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Archives for December 6, 2017

Get Growing: A lot of care and planning goes into those holiday poinsettias

Special to the Reading Eagle: Gloria Day | A new color, Autumn Leaves, arrived for Thanksgiving.

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What makes holiday lighting franchise Christmas Decor tick?

Photo: Christmas Decor

Holiday lighting is one of the most popular services to add when trying to keep workers employed during the shoulder season, and Christmas Decor is probably one of the most recognizable names tied to Christmas lights, as its franchises can be found across the country.

But how did the company even get started?

Christmas Decor was born out of necessity in 1986 when founder and CEO Blake Smith needed an off-season supplement to his landscaping business in Lubbock, Texas, so that he could avoid laying off employees and maintain cash flow during the winter.

“We had grown to a size to where we had trucks, trailers, equipment, employees,” said Brandon Stephens, president of The Decor Group. “We couldn’t just scale back to nothing during the wintertime. We wanted to maintain some type of a cash flow during the winter, so we tried a number of different services and product sales during the winter season. We found that holiday decorating was a service that people wanted and that they were willing to pay good money for, and it fit us pretty well seasonally.”

Eventually the holiday lighting service became the most profitable part of the company, and Christmas Decor got out of the landscaping business. It now has several brands under The Decor Group, including Nite Time Decor, which offers low voltage landscape lighting, and Barcana, which sells specialty products like Christmas trees, figurines and commercial ornaments.

It was 10 years later in 1996 when Christmas Decor started franchising.

“He (Smith) started experimenting in different markets and found that it (holiday lighting) was something that really resonated in every market,” Stephens said. “The best way to scale up quickly was franchising. So, we wanted to provide the system and support and everything else and just help other contractors help fulfill a need, and we just found it was the best way to scale it up.”

Christmas Decor can now be found in about 325 markets in 49 states and Canada. Hawaii is the only state the company has not been able to break into due to unique logistical challenges, but it would love to add an operator out there.

The company believes there are about 800 available territories in the country and that number is growing every year. It tries to add between 25 to 40 new franchises a year, and in some cities there can be seven or eight franchises functioning within them.

Franchises average a little over $200,000 in gross revenue, but certain businesses make close to $3 million in just the short span of 75 days, according to Stephens.

When it comes to who can become a Christmas Decor franchisee, size doesn’t matter.

Photo: Christmas Decor

“We have some very strong operators that have three to four employees,” Stephens said. “We have franchises that have 200 employees, so it really runs the gamut.”

Stephens says that he likes to look for consistency and character when meeting with a potential new franchisee. They look at a company’s background to see if they are stable and have a good track record in operations. By ensuring that only quality companies are joining the franchise network, Christmas Decor is able to maintain consistent professionalism across the country.

The base franchise fee is $9,900, and then there is an adjustable territory fee that is based on the size of the territory given to the company.

“We take that territory fee,” Stephens said. “We take the lion’s share of it, about 90 percent of it, and we reinvest that into their lead generation program in their first year.”

Stephens advises for those interested in becoming a franchisee to have a little bit of cash on hand or good banking relationships so they can withstand the initial investment, and then have some money for inventory.

“Often times they have a lot of the trucks and the trailers and the equipment that they need but there may be some additional things that they need, so money to invest is another staple,” Stephen said.

Once a company has joined the franchise network, they spend five days training and learning everything there is to know about the business.

“Everything from product introduction to how to not design displays, how to market, how to sell, how to install,” Stephens said. “We do some field training. We’ve developed our own custom industry software, so it’s a business management software where we have a day of training on that.”

Christmas Decor provides franchisees with all the materials they need to market and sell and are also assigned a franchise consultant for everything they may need from a support standpoint.

“We understand that you’re not going to retain everything that you hear at the five-day training, so it’s an ongoing process,” Stephens said. “We have a private intranet system, where franchisees only can log in, and we have a full selection of training videos, recorded webinars, all types of sales tools, business models, pricing, really everything that they need to be in the business.”

Despite the window of opportunity for Christmas lighting being a rather short one, it is a yearlong operation at Christmas Decor. Much like how Santa and his elves start on next year’s toys the day after Christmas, those at Christmas Decor start procuring lights for next December following the holiday.

“We look at last year’s experience, last year’s products and we make any adjustments that we need to make,” Stephens said. “We bring in new products, develop new relationships with factories. We revise educational programs, all of our support programs, sort of retool for the big issues that came up during the 2017 season so we can implement solutions in the 2018 season.”

In February, a survey is sent out to franchisees and in July, Christmas Decor holds its annual conference where franchisees gather for three days of education, networking and new products.

As the market continues to grow on both the commercial and residential sides, one of Christmas Decor’s challenges is still maintaining market share with the larger market.

