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Archives for December 18, 2017

‘A glowing lantern with a bamboo cocoon’ … new Maggie’s centre hides its battle scars well

‘There are way too many glass buildings now, I hate them,” says American architect Steven Holl. He is standing inside his new Maggie’s cancer care centre at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London, a three-storey pavilion clad entirely in glass. But Holl’s glass isn’t any old glass. “It’s more like alabaster,” he says, “or a Japanese paper shoji screen.”

By day the building is opaque, its milky surface echoing the Bath stone of its 18th-century neighbours, only with an extra shimmer, as if covered in a fresh layer of frost. By night it glows like a paper lantern, with random squares of colour in the facade appearing like confetti trapped in a block of ice.

It is a subtle addition to the sober neoclassical stone quadrangle, built by James Gibbs in the 1730s–60s; a hazy apparition that’s barely noticeable from the square, making it hard to believe the design provoked such outrage that it almost didn’t happen.

“Significant harm” is what the Queen’s former gynaecologist Sir Marcus Setchell argued the project would cause, claiming it would inflict “severe detrimental effects on the historic buildings of this, the oldest hospital in Europe.” Representing the Friends of the Great Hall, which looks after the Gibbs building on to which Holl’s glass box has been grafted, he rallied a star-studded cast behind his protest, including Edward Fox, David Starkey, Eileen Atkins and Greg Wise. The campaigners commissioned a rival scheme by Michael Hopkins and even launched a judicial review when the Maggie’s centre was granted permission on its second attempt, scraping through the planning committee by just one vote.

“All these Prince Charles types were calling it a monstrous carbuncle,” says Holl, whose propensity for brash New Yorker braggadocio probably didn’t help matters. “My friends tell me that no new building in London has caused this much controversy since No 1 Poultry,” he adds proudly. The judicial review was dropped when Maggie’s agreed to redesign its staircase, lift and basement loos so they could also be used by the Great Hall (which is hired out for events), revealing the Friends’ objections to be less about an aversion to modern architecture than fears of their future revenue being compromised.

Honey-coloured cocoon … inside the new Maggie’s centre. Photograph: Iwan Baan

Thankfully the battle scars don’t show. Step inside the glass lantern and you’re welcomed into a cocoon of honey-coloured bamboo, framing a broad staircase that wraps its way around a triple-height space, leading to generous open landings and private consultation rooms, crowned with a roof terrace. Fingers of raw concrete rise up the facade at odd angles, forming the structural “bones” of the building over which the translucent wrapper is hung.

A glass-backed elevator faces the exposed facade of Gibbs’ Great Hall, with a strip of light that gives the effect of “scanning” the old stone wall as you rise through the building. With thoughtful touches like seating built into curving nooks, bulging bronze door handles and recessed light fittings CNC-milled into the wooden walls, it is a place that manages to feel rugged, warm and welcoming at once.

This is the 23rd Maggie’s centre, the programme conceived by the writer, artist and garden designer Maggie Keswick Jencks when she was dying of cancer in the 1990s. She was driven by a desire to provide humane “homes from home” for cancer patients to receive a less clinical kind of care, creating worlds away from the usual grim hospital environments of suspended polystyrene ceilings and lino corridors populated by humming beige plastic machines.

‘Its milky surface echoes the Bath stone of its 18th-century neighbours’ … Maggie’s centre. Photograph: Iwan Baan

Her husband, the architectural historian Charles Jencks, has since used his substantial address book to procure buildings by Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas and others from the globe-trotting starchitecture club, of which Holl is also a member – despite the Pritzker Prize having so far evaded his grasp.

A keen watercolourist who is also prone to musical metaphors, the 70-year-old architect describes his building as a “mini manifesto” for the fusion of painting and music in space. He says the facade is conceived as a musical stave, sweeping up at an angle around the building, while the floating coloured squares are his abstract interpretation of Gregorian “neume” notation, a reference to the 12th-century church Bart’s the Great, where the hospital was founded. It is a tenuous justification, and the effect of the coloured squares of film sandwiched between the layers of insulated glass more calls to mind children’s paper collages stuck in the window of a primary school. It makes what is an otherwise handsome building look cheap.

