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Archives for August 14, 2017

Ten tips to get cracking on your very own urban garden

Image Credits: File photo

City dwellers often think gardening is only for those who live in suburbs or rural communities, but planting an urban garden can be easy. Whether you are planting a garden for yourself or your family, you can do your part to create a more sustainable and green future.

These simple steps recommended by Arjan Stephens, executive vice president at Nature’s Path Organic Foods, can help you on your way to greening your thumb and the planet:

  1. No space, no Problem

    Not everyone has a backyard, roof or balcony. To overcome this issue, start a container garden. While decorative pots can be lovely, they don’t improve the quality of your plants and can be expensive. Instead, you can use a large bucket from a garden store, which is a low-cost and effective option. Or upcycle containers not in use, such as crates, old toys or paint cans.

  2. Plant selection

    There are vegetable, flower and herb varieties that are easy to grow in urban spaces. When planning your garden, think about what to plant – shallow-rooted veggies, such as herbs, lettuce and radishes typically do better in confined spaces.

  3. It takes a village
    In addition to establishing your own garden, another way to plant is by getting involved with community gardens. Each year, Nature’s Path Food’s Gardens for Good program supports community gardens that make fresh, organic food more accessible in local neighborhoods. Three $15,000 grants are available to gardens that demonstrate high community support and a viable plan for the urban agriculture project.
  4. Plant right

    Potting your plants takes a few simple steps. Put some gravel in the bottom of your container to help with drainage and fill with soil, tamping it a bit. Leave 1 inch at the top for watering. Tamp the soil after the plants are in place and water gently.

  5. Portable planters

    An advantage of container gardens is that they allow you to easily move them in and out of the sun. If your plants seem to dry out in one window area, you can try different areas to adjust to what works best.

  6. Grow up

    Small spaces make it ideal to grow vertically, which means planting tall plants like squash, cucumbers, beans and tomatoes.

  7. Drain gain

    Whatever container you choose for your garden, remember drainage holes are essential. Without proper drainage, soil can become waterlogged and plants may die. The holes need to be large enough to allow excess water to drain out.

  8. Water wise

    Hand water every morning. Once the plants are large and summer is hot, they will probably need watering in the evening, too. A little afternoon shade can keep them from drying out too quickly.

  9. Soil smart

    A common mistake urban gardeners make is not making sure their soil is good quality. While those made with pesticides promise great results, they are loaded with chemicals. Go for organic soil and grow well from the beginning.

  10. Have fun

    Gardening not only results in food or flowers, it is a great way to relieve stress, have fun and get in touch with nature. Just because you live in an apartment doesn’t mean you can’t experience the joy of eating what you grow.


Grab your container, select your seeds and see how beautiful, nutritious and delicious your results could be. Find more details about Gardens for Good and urban gardening at

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Achieve continuous bloom in your garden with these succession planting tips

We all love a continuous symphony of flowers in our gardens. Yet sometimes our gardens can seem patchy in appearance with not much in bloom at one time, or that lasts through the summer and fall. It is possible to achieve continuous floral bloom using a method called succession planting.

The late Christopher Lloyd, longtime garden columnist, author of many books and gardener of the famous English garden Great Dixter, used the term to describe planting a variety of plants in a flower border that bloom in succession throughout a long season, so that it will always have interest. He used and combined annuals, bulbs, perennials and shrubs in this effort for constant bloom. Photos of the same border in his garden — from early spring through summer and fall — are strikingly different, yet filled with bloom and interest. Succession planting is very rewarding, and there are a few simple techniques for success.

The basic premise is to combine plants together that bloom in different seasons and don’t interfere with one another. Include early season bloomers, midseason bloomers, and late season bloomers all together in your flower border or garden. As one plant declines, the one next to it will grow and flower. For example, early blooming bulbs or plants like Oriental poppies basically go dormant after flowering. Summer blooming plants like catmint, calamint and Aster ‘Monch’ really fill out and bloom beginning in June. Their foliage and flowers will cover the spaces that bulbs and spring bloomers created as the foliage declines. Include late summer and fall blooming plants like California fuchsia, asters and perennial sunflowers for a late season show. Their foliage looks fresh all summer, and in fall they contribute showy flowers. Many Salvias bloom in summer though fall, too. Some, like the greggii types, peak in spring and again in fall.

