Friday, August 27, 2010

FAQ: Do you think recycled rubber mulch is a good choice?

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Q. Do you think recycled rubber mulch is a good choice?

A. No, I don't. Rubber mulch is usually made from old tires. While it may seem that recycling rubber in this way is a good idea, I don't agree. Rubber doesn't decompose like organic materials. Decomposed organic materials help to build soil health. Recycled rubber is easy to ignite and difficult to extinguish if set aflame by some means. Furthermore, I don't like the appearance of recycled rubber.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Cummer Gardens of Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida holds many fond memories for me.  Quite a few relatives lived there when I was a child.  Whether by automobile or different trains, the trip to Jacksonville was an adventure.  Sometimes my father, a Chiropractor and Naturopath, would include a visit to Dr. Emil Weise, another Naturopathic physician and friend.  A highlight of one trip was a visit to Aunt Anne Palmer's garden.  Meandering grassy paths wound among beds of camellias, azaleas and ginger lilies toward her greenhouse where she nurtured her orchids.  I was enchanted.  Uncle Jim, her husband, owned Packard Florida Motors Company on Riverside and Rosselle.

We returned recently to visit the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, just a few blocks from where Uncle Jim's business once stood.  The neighborhood has changed quite a bit since the 1950s and '60s.  Many of the old homes have been replaced, including the tudor-style home of Arthur and Ninah Cummer.  The Cummer Museum now stands on the site.  The garden is as grand and well-loved as before.

Arthur Cummer (1894-1943) was the son of a wealthy lumber magnate from Cadillac, Michigan, who found Jacksonville to be very much to his liking.  The climate and forests of Florida attracted the family.  Arthur was also a partner in the Cook-Cummer Steamship line which transported Cummer Lumber Company products to markets along the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard.  Readers interested in stories involving Cummer steamships should find the New York Times accounts of the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901 and of the sinking of the John J. Hill to be stirring.

Strong believers in civic responsibility, Arthur and Ninah Cummer (1875-1958) were actively involved in organizations to benefit the public.  As Board President, Arthur helped enlarge the historic Evergreen Cemetery of Jacksonville.  Ninah, an art collector, passionate gardener and garden club member, created an endowment in 1958 to build an art museum and to preserve her beloved gardens.

Though the appearance of much of Jacksonville's Riverside Avenue has changed, the vista from Cummer Gardens across the St. John's River is very much like the atmosphere I remember from my visit to Aunt Anne's oasis.  The Cummer Gardens, however, are far grander.

The Gardens consist of three:
Upon entering the Gardens from the museum's Uible Loggia, the first thing to capture the eye is an elegant sculpture, Diana of the Hunt, a gift of sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington.  (I visited Atalya, Huntington's moorish-style home/studio in South Carolina a few years after her death.  Though near the shore, it struck me as a rather bleak, fortress-like residence.)  According to myth, Diana (aka Artemis) was not as elegant as artists imagine but exquisitely bad-natured.  From the upper terrace, the enticing vista across the English Garden opens toward the beautiful St. John's River.

Moseying to the right, the Tea Garden invites the visitor to sit a moment in one of the historic barrel chairs that originally belonged to Wellington and Ada Cummer, Arthur's parents.  Concrete and mosaic pedestal planters designed by William Mercer add visual impact to the adjacent parterres.

Further along, the Peacock Fountain, also designed by Mercer, adorns the South Wall in a shady nook.  Before the Peacock Fountain, another called Two Children with a Goose fills a pool also designed by Mercer.  The original Two Children with a Goose can be seen in London's Victoria and Albert Museum.  This section is part of the English Garden, designed in 1903 by Ossian Cole Simonds (1855-1931).  Simonds was a founder of the American Society of Landscape Architects.  Cummer's English Garden was redesigned in 1910 by Thomas Meehan and Sons of Philadelphia, PA.  At river's side, a fine wisteria arbor provides a shady retreat refreshed by gentle river breezes.

One can't help but linger at the railing to enjoy the view across the St. John's river.  Mr. Cummer relished an earlier scene from his own putting green between the English and Italian gardens.  The private green, a rare pleasure in those days, was given to him by his wife, Ninah.