Photo: Christmas Decor

According to client surveys, a majority are buying the service out of convenience but also due to reliable results.

“Our model is designed to be a hassle-free experience for the client,” Stephens said.

Stephens credits Christmas Decor’s success on three main elements.

“Number one is just the collection of best practices and whenever you have a network there’s an environment where we freely trade ideas, and we kind of scrape the good ones off of the top and we implement those,” he said.

The second key to success Stephens lists is how the company is continually improving its systems and keeping up with trends and what’s going on in the network.

“Number three is making these franchisees a priority, not only are we in business with these people, we genuinely care about them,” he said. “Some of them, we have lifelong friendships with, and we’re always looking out for them and what’s best for the franchisees is generally best for us.”

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Ball State students make presentation on concepts for downtown, square

Enjoying music on a warm summer evening at a concert venue at the newly renovated One Chamber Square downtown.

Walking through an alley in downtown Seymour with art murals and interactive music displays.

Turning down Chestnut Street to see an iron Seymour sign and landscaping in the middle of the street.

Those are just some of the ideas and concepts students in Dr. Peter J. Ellery’s landscape architecture class at Ball State University came up with over this semester for downtown Seymour.


Those concepts, which were split into three groups, were presented to the community Monday afternoon at the Jackson County Visitor Center in Seymour.

The idea was to show everyone some of the ideas the students came up with and to give local organizations a blueprint for what the future of Seymour may look like.

Becky Schepman, executive director of Seymour Main Street, said the organization was looking at ways to give One Chamber Square at Chestnut Street and St. Louis Avenue a simple update.

With the city’s newest park under construction nearby along Tipton Street, Schepman said plans changed to come up with more creative ideas for One Chamber Square.

To aid the effort, board members suggested contacting Ellery because of his ties to Jackson County.

Ellery is related to Arann Banks, executive director of the Jackson County Visitor Center, so Schepman reached out, and he expressed interest in using his class to help. His students came up with four concept plans in the fall of 2016 for the Medora Brick Plant.

Schepman said she was impressed with the level of commitment Ellery and the class took to come up with the three concepts.

“I was impressed because they came down here and spent several days talking to all the business owners and walked around asking for ideas, met with me and my board and different stakeholders,” she said. “You could tell they were really vested in it.”

Music was the focal point of each of the three concepts because of Seymour native and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Mellencamp, group members said.

Schepman said she resonated with the music theme because it is a great marketing tool for the downtown, and the concepts helped give her a visual of what the areas could become.

“They were able to give me visuals and see what could actually happen with the different spaces,” she said. “Seeing the way they connect alleys to different parts of town to get people walking and all that was great.”

Erin Solis, a graduate student that presented with one of the three groups, is a 2003 Brownstown Central High School graduate. Her group focused on Chestnut Street and other alleyways downtown.

As a county native, Solis said she had a unique perspective when coming up with concepts for the proposal.

“It’s been really neat, and I never thought I’d do something like this and never realize when I was a kid growing up here, never thought about making the improvements,” she said following the presentation. “Having that connection here was really nice.”

Solis will graduate in May with a degree in landscape design and hopes to join a firm that also has ties to Seymour.

Solis interned with HWC Engineering, a Terre Haute-based firm that designed the new park currently being constructed in downtown Seymour.

“I have a close connection with them and hope to work with them further in landscape architecture,” she said.

Solis said the most interesting part of the project was digging deeper into Seymour’s history and the downtown district.

“It was an opportunity for me to research the area where I’m from,” she said.

The next step for Seymour Main Street is to decide the concepts or parts of concepts that might be pursued.

Schepman said city officials and board members attended Monday’s presentation and are thinking about what could be done from the projects.

“I know the city engineer (Nathan Frey) was here, and he said there were many ideas that were feasible for our city,” she said, adding board members also shared feedback. “It’s great that we’re already talking about what sticks out to us.”

Schepman said the Seymour Main Street design board now plans to meet and break down each project and discuss what they would like to see happen in the downtown.

“We need to get together and discuss what we actually can do,” she said.

Schepman said the board has its sights set on a $600,000 Community Development Block Grant for main street revitalization for streetscape through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

“That’s what we’re looking at now, streetscape,” she said.

Dr. Nathan Otte, who is involved in Vision 2025, a group dedicated to shaping the city’s future, said he was excited to see Seymour Main Street looking for ways to improve the city’s downtown.

“It’s exciting to see our community leaders take these steps to move Seymour forward,” he said, adding the plans showed a balance of keeping Seymour’s historic elements while giving it a fresh, updated look for the future. “These presentations showed us a redeveloped downtown that preserved its historic integrity while creating a gathering place for residents and a destination for visitors.”