The architects are keen to stress that there is still snagging work to be done, but there are other glitches which suggest that, in places, the overriding concept trumped functional practicalities. The way the glass facade is set back from the concrete structure means that you can hear what’s going on between the confidential consultation rooms (soon to be fixed with acrylic panels, they promise) while the inaccessible recessed trench around the edge of each floor is a cleaner’s nightmare, already stained with spilled drinks.

Such flaws may be down to the design-and-build nature of the contract, but perhaps there’s something to be said for Maggie’s using smaller, younger practices who will lavish attention on every detail, rather than the kind of global mega-firms for whom such a building is the smallest project in the office. “We need to use architects of a certain emotional maturity,” argues Laura Lee, Maggie’s chief executive, explaining the logic behind their selection. “We can’t experiment with our patients’ lives.”

Daniel Libeskind is busy working on one of the next Maggie’s centres, at the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead, which might ring alarm bells for those who have experienced any of his recent buildings. But there are encouraging signs that the commissions, like the Serpentine Pavilion, might be moving away from the obvious celebrity roll-call. One of the most successful recent centres, completed this year in Oldham, is by dRMM – now Stirling Prize-winners, but still a practice of relatively modest size – while the new Cardiff centre is being designed by Dow Jones, architects of the elegant Garden Museum in Lambeth.

The bigger challenge that remains is finding ways for these exemplary boutique projects to influence the design of larger hospitals, which remain in the hands of contractor-led consortia at the mercy of private finance initiatives. Every patient suffering from every kind of illness deserves to be treated in a space crafted with the sense dignity, care and thoughtfulness of a Maggie’s centre.

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Butter Wakefield to design Gaze Burvill garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018

RHS gold medal winning garden designer Butter has been featured on the BBC’s Gardeners’ World and has long been a fan of Gaze Burvill’s outdoor furniture. A particular favourite of hers is Gaze Burvill’s original Splash Sofa, which she is bringing back as a showstopper piece to nestle among a sumptuous garden of pinks, oranges and purples.

“You don’t get much bigger than designing a garden trade stand on Main Avenue at the Chelsea Flower Show,” says Butter. “It is the premiere flower show in the world and also the 25th anniversary of Gaze Burvill garden furniture, so we have a lot to celebrate. The planting will be luxurious and vibrant. We are going to push the boat out with some crazy, clashing colours such as Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, which is this fabulous bright orange, next to a really dark purple Salvia caradonna and maybe, depending on how the roses are looking – a bright, garish pink rose called Gertrude Jekyll to give it that special wow factor.”

Having used Gaze Burvill furniture in many of her garden designs, Butter says it is her love for comfy seating that led to her to include the Splash Sofa for the upcoming Chelsea Flower Show.

“One of the most important things about good design is that your product will work well in its own environment. The sofa doesn’t shout ‘Look at me!’ Instead, I find it just blends beautifully with its surroundings so that when you do come upon it in a garden environment, it is a welcome respite whether you’re in a very fancy townhouse garden or a more relaxed country scheme.”

Butter originally trained as an interior designer, so it is no surprise that she is paying close attention to the soft furnishings to create an all-round outdoor living experience that embodies the Gaze Burvill ethos of quality and craftsmanship. Working with specialist outdoor fabric supplier Sunbrella, Butter says fabric is the one element of garden space that can get neglected. “If we treat the fabric on the furniture as important as all the other elements, then we can create something very special. I’ve been choosing stripes and geometric patterns with colour palettes of greys, taupes, black and lots of green. I think it will look stunning.”

Originally from Maryland on the East Coast of America, Butter says her love of gardening was inherited from her grandmother, mother and aunt who were all keen and accomplished gardeners. However, it wasn’t until she moved to England that she began to understand the gift the generation of gardeners before her had given her.

“I moved to the UK into an enchanting two-up, two-down Georgian cottage. I had special window boxes made and would fill them in the summer months with trailing geraniums. Neighbours and people I didn’t know on my street would stop by and say how I had created a happy vision for their street and how enchanting they looked. At the time, I was working for interior designers Colefax Fowler, but it was only through owning my first little garden in London that I began to understand the huge importance of the green space outside; the vital role it played in our sense of well-being and the views created outside each window.”