The Italian Garden was designed in 1931 by Ellen Biddle Shipman (1869-1950), perhaps the most significant among female American landscape architects.  Ninah Cummer commissioned the work after visiting the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy   It features a gloriette, the archways of which frame a lovely fountain that replicates one Mrs. Cummer purchased in Italy in 1930.  At the end of the river walk, you will find a tile-roofed garden folly which serves no other purpose than to adorn the garden, or perhaps to offer another shady retreat for a tête-a-tête.

The North Wall of the Italian Garden is adorned with another feature designed by William Mercer.  A medallion of flamingos overlooks a lion's head planter with Della Robbia swags.

As one would expect, a pair of reflecting pools mirror all that surrounds them above and below.  The sky, roses, italian cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens)  and azaleas all shimmer in the water's surface.

Leonine motifs recur throughout the Italian Garden.  The Lion Sculpture is one of the many pieces that the Cummers purchased during their visit to Itay in 1930.  Garden benches repeat the theme.

When the Cummers began to establish their gardens, some plants now so common to the South were not well-known in Florida.  Agapanthus and azalea collections were rare.  The Cummers sought them out.  Both grow luxuriantly in the Cummer Gardens.

Upon returning to the Upper Terrace, one passes beneath the magnificent Cummer Oak.  The canopy of the verdant giant spans over 150 feet.  Aged over 175 years, it is one of the oldest and most revered trees in the city.  To rest beneath its ancient limbs and reflect upon the beauty of the garden is another of the visitor's rewards.

Thanks to the generosity of the Cummers, along with the dedication of museum staff and volunteers, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens presents one of the premier gardens in the United States.  Though comprised of only two acres, it is a historically significant site that you should include in your garden visits.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How To Care For Cedar Wood Furniture

Northern White and Western Red Cedar are very desirable woods, perfect for indoor and outdoor use.  Northern White Cedar is very popular with homeowners who prefer a rustic decor for vacation homes and cabins.  Western Red Cedar is preferred by those who desire a more refined appearance.  Both are durable, resistant to insects and rot.  They can be left natural and untreated, or can be painted or stained.

If left untreated, cedar wood will turn to a silvery gray color. Untreated cedar is quite beautiful, however, the wood may become discolored by algae over time if exposed to excessive dampness in shaded areas.  A solution of 1 part non-chlorine bleach to 5 parts water with 1 ounce of detergent per gallon of solution will usually eliminate such stains.  Even after years of use, cedar can be refinished by sanding to a bright clean appearance.

If you decide to stain your cedar furniture, there are many types of stains.  Penofin is highly recommended because it enhances and maintains cedar's natural beauty. Some stains also have water and mildew repellent ingredients.  Penetrating stains soak into the wood without leaving a barrier on the surface.  So the the surface of the wood doesn't blister or peel like painted surfaces.  Natural cedar wood usually has knots, deep surface texture and other unique characteristics which are beautifully enhanced by penetrating stains.  For best results, always follow stain manufacturers' instructions.

If you opt to paint your cedar furniture, be aware that the natural color and grain of the wood will be hidden.  However, there are so many wonderful shades of paint on the market, you can let your imagination run wild.  Match your existing décor, or change the look as you wish.  Bright solid colors, floral patterns and designs from nature can be painted on the furniture.  As always, follow the manufacturers' instructions on the label for best application results.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

FAQ: What Is Recycled Poly Lumber?

Recycled poly (plastic) lumber, also known as RPL, is a product made from recovered plastic which looks like lumber and can be used as a wood substitute.  There are many applications for which RPL can be used.  RPL is increasingly used for fencing, railings, decking, flooring, retaining walls, shipping pallets, park benches and picnic tables, playground equipment, sign posts, and even for dock pilings and seawalls.  We at include bird houses and bird feeders constructed of recycled poly lumber among our product offerings in our eBay store. 

There are several different types of recycled plastic lumber available.  The type used in our products is a high-density polyethylene, the same material found in plastic milk jugs.  Other types may include additional materials in the mix such as thermoplastic, sawdust, fiberglass, rubber, concrete, or even steel reinforcing rods.

