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Archives for October 21, 2017

Views What a garden club can teach employers about benefit design

Thirty-five years ago, my mother was active in our neighborhood garden club. Among the 200 homes scattered about the narrow, hilly lanes of the neighborhood resided 30 club members. To the northwest side, a mile of contoured industrial fencing separated the neighborhood from a business park. Naturally, neighbors residing on this border sought to block views of the park with residential fencing, evergreens and Virginia creeper. However, about 50 yards of this border featured a narrow common area, bordered by the fence and the lane. It was a weedy, unkempt area. William Robinson would not have approved.

As you might guess, this blank inviting canvas attracted the eye of the garden club. Great plans were drawn up to beautify the area. Members began dividing their daffodils, day lilies and black-eyed Susans for transplanting. Just before the planting began, Mom walked over to test the fertility and composition of the soil to see what adjustments might be needed. Eight inches into her first shovelful, she hit concrete. She then tried another spot. Same result.

Multiple attempts later, she picked up her shovel and walked down the street to the home of a retired family friend who was once the president of the garden club. It took this matriarch no time to diagnose the issue: “Don’t waste your time. That entire 50-yard strip is just thin backfill clay on top of a solid concrete slab. Nothing will grow there. There’s not enough root space.”

Eighty-five percent of my job is similarly applying years of experience to immediately identify challenges and solutions others may not see. For example, a client of mine with 200 employees sponsors a fully insured group medical plan. The plan offers the choice of a qualified high-deductible health plan and a PPO plan. Recently, through a competitive bidding process, my colleagues and I identified a group health insurance vendor offering this company a 25% premium reduction over current rates. The employer, viewing this savings as excitedly as the garden club viewed the common area, quickly made plans to use the savings to increase the competitiveness of its total compensation package by significantly lowering the HDHP employee premium contributions. The employer then sent me these proposed employee HDHP monthly contributions for my review:

While we all can immediately tell that these employee contribution rates are highly competitive, do any other alarm bells go off? Let’s add two more columns and reconsider this question:

(Source: Kaiser/HRET Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Benefits, 2017)

As we’ve discussed before, if an employer would like to encourage spouses to enroll in their own employer’s plan, an effective strategy is simply setting the payroll deduction differential between single and employee + spouse coverage and the differential between employee + child(ren) and family coverage at a rate that is higher than what an individual would pay, on average, for single coverage. Of course, if an employer, for unknown reasons, wanted to increase spousal enrollment, it would do the opposite.

See also: The alternative to health plan spousal exclusions

In the above chart, we see that the proposed cost to add a spouse is suddenly significantly beneath what most spouses would pay for individual coverage at their own employer. Specifically, it only costs employees with single coverage $70 per month to add their spouse, and it only costs employees with employee + child(ren) coverage $55 per month to add their spouse. Meanwhile, per the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2017 survey, the average spouse of these employees is presently paying about $85 per month for HDHP coverage at their own employer.

Thus, if this employer proceeded with these proposed rates, it would expect to see a significant increase in spousal enrollment. This increase would quickly wipe out the original overall premium savings and create budgetary challenges. To eliminate the risk of this unintended consequence, we recommended that the differential between single and employee + spouse coverage and between employee + child(ren) and family coverage again rise comfortably north of $85. A conservative differential of $135 to $175, for example, could be used.

Meanwhile, while $25 per month for HDHP single coverage could be a winning strategy for certain employers, a significant amount of this employer’s employees waive coverage because of existing coverage through other employers, including retiree coverage. Would reducing the single premium to $25 per month cause these employees to reconsider those enrollment decisions and migrate to this employer’s plan? Maybe. What we do know is that the above $85 benchmark is competitive and comfortably below the Affordable Care Act’s employer shared responsibility federal poverty line affordability safe harbor. Thus, we recommended raising this amount to the $50 to $75 range.

See also: A simple approach to eliminating ACA shared responsibility penalty risks

Once these prudent employee contribution adjustments are made, the remaining windfall savings can be diverted to other valued areas of total compensation, including employer retirement plan contributions and increased cash wages.


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Waynesville Arboretum Project begins second year | Home And …

The first project of the town of Waynesville Arboretum has celebrated its first full year of growth and blooming. Those who walk along the gravel path between the skate park and the dog park will pass over a new bridge and come to the Serenity Garden.

The garden was a collaborative effort between the Mountain View Garden Club, and Jonathan Yates, town of Waynesville outside facilities manager, and his assistant, Bill Litty.  

The concept of a creation of an Arboretum was presented to the Waynesville Board of Aldermen and Mayor Gavin Brown in the spring of 2016.

The sole purpose of the project is beautification of the park area and education to the public about botanical life there.

Excavation of the Serenity Garden began in July 2016, and within three months the garden design, purchase, and planting of young trees and shrubs were completed.

