraordinary movement, as if death is a launch, not a landing. Frances McCormack’s strong “Upright Rooted” overlays translucent trunk-like verticals with graffiti-like loops.

Good landscapes, like any good art, can awaken inklings of larger, less predictable spaces, of sweeter colors. They are glimpses beyond our contained, routine worlds. When you step outside “Painted Landscapes” and wander down a gravel path like the dirt road pictured in T. Allen Lawson’s “The Road Home,” inside rhymes with outside. That’s a blessed experience.

Similar poetry occurs at Highfield Hall. The museum is holding its biennial “Storybook Fairyhouses of Highfield Hall Gardens” show, for which it invites local artists to create cabins and castles described in their favorite books. These small wonders are scattered throughout the grounds and in the house.

With that backdrop, the larger-scaled art in other exhibitions transfigures the estate into a human-size fairy house. Blalock, whose “Queen Anne’s Lace” festoons the beeches out front, has similar giant doilies — red this time — cascading down the house’s stairwell over the grand piano, like a Brobdingnagian hankie fluttering to the ground. On another staircase, Kristina Goransson’s felted wool piece “Searching” winds around the banisters like ghostly, overgrown roots.

Mobilia Gallery.

One of Al Krueger’s decorated vintage teapots.

They’re part of the fiber art show “Interwoven: Art Meets Nature.” Fiber artists are crafty and can lean toward whimsy. That affect can cloy, but it works like magic here. Soldiers scramble out of the hatch and down the ladder of Kathryn Leighton’s scrupulous and comic “Trojan Tea” made of clay, beads, fabric, and sequins, and Al Krueger’s vintage teapots decked out in “Alice in Wonderland” themes are gaudy dreams.

Upstairs, a girl leads us into the woods toward a cozy cottage in “Come and Follow Me,” the centerpiece of “Once Upon a Quilt: 3-D Quilts by Dominique Ehrmann.” It’s an enchanting, large-scale, four-tier tableau made entirely of quilts with telescoped perspective that sucks us into its fairy-tale setting.

Not everything is imps, elves, and mad hatters, though. Much of the art is abstract, but tethered to nature by its materials, and to the house by an installation alert to palette and architectural detail. Katherine Glover’s “Chaco,” a lustrous wall work made of torn, layered paper painted with acrylic and topped with gold leaf, resembles overlapping gold tree rings. Glover makes an arcing cut across the top, revealing the leaves of paper, like wood cut across the grain.

Highfield Hall fell on hard times after Lilly, and in the 1990s community activists saved it from being razed. Pieces such as “Chaco” make a grounding counterpoint to the more fantastical art. But it all evokes the secret life of a house and its history, forlorn and fortunate. Art, like ghosts and fairies, reflects the dreams, aches, and fears of the people here — including us visitors.

Highfield Hall Gardens

Dominique Ehrmann’s “Come and Follow Me.”

INTERWOVEN: Art Meets Nature
through Sept. 6

ONCE UPON A QUILT: 3-D Quilts by Dominique Ehrmann
through Sept. 4

through Sept. 4

At Highfield Hall Gardens, 56 Highfield Drive, Falmouth. 508-495-1878,

PAINTED LANDSCAPES: Contemporary Views

At Heritage Museums Gardens, 67 Grove St., Sandwich, through Oct. 9. 508-888-3300,

Cate McQuaid can be reached at

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No plant is an island

Are your plants looking lonely, surrounded by small patches of high-maintenance bare soil? If they look like they’re suffering in solitary confinement, maybe they are.

Many plant and landscape experts have begun thinking of plants in terms of communities, instead of as individual specimens. They recommend that home gardeners look to the wild for inspiration.

“Thinking of plants in terms of masses and groupings, as opposed to objects to be placed individually in a sort of specimen garden, is what most young people are really responding to now,” says Brian Sullivan, vice president for landscape, gardens, and outdoor collections at the New York Botanical Garden.

The shift in landscaping toward looking at plants as interrelated species gained prominence almost a decade ago with the opening of the High Line, a public park built along an old elevated rail line in New York City, Sullivan says. In a move considered radical at the time — but replicated in parks and gardens across the country since then — the designers of the High Line went with a wilder look, with plantings resembling roadside grasses and wildflowers more than a traditional garden.

Many horticulturalists and landscapers say such gardens — with consideration of how plants benefit each other, and birds, insects and other wildlife — look better for more of the year, and are more functional and self-sustaining.

For landscape designer Thomas Rainer, co-author of “Planting for a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes” with Claudia West (Timber Press, 2015), his epiphany began when he pulled over to the side of a road one day and really looked at what was growing naturally there.

“I’d been puzzling over how we can reach this holy trinity of beauty, low maintenance and functionality in landscaping. Looking more carefully at this weedy neglected patch at the side of road, I saw that it was way more biodiverse than I’d ever dreamed. I counted 23 species in just one tiny section. It was kicking my garden’s butt in terms of biodiversity,” says Rainer, who has designed landscapes for the U.S. Capitol grounds, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the New York Botanical Garden, as well as gardens from Maine to Florida.

“If you look at the way plants grow naturally, it’s completely different from the way they grow in most parks and gardens,” he says. “If you look at functioning communities of plants, they really maintain themselves.”