Recycled plastic lumber has distinct advantages over wood.  It is nontoxic, nonporous, and lasts longer than wood, unless it is one of the types that contains sawdust.  RPL is moisture resistant and does not rot, therefore it does not require maintenance with sealants or preservatives.  It is chemical resistant.  It does not crack or splinter like wood.  Painting is unnecessary because the plastic is colored throughout, and the colors never fade.  Insects will not eat it, and it does not absorb bacteria or other pathogens.  As you can see, RPL is maintenance free.  Furthermore, RPL is flexible, and can be shaped with common wood-working tools.
By recycling plastics into poly lumber, wood and plastic waste in landfills is reduced.

You can feel good about purchasing bird houses and feeders constructed of recycled poly lumber, knowing that you are buying eco-friendly products that require little or no maintenance.

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How To Choose and Maintain A Birdbath

A birdbath is an essential element for bird habitat.  This article gives a few tips on how to choose and maintain a birdbath.

The birdbath in our back yard is a wonderful source of entertainment for our family.  We can see it clearly from our family room window.  The birdbath provides refreshment, discourages mites, and provides drinking water.  It's great fun to watch birds refreshing themselves in watery sprays, and it's amazing how many species are attracted to it.  Some of the species we've recently seen bathing include painted buntings and a pair of barred owls.

Whether purchasing a large or small birdbath, choose one that gently slopes toward the center.  This provides various depths for small and larger birds alike.  The water should be no deeper than 2" in the center.  The birds only want to bathe, not swim laps.

While providing a birdbath is a welcome favor, maintaining a clean one is also very important.  You wouldn't want to take a nasty bath, would you?  Cleaning your birdbath is necessary to prevent the spread of avian diseases such as Aspergillosis, Avian Pox, Salmonellosis and Trichomoniasis.  Birds who are already suffering from diseases are drawn to birdbaths just as healthy ones are.  Pathogens left behind can then infect others.

Change the water in your birdbath every day.  Wipe or brush it clean.  This will help to prevent algae buildup, as well as to remove other debris.  We have a large concrete birdbath with sloping sides, so we use a wire brush.  Rinse your birdbath, then refill it with clean water.

Disinfect your birdbath to eliminate germs and mites.  We use a solution of one part non-chlorine bleach to nine parts water, scrubbing and rinsing thoroughly one or twice per month.

Birds are especially attracted to moving water.  A dripper or spray will provide the right amount of activity.  In addition, moving water tends to discourage mosquitoes.

Birds appreciate bathing even in winter.  If you live in a region where standing water may freeze overnight, invest in a small, submersible electric heater or a heated birdbath.  When cold weather approaches, be sure to check the wiring for damage that may have occurred during storage.  Replace the appliance if damage is apparent.

Be sure to place the birdbath somewhere you can enjoy watching it.  The birds also appreciate the presence of trees or shrubs nearby so they can return to the birdbath again and again.

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Six Steps to Turn Your Yard into a Sanctuary for Birds

The following article published by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry (reproduced by permission) is full of helpful tips.

Birds need your help! Populations of many kinds of birds are declining. Habitat loss and degradation, disease, collisions with man-made structures and a host of other factors contribute to these declines. You can help by turning your yard into a sanctuary for birds.

Here are six steps you can take to make the future brighter for birds:

1. Put out the welcome mat! Habitat loss is the biggest challenge facing birds. You can help by making your neighborhood more attractive to birds by landscaping with native plants that provide natural food sources, shelter from the elements and predators, and nesting sites. Providing feeders, nest boxes and water also benefits birds. To learn how, stop by your local wild bird shop or garden retailer.

2. Prepare a proper menu. Providing the appropriate foods year round will attract more birds to your yard and help ensure that they have a safe and nutritious diet. Refill feeders regularly with food desired by birds in your area. To pick the best menu, stop by your local wild bird shop.