Schepman said each of the concept plans from Ball State students will be posted on the Seymour Main Street website,

The concept plans for One Chamber Square and downtown Seymour developed by Ball State University students will be posted on the Seymour Main Street website,

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Upside Downtown: Local Leaders Share Ideas for Revitalizing Keene’s Main Street Corridor

When people talk about downtown Keene, they use words like “vibrant,” and “vital.”

But then comes the hesitation, the implied “but …” Keene has plenty of city spirit, pride, talent and ideas. But …

Whether it’s the dreaded downtown parking crunch or empty storefronts standing as gaping reminders that retail isn’t what it used to be, Keene has some challenges when it comes to moving forward to become all that it could be. But there’s good news: It’s working on it.

“Everybody recognizes, I think, that Main Street and downtown is kind of the core of our community, the heart of downtown,” says John G. “Jack” Dugan, president of the Monadnock Economic Development Corp. “Downtowns always evolve, and the city has been trying to get ahead of the curve in the age of Amazon, as people say, to see what downtown can be and how do we keep it vital. … The neat thing is we have a nice downtown, so we’re not starting from scratch.”


Downtown Keene is no stranger to change, says Mayor Kendall W. Lane. But it’s been nearly 30 years since the city has undertaken major renovations. Back in the 1980s, the city looked much different. The sidewalks were lousy with trip hazard heaves, storefronts were boarded up, and upper levels of buildings sat empty and unused. There wasn’t even any landscaping downtown to speak of, as that sort of thing just wasn’t done back in those days, Lane explains.

It was about this time, Lane says, that Hans Klunder, a planner with Dartmouth College’s Urban Renewal Program, came to the city with an idea: Turn downtown into a giant pedestrian mall.

“This became known as ‘Klunder’s Blunder,’ ” says Lane. “Needless to say, that was a wakeup call. There was work that needed to be done, and we needed to do it.”

Between 1983 and 1984, Lane, along with other members of the community, formed a committee to study the downtown. In that year, the team brought its plan for downtown to the city, and it was a go. Lane says the city eventually spent about $2.5 million on renovations that included ripping out and rebuilding the sidewalks, adding trees and landscaping, creating bump outs for crosswalks and eliminating some of the four lanes of traffic that existed back then.

What the team didn’t envision or plan for in the redesign were shifts in the way people live now, compared with back then.

Therein lies some of the basis for the challenges Keene faces. Retail was king at the time of that last downtown remodel. People came downtown to shop, whether it was for food, clothing or supplies. But in the ensuing years — due to the internet generally, and Amazon in particular — some of those patterns have changed.

As Lane describes it, downtown Keene has to be more things to more people than it used to be. It houses the city government and social services. It’s a place where people commute to, but also where people actually live. The city has an older population but plays host to two institutions of higher education. Further, Lane says, expectations are different. People tend to want a downtown that has plenty of options for dining, arts and entertainment. But they also want recreation and green space.

“We ask our downtown to do a lot,” says Lane. “And we have to try to accommodate all the different uses that are going on in downtown.”

Not only that, says newly-minted City Manager Elizabeth Dragon, but pedestrian and vehicular movement patterns have changed since the downtown core was designed in the ’80s. For example, she says, outdoor eating has become popular, but Keene doesn’t have the sidewalk space to readily accommodate it. In addition, she says, as the community has encouraged healthy activities over the years — such as walking and biking — it hasn’t been able to really integrate those activities well in the downtown core.


This is further complicated by finding funds to do anything about all this.

“Communicating and getting public buy-in,” notes Dragon, “is always a challenge with large projects.”

But that’s not stopping people from trying and, in many cases, succeeding. Dugan, who was named Entrepreneur of the Year at the CONNECT event, points to the examples of the Monadnock Food Co-op, which he says serves 1,000 shoppers a day; Southwestern Community Services, with all its employees, moving to the Railroad Street corridor; the expansion of MoCo Arts; the conversion of the Colony Mill Marketplace into housing; and the construction of a new building for MoCo Arts and an apartment complex near the old Keene Middle School.

Further, he says, non-retail businesses in the area have been moving in and expanding. Dugan points to People’s Linen; the success of Precitech and Janos Technology; and the relocation of a portion of Bensonwood to Keene.

In July, Gov. Chris Sununu was among those who toured Samson Manufacturing Corp.’s new 55,000-square-foot facility at 32 Optical Ave.

Further, local groups, such as the Keene Downtown Group, led by business owner Tracy Keating-Gunn, have been creating and looking for opportunities to provide fun festivities and shopping events to encourage people to head downtown.

But, there isn’t any one single solution to revitalize downtown, notes Dugan.

“We need to recruit more businesses to continue to create more jobs,” he says. “(We also need) more entertainment, more arts, maintaining and even expanding the boutique retail opportunities in downtown, more service businesses on the upper floors — because of course, that gets people onto Main Street with money in their pockets — and then all of that wrapped up in the aesthetic: What can we do to make it more attractive, more safe; what can we do to make it more inviting downtown?”


