Monday, November 3, 2014

In the Beginning...the Yard and Garden 15 Years Ago

Agastache and variegated horehound on the hillside
Living in Denver in Zones 4, 5, and least in my a semi-arid, high-altitude, urban environment means that not all plants can survive the harsh conditions of either summer or winter. Often they need something more nutrition than clay soils offer; they need more water than I am willing to provide (we do not have a sprinkler system); or they don't enjoy being exposed to the dry, cold winter conditions that often exist...especially when I have forgotten to mulch them for winter. If you've read previous posts, you know it has taken many years of experimentation to create a lush environment in our yard.

In my past, I have NOT spent time amending soil. Why not? It was a combination of excitement over just getting the plants in the ground and, admittedly, laziness. Many little green and flowered plants just couldn't live in the heavy clay soils. Many of them expired from unsuccessful attempts along with starts and starts in different areas of the yard or lack of attention. Now, when my neighbors walk by and look at the yard, they ask me how I do it because EVERYTHING seems to grow. What I try to explain is that they haven't seen the sad expired skeletons of leafless and lifeless plant material and the weeds and weeds and weeds! Expired plants are removed as soon as they start going south and added to their compost pile grave on the western side of our yard getting ready to contribute to a survivor! The critical mass of weeds have been removed over time and in sections.

When we moved into our house almost 15 years ago, the parkway along Gaylord was just weeds without trees and vegetation. The front walk perpendicular to the public sidewalk and the street was breaking apart. Moving west across the parkway and toward the house, was a sloping main yard. On the north was a failed attempt from a previous owner to create a rock garden. On the south was dying grassy knoll. The rock garden consisted of a Caryopteris or Bluebeard Bush, lots of Sempervivum or Hens and Chicks lining the north side of the steps and some very happy low growing Sedum. There were three aspen on the south side along the property line and a small evergreen on the north. Closer to the house were some nice columbine and a bed of iris under the front window. The columbine went away before we could move in....someone decided they would look better in their yard. The south side yard consisted of a lilac bush placed under the kitchen window.

Backyard birdbath, garlic chives, retaining wall
As one kept walking to the back yard, the previous owner used chicken wire and the 1930s chain link to divide the property and keep in her dog. A metal edge strip encircled a small garden consisting of a good clump of chives but little else. One area contained river rocks intended as an uneven patio of sorts but was long covered with a healthy stand of weeds. When we had looked at the house, there had been a chair with some sort of paper mache skeleton sculpture holding court with said weeds.

It seemed bleak. Bleak but not overwhelming. I was excited to have a basic blank slate with a few defining moments!

When I started working on the yard, I started by digging weeds. Changed to, unfortunately, using Roundup for a couple of years. Finally, ditched the chemicals and went back to digging and pulling and deep mulching. Just to let you know, I no longer use Roundup and other chemical weed killers and fertilizers. I know now that it ultimately hurts humans, the soil, and the plants. I control them by pulling and digging before they form flowers; apply natural pre-emergent products to help keep seeds from germinating and forming plants in the yard; put in a critical mass of plants, deep mulch the beds and try to keep the grass healthy.

The weeds included (and still include on occasion) but were and are not limited to:
1. Tribulus terrestris : Puncture vine or Goats Head - punctured a few bike tires, feet and hands!! We can finally walk barefoot in our yard.
2. Malva neglecta : Common Mallow - super long roots if allowed to grow to maturity. Also, a perennial if you don't pull them.
3. Portulaca oleracea : Purslane - still shows up and is actually edible!
4. Convolvulus arvensis : Bindweed - controlled by staying on top of it and not allowing it to bloom or seed. I used to have quite a bit of it in flower beds but after a couple years of pulling it as soon as I see it, it has not had a chance to photosynthesize so it's going away. 
5. Taraxacum officinale : Dandelion - of course!!!! This can be handled to some extent by digging the roots....which my husband, Bret, does when he moves the yard. Letting your neighbors' children pick the dandelions for bouquets for their mothers is another way to control the spread of seeds. Organic pre-emergent products can also help reduce the number that take hold in the spring.
6. Euphorbia myrsinites : Myrtle Spurge - which is often planted as an ornamental but has been identified as a noxious weed in Colorado. The issue is the sap that the plant emits which irritates any exposed skin that it touches. It is also a prolific seed producer. It was planted as an ornamental in our yard but I have worked to get rid of it and to replace it with other plants.
When I talk to new gardeners in Colorado, I forget how much time we spent slowly pulling and digging weeds, making mistakes, re-learning, re-planting, checking the micro-climates, re-conversing about our yard design and, finally, coming to a consensus on what would live and where it would live. I sense that we are having some success but it came in stages.