“We have this peculiarly American habit of adding 2 or 3 inches of mulch a couple times a year, but green mulch — ground cover — happens naturally if we let it,” he says.

He reminds home gardeners that “there’s a huge range of self-spreading, less-sexy plants that create the conditions for stability for the upright plants, and require almost no maintenance whatsoever.”

Aesthetically, too, the right ground cover adds dimension to the more dramatic plants around it, making a landscape visually interesting throughout the year, he points out.

Those interested in adopting this approach can start by seeing bare soil as the enemy.

“There isn’t much bare soil at all in the wild,” Rainer points out. “Every inch is covered and there are various levels of plants all packed in together.”

He recommends getting on your knees and examining your garden from a rabbit’s perspective, then planting the bare patches with groundcover, ideally native, like sedges or even low perennials, many of which do well in the kind of dry, shaded areas that tend to be where the bare patches are found.

“There’s been a huge rise in popularity of sedges, which come in a range of colors like icy blues or apple greens that can really set off the bright pinks of an azalea,” he says.

Sullivan, at the New York Botanical Garden, says that “with the style we’re talking about, the plants are in interconnected masses, so they are functioning communities sharing the same space.”

“One could be a trillium, a spring flower that somebody might see in March or April. When that finishes, somebody might see a fern or a carex,” he says. “Each plant takes the place of another during different seasons, so there’s never an empty moment. When the ephemerals finish, the perennials start to come up, the grasses, the sedges. And something else might come up in the late part of the season. So there’s a sequence. The garden changes but the gardener only does the job once, by the planting.”

Another fun thing to do is to step back and let the plants seed themselves for a season, Sullivan says. “Just watch and see what pops up, as opposed to planting every season.”


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Best Garden Whiz and Butterfly Savior: Victoria ‘Tora’ Rocha

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  • Portrait by Sam Zide
  • Victoria “Tora” Rocha: “I believe in showing your passion.”

Victoria “Tora” Rocha may now be known for her gardening prowess, but her 36-year career with the Oakland city government started in a much different, but no-less exciting job: an elephant trainer at the Oakland Zoo.

“I believe in showing your passion,” Rocha said. “Passion is contagious, so I wear mine on my sleeve.”

After five years of pachyderm wrangling, Rocha moved on to another animal-keeper position, this time at Children’s Fairyland, which ended up setting her on the path to her current passion: the go-to person at Public Works responsible for Lake Merritt’s parks, and founder of the Pollinator Posse.

At Fairyland, Rocha got an additional part-time job in landscape maintenance, where she worked with, and was inspired by, a group of dedicated and talented horticulturalists.

“That’s where I got the [gardening] bug, being around people that passionate,” Rocha said. “I love taking a blighted area and making it beautiful. There’s nothing more fulfilling, [especially] when all your hard work can benefit the community.”

In her current role as a Parks Supervisor, Rocha is in charge of the landscaping of public spaces downtown and around Lake Merritt. Her domain includes parks, the grounds of buildings like City Hall and the main library, the Morcom Rose Gardens, and of course, the Gardens at Lake Merritt.

Located next to Children’s Fairyland at 666 Belleview Avenue, this somewhat hidden urban oasis built by gardening clubs in the 1950s now comprises seven acres of land, divided into several distinct types of plant environments, including the Pollinator Garden, the Mediterranean Garden, the Edible Garden, the Bonsai Garden, and the Dahlia Garden, among others.

“It’s so important to have these kinds of spaces, where people can decompress,” Rocha, who worked at the Gardens for a few years in the late 1990s, and came back in 2010 as part of her Parks supervisor job, said. “When you have a really urban setting, you need these green spaces for people to go and get away from the tension and the stress of downtown.”

Six years ago, Rocha created one of the Gardens’ most popular events — dubbed “Most ‘Lit’ Festival” in 2016 by Express readers — the Autumn Lights Festival, a display of over a hundred locally produced, illuminated art installations. The festival was intended both to raise money for the Gardens, which currently don’t charge admission, and to increase awareness, as Oaklanders often tell Rocha they didn’t know the Gardens even existed. The Gardens are currently searching for artists to participate in the 2017 event.
Rocha’s latest project, the Pollinator Posse, was created in 2013 off the inspiration of a Merritt College butterfly landscaping lecture and the 2010 documentary Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? The Pollinator Posse is a nonprofit dedicated to creating spaces for pollinators around Oakland.

“We go around landscaping to make things more aesthetically pleasing to humans, not paying attention to how we’re affecting our local ecosystem,” she explained. For instance, “butterflies lay their eggs on weeds, and we humans remove the weeds. Even the eggs that are not removed are often eaten by predators. A butterfly can lay 400 eggs, and one might make it.”
In the last year alone, the Pollinator Posse says its saved more than 3,000 butterflies.

The group also gives caterpillars to elementary school classrooms to “foster” as they transform into butterflies, and it recently started “Tees for Bees,” a program in which kids can hit pollinator-friendly seed balls at golf courses, which help make the courses more habitable for beneficial insects.

The Gardens host volunteer days on the first and third Saturday of each month, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with Pollinator Garden workdays on each third Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Gardens also offer free edible gardening workshops on many second Saturdays (August 12’s is titled “Create a Great Winter Garden”) and Rocha frequently speaks at garden clubs and nurseries around the East Bay.

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