Having trained at the English Gardening School and the London College of Garden Design, Butter recently won an RHS Gold Medal at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show 2017. But she still makes time for the simple pleasures in life. Like her grandmother before her, there is nothing she likes better than going into her garden in the summer months and picking some flowers. “After a busy week at work, you can’t beat going into your garden on a sunny Friday afternoon and cutting your own flowers, bringing them inside and arranging them. I love that whole process. It takes me back to a time where the seeds were sown for my love of gardening.”

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Blundering Gardener: Garden Design magazine — and this columnist — is still kicking –

An old friend and former colleague emailed me from California last week with exciting news. She’d recently left Oakland, home not only of the Oakland Raiders football team but also of my friend for 21 years, and where she and her husband raised their children, and moved to greener pastures, literally.

She calls it “a caprice.” One of those “spur-of-th-moment things.”

And I thought I was impulsive.

Bonnie Blodgett
Bonnie Blodgett

Her kids were grown and her husband was sick of his long commute to a boring tech job. He wanted out.

She didn’t, not at first. She loved her house and her city and her interesting friends and her work, though freelance writing wasn’t going to pay the bills if the hubbie up and quit.

They took a drive following a tip and, days later, signed a purchase agreement on a new place miles from nowhere. To be precise, seven miles to the nearest post office.

“The kids think we’re crazy.”

Join the club, I wrote back.

When I told her about my own most recent transgression vis a vis the kids — ditching my cellphone — she confided that she may as well have done the same thing. The only place her reception is decent is a tiny corner of the porch. She drives to work (she is a freelance editor) at a computer café some distance away.

“To be honest, I love it,” she wrote.

She meant the peace and quiet. Nevertheless, she misses her friends. There’s not much intellectual stuff to partake in when you live on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

I didn’t think “nowhere” existed any more in our most populous state. Her place is northeast of the Bay Area. Sunny but dry. And relentlessly hot.

The plan is to garden like fiends and live off the proceeds. They’ll raise chickens and some other animals. I like the sound of it.

My friend is well suited for this new lifestyle. A knowledgeable and excellent gardener, she worked for gardening magazines for much of her career. That’s how we met.

Lots of my former editors live on the coasts. How I met Julie was by way of a magazine called Health, whose employees knew people who worked on a magazine called Parenting, for which I was a regular contributor. The same group stayed put when Time Inc. brought Health to the Big Apple. Many got work from Sunset.

Sunset is a venerable California brand that was recently sold to an L.A. private equity firm by Time Inc., which bought it in better times and, in November, was itself sold to Meredith (Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart Living), another one of many companies (it’s based in Des Moines) I’ve worked for as a writer and scout.

Sunset  is its most famous of many Sunset publications, with something like 1.5 million subscribers, almost all of them in the Far West.

My friend Julie’s mentor, who died not long ago, was editor-in-chief of Sunset for decades. His name was Bill Marken.

In 2004, Julie and Bill hired me to write a book called “Midwest Top Ten” for Sunset. Still sold in places like Home Depot and online, it’s a guide to the best plants to grow in our region. I know. Exhaustive. Exhausting. How do you narrow it down to book-length when you have to include plants in very category? Roses, vines, trees, shrubs, edibles, annuals, perennials …

We got through it, and Julie hired me to be Rebecca Kolls’ ghostwriter (our local weather lady turned garden guru) when Kolls launched a magazine called Rebecca’s Garden to go with her TV show.

That gig lasted the usual length of time in this highly competitive business. Long enough to get me to the next gig, which is why Julie emailed me. Several years before he died, her mentor had taken the top job at a magazine called Garden Design. Julie wondered if I’d be interested in being a contributor.

Excuse me? Did she just say, Garden Design?

I thought it had died a long time ago. Then I remembered, ever so vaguely, that it had moved to California and Bill was in charge. Then it fell off the radar.

To many of us gardeners of a certain age, Garden Design remains in our hearts a rock star, along the lines of Greg Allman, only much better looking.

Launched to rave reviews in the go-go 1990s by Conde Nast (it publishes Vogue, Vanity Fair, Glamour, The New Yorker and many other fancy titles), in its heyday GD raked in the awards at the annual convention of the Garden Writers Association.