Cue the revitalization groups. For the past few years, the city has held sessions and workshops to get ideas for Keene’s future straight from the people who live or work here. Also, several other committees and ad hoc groups — including the downtown group made up of retailers and the Keene Revitalization Committee — have formed to study specific issues, as well as the broader revitalization picture.

“Taking a fresh look at the downtown area allows for the opportunity to not only design safer pedestrian and vehicular movements but to also design for and encourage business and other activities,” Dragon wrote in an email interview with The Business Journal. “Revitalizing the downtown allows us to look at ways to address these topics, and more, while creating an even more attractive environment for businesses to operate and thrive.”

Further, she notes, it’s the city’s hope that with a well-designed plan in hand, it will be able to pursue grant funds, private contributions and partnerships to help get started on these projects.

If downtown revitalization ideas were dollars, the city would be all set and then some. In broad strokes, these ideas include expanding the concept of downtown Keene to include areas outside of just Main Street as well as defining just what the community wants downtown to be.

One way to get there might be found in neighborhood branding, an idea proposed by City Councilor George S. Hansel as part of an installation at this year’s CONNECT event.

The goal of neighborhood branding is to build a sense of pride among residents and to take a proactive role in developing the neighborhood’s image. This requires building a positive image that helps attract and retain residents and businesses, but also aids in generating the required investments of time, money and government attention that are needed to achieve a neighborhood’s goals, he says.

“New York City has really done a great job with this — to the point where visitors from around the world get a clear image of what a neighborhood is about, just by hearing the name: SoHo, TriBeCa, DUMBO, NoLIta, NoMad are all examples of cleverly named neighborhoods and brands that exist within the greater New York City area,” says Hansel. “Just about every organization devotes a lot of time and energy to branding and marketing; neighborhoods should take it just as seriously.”

At its core though, the process needs to be organic and grassroots, he says, and works best when the residents have a hand in developing it.

And Keene already has an example of this, Hansel says, with the Marlboro Street corridor. The brand for that area, according to Hansel, has been very different over the years as it’s shifted from primarily industrial to more retail, then to mixed use.

“Sometimes the brand for an area can take on a life of its own, especially with events such as the displacement of single-family homes with college housing, or the loss of an anchor business,” Hansel says. “This doesn’t mean the brand is totally out of control and should be left to its own devices. If you don’t define yourself, someone will certainly do it for you, and you may not like the result.”

Other recurring ideas include transitioning empty buildings and vacant lots into living/work spaces for artists or even small businesses.

One suggestion to come out of the CONNECT event is to create the Beaver Brook Art Gallery and Community Block. This would include opening a gallery, along with living and work space for artists, musicians and other performers in a refurbished industrial building on the east side of downtown.

If something like that took place at, say, the empty Kingsbury building near Marlboro Street, that might lend itself to the city creating a riverwalk and greenway connecting that corridor to the Main Street area.

Complementing that could be another notion cooked up for the CONNECT event, which envisions juried sculptures — selected by a panel of arts, business and community leaders and created by artists throughout the United States — lining the streets of downtown. Or perhaps, that riverwalk.


Mayor Lane says he also envisions making a place on Main Street for bicyclists to use downtown. And while that might take up some precious driving real estate, that in and of itself might end up being a good thing, as narrower driving lanes necessarily slow traffic.

Dragon has similar leanings in her visions for downtown, saying she, too, would like to see downtown be more pedestrian- and bike-friendly and for it to be done in a way that is safer than it is now.

“If people feel safe and can move around easily, they are more likely to frequent the downtown area,” she says. “It would also be great to incorporate a design that includes spaces for outdoor dining so that we can support and encourage this type of activity.”

Along those lines, Lane says he’d like to see the parking meters removed to create more space for sidewalk cafés, and maybe a rethinking of the current traffic light system around Central Square to make things safer for everyone.


From a business perspective, Keating-Gunn says she’d like to see more coordination with the business community on the part of all the groups looking at revitalizing downtown, as well as some mechanism for the groups to communicate with each other to avoid duplicating efforts.

Going forward, Dragon says, communication and coordination with residents and local businesses will be paramount. Dragon describes her role as working with staff and consultants to coordinate the initial review of downtown and potential changes.

“If a project is identified and supported,” Dragon says, “I will then work with staff and consultants to identify potential funding sources. This includes advocating for Keene to receive grant funds and searching for potential public/private partnerships.”

She also says that part of her job will be getting the word out about Keene, both within and outside the Granite State.

“I also educate others, far and wide, about all the reasons why Keene is a great place to have a business, work and call home,” she says. “I also work with the state office of economic development to make sure they know what a great place Keene is to bring new businesses. When the state is doing their recruitment outreach, I want them to think of Keene first and foremost. So I make sure that they know about the work we are doing locally to make our community even more appealing.”