The plantings all made it through the winter and are now showing their identities in full bloom. There is a garden bench for sitting next to the sound of running water from the Shelton Branch stream.

The Mountain View Garden Club is now maintaining the garden to keep it looking perfect.

Now that the first garden is completed, the Waynesville Garden Club will start the next project — a pollinator garden.

The garden will be located near the Recreation Center and will serve to attract and support butterfly and insect life, as well as provide information about these essential members of the cycle of plant development life and survival.

The horticulture department students at Haywood Community College are growing the plants for the pollinator garden.

Money for these projects comes from the small garden budgets. In-kind contribution of labor and equipment has been provided by the town of Waynesville.

It is anticipated that the Arboretum project will continue to develop for many years to come. The project ties in with the town of Waynesville’s new long-range plans to extend and enlarge the present greenway between the Hazelwood area of Waynesville through the Waynesville Recreation Park on to Junaluska.

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On Gardening: Choosing the right design for your succulent garden

The recent surge of interest in gardening with succulent plants combines appreciation of colorful plants with architectural interest, drought-tolerance and ease of maintenance.

Succulent plants are often grouped in the landscape because they share a preference for limited irrigation. This approach, called “hydrozoning,” simplifies watering tasks, and, conversely, avoids accidentally over-watering succulents.

This emphasis on the design of irrigation plans often results in garden designs that consist entirely of succulent plants. This approach can produce interesting “desert landscapes” that compare and contrast the range of colors, forms and textures of the plants. The plants might be spaced widely or clustered closely.

Examples of such landscapes can be viewed at these website: and

Succulent plants, by definition, are native to places with limited moisture: sandy deserts, rocky mountainsides, and plains that have extended periods of drought and occasional downpours. A desert landscape design will be most successful aesthetically when the plants are in fact native to a similar dry environment. Two basic styles are the rock garden, simulating a mountainside, and a desert-like sandy or gravelly bed,

A second consideration in planning such a landscape is to focus on plants from the same geographic region. While succulent plants grow in many parts of the world, the specimens that are most commonly available from garden centers and mail-order sources are from either Mexico or South Africa, with Australia as a distant third.

In the Monterey Bay area, succulent plants from all of these areas will thrive, but mixing them in a garden design often yields a haphazard appearance. The arbitrariness of the combination will be obvious to gardeners who study succulents, and subtly “off” to casual observers.

Another basic approach to the succulent landscape design involves combining succulent plants with drought-tolerant perennials. Such combinations certainly occur in nature, so an authentic design that rings true intuitively requires some research. This approach can provide interesting contrasts between relatively static succulent plants and visually active plants, such as grasses.

A third approach involves deliberately showcasing plants from a variety of native habitats. The plants used in such a landscape still need to be appropriate to the growing environment, and might require selective irrigation from a well-planned drip irrigation system, but can be educational from a horticultural perspective. An accompanying annotated garden map would add value to such an essentially educational landscape.

If you are, or might become inspired to develop a small or large landscape devoted to succulent plants, decide on a thoughtful approach, do some preliminary research, and install the landscape that fulfills your unique vision. The result is most likely to satisfying to yourself and appealing to visitors to your garden.

Tom Karwin is past president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, president of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). Visit for links to information on this subject, and send comments or questions to

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Fall Gardening Check-In With Charlie Nardozzi

Winter is coming but that doesn’t mean you’re done in the garden.

Charlie Nardozzi, horticulturist, author, and host of the Connecticut Garden Journal on WNPR will join us with gardening tips for the fall.

Scientists are already saying this year will be one of the hottest on record. How has the changing climate impacted New England’s growing season?

And with that in mind, when should you start planting bulbs? And what’s the best way to handle  all those leaves on your lawn?

What gardening questions do you have?


  • Charlie Nardozzi – Horticulturist, author, and host of the Connecticut Garden Journal, which airs on WNPR on Thursday afternoons at 3:04pm.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Chion Wolf contributed to this show.

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Spray or drip irrigation: Which way is best for your garden?

Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.

Q: Wife and I are arguing about proper way to water our plants. We have a small orchard, garden and extensive landscaping with palms and sagos. When I water late in evening or early morning, I spray the whole plant. Wife says to only direct water to base or ground and not water branches or leaves. Which is better? I’m especially concerned about our sago palms as we have several of them, both in pots and in the ground. Neither of us thinks it’s good to spray whole plant when direct sun is hitting the plant.

Steven Parks, Granite Bay

Sacramento County Master Gardener Carmen Schindler: Your wife gets the kudos for being correct. Ideally, plants should be watered in the soil using a drip irrigation system around their drip lines (the outer circumference of the tree or shrub canopy). If using a spray system, adjust sprinklers or install deflectors to prevent the trunks from getting wet.

Follow these best tips for all plants, including trees:

▪  Apply water to the soil around the base of a plant, avoiding the trunk or branches.