My little rag, The Garden Letter, won an award, too, in its very first year.

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with GD’s editor. Somehow I’d screwed up the courage to congratulate him after he’d accepted his 10th or 11th commendation for artistic excellence (Garden Design was so beautiful, some referred to it as “garden porn.”).

So unnerved was I to be making eye contact with the great man, whose first name was Douglas, that I clutched my copy of his magazine and blurted out: “I take it everywhere with me.”

He replied: “Really? I’d have thought …I don’t know … a St. Christopher’s medal or something.”

Doug was quite the diva. And I quite the agog Midwestern rube. Luckily, he didn’t put the rube together with my byline when it began showing up in the precious pages of Garden Design.

I was a generalist. A quick study, in other words. Stock fraud? Oil spill? New cancer findings? I was always game. An early assignment for Garden Design was to “expose” a growing criminal racket — theft of garden statuary (urns, angel cherubs and the like) from cemeteries.

Small-town cemeteries were especially vulnerable — who’s willing to stay up all night with an assault rifle across his knees voluntarily making rural America’s graveyards safe for posterity? Even in gun country this is asking a lot.

Century-old urns, aged to a fine patina, and rusty picket fences were easy pickings. The thieves made off with van-loads of the stuff, drove their bootie to the big city and made a killing selling to garden shops in tony burgs from Evanston to South Beach.

The magazine went all out with the story, visually. It was one they hoped would take home a National Magazine Award (it didn’t) or at the very least boost its cred among serious journalists. For the first and last time, it ran a black-and-white photo across the center spread, depicting a cemetery in winter.

Garden Design was down to six issues a year by then.

As fate would have it, the full set of Garden Design magazines that I kept in the basement with the notion that someday they’d be worth something, just got pitched last month in a long overdue purge.

The magazine never really did die. It limped along with mostly West Coast subscribers. The brand remained gold even if advertising was a tough sell. It’s always a tough sell in the gardening space because plants have to live outside and they can’t just pick up and move. A story that’s gripping to readers in Southern California is a snooze for someone in Buffalo, N.Y.

For all its fame and beauty, Garden Design could not live on Smith and Hawken teak benches alone. When Smith and Hawken itself went down (subsumed by Target) the party was (almost) over. This was at the same time that other upscale suppliers of plants and related products were either going belly up or merging. The internet shook everything up.

Garden Design made a smart move, one pioneered by the likes of Cooks Illustrated and other tony coffee-table-worthy publications. The gorgeous gardens it so exquisitely showcased on its glossy oversize pages had to compete for attention with ads for rototillers. Aways a favorite of the 1 percent, it raised its price per copy, ditched advertising altogether and re-launched as a subscription-based quarterly.

Julie tells me I might be able to find it at Whole Foods. I’m putting a copy on my Christmas list. It will be expensive. In the meantime, I Googled the link she sent me and ogled the pages. It was the same magazine, much to my delight. Or very close to it.

I hope the new editor, whose name is Thad, calls me. He probably won’t. Chances are better of getting work writing about gardens if you live where Julie does, in the middle of nowhere in California, than if you live in flyover country.

We know what we have here, but as Open Table’s recent list of the “100 Best Restaurants in America” demonstrates once again, the rest of the world could care less.

I’ll pitch stories from the tundra anyway, and hope they’ll ask me to write a funny essay now and then.

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Last-minute gifts to help conserve water

With only a week before Christmas, it’s crunch time for people who are still looking for that last-minute gift.

And if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary for your friends who like to tinker in their gardens and conserve water, you might want to consider five suggestions sent to the Chronicle by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Rain barrels — the rain you collect can be used to water plants, wash the car, or irrigate the lawn. Just be sure the barrels are properly covered to ward off mosquitoes. You can make rain barrels out of inexpensive 50-gallon food-grade drums that were used to carry such items as juices, olives and pickles. Often you can find barrels for around $10 from drum and barrel suppliers.

Compost bins — these keep food scraps out of the garbage disposal, which uses up to four gallons of water per minute.

They are not hard to make. Just recycle or buy a plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid about 24 inches tall or taller — the lid will keep the soil moist and keep bugs out.