Melanie Plenda writes from Keene, New Hampshire.

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Salem cineplex plan seeks new life amid cleanup work

SALEM — CW Theaters is cleaning up asbestos in the soil of its Highland Avenue site, with efforts underway to modify and re-present a fresh version of its entertainment complex proposal early next year.

Workers wearing hazmat suits were seen Monday on the site, the former home of Highland Gardens, a landscaping business at 355-373 Highland Ave. Ed Coletta, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the work is part of a monthslong plan by CW Theaters to remove contamination on the property. 

Initially, the cleanup involved about 30 cubic yards of asbestos-contaminated soil, Coletta said, but more contaminated material has been found on the property that will require the company’s current “non-traditional work plan” with the DEP to be adjusted. The site was also recently stripped clean of structures, after it was found that homeless were living in the empty buildings.

Jim Deal, a spokesman with CW Theaters, said illegal dumping had also taken place on the property, and the company “had to have some of that stuff removed.”

The work precedes a revamped plan for the project, although Deal declined to provide details. The previous proposal included a 10-screen movie theater with paired dine-in restaurant, arcade, laser tag and more.

That proposal, despite receiving support from the city, saw heated opposition from neighbors, many of whom were concerned with how the project would affect traffic on Highland Avenue. The road, a cut-through between Marblehead and Swampscott roads, already sees backups daily.

Many have also viewed the project, which was proposed almost three years ago, as a nonstarter. Ward 3 City Councilor Steve Lovely, during his unsuccessful run for re-election this fall, even vowed to “keep it from rising from the grave” if he received a second term.

Instead, the project is “actually moving along,” Deal said. 

“We’re still hopeful it can happen in the near future,” Deal said of the project. “We have made some changes to make the theater a little more luxurious, which I think helps the traffic situation.”

The announcement, he said, will come sometime “in the new year.”

The cleanup going on right now is a necessary step to that end, according to Coletta. While asbestos is more typically an issue in old buildings and structures being demolished, it can be found in soil where it was mishandled.

“In order to move forward,” he said, “as far as construction at the site is concerned, they have to deal with the contamination.”

This served as a sort of verification of rumors for Tim Flynn, Ward 4 city councilor-elect. Flynn has been active since winning in the Nov. 7 election to stay abreast of ward issues and pass information on to his soon-to-be constituents. CW Theaters has been a big part of that, he said.

“I’ve been going by every day,” Flynn said of the CW Theaters site. “I always stop.”

Flynn said he remains opposed to the project, highlighting concerns he has over traffic from the project, the addition of a traffic light on the already besieged state roadway and more. But he said he hopes to bring the company together with neighbors to talk details soon, he said.

That comes after several other projects across the city have done the same — meeting with neighbors and tweaking plans to make them more appealing before submitting them formally.

For CW Theaters, Flynn said he hopes that more details come out soon.

“I want the neighbors to be informed about what’s going on there,” Flynn said. “If the owner does want to proceed with the project, he’s going to want to talk to people right away — immediately.”

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or Follow him on Facebook at or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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Deterring Deer from your Garden and Landscape

By: Patrick Troyer, Education Specialist

One fact that everyone knows is that there are plenty of deer roaming around Ohio. We most often meet these creatures of nature on the roadways with our cars, but that is certainly not the only place they are seen. Anybody that has a yard bordering a woodland knows all too well that deer are a common visitor to these areas as well. You might think they are just lurking around, but they are actually doing some damage especially in your garden and landscaping.

Have you ever looked out and seen the plants in your garden nibbled away but cannot seem to figure out who is to blame? There is a rather good chance it was a deer who is at fault. Deer damage is certainly not a new phenomenon plaguing gardeners and landscapers but it seems we are hearing more and more about it nowadays, but why? At every turn, you see new roads and homes popping up which is replacing what was once a natural habitat for the deer. With these expansions, we are seeing more deer show up in areas that humans are relocating to.

According to Michigan State University (MSU) deer find just as much enjoyment foraging for food in your yard as they do in their natural woodland habitat and may even like the plants you have even better than their normal diet! Normally, deer prefer corn, alfalfa, grass, twigs, and leaves as part of their natural diet. What is it that we plant that they like better? How do we prevent them from eating our plants? Let’s take a look at the deer’s behavior to get a better understanding of the plants they love and ways we can prevent damage from them.

So let’s first take a look at some of the plants that are attracting the deer to your backyard. Michigan State University writes that feeding on plants will generally take place during the nighttime hours but it can also can also occur at any point on a host of plants when they are hungry. While many are apt to think that there are well defined plants which deer dislike, it is important to know that there is not one plant which is completely “deer proof”. Geography also plays a part in the plants that deer prefer, so that is another consideration to make. Lastly, one factor to take into account is that each plant species has different levels of damage which they can tolerate that will not outright kill the plant.