In the beginning I spent time digging old tree roots out of our parkway to plant iris along the front walk. At least four times we weeded, planted and re-planted grass in the other parts of the parkway. We finally gave up and moved the iris and dry sun garden to the area where the grass would not grow and put grass in the shade of our 13 year old Linden trees. I've taken over both sides of the slope with natives and sun loving, blooming, dry-land plants.  The Aspen, thankfully, died so they could be replaced with trees that don't spread all over the yard. We've planted four trees - two lindens (April 2001) on the parkway and two tartarian maples (April 2014) in the upper yard. All of them are from Denver Digs Trees and the Parks People. The Lindens were free. The Maples were very affordable. Now we are moving the old front walk farther from the now maturing and growing spruce tree on the north side of the yard.

Over the years I've experimented with natives and non. We've removed pounds and pounds of grass, extra soil, invasive plants, aspen sprouts, and other weeds. We've spent time debating the design and putting in a new design. We've trimmed and hand watered to our hearts content. And now.....a new phase.....adding our compost to our own gardens to work toward vegetables and more prolific growth of our flowers, trees and plants.

It's an evolution. It's done with care, love, and research. Next up....sharing time, plants, design!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Winter Gardening: Composting

Last of the kale!
So you thought you were done gardening for the year? You may be thinking, "But the predictions are for snow overnight on Sunday into Monday with nighttime lows in the 20s! I'm done!!"

I'm here to say that if you love it, gardening really can be a year 'round activity. And fall is a great time to start preparing for the spring garden!

While you are aerating your lawn and adding seed and organic fertilizer along with mulching your flower beds, you can also be preparing your compost pile for its winter work. Use all your dried leaves and green clippings, organic potting soils and plants, fungus and spore-free vegetable gardening materials mixed together to keep temperatures up and bacteria working through the winter. You will need to remember to water your pile on warm days. A good way to remember is watering on the days that are good for your trees, too!

In addition to keeping the compost pile going, you can directly dig in your winter vegetable scraps into your raised and garden beds. Just be sure to keep the soil moist and cover it to insulate against the cold, drying winds of our Colorado winters so the bacteria will continue to do it's work. Be aware that seeds may sprout for you in the spring! Maybe a few extra cucumber and squash plants will be okay for your early spring garden or you can dig the sprouts back into the soil.

As far as environmental temperatures go, on the front range, our best kept winter secret are our many days above freezing. The sun comes out. The land warms. Our compost piles speed through their soil creating process. On cold days, the pile will slow. By spring, you can have your pot of gold ready for pots, garden beds, and flower beds.

Here are some online resources that discuss winter composting:,0,5

Happy winter gardening!


As many of us do when we reach new eras in our lives, I am re-evaluating. And I'm in the herd that is re-evaluating and re-determining what the heck is it that I want to do to define the next 20 or more years of my life! 20 years ago, I entered into the architecture profession by venturing off to the University of Illinois in Urbana/Champaign to the School of Architecture. After working in offices from the side of engineering, architecture, and interior design, I'm again entering a new phase. This one using the skills both technical and design that I love to much adding in my love of teaching, gardening, plants and the out of doors. What does this look like?

Late summer flowers visible in my garden
I want more. Not more stress. Not more time at a desk and in an office building. I want more integration of all my interests. I want to seek something that included the great out of doors and the language of nature. I need to breathe and allow the sun to hit my face. I want to experiment with the palettes of life that include sustenance, beauty, creative thought, built structures, true reuse of discarded objects, research new concepts, include adventures in travel, and work more with communities in an effort to help them understand the meaning of beauty and health in their own lives.

I'm still formulating my ideas. In my life, I've been told over and over to focus. But focus on what? Growth includes exploration. Growth includes being open to new ideas and people. Each step we take gets us a bit closer to something new. A new direction. A new process. A new idea. I have given up many of these ideas over many different periods of my life. In order to focus in one direction over another, something is lost. I'm tired of losing aspects of my life that I actually consider vital to who I am. What's the syndrome for that called these days....ADD?

What are my interests? They include beauty and design and people. Buildings, products, plants and gardening coupled with beauty, affordability, nutrition, experimentation, creativity, and accessibility no matter where you, townhouse, apartment, suburbs, city, rural area. I see gardens that while productive, haven't taken advantage of the beauty of plants or trellises to create height, shade or design.

What is my focus? Helping others create beauty, design, and food for their families with a focus on affordability and nutrition.

