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Archives for December 2, 2017

Local designers offer ideas for hostess gifts

Sunrise Home in San Rafael suggests its signature candles in scents of “Intrigue,” “Exuberance,” and “Allure” for hostess gifts. (Courtesy of Sunrise Home)

Sunrise Home in San Rafael suggests its signature candles in scents of “Intrigue,” “Exuberance,” and “Allure” for hostess gifts. (Courtesy of Sunrise Home)

Stumped on what gift to bring a host or hostess for an upcoming holiday party? Let these local designers, known for their tasteful style, offer inspiration.

Annie Bowman, owner of Sunrise Home in San Rafael, prefers to receive “something that I can accept, say thank you and stow away for the moment,” she says. “When someone arrives with fresh flowers, as much as I love them, I then need to find a vase, add the water, arrange them and then find a place for them, which can be time-consuming when you’re at your busiest greeting guests and getting ready to entertain.”

Instead, she says, “I think a simple candle and a small box of candy or something easy that doesn’t require extra attention is an ideal gift.”

She would bring one of Sunrise Home’s signature candles that come in a variety of scents because “everyone enjoys candles and can appreciate and use them at a later moment or even the same evening.”

• Sunrise Home is at 831 B St. in San Rafael. Call 415-456-3939 or go to

Gwen Williams, design principal of Space Transform, says she is “always happy to receive something that adds beauty to my home whether it’s a lovely (mild-scented) candle, a small plant or flowers that are pre-arranged in a vase.”

She opts for the small plant as a hostess gift, specifically a “small indoor succulent plant in a cute pot,” she says. “Everybody loves them because they can go anywhere, they’ll instantly sweeten the scene, they’re easy care and can provide years of joy.”

• Call Gwen Williams of Space Transform at 415-656-7289 or go to

A donation, no matter how small, to designer Ann Lowengart’s favorite charity, International Justice Mission (, brings joy to her hostess heart.

“That gesture seems very personal to me and I think it sets a great tone for the evening ahead,” she says.

The design principal of Ann Lowengart Interiors, Lowengart’s tried-and-true hostess gift “is always a floral arrangement from Main St. Floragardens in San Anselmo,” she says. Her design aesthetic helps inform her gifts as she plans each with the owner, Marcia Maffei.

“Marcia did my wedding 25 years ago, my sister’s wedding 20 years ago, and my favorite client’s wedding last year. She is a creative genius when it comes to color and texture,” she says.

“I like bringing both host or hostess a floral arrangement because it’s not necessarily something they would buy for themselves.”

• Ann Lowengart Interiors is in Suite 7 at 223 San Anselmo Ave. in San Anselmo. Call 415-578-1222. Call Main St. Floragardens at 415-485-2996 or go to

“I like chocolates because I rarely buy some for myself but enjoy eating them,” says Ruth Livingston of Ruth Livingston Studio.

The hostess gift she likes to give is either an interesting tea towel or a picture frame. “It can be small and inexpensive frame but everyone — man or woman — can use one,” she says. “And, I particularly like this set from my own store. You can insert a photo of yourself with the host/hostess, a pertinent quote or meaningful image.”

• Ruth Livingston Studio is at 74 Main St. in Tiburon. Call 415-435-5264 or go to

One of Cathleen Gouveia’s most memorable hostess gifts she’s received was a scarf handmade by a friend to match her best color.

“I love to receive gifts that remind me of the person who gave it to me and why.”

She also likes to give gifts that remind her of the person or family she visits.

“I think about where they are from, the season we are in, or the colors and textures I think would work well in someone’s home,” she says.

“If I don’t know them, I choose soaps and when selecting items, I think about how they go together and tell a story.”

Her go-to shop for gifts is Columbine in Corte Madera where she can assemble a group of gifts that might include copper salad servers, a petrified wood slab, tea towels, handmade soaps,or travel candles.

But, if she knows her host enjoys good food, she’ll bring an assortment of gourmet cheeses, artisan crackers and meats along with a nice bottle of wine wrapped beautifully in linen or burlap.