Another key to this method of planting is to plant in small groups, the truth being that a large swath of something out of bloom is often unattractive. Large and medium-sized plants can be used in groups of one; small plants in groups of no more than three. Repeat these plants in your garden as often as you like or as you have room for. When plants are repeated in a garden it develops pattern and repetition, something that we all respond to, and brings the garden together visually. If the plant is hummingbird friendly, the hummers love it also.

Select plants for your garden that all look good together. You can create an all-gray garden, or a garden of bright colored plants, or pastels. If selected plants all look good together, deciding what should be planted next to what will not be a hard choice, except for taking into consideration the plant’s height and width so they are an adequate distance apart. Dark-colored foliage, like those of the ‘Mystic Series’ dahlias, works well to both absorb hot colors and set them off, while gray foliage combines and sets off pastels.

Plant closely enough so foliage intermingles. If plants are planted so far apart that there is more mulch or soil than plants, a plant that is out of condition will really stand out. If plants’ foliage is intermingling, you will hardy notice a plant out of bloom.

For early season and added summer interest, include bulbs and some annuals in the garden. For the spring garden, when perennials are still small and coming out of dormancy, plant some of our smaller native annual wildflowers in between them to fill space and give early bloom. Clarkias, Phacelia minor and P. campanularia are good choices. Shirley poppies and breadseed poppies can be used for this purpose also. The spent annuals are easy to pluck from the border when they are finished. Zinnias, ageratum, celosia and amaranth are excellent summer annuals to put in spaces in between the perennials while they are small. Include spring blooming bulbs like grape or Spanish hyacinth, ixia, sparaxis or Camas lilies, and summer bloomers such as gladiolas or lilies. In summer the tall bulbs rise through perennials foliage, look stunning, and will add much color and interest.

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Gardening Tips: August 12, 2017

Yard and garden expert Mark Thoms joined us live at the Iowa State Fair this weekend! He shared with us tips on freshening up your pot plants and also answered questions related to prepping your yard for fall seeding, if a pumpkin plant still has time to see blooms, and if it’s too early to cut back peonies and bleeding hearts. Here the answers here.

If you have a lawn and garden question, submit it by clicking here and we’ll try to answer it on a future Saturday morning.

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Creating a habitat for pollinators

I love early mornings in the summer. The bees are out and busy in the vegetable garden. The butterflies flutter around the multicolored zinnias in the flower garden and hummingbirds zip around the backyard. The outdoor world is dynamic and greeting the day’s arrival with energy and enthusiasm. All of these creatures are busy feeding themselves as well as pollinating the flowers, trees, grasses and plants.

Birds, butterflies, moths, beetles, bats, wasps, flies and bees are considered pollinators and important factors in our natural environment. Sadly, the presence of pollinators has been dwindling. The decline of bees over the last 10 years is alarming. The honey bee numbers have been decreasing due to disease, loss of habitat and pests. Our native bees have been disappearing as well. The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee was added to the list of endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January 2017. This bumble bee is a native of the Upper Midwest and eastern United States, including Virginia. Bees are a “Keystone Species” meaning that they are a foundation species for a healthy ecosystem. The National Agriculture Service Statistics estimate that 85 percent of the plant species in the world depends on pollinators, which averages about 52 percent of the produce in our local grocery store. It is estimated that every third bite of food that we eat is produced with the help of these small creatures. Insect pollination has an economic value at an estimated $217 billion globally.