Michigan State University notes that many native cedars such as American Arborvitae, ornamental shrubs such as roses, as well as herbaceous plants who don’t lose leaves during the winter such as coral bells are favorites of deer while they are feeding during the winter months. As spring comes along, tulips, daylilies, and newly planted annuals are fair game for the deer. MSU writes that when summer rolls along the males (bucks) will move to woody plants, not necessarily for eating, but when they are in “velvet” to rub off the dried blood as their antlers are developing. It is not uncommon to see spots on trunks with scars that are two inches or more wide, which can damage the strength of the woody plant structure.

Repellents are available that can help to deter the deer from damaging your gardens and landscaping. There are a host of repellants available either via homemade or commercially available remedies. Most repellents are sold either as a smell deterrent or a bad taste for the deer. According to Michigan State University, most repellents contain capsicum pepper, putrid egg shells, and with garlic which can be grouped with motion-sensing noise-makers that give the message that your landscaping or garden is not a welcome location.

It is important to know that with any repellants used with any animal species that there is not going to be guaranteed effectiveness. Things like lawn irrigation or rainfall can dilute the repellants. Animals can get used to the repellent to the extent that it may not have an effect on them which is why Michigan State says it is a good idea to rotate your repellants between a bad taste, noise, or scent options. It is important to also keep the repellant freshly stocked in order for it to be effective. Once deer encounter these repellants enough times, it is common to see their traffic patterns change.

One additional option to help with deer damage is choosing the right plant species. According to Michigan State, deer will defer from plants that are fuzzy, coarse foliage like ferns, and also leaves or stems with foul odors or spines. Also of dislike to the deer are many ornamental grasses, ferns, and lavender. When it comes to trees and shrubs, Michigan State says that deer will steer away from pines, spruces, cypresses, and boxwood trees.

Another option to consider is possibly physical barriers such as wraps, netting, or perhaps some small fencing. This may be something to consider especially if there are newly planted trees in your landscaping. As more people start living in areas where animals are found, encounters are simply bound to happen. The key is understanding that animals are simply trying to find food and survive just like humans are also doing.

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Sunshine Farmers reap skills from landscaping project

SUNSHINE Beach State High School Special Education Unit has completed impressive works at Sunshine Butterflies’ new home, called Our Backyard, as part of a skills-training program: Sunshine Farmers.

The hard-working group of 10 Sunshine Beach SEU students has been working all year on various projects around Our Backyard as a community contribution to the charity.

Sunshine Farmers is a weekly skills-based education program, which is coordinated by landscape designer Damien Walsh, from Sunshine Gardens Landscaping and Maintenance.

The Sunshine Farmers program allows students with special needs the opportunity to access training and education to build skills, confidence and experience for their future after high school.

The program is seen as a great opportunity for students to get involved and feel valued at a community level as they contribute to a worthy cause.

Sunshine Butterflies founder Leanne Walsh said the organisation valued the partnership with Sunshine Beach State High School.

“The eager group of students have learnt and achieved so much this year at Our Backyard,” she said.

The group hase completed bridges, dry creek beds, garden chairs and various native landscaping activities at the two-hectare education and recreation facility in Cooroibah.

Teacher Sean Lennox said it was wonderful to see the students grow and learn new skills while working on a community project from which many community members would benefit.

For more details on the program, contact 5470 2830 or

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6 Tips for Throwing an Unforgettable Holiday Party, According to Bergdorf’s Decor Mastermind

So, you want to throw a party. Although the holidays are the most wonderful time of year, they’re also the busiest—both socially and stress-wise. When you’re juggling your own endless to-do list, and your guests already have a mailbox stuffed with seasonal soiree invites, how do you make your event a December night to remember?

Vogue turned to David Monn, an interior designer and event planner who has masterminded everything from an Obama White House state dinner to Bergdorf Goodman’s holiday decor, for his expert advice. Below, six holiday party ideas and advice that will have guests reminiscing for years to come.

Ditch the Theme

Put that ugly Christmas sweater into storage (or if you bought one of those elf-man rompers, do us all a favor and burn it entirely). Monn says that your holiday party not only doesn’t need a theme, it shouldn’t have one. “I am not a theme person,” he says. “Use who you are, and what your favorite things are, as opposed to saying, ‘We are going to have a German Christmas market feel,’ because it doesn’t have anything to do with you. It could be chic and fun and cool, but it won’t ring true.”