Raised garden beds — Available at local home improvement stores, these control water use and reduce the need for pesticides which means less runoff off into water resources.

Water efficient plants — you can give an entire plant or just a seedling planted in a biodegradable eggshell or toilet paper roll. For ideas, use the principles of Florida Friendly landscaping at

Gift certificates — local extension offices offer free or inexpensive classes to make rain barrels, compost bins and other items. For more information, contact Steve Davis with the Florida Yards Neighborhoods program at 352-527-5700

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-5660 (ext. 1205) or

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Remembering the unknown: Monument dedicated at Daughters of Zion Cemetery

Their names might never be discovered, but they now have a new monument to their memory. “Gone But Not Forgotten,” their marker says.

About a year and a half following a rededication of the historic African-American graveyard in the heart of Charlottesville, the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion Cemetery held a dedication ceremony Saturday for a monument to those who are thought to be buried there but have no record or marker indicating their name.

Local historians and preservationists know there are approximately 225 people buried at the cemetery, according to historical records, but have no burial marker remaining among the 150 gravesites that are still visible. According to a local archaeologist who has been surveying the graveyard for over a year, there could be as many as 1,000 unmarked graves in the Daughters of Zion Cemetery.

“The monument is dedicated to the people we don’t have names for,” said Edwina St. Rose, an organizer with the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion Cemetery.

Created in 2015, five years after the cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Place, the Preservers are spearheading the restoration of the cemetery named for the female-run African-American mutual aid society that founded the cemetery in 1873.

City officials last year allocated $80,000 to support the restoration of the site, which is at the corner of First and Oak streets. The funding has paid for two ground-penetrating radar surveys of the site and other work.

In fall 2016, the firm Rivanna Archaeological Services surveyed the northeast quadrant of the cemetery and discovered a number of anomalies that are suspected to be remains of burial markers. A large swath of the land surveyed contained no anomalies, but some remains could be hidden even deeper beneath the ground, according to the firm.

Recently, another survey along the western edge of the property found more evidence of possible graves.

Asked if the nearly consistent line of anomalies along the western edge of the site could have been a rock wall or some other kind of landscaping feature, Stephen Thompson, principal investigator at Rivanna Archaeological Services, said it’s possible, but thinks otherwise.

“We’re not exactly sure what it is we are looking at in the data, though when it begins to pattern out like this it really begins to look like rows of graves,” he said.

With a plan in place to erect new fencing around the cemetery, Thompson said he thinks fencing along the western boundary can be built without disturbing any of the possible burial sites along there.

“If the fence adheres very closely to the property line, my sense is it will do a good job of containing the cemetery and all the graves associated with it. I don’t think construction of the fence will disturb any human remains,” he said during a presentation at the Tonsler Park Community Center after Saturday’s dedication ceremony for the monument.

The new monument was funded by a grant from BeCville, a community group that administered $18,500 this year to four community projects in the Belmont, Ridge Street and Fifeville neighborhoods. The group chose to support the projects based on a community vote that took place this past spring.

St. Rose and Matt Slaats, a BeCville organizer, said the monument cost approximately $3,200.

“I wasn’t directly responsible for this, it was the Preservers who came to us with this proposal,” Slaats said. “We just collected ideas from the community about how to make the neighborhood better.”

“It testifies to the importance of the cemetery and the meaning it has for the people living in the neighborhood,” he added.

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Help with enhancement projects for Aramburu Island, more


Gardening classes: The Mill Valley Public Library offers free seasonal gardening classes most Saturdays and occasionally on Sundays. Call 415-389-4292 or go to

Garden club: Novato Garden Club presents monthly meetings at the Margaret Todd Senior Center, 1560 Hill Road, Novato. Check for schedule.

Workshops and gardening classes: Armstrong Garden Centers in Novato offer free classes to gardeners of all skill levels most Saturdays. Call 415-878-0493 or go to

Workshops and seminars: Sloat Garden Center has five Marin County locations that offer gardening workshops and seminars on a weekly basis. Check for schedule, locations and cost.

Workshops and seminars: The Marin Master Gardeners present a variety of how-to workshops, seminars and special events throughout Marin County on a weekly basis. Check for schedule, locations and cost.