3. Keep feed and feeding areas clean. To help reduce the possibility of disease transmission in birds, clean feeders and feeding areas at least once a month. Plastic and metal feeders can go in the dishwasher, or rinse these and other styles with a 10% solution of bleach and warm water. Scrub birdbaths with a brush and replace water every three to five days to discourage mosquito reproduction. Rake up and dispose of seed hulls under feeders. Moving feeders periodically helps prevent the buildup of waste on the ground. Keep seed and foods dry; discard food that smells musty, is wet or looks moldy. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every three to five days, or every other day in warm weather. It’s good hygiene to wash your hands after filling or cleaning feeders.

4. Birds and chemicals don’t mix. Many pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are toxic to birds; avoid using these near areas where birds feed, bathe or rest. Always follow directions provided by chemical manufacturers. For additional information visit your garden retailer.

5. Keep cats away from birds. Scientists estimate that cats probably kill hundreds of millions of birds each year in the U.S. This is a big problem, but it’s easy to fix. Many people who enjoy feeding birds also love cats. The best solution is to keep cats indoors. They will lead longer, healthier lives, and your yard will be safer for birds. Install feeders in areas not readily accessible to cats or install fences or other barriers to help keep stray cats from feeder areas. Collar bells, de-clawing and keeping cats well fed will not solve the problem.

6. Reduce window collisions. Collisions with glass windows kill millions of wild birds every year. Depending on their size and location, some windows reflect the sky or vegetation, and birds are fooled into thinking they can fly through them. To eliminate this problem identify windows that cause collisions (typically larger, reflective windows, those near the ground, or those that “look through” the house). Attaching decorative decals or other decorations to the outside surface of the glass can reduce reflections. Feeder birds fleeing predators are vulnerable to window collisions. If this is happening at your house, consider moving feeders within three feet of the windows so that birds cannot accelerate to injury level speeds while flying away. Problem windows can be covered with a screen so that birds bounce off, rather than hit the glass.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Landscaping With Native Plants On Spring Island

Coastal South Carolina is dotted with secluded island hammocks.  Many of them are pristine, or appear so.  Spring Island, near Beaufort and Hilton Head, is one.  The history of Spring Island is a fascinating tale of Indians, traders, antebellum life, Northern magnates and modern development, not unlike most of the Low-country.  But Spring Island is unique.  Carefully developed to preserve its natural beauty and seclusion, it's easy for the visitor to believe that nothing much has changed since the 1920s.

We arranged to meet with Thomas Angell of Verdant Enterprises, LLC. for a morning tour of a few of his projects on the island.  Thomas specializes in native plants, creative storm water management and imaginative landscape detailing with custom hardscape construction.

As we traveled down picturesque allees lined with magnificent live oaks, we were practically unaware of nearby residences screened from view by dense native plant growth.  Discrete address plaques barely hinted at what was hidden and growing behind those verdant garden walls.

Our first stop was at the residence of one of the area's leading proponents and experts of natural landscaping.  Unfortunately, she was away and unable to meet with us.  Thomas explained that her home was carefully sited to preserve the magnificent trees on the property, as well as to afford a splendid view of the river and marsh.  The structures do not appear to be imposed on the river bank, but to grow in harmony from it, surrounded by such local beauties as wax myrtle (Myrica cyrifera) and needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix).

Both back and front of the home were beautifully landscaped exclusively with native species.  (You should know that the front of every waterfront home faces the water.  Arrival by land is through the back door. Whether through the front or back door, scrape your boots or shed them.)

An ancient oak provided shelter to blood-root (Sanguinaria canadensis), wild ginger (Asarum virginicum), trillium (T. maculatum), jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), partridge berry (Mitchella repens), along with colonies of native grasses and ferns.

I was surprised to see the blood-root, wild ginger, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, and indian pink, but Thomas informed me that they are actually native to the area.  Botanist and nurseryman, Daniel Payne, owner of NatureScapes Of Beaufort, confirmed it.  Daniel arrived on site unexpectedly to inspect and maintain some of the plantings.  As we walked about, Daniel explained that Beaufort County is one of the most biologically diverse counties in South Carolina, and perhaps in the Southeast, with over 1597 naturally occurring native plant species inventoried to date.