• Call Cathleen Gouveia at 415-203-8663 or go to

Gouveia’s approach rings true for Neila Hutt of Neila Hutt Design whose favorite gift is a “treasure that a guest found just for you,” she says. In her case, that would be a vintage vinyl record with great artwork.

If she had to be on the safe side on gift giving, though, she’d choose a bud vase from Heath Ceramics. “It’s the universal object that works with all styles,” she says. “The classic red set is perfect for holiday gatherings.”

• Neila Hutt Design is at 42 Greenfield Ave. in San Anselmo. Call 415-519-3631 or go to Heath Ceramics is at 400 Gate 5 Road in Sausalito. Call 415-332-2732 or go to

Don’t-miss events

• Make-and-take your own lush Santa Barbara wreath at 6 p.m. Dec. 6 at Armstrong Garden Centers at 1430 S. Novato Blvd. in Novato. The cost is $40 and preregistration is required. Call 415-878-0493 or go to

• Learn how to grow herbs and turn them into herbal sugars and teas, salt rubs and vinegars in a free “Gifts From the Garden” workshop with UC Marin master gardener Anne-Marie Walker from 7 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Corte Madera Library at 707 Meadowsweet Drive in Corte Madera. Call 415-473-4204 or go to

• Stop by McEvoy Ranch for “Sip, Shop, + Support Shopping Days” from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 9, 16 or 23 for festive shopping of oils, wines, specialty foods and natural beauty products, and sample holiday treats from the chef and a free “splash of wine.” If you bring non-perishable food or purchase a bar tasting that will support North Bay fire relief, you’ll get a special gift. McEvoy Ranch is at 5935 Red Hill Road in Petaluma. Call 707 769-4138 or go to

• Stroll the San Francisco Botanical Garden and see the best of its fall colors, but hurry, the colors will last only for the next two weeks. The Garden is in Golden Gate Park at 1199 Ninth Ave. in San Francisco. It’s open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and children ages 12 to 17, $2 for children ages 5 to 11. Admission is free from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Call 415-661-1316 or go to

PJ Bremier writes on home, garden, design and entertaining topics every Saturday and also on her blog at She may be contacted at P.O. Box 412, Kentfield 94914, or at

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Gardening Q & A: Farming is back to the future; sizing up new landscape – Virginian

One of the highlights of my recent three-week trip to Ecuador was the view of the countryside from the window of our tour bus. I was mesmerized by quiltwork-like patches of small family farm plots that dotted the hillsides and valleys. And I was equally in awe of the abundance of fruits, vegetables and grains found at roadside stands in the country, on street corners and marketplaces of the towns and cities. Supermarkets, as we know them here, were few and far between, even in the largest cities. It reminded me of a time long past – of the small family farms and country stores in our own communities here at home. Call it a bit of nostalgia.

In 1935, there were 6.8 million farms in the United States, while today there are approximately 2 million, according to the USDA. The average farm size has more than doubled, while land in production is essentially the same as 100 years ago. As is similar with other businesses, it is the midsized farms that are disappearing. The number of farmworkers continues a long-term decline, with today about one full-time worker per farm. In the 1930s, 25 percent of the U.S. population lived on a farm. Today, fewer than 2 percent do.

In 2012, the average age of the principal farm operator was 58, and 31 percent were over 65, the census reports. And this revealed another distressing statistic – a 20 percent decrease in new farmers, those entering/remaining in the profession since 2007. The census also reported more farmers over the age of 75 than those between 35 and 45 – a lost generation of farmers under the age of 45.

As I read the paper this past Saturday morning, I was pleased to see the article headlined “From Desk to Farm: A Growing Trend for Young Americans.” A trend, buried in the 2012 census, was reaffirmed – a 2.2 percent increase in 2007-2012 in farmers between the ages of 25 and 34. It’s only the second time in the past century that this has occurred. And in some states, such as Maine, the percentage increase is as high as 40 percent. The fastest-growing trends in American agriculture today are younger farmers, locally grown/organic foods and smaller farms. Good news.