Workshops and seminars: Marin Rose Society presents monthly lectures on growing roses and good garden practices. Check for schedule and locations.

Seminars: The Marin Orchid Society presents lectures on raising orchids at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at the Morning Glory Room, 750 Lindaro St., San Rafael. Call 415-895-0667.

Gardening volunteers: Marin Art Garden Center in Ross seeks volunteers for maintenance, weeding, transplanting and mulching. Call 415-455-5260.

Gardening volunteers: The Novato Independent Elders Program seeks seasonal volunteers to help Novato seniors with their overgrown yards Tuesday mornings or Thursday afternoons. Call 415-899-8296.

Nursery volunteers: Volunteers are sought to help in Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy nurseries from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays at Tennessee Valley, 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday; 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays, or 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays at Marin Headlands Nursery; or 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at Muir Beach, 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays in the Marin Headlands. Call 415-561-3077 or go to

Nursery days: The SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Watershed Network) native plant nursery days are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays and weekends. Call 415-663-8590, ext. 114, or email to register and for directions. Go to for more information.

Garden visits: Marin Master Gardeners and the Marin Municipal Water District offer free residential Bay-Friendly Garden Walks to MMWD customers. The year-round service helps homeowners identify water-saving opportunities and soil conservation techniques for their landscaping. Call 415-473-4204 to request a visit to your garden.

Garden volunteers: Marin Open Garden Project (MOGP) volunteers are available to help Marin residents glean excess fruit from their trees for donations to local organizations serving people in need and to build raised beds to start vegetable gardens through the MicroGardens program. MGOP also offers a garden tool lending library. Go to or email

Around the bay

Landscape garden: Cornerstone Gardens is a permanent, gallery-style garden featuring walk-through installations by international landscape designers on nine acres at 23570 Highway 121 in Sonoma. Free. Call 707-933-3010 or go to

Olive ranch: McEvoy Ranch at 5935 Red Hill Road in Petaluma offers tours, workshops and special events. Call 707-769-4123 or go to

Botanical garden: Quarryhill Botanical Garden at 12841 Sonoma Highway in Glen Ellen covers 61 acres and showcases a large selection of scientifically documented wild source temperate Asian plants. The garden is open for self-guided tours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Free. Call 707-996-3166 or go to

— Compiled by Colleen Bidwill

The Trowel Glove Calendar appears Saturdays. Send high-resolution jpg photo attachments and details about your event to or mail to Home and Garden Calendar/Lifestyles, Marin Independent Journal, 4000 Civic Center Drive, Suite 301, San Rafael, CA 94903. Items should be sent two weeks in advance. Photos should be a minimum of 2 megabytes and include caption information. Include a daytime phone number on your release.

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The rapid decline of the British hedgehogs – and what we can do to help our hogs

Britain has lost half its rural population of hedgehogs while one third have disappeared from urban areas since the year 2000, according to the latest estimates from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).

“Not long ago the Erinaceus Europaeus was a common sight in our neighbourhoods, but today we’re seeing much less of this intelligent and endearing creature,” the PTES states.  

“The reasons why we’re quietly losing our hedgehog population are entirely man-made. The shocking statistics of their decline puts them on a par with the plummeting worldwide tiger population.”

Safe havens

The reasons for hedgehog decline are complex and research is underway to identify why this is the case. Badger predation and food source competition, climate change and human activities may all have an effect. The PTES regularly commissions research that helps understand why hedgehogs are in such trouble, and how we can best help them.

Education is essential if our hedgehogs are going to make it through the next few decades, because increasing urbanisation means we have less contact with nature and less understanding of our wildlife.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is working to create awareness through their short film ‘Hedgehog Street’ an activity essential stop the disappearance of our native hedgehogs.

Perhaps the most obvious reason for hedgehog decline is the reduction of hedgehog-friendly environments which are increasingly under threat from the concrete-slide of our communities.

It seems easy to lay this blame this on the government and building companies, and in part the responsibility does lay at their feet, but we are responsible individually too. Our gardens could provide safe havens, but faced with fences and designer landscaping hedgehogs are losing their foothold in our communities.