We can be proactive to help pollinators. One of the best ways is to incorporate a natural habitat for these animals in our landscapes. Pollinators need flowering plants for food as well as plants for shelter. Native plants are the best to use, because our native species of bees, butterflies and moths have adapted to these plants. If we supply mostly non-native plants, other species will compete with our native species and there may not be enough for all of them to eat and nest. One theory behind the loss of the Hawaiian Yellow Faced Bee, which was placed on the Endangered Species list in October 2016, is that when non-native plants and animals were introduced to Hawaii, this species of bee could not survive due to the loss of its native food source and the competition of new non-native species of insects. Planting native Virginian landscape plants such as phlox, black-eyed Susan’s, and coneflower would be good choices, and these are just a few examples as the list is extensive.

When searching for these plants in a nursery, always use their scientific name so you know that you are buying the correct plant. When deciding the landscape design of your pollinator garden, design it in a natural “meadow” style or in a way that you would see in nature. Many garden plants are varieties of native plants and would be good choices to use to encourage pollinators. They can be used as a supplement to native plants if needed. Herbs such as lavender, basil, catnip and rosemary are good choices. You can create a “natural landscape” from container gardening if needed. When planning your landscape do not get discouraged if you have limited space. A small area for pollinators is better for our environment than “No Area” for our pollinators.

Colors and flower shape are important when planning a pollinator garden. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to bright colors. Bees seek colors in the UV spectrum. They like yellow, blue and violet. Butterflies seek bright colors and have good vision but have a weak sense of smell, so fragrance is not as important as color when planning a butterfly garden. Butterflies need flowers that are platform shaped so they can rest while they eat. Hummingbirds like bright colors such as reds and orange. Bats and moths are attracted to white flowers, since they are most visible at night and both are attracted to fragrant flowers.

Butterfly gardens can be very rewarding. Butterflies need shelter from the wind so provide plants of varying heights. Providing rocks for resting is a good idea, too. Butterflies sip salts and minerals from water puddles so you may want to include one in the garden. To ensure that butterflies will live in your garden, include host plants that will be larval food. Butterflies will seek out plants to lie their eggs on that are preferred by the caterpillar. Milkweeds, fennel parsley, and dill would be good choices as host plants. Nectar plants such as black-eyed Susan, butterfly weed, aster, and purple coneflower are great choices. Do not grow butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.) however. It provides nectar, but biologists have discovered that it is invasive and can outcompete other native species.

Providing natural habitats for pollinators can be rewarding not only for gardeners but for our ecosystem. Always use pesticides cautiously, choose mostly native plants and provide diversity and shelter for these amazing, beneficial creatures. For more information about bees and other pollinators, search the Xerces Society (, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ( and the Pollinator Partnership (

• Jennifer Mason, is a Virginia Master Gardener intern with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Prince George County office. Virginia Master Gardeners are volunteer educators who work within their communities to encourage and promote environmentally sound horticulture practices through sustainable landscape management education and training. Virginia Master Gardeners bring the resources of Virginia’s land-universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University to the people of the commonwealth.

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Society of Garden Designers announces new vice chair

The Society of Garden Designers (SGD) has appointed Sarah Morgan MSGD as its new vice chair working alongside SGD chair, Philippa O’Brien MSGD.

Morgan has been a register member of the Society for 20 years and is a long-standing-member of the SGD Council.

Morgan joined Council in 2014 as the member for Education and has overseen many initiatives including the introduction of the Educator Status for garden design courses and programmes in the UK.  

Morgan has been involved in education for many years. She spent five years as Head of Faculty, Landscape Horticulture and Design, and Programme Leader for the BA (Hons) Garden Design at Hadlow College and is now a visiting lecturer in horticulture and garden design and external verifier at colleges around the UK.

Outside of the Society she runs her own practice, Sarah Morgan Gardens.

Morgan said: ‘I am privileged to support Philippa O’Brien and continue to support the SGD in my role on council. As a member of the SGD I have received training, inspiration and professional networks that have been invaluable to my working practice in garden design over 33 years.”

O’Brien added: “I have worked alongside Sarah on council for many years. She has great talent and a wonderful ability to take the long view to campaigns and Society issues.

“I think she will be an excellent counterpoint to me as we work towards realising the many ambitions that council has for the Society.”