Q. We are new to Virginia and interested in developing a true Southern landscape after living for years in USDA Hardiness Zone 5a. We just purchased a new home and are eager to put down roots. What are your top picks for us after we remove all this infernal ivy? – C. Hohnholt, Norfolk

A. While I could throw out a few of my favorites, the fact is that they might not work for you and your particular situation. It would be fruitless to recommend specific plants without knowing dimensions of your property and home, location of drives/sidewalks, colors, aspect and other features of your property. It is also important to know your particular likes and dislikes.

My best advice would be for you to consult with a landscape designer. The designer will analyze the situation and choose plants that are functional and will be successful in the landscape.

For example, in certain areas do you need plants that visually or physically screen? Do you desire plants that attract wildfire? Do you require plants that are low maintenance or tolerate certain kinds of environmental conditions?

And on top of all these, the designer would also want to know what kinds of plants you prefer – colors, textures and such.

A landscape designer will gather all of this information and then recommend specific plants that will work together for your situation. No doubt these may include a few of the area’s “signature” landscape plants.

The following link takes you to an example of a checklist ( that a designer might use to gather information about your site and your desires before working up a design and selecting plants. Be prepared with the answers to these questions when you consult with a designer so he/she can help you with a design that better meets your specific needs and expectations.

and one more thing …

Please send me your Christmas gardening gift ideas.

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Home and Garden events, Dec. 2-9

Monday, Dec. 4

Christmas boutique: Get in the spirit of the holiday season at Joyeux Noël at Roger’s Gardens. Glass ornaments are hand blown and hand decorated in family workshops in Poland, nutcrackers made in Germany accompany seasonal dinnerware from Portugal and Italy. Boutique open various times and dates through Dec. 23. Roger’s Gardens. 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar. 949-640-5800 or

Wednesday, Dec. 6

Doug Frost Begonia Society: Refreshments are served, and plants are available for purchase. 7-9 p.m. every first Wednesday of the month. Fernwood Mobile Home Park Clubhouse, 10550 Western Ave., Stanton. 714-816-0717 or

Thursday, Dec. 7

The Saddleback Valley Bromeliad Society: Meetings include a member plant show and tell, guest speaker presentation, bromeliad raffle and auction, as well as supplies for sale. 7 p.m. first Thursday of each month. Norman P. Murray Community Center, 24932 Veterans Way, Mission Viejo. 949-351-4770 or

Saturday, Dec. 9

Winter wreaths: Nancy Claxto will demo how to make a winter wreath from fresh greens. Fee includes materials and handouts. RSVP by Dec. 7. $20. 9:30 a.m. 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa. 714-708-1500 or

Holiday décor and table arrangements: Join garden design expert Kelly from The Nursery to learn how to create nature inspired holiday decor into your home, holiday table and outdoor space. Free. 10 a.m. 7000 Marine Way, Irvine. 949-581-2085 or

Garden inspired Christmas cards: Join local artist Carol Kreider for a relaxed morning spent painting in the Gardens. This class will focus on how to paint simple holiday designs using watercolors. Everyone will take home a set of unique holiday cards. Pre-registration required. 10 a.m. $35-45. 2647 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar. 949-673-2261 or

Celebration of winter at Roger’s Gardens: Join Creative Director Eric Cortina as he demonstrates a natural approach to holiday decorating. Discover his insider trade secrets on how to create the perfect holiday dinner party. Also, watch and learn new and creative ways to embellish wreaths, garlands, and fresh floral arrangements for the Christmas season. Free. 9-10 a.m. 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar. 949-640-5800 or

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Farm-City Banquet Celebrates County’s Agriculture





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How to use ash from your wood stove in the garden

Question: I have a wood stove and generate a lot of ashes this time of year. Is it OK to put wood ash in the garden, compost or lawn?

Answer: Wood ash contains most of the 13 essential nutrients that the soil supplies for plant growth. When wood burns, it gives off nitrogen and sulfur as gasses. But calcium, potassium, magnesium and other trace elements don’t volatilize; they remain with the ash. Some of what is left in the ash include carbonates and oxides. These are valuable liming agents that can raise pH and help neutralize acid soils.