What might the steps be?
1.Training and research that includes professionals in the fields of horticulture, agriculture, permaculture, plant biology, agronomy and the sciences
2. Internet and web searches for ideas, current thoughts and popular personalities
3. Involvement in volunteer activities with schools and my neighborhood
4. Research of funding options and opportunities
5. Engage artists in creating garden accessories that reuse waste products
6. Teach children to use the resources that are often seen only as trash and direct recyclables to create planting and potting options for their balconies or patios that can be moved every time the family moves
7. Research the cultural histories of plant production for the different ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the people with whom I come in contact. This really includes all the continents....maybe a little too big. So I'll start with the Americas and our global food contributions.
8. As Bret and I trot around the globe, photograph, record and enjoy the local food offerings, markets, and find local food production, if it's there!
9. At historic sites, look for the inclusion of food production history not just the design of beautiful gardens and shrubs.
10. Create programming around these ideas
11. Write about it all!
12. Produce books that combine each of these different ideas that are all-in-one resources for people to use around the globe to create beauty, food and nutrition!

Seems doable. And now on to it.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cute and Mini Corn Muffins

In my quest to create a new life that includes all aspects of the things I case you need a list: architecture, interior design, product design, accessory design, food and recipes design and creation, gardening and garden design, well maybe that's enough...or let's just say DESIGN....this is a recipe I  created yesterday to go with vegetarian chili and red cabbage slaw. It's super cute, mini muffins that were also quick and easy to make with ingredients I already have in my kitchen and pantry.

To back up a bit, my husband and I have signed up to help host international guests in our home as a part of a program with the US Department of State and World Denver. I crave talking to people from different countries with different and yet similar ideas. So far my husband and I have had guests from Albania, Angola, Philippines, Guyana, Suriname, and Kosovo.....and did I say...I love travel and travel writing, too. We've done two of these dinners so far. It's been a fun challenge to create menus that I think everyone will have a selection and combine flavors that make sense.

With this meal came the restrictions of one pescetarian, one allergy to all nuts but seeds were okay, and one who would eat anything! In order to move this forward, I decided we would just make it comfortable for everyone and go with vegetarian. For the Southeast Asians in the crowd, this kind of vegetarian will eat both milk and eggs. The menu and the corn muffin recipe both include these two items.

Fresh popped popcorn with butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder and micro-planed parmigiano reggiano
Fresh made hummus served with celery and carrot sticks, cauliflower and cucumber slices
Toasted raw pumpkin, sunflower, flax and sesame seeds with brown sugar, salt, pepper, smoked paprika

Spinach with homemade vinegrette with balsamic reduction
Red Cabbage Slaw with Rice wine, wasabi and crushed, mustard seed vinagrette
Cute and Mini Corn Muffins

Vegetarian Chili with shredded sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream, oyster crackers
Jeera Rice
Cute and Mini Corn Muffins (Round 2)

Cinnamon/Nutmeg Topped Crusted Brownies
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

And, finally, the recipe!!
Cute and Mini Corn Muffins
Cute and Mini Corn Muffins
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
Lightly butter 2 mini muffin tins (Pans I use have 12 muffin cups each)

3/4 Cup Coursely Ground Polenta Meal
3/4 Cup Tamale Corn Flour
1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 Cup Buttermilk
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Teaspoons Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Cup Melted Butter
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 - 1/2 Teaspoon Finely Ground, Dried Jalepeno Peppers
3/4 Cup Freeze Dried Corn

Mix all ingredients together until just blended.
Fill each mini muffin tin to about 7/8 full.
Bake 10 minutes in the middle of the oven.
Remove immediately from oven. Transfer mini muffins to a cookie rack to cool.
Serve immediately or rewarm in 170 degree Fahrenheit oven.

Using butter in small amounts on the cups of the muffin tin creates a nice 'crust' for the muffins. The photo shows varying results of the browned butter. It makes it easier to remove the muffins. If you don't have two tins, you will need to re-butter the cups in the tins before adding the second baking of batter or the crust will not form and muffins may stick.

I purchase freeze dried corn from my favorite herb and spice store in Denver, Savory Spice Shop. The original store, which is also my favorite, is on Platte Street just 'north' 15th Street and
east' of I-25.  They also have an online presence but have franchised to many other locations in Colorado and across the country.

Preheating will be important because you want the muffins to develop quickly. You will need to watch to make sure the butter doesn't burn and the muffins don't burn. 450 degrees is a very hot oven.

This was such a great, fast, make-ahead, freezable recipe for a lovely fall accompaniment to chili or squash soups.

Happy baking! Cheers.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Division and Planting = Spring/Summer 2015 Blooms

It's that time of  year.....overused phrase for sure....but it's really time to divide many perennials and plant them, too! One of the greatest benefits to transplanting and planting as fall leaves fly is spring, summer and fall blooms for 2015. The second greatest benefit is the 30-50% off sales of perennials at garden centers in the front range communities. The plants may not look pretty and the blooms may have long ago given their beauty away but they are ready and willing to go into your garden so that you can enjoy blooms next year.