The natural design was "civilized" with some of Thomas's hardscape detailing.  A local soft stone called hardpan was quarried for benches of serpentine or semi-circular patterns.  Because of its porosity, the hardpan was topped with laminated wood seating created by a regional craftsman.

As we toured the site, I commented on a native plant that, so far as I know, is never used elsewhere.  The common names are Devil's Grandmother or Elephant's Foot (Elephantopus tomentosus).  But Thomas had used it quite effectively.  The foliage is attractive, the flowers are charming, and, of course, it grows like a weed.  We agreed that sustainable landscaping using native materials requires that we try to see things through new eyes.  It's really not that difficult or new to see things afresh; all non-native ornamentals were originally weeds from elsewhere.

The owner, Thomas and Daniel had established a display garden nearby with various other native species, and a few regional "heirloom" plants on trial.  A "midden" constructed for the garden rose above a dry stream bed designed to collect and direct storm water to a bog garden.  A pool with flowing water provided habitat for native fresh-water aquatic plants, and also created a refreshing oasis of sight and sound.

Native landscaping involves philosophical discussion.  For example, one might wonder whether or when a native plant should be considered desirable.  Such is the case in this garden with poison ivy.  The typical reaction to poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is to eradicate it.  But Daniel noted one specimen on the river bank which he allowed to remain.  The foliage, he explained, is quite colorful and attractive in the fall while the towering plant provides habitat and the seeds provide food for wildlife.  It grows at some distance from foot paths.  But then, the birds drop the seeds about the landscape to propagate more.  There comes a point when enough is enough and the solution calls for a squirt of herbicide.

Thomas was curious to take a look at some other projects he had completed several years ago.  A quick look now would prepare him for upcoming appointments with the owners.  It was disappointing to see that the plantings had not been properly maintained.  In my opinion, they demonstrated a lack of sensitivity on the part of some maintenance crews, or perhaps a lack of knowledge which can be remedied.  Expanses of lovely native grasses had been mowed like sod.  Soft cushions of billowing shrubs had been flattened at breast height like table tops.  Certainly, landscaping with native plants in naturalistic settings presents a new paradigm that must be studied carefully in order to maintain and appreciate.

Considering these examples of sustainable landscaping, one might assume that a naturalistic planting of native plants is by definition no-maintenance or low-maintenance.  That is not always true.  The level of maintenance depends, as with other types of landscaping, upon the form, function and appropriateness of the whole and its parts.  A building or structure may appear to be unified with the natural surroundings, but it is not actually, and nature is always on the move.  Sooner or later, considerable maintenance is in order.  Nevertheless, landscaping with native plants is a refreshing new concept which time has come.

The following is a partial plant list of species we noted.

Aesculus pavia var. pavia
Amelanchior x Autumn Brilliance
Ampelaster caroliniana
Arisaema triphyllum
Asarum virginicum
Campsis radicans
Carex grayi
Chasmanthium laxum
Clematis catesbyana
Cocculus carolinus
Conoclinium coelestinum
Cornus asperifolia
Dichromena colorata
Elephantopus tomentusus
Erythrina herbacea
Eupatorium purpureum
Eustachys petraea
Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy'
Gelsemium sempervirens
Helianthus hirsutus
Heliotropium curassavicum
Heterotheca graminifolia
Hypericum hypericoides
Ipomoea macrorhiza
Juniperus virginiana 'Brodie'
Krigia dandelion
Lobelia cardinalis
Lyonia lucida
Mitchella repens
Monarda punctata
Myrica cerifera
Nymphea spp.
Passiflora lutea
Quercus virginiana
Rhapidophyllum hystrix
Salvia lyrata
Sanguinaria canadensis
Scuttelaria integrifolia
Serenoa repens
Spigelia marilandica
Stipa spartea
Symphotrichum concolor
Rudbeckia maxima
Ruellia carolinensis
Trillium maculatum
Tripsacum dactyloides
Toxicodendron radicans
Verbena rigida
Viburnum acerifolium
Viburnum obovatum
Vitis rotundifolia
Yucca recurvifolia

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