The nutrients in and volume of wood ash depends on the type of wood you are burning. Hardwoods produce about three times the ash and five times the nutrients per cord as softwoods. A cord of oak provides enough potassium for a garden 60 by 70 feet. A cord of Douglas fir ash supplies enough potassium for a garden 30 by 30 feet.

Both hardwood and softwood ash will reduce soil acidity slightly. Since soils west of the Cascades tend to be slightly acid and low in potassium, wood ash can be beneficial to most garden plants if used judiciously. 

Wood ash is alkaline (caustic), which means it has a high pH level. Do not use it if your soil is alkaline. 

Quite a number of plant groups, those that evolved in alkali or calcium-rich environments, will benefit from ash including apples, figs and pears; bulbs; broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and collards; rosemary; Oriental poppies; deciduous vines, such as Chinese mountain yam; and alkaline-loving shrubs, including lilacs and lavender.

I don’t recommend using wood ash in your compost. I have found that if I add much wood ash at all to my compost piles, that my red-wiggler worm population tends to drop off precipitously. 

Carol Savonen is a naturalist and writer. She is an associate professor emeritus at OSU and tends a large garden in the Coast Range Hills west of Philomath with her husband and dogs. She can be reached at or c/o: EESC, 422 Kerr Admin. Bldg., OSU, Corvallis, OR 97331.

MORE:Find more local garden tips from Carol Savonen

Using wood ash safely

Use the same precautions when using wood ash as when handling other strongly alkaline materials, such as household bleach. Here are some safety tips from the OSU Extension Service: 

  • Wear eye protection, gloves and a dust mask. 
  • Do not scatter ashes in the wind. Apply recommended amounts to moist soil, and rake lightly to mix.  
  • Do not use ash from burning trash, cardboard, coal or pressure-treated, painted or stained wood. These materials can contain potentially harmful substances. For example, the glue in cardboard boxes and paper bags contains boron, an element that can inhibit plant growth if found in excessive levels.
  • Do not use wood ash where potatoes will be planted, as it encourages scab disease, or on acid-loving plants such as conifers, mountain laurels, camellias, oaks, strawberries, caneberries, blueberries, azaleas or rhododendrons.    
  • Never leave wood ash in lumps or piles. If it is concentrated in one place, excessive salt from the ash can leach into the soil and create a harmful environment for plants.
  • Do not apply ash at time of seeding. Ash contains too many salts for seedlings. 
  • Do not add ash with nitrogen fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate (21-0-0-24S), urea (46-0-0) or ammonium nitrate (34-0-0). These fertilizers lose their nitrogen as ammonia gas when mixed with high pH materials such as wood ash. For a lawn, wait at least a month after wood ash application before applying nitrogen fertilizer. This will allow time for the soil to reduce the alkalinity of the wood ash.

More: Not all Master Gardeners start out as expert gardeners

More: How to get your amaryllis bulbs to rebloom

More: How to grow artichokes in the Pacific Northwest


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There’s still work to be done GARDEN TIPS


OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer


Temperatures are dipping, and leaves are still falling, so there’s still work to be done in the garden.

It’s been a tough, wet fall for many of us to get the last-minute chores done. I think many of us will have Christmas lights up before we’re done in the garden. That’s especially true if you have oak trees. They are beautiful all year, but those trees are some of the last to drop leaves.

Be sure to take advantage of each nice day. There is still time to tackle last-minute garden cleanup in preparation for the deep freeze.

Making a last pass at the lawn and leaves provides valuable material for the compost pile and it reduces the potential for snow mold.

The shorter the grass is – 2 to 3 inches – when it stops growing, the less likely it is to mat down which encourages snow-mold development.

Shipping pallets are a great way of setting up bays in which to place the mulched leaves and grass to begin the decomposition process.

Flying HIGH Urban Farm, a local community garden located on the grounds of the old Cafaro Hospital near Youngstown’s Wick Park on the North Side, uses a nine-bay compost system.

Using pallets to create three-sided walls and corrugated cardboard to cover the piles to keep the decomposition process “hot,” are the beginnings of great compost take place.

If you don’t have that much space, the Mahoning County Green Team provides low-cost single units through their composting programs.