▪ Mulch, mulch, mulch! A layer of three to four inches of mulch will reduce water evaporation and weeds, and protect roots from heat.

▪  Water infrequently and deeply to encourage deeper root growth, which results in plants with greater drought tolerance.

▪ Use a drip irrigation system, grouping plants with similar water needs together on one valve.

▪  Occasional spraying of foliage to remove dust or an insect infestation is beneficial.

The California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH) at the University of California, Davis, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) and Ewing Irrigation have devised a unique watering system called the Tree Ring Irrigation Contraption (TRIC). TRIC is a kit that homeowners can put together themselves for about $100 for one large tree. For more information, visit the CCUH website at

In addition, too much or too little water can damage landscape plants. Inadequate water causes foliage to wilt, discolor and drop. Prolonged moisture and poor drainage can result in smaller leaves, dieback or limb drop, and susceptibility to root rots, mineral deficiencies or toxicities, wood-boring insects and other pests that eventually can kill plants. Excessive moisture smothers and kills roots, leading to discolored and dying foliage.

Maintain adequate, but not excessive, water in the soil to ensure plant survival and good growth. Examine plants regularly for symptoms of water stress. Monitor soil moisture around each plant’s root zone and adjust irrigation according to seasonal needs. Soil around young plants during hot weather may need to be monitored daily; every few weeks may be adequate when monitoring around mature trees during more favorable weather.

Just before dawn or early morning is generally the best time to irrigate. Evaporation is lower during these hours and usually there is little or no wind to disrupt the pattern of the sprinklers. In addition, water pressure is more favorable during this period. Irrigating in the evening also can minimize evaporation, but avoid overhead sprinkling if foliar (leaf) diseases are a problem because leaves will remain wet longer than watering at dawn.

For additional tips on good irrigation practices, go to the UC ANR website at For information on watering the backyard orchard, visit the UC Master Gardener Program website at

Carmen Schindler is a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener for Sacramento County.

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Top tips from architects, interior designers and surveyors


1pm: Introduction to The Irish Times Home Design Theatre followed by The quantity surveyor versus the architect : head-to-head discussion between Patricia Power of the Society of Charters Surveyors Ireland and Declan O’Donnell, founding partner of ODKM Architects. Hosted by Irish Times interiors expert Alanna Gallagher.

1.45pm: Dave Dempsey of Noel Dempsey Kitchens in Wicklow chats about What’s Cooking in Kitchen Trends.

2.30pm: Muriel Simpson of interior designs firm House Garden talks to journalist Frances O’Rourke about how best to stage your home for sale, with all the expert tips and tricks of the trade that will help get you the best price for your property.

3.30pm: Want to upgrade your kitchen without breaking the bank? Architect, interior designer and regular Irish Times columnist Denise O’Connor of Optimise Design is on stage to show just how it’s done.

4.15pm: Gardening guru Fionnuala Fallon comes fresh from the garden with tips on how to grow your own seasonal cut flowers. Enhance your garden and cut your florist bill in one presentation.

5pm: Ditch the magnolia. Sarah Drum and Lisa Marconi of indie furniture retailer and interior design practice Dust talk to Irish Times journalist Orna Mulcahy about using strong colours and bright paints effectively. No more whiter shade of pale.


11.30am: Find out how incorporating the Chinese principles of feng shui could bring positive energy into your home with expert Nina Kati. It could change your fortune, cookie.

1pm: Love vintage and antiques? Find out how to use them to best effect in your home as Róisín Lafferty of Kingston Lafferty Design (KLD) shares top tips .

2pm: Got a building conundrum? Now’s your chance to get it sorted with the help of quantity surveyor Patricia Power from RTÉ’s Room to Improve.

2.45pm: Dream home design on a bootstrap budget? If that sounds too good to be true, don’t miss TV3’s Anna Daly as she explains just how it’s done.

3.45pm: Siobhan Lam of leading lifestyle and interiors store April The Bear talks Instarooms, showing us how social media is not just capturing but creating some of the hottest new interiors trends.

4.30pm: Classics don’t age and they won’t let you down. Carol-Anne Leyden of CA Design talks about the furniture design classics that work in every room.


11.15am: Who says neutrals have to be bland? Get a fresh new take on neutral palettes as Martina Tolarova of La Maison Design shows how to shake them up to best effect for Irish homes.

12.15pm: Got a question about a building conundrum that’s driving you nuts? Catch up with Noel Larkin of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland to find the most effective solution to your property problems.

2pm: Dream home design on a bootstrap budget. TV3 presenter Anna Daly shows us how to create the home of your dreams when your budget is more of a nightmare.

3pm: Irish Times’ consumer specialist Conor Pope and the Permanent TSB team tell us how, when, why – and whether – to release equity from our homes.