Spiky creatures

Hedgehogs roam over 2kms a night, but our fences are a considerable barrier to their movements. This environmental fragmentation prevents hedgehogs gathering enough food, finding suitable nesting areas, and meeting a mate.

Paving, decking, and hard-landscaping is endemic in the modern garden, but it leaves little to no space for hedgehog needs. Longer grass, rough areas, and native plants that attract insects and invertebrates are essential. Tidy gardens sterilised by landscaping, leaf blowers, strimmers and sprinkled with slug pellets are deserts for native wildlife.

Hedgehogs have been around in one form or another since the dinosaurs, but our modern habits are testing their ability to survive. Garden tools cause horrific injuries, uncovered drains are one way pitfalls, and they become hopelessly entangled in netting.

Bonfires and ponds pose problems too. A bonfire heap is perfect hedgehog accommodation, but leads to death when the pile is lit. Ponds with slippery sides that offer no means of escape exhausts unfortunate hedgehogs that eventually drown.

We can help these endearing spiky creatures more than we realise. An area of garden left wild without slug pellets or pesticide use will support a hedgehog’s search for food.

Cat food

Hogs predominately eat insects, beetles, caterpillars, snails and slugs, effectively clearing a garden of pests, and whilst hogs don’t eat slug pellets, they do eat dead slugs and ingest the poison.

An easily purchased hedgehog house offers safe accommodation for hogs that need dry, warm places to raise young and hibernate throughout the winter.

Supplemental feeding can help make up the shortfall of natural prey, but well-meaning folk often cause serious problems offering bread and milk.

Hogs are lactose intolerant, so the resulting diarrhoea can cause dehydration and death. Bread has no useful nutrients for a small mammal, and neither do mealworms, peanuts and household scraps. Instead offer dry or wet cat food and a shallow, heavy bowl of fresh water.

Underlying problem

But all this effort is no use without access. We can boost the hog population by creating doors in our fence lines. This opens up a road network that hedgehogs can travel around. A 15cm x 15cm gap will allow hogs access to your insects, snails and water sources.

This non-threatening mammal is often the first point of contact people have with our native wildlife. From Shakespeare’s Furze-pigs to Enid Blyton’s Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and Sega’s Sonic, hedgehogs are steeped in our culture.

It’s easy to support these endearing creatures. It doesn’t take much to start reversing their fortunes – a simple hole in the fence line can make a big difference.

If we ignore the plummeting decline of our much loved native hedgehog we won’t be seeing them in the near future. A garden without the charming hedgehog is indeed an empty one that points to a serious underlying problem with our environmental health.  

This Author

Clive Harris is a garden writer and environmentalist. You can find his blog at

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Reflections of a Master Gardener

As we near the end of the year, I would like to say a few things and reflect on the many ways our group of master gardeners have been involved in our community.

We are about 100 strong with a multitude of differing talents. Our members use not only their gardening skills, but all their educational and job experience. This allowed for a revised bylaws and policy and procedures manual that allows us to be more efficient and cost savvy. This is an awesome group of men and women whom I have been very fortunate to help lead this year. 

At the beginning of each year, Texas AM AgriLife Extension Service is host of a master gardener class that starts in February and ends in April. We help with some planning and with mentoring of the interns. Watch for the applications; they should be coming soon.

The Big Country Master Gardener Association participated in this year’s annual Farm and Ranch Show, the Women’s Fair at that show, two programs that teach area schoolchildren about how agriculture affects their lives  — Kids Kows and More and Food and Fiber Day, and the annual pecan show.

We have helped build keyhole gardens, redo Dyess Elementary flower beds and in a landscaping project in Merkel called the Star Project. Our Junior Master Gardener program is in several schools. 

A dedicated group has just finished the FaithWorks project and we will soon be starting to seed wildflower seeds along a section of I-20. This fall, we had our first successful fall gardening symposium. We maintain the demonstration garden at the Taylor County Extension Office and are in the process of leasing a county lot to build a bigger educational demonstration garden. We have changed our website to be more user friendly and informative. It is still under construction, but will be up and running soon.

We have partnered with Abilene Preservation League to help with the grounds at the Swenson House, with McMurry University to use and help take care of their greenhouse, and with the Big Country Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists at the first Wings on the Wind festival at Abilene State Park.