Another resourceful use of leaves is achieved by packing leaves around perennials/hydrangeas and covering with a bucket or container with a brick on top.

Creating holiday containers is a great way to use some natural decorations to spruce up your empty flower boxes.

Evergreen cuttings, pinecones, and cattail heads serve as decorative insulators on the tops of containers with bulbs planted in them. Embellish these with festive holiday decor, including painted, dried hydrangea blooms, painted white sticks and even lights.

Harvest herbs that survived the early freeze for future use by storing in tied bundles upside down in a dry, cool place.

If you have saved any squash from the freezes, the University of Wisconsin Extension has a wonderful storage chart for wintering vegetables.

Cleaning pots and gardening tools with a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach to 1-gallon water ensures that disease will not spread to new plants/bulbs in spring. Use dish-cleaning brushes or old toothbrushes and a baking soda paste to help. Clean your bird feeders and birdbaths. Follow up with a solution of vinegar and water. Store pots and birdbaths in a safe, dry place to prevent cracking.

Check out for the 2017 Garden Calendar on November/December cleanup. Another great online resource is

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5 tips for picking the perfect Christmas tree

2. Choose the right type of tree for you

What type of tree is best for you depends largely on personal preference as well as what thrives and is available in your area. Here’s an overview of common U.S. tree types from the National Christmas Tree Association:


White pine

The National Christmas Tree Association

WHITE PINE: The largest pine in the U.S., the white pine has soft, flexible needles and is bluish-green in color. Needles are 2½ to 5 inches long. White pines have good needle retention, but have little aroma. They aren’t recommended for heavy ornaments.

WHITE SPRUCE: The white spruce is excellent for ornaments; its short, stiff needles are ½- to ¾-inch long and have a blunt tip. They are bluish-green to green in color, but have a bad aroma when needles are crushed. They have excellent foliage color and have a good, natural shape. The needle retention is better in a white spruce than it is among other spruces.

FRASER FIR: The Fraser fir branches turn slightly upward. They have good form and needle-retention. They are dark blue-green in color. They have a pleasant scent and excellent shipping characteristics.


Fraser Fir

The National Christmas Tree Association

COLORADO BLUE SPRUCE: Often used for stuffing pine-pillows, these sharp needles are 1 to 1½ inches in length. This species is bluish-gray in color. Needles have an unpleasant odor when crushed. This Christmas tree has good symmetrical form and an attractive blue foliage. It also has good needle retention.

CONCOLOR FIR: These small, narrow needles are around 1 to 1½ inches in length and occur in rows. They have good foliage color, good needle retention, and a pleasing shape and aroma.

DOUGLAS-FIR: These soft needles are dark green to blue green in color and are approximately 1 to 1 ½ inches in length. Douglas fir needles radiate in all directions from the branch. When crushed, these needles have a sweet fragrance. They are one of the top major Christmas tree species in the U.S.

BALSAM FIR: These needles are ¾ to 1½ inches in length and last a very long time. This tree has a dark-green appearance and retains its pleasing fragrance throughout the Christmas season.


Balsam Fir

The National Christmas Tree Association

SCOTCH PINE: Approximately 1 inch in length, these needles don’t even fall when they’re dry, providing excellent needle retention. The color is a bright green. A common Christmas tree in the U.S., the scotch pine has an excellent survival rate, is easy to replant, has great keepability and will remain fresh throughout the holiday season.

NOBLE FIR: These needles turn upward, exposing the lower branches. Known for its beauty, the noble fir has a long keepability, and its stiff branches make it a good tree for heavy ornaments, as well as providing excellent greenery for wreaths and garland.

LEYLAND CYPRESS: The most popular Christmas tree in the southeast, the Leyland cypress is dark green-gray in color and has very little aroma. Because it is not in the pine or fir family, it does not produce sap, so those with an allergy to sap can still enjoy a Leyland as their Christmas tree.

VIRGINIA PINE: These branches are stout and woody and respond very well to trimming. The tree is small to medium in size and its foliage becomes extremely dense. Aside from being a good nesting site for woodpeckers, the Virginia pine continues to be one of the more popular Christmas tree in the south.

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