4.30pm: Swimming in stuff? De-clutter with ease thanks to top tips from Sarah Reynolds of Organised Chaos, the country’s best known professional organiser for both homes and businesses.


11.15am: Find out out how to decorate the house this Christmas in a way that’s not just festive but stylish too, with the help of the design team from home furnishing store Harvey Norman.

12.30pm: Want your house to be a showstopper? Wicklow-based interior designer Collette Ward, the creator of this autumn’s Ideal Home showhouse, talks about creating that show house effect at home.

2pm: Interior designer and specialist colour consultant Orla Kelly offers step-by-step tips to making the right colour choices for your newly built home.

2.45pm: TV presenter and fitness guru Kathryn Thomas comes back from her travels to share the simple steps that can lead to a happier and healthier home.

3.30pm: Experts Regina Rogers Fallon and Ciara Drennan from iconic Irish paint brand Colourtrend show how to choose the perfect paint tone for different rooms.

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Wreathmaking 411: What you need to know – Visalia Times

Don’t you just love this time of the year? While we still have the warmth of the day, the nights are cooling down. 

The sky turns to gold and the sounds of the day seem softened by the cooler temperatures, especially after the long heat of summer. This is the time when my creative heart turns to wreaths for every gate and door.

I feel compelled to celebrate Summer transitioning into harvesting Fall with all its color and glory. sound like a revivalist, and maybe there is a little in me as I revive the tradition of swathing our doors to welcome friends and family.

More: Plan your winter garden with these tips

Healthy soil makes for a healthy garden

Artichokes taste good, look beautiful in your garden

Cacti is king in new garden designs

We all know that fall is a good time to prune shrubs, so why not make wreaths from the clippings instead of filling your green waste can? With a sharp pair of nippers and a long-handled pruner, survey the premises for likely materials. I even check out the neighborhood (asking permission first, of course!).

Keep in mind you can make wreaths, garlands OR swags with your findings, so cut a length a little longer than you think you might need. You might have a theme as you prowl around looking for likely materials, but if you’re like me, you might like to work “on the fly.” I prefer working with available materials as I find them.  It gives me more creative license to weave together this year’s “look.”

Consider acacia flower buds with their gray feathery foliage.  They are so graceful with movement.  Toyon, full of fall red berries, or pyracantha (warning – thorns!), or nandina are winners for a door wreath. Wax-leaf privet has purple berries and mixes elegantly with silver dollar eucalyptus and citrus leaves or kumquat branches with the fruit still on.

Don’t allow your imagination to stop there!  Consider all the beautiful fall branches turning shades of red or gold. Forage for branches and seedpods.  For greenery, grevilleas, evergreens, and magnolias.

What about long wild rose runners (thorns can be clipped off) with rose hips? Prickly seed balls from sycamore or liquid amber, either natural or sprayed with silver or gold paint. Fresh bay leaves or cinnamon sticks add a fragrant note to your masterpiece.

Take a trial walk to look for good mixes. Then get clipping and gathering. Once you’ve depleted your own yard of available materials, go visit friends to “shop” for clippings.

To give yourself a great start have a few things ready.  Fill a bucket with water and add a cup of sprite or a lemon-lime soda (no diet here, clippings need the sugar), ½ teaspoon of bleach and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for every gallon of water.

This will serve as a preservative for your cuttings. As soon as you have a clipping, hose it off to remove any dirt or bugs, then let the foliage dry as the clipping sits in its bucket of preservative. If stems are woody, smash the ends well with a hammer so the stems can absorb their preservative food. Greens should sit and sip in their buckets over-night (best) or at least several hours.

If you have a wreath form–either wire, straw, or Styrofoam, this job can be easier to mold your shape. Don’t forget to wear your gloves! Also have floral wire or fishing line and a glue gun. 

Start by securing the larger heavier greenery first.  Then start layering and filling in the spaces with small branches, leaves, twigs, berries, pine cones, nuts, moss, or even fruit (either real or plastic). Add some ribbon, and voila you have created a masterpiece!

Weave and mix to your heart’s desire.  Let your imagination soar to create a glorious Fall welcome to your home.

Got questions?

The UCCE Master Gardeners will be available to answer your gardening questions at the following venues in October:

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21:  Hanford Lowe’s, and Visalia Orchard Supply

11 a.m. to 2 p.,m. Saturday, Oct. 28:  Hanford Orchard Supply, and Luis Nursery in Visalia.

You can also find us every Saturday from 8 am until noon at the Farmer’s Market in the Visalia Sear’s parking lot on Mooney.

For answers to all your home gardening questions, call the Master Gardeners in Tulare County at (559) 684-3325, Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9:30 and 11:30 am; or Kings County at (559) 852-2736, Thursday Only, 9:30-11:30 a.m; or visit our website to search past articles, find links to UC gardening information, or to email us with your questions:


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