Our spring plant sale (coming April 7) is our biggest fund-raiser. It provides us with funds for all the above-mentioned projects and programs, but also helps cover costs of more extensive training for some members in these areas: Earth-Kind Environmental Landscape Management, Fire-Wise Landscaping, Junior Master Gardener Leadership, Rainwater Harvesting, Vegetable Gardening, Propagation, Composting, Entomology, Landscape Design, and Irrigation. 

As you can see, our group stays busy. I am so proud of their accomplishments this year. For more information, you can call 325-672-6048 or email 

Happy holidays! 

Charlotte Rhodes is president of the Big Country Master Gardener Association.

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Proctor’s Garden: Getting gifts for the special gardener in your life …

If you’re holiday shopping for the gardener in your life, here’s what you can get.

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Cold weather gardening

Dig in the dirt in December? Sure! Why not? Even dormant gardens will benefit from your attention now.

By taking care of what you currently have and planning ahead for additions to your spring gardens, those warmer days that you are dreaming about now will bring untold horticultural pleasures.

(Editor’s Note — This is article is one of four on winter gardening tips that we have published in Saturday’s issue of The Edmond Sun.)

1. Soil. What is in yours? The answer to this question is key to successful gardening. Your county extension service can help you attain a soil test to determine the pH of your soil and advise you on additives that will improve your growing spaces before planting time. Rich, productive soil seldom happens by itself, Education, effort and persistence will pay good returns. As long as your soil is not deeply frozen this is a nice time to cultivate your existing beds or make new ones. Clean up your garden plots by removing any dead plants and living grasses and weeds. Enrich by adding compost and/or other sources of organic matter such as peat moss, shredded newspaper and well-rotted manure. Turn the soil to work these goodies in. Leave the soil loose, not compacted. Winter’s freeze-thaw pattern will improve the texture of the soil. 

2. Plan ahead. Spring will come. Put some thought into your future plantings. Annuals and vegetables should be rotated to avoid insect and disease buildup. Check with local garden centers for input on varieties that are hardy, disease-resistant and drought-tolerant. This is Oklahoma, after all. If you are adding a new garden you might want to sketch out the area on graph paper. While you’re sitting inside your warm home you can think about plant compatibility, row spacing and successive plantings. Be sure to work some compost and/or some of those other sources of organic matter into the new plots, as well, so that these areas will be well prepared to host your happy new plantings.

3. Mulch. Organic mulches are a good way to protect plants from our arctic blasts and provide more uniform soil moisture. Applying 2 – 3 inches of bark or compost acts like an extra blanket to hold in the heat of the soil. One of the more popular mulches used in Oklahoma is cypress bark mulch. It does not blow or float away. Keep bark mulches a few inches away from tree trunks to prevent trapping moisture and causing trunk rot. Compost is another good mulch material. In addition to providing good insulation it will help nurture and improve soils for years to come. 

4. Water. The need for watering is diminished during the winter months, but is not eliminated. Snow is not much help as one inch equals about 1/10 inch of water, and we seldom have much snow, anyway. All landscape plants should be watered thoroughly at least once a month during the cold season. When soils are dry soil temperatures can go much lower, damaging plants’ roots.

5. Tools. If you were too busy in the fall to clean your garden tools and prepare them to rest comfortably for a few months, it’s not too late. Remove soil from digging tools using a hose, brushes, rags — whatever it takes. Apply linseed oil to the metal or store them in a bucket of oily sand. Mix 3/4 cup of linseed oil into a 5-gallon bucket of sand. Clean and wipe down cutting blades with an oil rag.  If rust is present on any tool clean it with steel wool or a wire brush and linseed oil. Sand wooden handles, as needed, and wipe them with oil also. Your tools will thank you by serving you for many fulfilling gardening years to come.

6. Birds. If you’re not too tried yet you may want to ease winter’s stress on your neighborhood birds.  Many of them winter here. Nurturing them will encourage them to hang around in your yard throughout spring and summer when they can benefit your garden in many ways. Your feathered friends may already be finding shelter in your shrubs or trees. You can give them a big boost by feeding them and supplying them with a steady source of water.

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