Case in point: Monn once threw a party centered around a Virginia ham. Why? Because he loves Virginia ham. And enthusiasm, as the old saying goes, was contagious. “It was one of the most successful parties I’ve ever thrown,” he says.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

People go to a party because yes, there’s free food and drinks. But they also want to see, and spend time, with the host. So make sure not to put too much on your plate (unless it’s Christmas cookies) and enjoy your own party.

But when the doorbell is ringing nonstop and everyone’s asking a million and one questions about where to put their coat, that’s easier said than done. An easy hack? Prepared foods, says Monn.

Now, Monn is not suggesting that you avoid your grandmother’s famous meat loaf—if that recipe is important to you, stick to it. But take the Virginia ham party. While Monn cooked the ham himself, he ordered in his macaroni and cheese from Beechers.“If I can order in something that somebody else has perfected, that’s the magic, right?” Monn says.

But Monn isn’t suggesting you must have food from a fancy caterer or gourmet restaurant. Take another one of his go-tos: “I make, and have made, amazing fried chicken. But there is no one who makes fried chicken better than Popeyes,” he says. “I have no problem serving Popeyes at a buffet of an evening that I really want people to have really great chicken.”

Lose the LED Lights

Monn doesn’t mince words. “LED lighting is, to me, the end of the world of light as we know it,” he says. It’s not merely preference, it is scientific—human bodies respond better to combustible flames (many lamps used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder have infrared lights, for example).

“There is absolutely not one single person that cannot feel the difference when you are in a room that has an incandescent bulb versus a room that has LED or fluorescent,” Monn explains. So, instead of hanging sterile white Christmas lights, he uses lots and lots of candles. “We can all recall a time we sat in front of a fireplace, and a candle flame at a table, and were truly put into a trance by a single flame. That is its power.”

Don’t Forget Smell and Sound

There’s always a lot of emphasis put on decor. And although decking the halls is indeed important, Monn says, there are two other senses that our body responds to well before sight: smell and sound.

“If you are walking down the street and see the most beautiful garden you’ve ever seen, and you hear jackhammers, you aren’t in that garden anymore,” he says. “The visual will not give you a feeling. It will give you something to see, but it will not give you feeling,” he says. And without a feeling, there’s no experience—the golden achievement of any event.

So, don’t forget to dust the room with a wintry scent and set some mood music. Your guests will thank you for it.

Let Go of the Christmas Clichés

Monn hasn’t used one pinecone this holiday season. In fact, once you ditch the clichés—pinecones, poinsettias, wreaths—“it gives you so much more freedom!”

He’s been experimenting with ivy and bonsai trees, as well as spray-painting. For this year’s decorations at Bergdorf Goodman, he spray-painted objects three different silver hues, and assembled them in large, wintry sculptures.

Monn is, yes, an expert. But his holiday party ideas work for amateurs, too: “Spray-painting is something that anybody can do because there’s no perfection needed,” he says.

He recommends taking things you already have, even if they are out of season or considered cheap—plastic fruit, plastic flowers, paper flowers—and then painting them different shades of the same color, which makes them uniform yet textured.

And don’t forget the most important thing . . .

Pigs in a blanket. Really. “There’s never a good party without pigs in a blanket. I have pigs in a blanket at every single party because there’s not a guy that I know [who doesn’t like them].”

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Peffley: Follow these tips and your poinsettia should flourish

Nothing can lift holiday doldrums like being surrounded by a sea of red poinsettias.

Before Christmas the greenhouses of Ivey Gardens will have supplied 23,000 poinsettias for the Lubbock and eastern New Mexico areas. Many poinsettias for sale locally have been grown in their greenhouses near North Loop 89 and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

The poinsettias in the photo have been growing for several months and are now in the finishing stages for market. Walking into the greenhouses, which are open to the public, is like walking into a blanket of red — a magnificent scene.

The appeal of the poinsettia is its brightly colored upper “leaves,” which botanically are not leaves but rather are modified leaves called bracts. Bracts are the showy structures found just below the actual flowers, which are small, indistinct and yellow. Bracts of poinsettias are most often deep red, but can be pink, orange, pale green, cream, white or marbled.

If you are purchasing a poinsettia for yourself or for gifting, here are some buying guidelines:


• Choose wisely. Poinsettias need space to spread, so be wary of picking plants that are still in paper sleeves and in crowded displays.

• Choose a well-proportioned plant that is 2 ½ times taller than the diameter of the pot and is attractive from all sides.

• Choose a plant with firm stems.

• Choose a plant with dark green foliage all the way down to the soil.

• Choose bracts that are completely colored.

• Protect from temperatures below 50 degrees and from drafts.

• Place in a sunny window in a room with temperatures of 60-70 degrees but not touching cold glass.

• Check moisture daily.

• Water when media in the container is dry on the top; water thoroughly and avoid getting water on the bracts.


• Choose a plant with waterlogged soil.

• Purchase if bracts are incompletely colored and have green edges.