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Detroit water chief: Owners of green lots shouldn’t pay hefty drainage fee






This east-side Detroiter gardens all over two side lots she bought from the city, where vacant houses were demolished. Yet, DWSD began dunning her $90/month in drain fees.
Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press

Help the environment — and pay through the nose.

That was the harsh lesson that organic gardener Nicola Binns got in her mailbox.

Binns, 60, who lives on Detroit’s east side, was stunned last fall to start getting water bills for two vacant lots she owns next to her house. They weren’t water bills, exactly. After all, these are vacant lots; the water tab was $0.00.  Yet, on the same bills, Binns was dunned a drainage charge of $45 for each lot.

One space is a community garden, with veggies free for all; the other, another green space where, just this week, Binns had a rain garden installed through a grant from Detroit’s Eastside Community Network.

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The two lots are like earthen sponges, soaking up rain that makes direct hits as well as the runoff whooshing from the home’s downspouts, said Drew Lathin, owner of Novi-based Creating Sustainable Landscapes.

“And rain gardens are so much cheaper” than expanding a sewer system, Lathin said, as he supervised the half-dozen helpers who dug an 11-foot-by-18-foot depression for Binns’ rain garden.

The side-by-side gardens are the very kind of improvements that city officials hoped residents would make when they began Detroit’s side lot sales, offering each lot for just $100 to an adjoining homeowner, said Craig Fahle, spokesman for the Detroit Land Bank Authority. Told that Binns and several other side lot owners were being charged drainage fees — and that they’d joined in a lawsuit against the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department — Fahle took rapid action.

“DWSD shouldn’t be doing that to side lot owners,” Fahle exclaimed Thursday. “We want to encourage people to buy these, not the opposite,” he said. Fahle notified an official in the office of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who then called DWSD Director Gary Brown.

Brown echoed Fahle’s concern, pointing the way for Binns and the other plaintiffs to drop their lawsuit. Most side lot owners should not be charged a drainage fee, Brown said.

“More than 90% of the side lots are just grass. They don’t have any hard surfaces on them” to shunt rainwater into sewers, Brown said Thursday. As for Binns’ spongelike landscaping, he added: “We do not want to charge Detroiters for putting in community gardens and rain gardens.” 

Brown said DWSD would inspect Binns’ gardens as soon as possible and adjust her bills accordingly, perhaps to zero. So, how did Binns get assessed the drain fee for her leafy side lots? DWSD charged her on the basis of aerial photographs, a system used throughout the city’s vast land areas to expedite assessments for thousands of new drain bills, Brown said.

Brown said it was likely that large rectangles arrayed on Binns’ property — her raised garden beds, built with care by young Americorps volunteers — looked on photos like paved areas. Also, an old three-car garage remains at the corner of her community garden site, which Binns hopes to convert to a community center for block-club meetings she hosts. And DWSD’s aerial shutterbug surely caught as well. Without knowing more, Brown said he couldn’t say why the other lot — the green space with a new rain garden — was dunned for drainage or why other plaintiffs in the lawsuit were charged for their side lots.

But DWSD spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh said a side lot should be charged a drainage fee if it encompasses a driveway, garage or any other “impervious surface” that forces rain to run into city sewers. DWSD adjusts the fee when land owners add green infrastructure such as a garden, he said.

The city’s Meijer store on 8 Mile near Woodward gets a reduced drainage fee because “they have retention tanks that collect the storm water from their roof and their parking lot, and they use that to water their plants,” Peckinpaugh said. Other property owners, including homeowners with side lots, can reduce their drainage charges by showing that their land soaks up rainfall, he said.

Binns had tried that. After she contested her billings several months ago, she eeked out a green credit of $11.25 for each of her two lots, according to her water bills. That dropped her monthly tab to $67.50 — still too stiff, said Binns’ lawyer, Lisa Walinske of the ReDetroit East Community Law Center.

“Our contention is that the imposition of a drainage charge (on side lot owners) is in actuality a rain tax, in violation of the Headlee Amendment,” Walinske said this week.

Both Binns and her lawyer said they sympathize with the DWSD’s need to improve its sewers. Binns’ Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood has suffered repeated chronic basement backups when aged sewers couldn’t  handle extra-heavy rainfall. The problem results from the system’s design, widely used throughout metro Detroit. It has storm water running through the same big sewer mains that carry effluent from toilets. When rainfall is torrential, the sewer mains can back up, and then the excess must go somewhere — either into basements or the watershed, DWSD officials have said. 

“There’s a part of me that doesn’t like taking away this funding because we do need to fix the infrastructure,” Walinske said. Still, she and her clients are aghast that DWSD has charged steep drain fees to Detroiters who bought side lots.

The new policy of DWSD is aimed at extracting more revenue to rebuild the city’s aging sewer system. DWSD abruptly begun levying drainage fees this year on thousands of parcels in Detroit, including numerous churches that never before had paid the fees. After a protest led by the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, sewer officials backed down and postponed billing most churches until next July, DWSD said in March.

Still, most Detroiters must pay more now to account for water flowing from their property into city sewers, according to recent pronouncements from DWSD. Binns dutifully pays about $20 a month for drainage assessed to her house. But the drain fees on her side lots? She’d much prefer devoting that cash to sowing her neighborhood horn of plenty — the Marlborough-Essex Community Garden, replete with seven big scarecrows.

 “I just love doing it — it brings everybody together,” Binns said on a sunny morning this week, as two friends picked tomatoes. 

The city’s sewers should love it, too. Because with every heavy rain, instead of choking them with runoff, Binns’ rain garden will drink deep. And the Marlborough-Essex Community Garden will turn just that much greener a jewel of change.

Contact Bill Laitner:

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Escape space: Tour highlights beautiful yards

When Kurt Riester bought his Merion Village home in 2013, he was happy the interior had already been renovated.

The yard was another matter.

“There was nothing back there at all, just the old service walk and two plants,” Riester said.

Across town, in New Albany, Greg Bohls and his wife, Samantha Cowne, faced the same situation. Their beautiful Georgian home was in excellent shape but the landscape was standard fare.

“It just wasn’t terribly exciting, not a lot of diversity of plants,” Bohls said.

Riester’s and Bohls and Cowne’s solutions can be seen Saturday during the annual Outdoor Living Landscaping Tour presented by the Columbus Landscape Association. This year’s tour offers eight landscapes, small to large, traditional to whimsical, along with a refreshment and food stop at a landscape supplier.

Reister’s landscaping challenge began with a question: What to do with a yard that measured roughly 30 by 30 feet?

Riester and his partner, Mat Kerzee, found an answer 1,300 miles away.

Inspired by Key West’s vibrant colors and tropical flora, Riester and Kerzee sought to import a touch of Florida sunshine into their Columbus backyard.

“We wanted a space that reminded us we were on vacation,” Riester said.

With the help of Wood Landscape Services’ designer Tina Castorano, Riester and Kerzee turned their bare postage stamp into a lush, colorful retreat, right down to “grass” that is green even in winter.

The yard is a visual celebration. The yellow wood fence, Latin planters, bright blue umbrella and eye-popping seat cushions bounce off the red and white hibiscus, yellow roses and multiple varieties of colorful cannas.

Adding flair is “Wild Child,” a Mac Worthington sculpture of multi-colored metal ribbons climbing 7 feet into the air.

The patio and foliage left little room for a yard, which was fine with Riester. He didn’t want to mow anyway. So Castorano filled in the three patches with SynLawn artificial grass, an especially useful touch for Riester’s two dogs, Luna and Lance, who get one of the patches for a private dog run next to the garage. 

For their New Albany lawn, Bohls and Cowne took a different path.

As owner of Buckeye Power Sales, Bohls is a plant enthusiast as well as a Columbus Landscape Association member.

“The yard’s always been something my wife and I have enjoyed,” Bohls said. “We spend a lot of time at the Franklin Park Conservatory, with all the plants there. It’s nice to have a piece of that at home.”