• Choose droopy or wilted plants as they will never recover and may be a sign of root rot.

• Choose a plant with yellowed leaves.

• Allow to stand in water.

Re-bloom poinsettias:

• Maintain indoors until danger from freezes is past.

• Move outdoors when temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees; 70 degrees is ideal.

• Repot and place in filtered light.

• Cut back stems to 8 inches in height. Regular pruning stimulates side branching resulting in a fuller, bushier plant.

• Water regularly.

• Fertilize monthly with a dilute solution of an all-purpose fertilizer.

• Prune for the last time in late September.

• Poinsettia flowering and coloring of bracts is initiated by short days and long nights.

• In October give the plant a completely dark 12-hour period each night by placing in a dark closet or covering plants with lightproof black tarps, bags or boxes. Artificial light or street lamps will disrupt the re-blooming period.

• Maintain as above and you should have a fully colored poinsettia by (next) Christmas.

ELLEN PEFFLEY taught horticulture at the college level for 28 years, 25 of those at Texas Tech, during which time she developed two onion varieties. She is now the sole proprietor of From the Garden, a market garden farmette. You can email her at

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Tips on correctly mulching trees

For years now, I have been telling you not to compost your vegetable garden debris due to the inevitable carry-over of disease and insects. All the while, I have been hiding a compost tumbler in between my evergreens.

It was discovered during a recent thinning out of the forest (actually, I forgot all about it) for more than a few years! But, since I found it, time to get using it again.

If you want to compost, an enclosed system like a barrel is clearly the best.

Let me list the reasons:

1. doesn’t stink.

2. varmints can’t get in.

3. easy to tumble verses a pitchfork.

4. brown gold in two weeks.

5. although not beautiful, not a big messy heap either.

6. more easily creates the heat necessary to kill insects, insect eggs and viruses.

Once you get the barrel half full of compostable stuff, begin your two weeks of tumbling without adding more stuff. Be sure that carbon materials make up the bulk of your mixture. Carbon materials can be shredded like office paper, newspaper (once you are done with my article), dried grass clipping or dried leaves.

If you only have green plant material (nitrogen) in your pile it will just be a big smelly mess. An enclosed barrel at least contains the problems better and breaks down the material quicker.

Mulch on trees

Driving around the region on my weekly outings, I am always looking for inspiration for my articles.

Recently, I spotted trees that were incorrectly mulched, in fact many of them — everywhere! This may not seem like a big issue, but it is!

Mulch material should never be piled, in this case high, around the base of trees.


Incorrectly mulched trees can build homes for unwanted guests such as mice and insects. Photo submitted by Diane Selly

The bottom of the tree trunk where it flares out, is called the buttress. The buttress area should never be buried up or have mulch applied against the trunk which can lead to several cultural issues.

Over time the bark can start to deteriorate and rot. Insects can start to infest as they are always looking for an easy way in. Mice can easily nest in deep piles of mulch and chew on younger trees. Also, tree roots near the trunk sometimes start to emerge out the soil, more likely on older trees.

The best thing you can do? Accept it, and leave it alone. Roots can become exposed for a number of reasons. Just as the trunk puts on layers every year, so do the larger woody roots. Also, as roots grow they are looking for a path of least resistance.

The types of trees most likely to show their roots are silver (soft) maple, poplars and willows. If you simply must cover tree roots, then use bark mulch, as it is more breathable than soil for the tree.

Attempting to bury the roots is not a good idea nor a long term solution. Roots also need oxygen, and burying the roots deeper can restrict access.

Consider the poor tree planted in the middle of a sidewalk (I cringe when I see that). Even though the tree may have a pretty metal grate around it for water, where are the roots to go? So how do you correctly apply mulch, should be simple — right? It is.

First step is to apply landscape fabric or some breathable material around the tree trunk for weed control. You should create an area from two to six feet out from the trunk — the bigger the tree, the bigger the circle to balance it out.

Secure the fabric down with landscape pins. I prefer the metal pins with the flat, circular top that hammer in with two swings. Then apply four to six inches of shredded bark material.

Stones or rock can be used, but when layered too thickly, the weight can cause soil compaction over time. Mulch can be brought up near to the trunk but not touching.

Check periodically through the year that heavy rain (what’s that?) may have shifted your bark around. When it’s time to freshen up the bark, you may have to take the time to rake off the old decaying bark.

If small enough pieces, throw in your newly acquired compost barrel. Then, add the new bark so you are maintaining a 4-6 layer. There is always so much to do in yard, how do we fit work into our schedule? Yardening/gardening is an ongoing process. I already have my must do and hope to do lists ready for next spring!

Stop by Drummers Garden Center for the Winter Farmer’s Markets, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

Remaining Winter Market dates are Dec. 16, Jan. 13 27 and Feb. 10th.

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