With a goal of going beyond the standard mix of hostas and hydrangeas, Bohls enlisted the help of M.J. Design, run by Molly and Joel John — “a couple of plant nerds,” as Molly puts it.

And then they went shopping, visiting commercial nurseries around the state.

They returned with a full cart: more than 50 types of plants.

From the rising English oaks that flank the home’s entrance to the ajuga ground cover that lines the rear beds, the yard serves as a mini-arboretum.

Among the lineup: dragon’s eye pine, stewartia tree, globe spruce, hydrangea, limber pine, weeping cypress, purple beech, magnolias, geraniums, hibiscus, daisies, butterfly bushes, peonies, iris, coreopsis, Joe-Pye weed, anemone, lady’s mantle, amsonia, baptisia and miniature allium.

As Molly John puts it, “People who love plants will love this.”


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Snapshot: Dan Lyons of Hawthorn Hollow

Dan Lyons is the observatory director and the Homestead Garden manager at Hawthorn Hollow Nature Sanctuary and Arboretum. Lyons was born and raised in Kenosha and worked part time at the sanctuary while in high school and part of his college years. After college, he returned and has been full-time staff member for the past four years.

Question: What is your educational background?

Answer: Bachelor’s in physics, Carthage College; master’s in physics, New Mexico Institute of Mining Technology (doing radio astrophysics); Ph.D. in physics and astronomy education research, University of Wyoming; postdoc in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Chicago (doing research on embodied cognition in physics learning).

Q: What types of responsibilities do you handle as the Observatory Director?

A: The Schoolyard Observatory was constructed October through December 2016. So far, I’m working on getting the telescope, dome, and astro-imaging camera all synced with computer controls. The technology and instruments are challenging and fun to work with. This fall, I’ll be hosting our first public observing nights.

Q: What types of responsibilities do you handle as the Homestead Garden manager?

A: This year was a chance to start from scratch on designing and building the new Homestead Garden. We had a small Market Garden at a different location in 2015 and learned a lot. We took our experience and really refined the design to include some unique attractions like the giant monarch butterfly shaped vegetable garden and the popcorn labyrinth. It’s my job to make sure the new facility is equipped with everything we need for the new Growing Healthy grade school field trip starting this October. That means I work on everything from designing the garden beds, planting, and landscaping, to doing construction work on the building facilities like installing plumbing and electrical to make sure everything will be ready on time for the fall program.

Q: What has been your favorite initiative at the sanctuary?

A: At the moment, I’m really excited about a partnership we have with a local farmer to grow organic popcorn. Hawthorn Hollow is a non-profit and every year we put a tremendous amount of effort into fund raising events. I’m hoping to develop the farming partnership to help generate revenue to support the educational programs at the Homestead Gardens through organic heirloom popcorn sales. We have five acres planted off site with an anticipated yield of around 15 thousand pounds of popcorn. We’ve never tried anything remotely near this large of a scale, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting that much popcorn delivered to the public over the next year.

Q: How do you get the community involved with Hawthorn Hollow?

A: We have a support organization call the Friends of Hawthorn Hollow that puts out newsletter three times a year with news and events. Mostly, we use social media outlets like Facebook to keep people aware of events on a weekly basis.

Q: How did you get interested in this field of work?

A: I was born a curious person who, more than anything, needed to understand how everything works. It’s a no-brainer that it led me down the road to physics and astronomy. Nature, as people generally think of it, isn’t really separated from the rest of the universe. The Earth is really just a giant spaceship we all live on as we fly around the sun which is flying through space around the center of the Milky Way. I spend my time every day working to make the programs in the nature sanctuary successful so people can have a place to go and be with and a part of that nature.

Q: How do you engage with the outdoors when not at work?

A: I garden as much of my yard at home as possible. Growing your own food is so satisfying, and the fresh garden produce can’t be beat. When I’m not gardening, I still walk in the woods. I like to tour the forest and nature preserves of Southeastern Wisconsin and Northeastern Illinois with my girlfriend, Carley, and our big dog, Marlin.

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