If you read the spring garden entry, you learned that its a great time to divide and plant because the soil is warming and the air is cool! Roots become established and the plant has a chance to start sending up new growth all with either no or limited amounts of water. And, guess what....the fall season is also a great time to plant and divide perennials for many of the same reasons. The air is beginning to cool and the soil is still warm. You may still not be convinced that fall planting is for you but the growing season for these plants can last until October and early November in Colorado's Front Range.

2 of 4 1/2 bags of iris given away since August.
Some of you are friends with me on FACEBOOK so you have already seen the posts for free plants. This includes about 4 1/2 large mulch bags of iris this season, a large grocery bag of hens and chicks, bags of daylilies, low-growing sedum, and grape hyacinths. I've transplanted purple coneflower, red hot poker, four different varieties of grasses, Asian lilies (think Easter Lily), sedum, hens and chicks, peonies, Centaurea Montana (perennial bachelor buttons), garlic chives, and started adding bone meal to bulbs and other blooming plants for their fall/winter feeding. I'll grant you that grasses may actually want to wait until early spring to be divided in your garden but, hey, they are free and I was in the mood to move them.
Hens and Chicks (Sempervium), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) and Stonecrop Blue Spruce and Angelina (Sedum Reflexum and Sedum Rupestre) ground cover given away.

You may be thinking, "BUT Cheryl, we already had some nights with temperatures in the mid 30s! It snowed in Boulder!" Yes, we will have some freezing temperatures but this conversation is about  hardy perennials. They don't mind a few frosty nights or even some snow cover as long as their toes are cozy in the soil. The soil will eventually get cold enough that it may freeze. At that point, it should be the goal that your plants are established and ready for a good snooze before the thaw begins.

Late summer Hens and Chicks (Sempervium Tectorum) or Common Houseleek.
It's also time to start preparing perennials, especially tender perennials for winter especially if you are worried about winter kill which is caused by the drying of the plant's crown. Mulching is a great way to keep moisture and temperatures up around the plant's roots. For this I have used leaves as mulch, partially because it's light in weight but mostly because it's free. I have to admit that I've dumpster dived for these when neighbors have filled the dumpsters with bags of leaves rather than adding them to the city-wide compost program or putting them in their own compost piles. Leaf mulch creates pockets of air that stay warm; it holds some moisture so the plant doesn't dry out; and it starts breaking down into the soil. Carefully apply the mulch. There are some plants like thyme that like their tops to exposed to the sun. It's easy to kill creeping and woolly thymus by covering them. Hens and Chicks, however, love to be under a covering of a light winter mulch. In the spring because Colorado is often very dry, I have the option of leaving the mulch on the ground, digging it into the soil or raking it all up for the 'brown matter' for my compost pile. Snow still benefits plants especially when the outside temperatures dip below zero degrees Fahrenheit.  It will provide protection from extreme, dry cold while adding slow draining moisture into their roots.

With any gardening project, there are lots of resources out there. Fall and spring are the swing seasons for gardening which for me means the main times to revitalize the garden and prepare for the seasons to follow. Gardening is an optimistic and hopeful prospect. I am optimistic that you will be renewing your love of the outdoors and preparing your plants for their long winter's nap.
Bees love the Garlic Chives ( Allium Tuberosum).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Convention

2014 AIA Convention Notes

In creating the next life direction, sharing the notes created during the ChicAIAgo convention These will give an inkling into the mental processes created during lectures and learning sessions for the convention.

From Next Generation Green:
The 'Don'ts' of moving forward and creating space for new thoughts and processes:
  1. Don't tolerate team members who are obstacles
  2. Don't be discouraged by road blocks - or as a lawyer friend says, "Get to as many 'nos' as possible so the 'yeses' can enter the client vocabulary."
  3. Don't forget that the community should be allowed and encouraged to buy-in.
The 'Dos' of moving forward and creating space for new thoughts and processes:
  1. Set and communicate clear goals.
  2. Plan the work
  3. Educate decision makers and key individuals about your goals and processes.
  4. Build a next generation team by creating a spirit of encouragement.
From Keynote speaker Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO:
"A great brand is a story that keeps unfolding."
A brand has influence on multiple levels. It impacts the neighborhood, city, state, country and world.

From Evidence Based Lighting: The Intersection of Light, Architecture, Circadian Rhythms and Human Health:
Michael D. White, EDAC, LC, LEED AP
"Our response to light is dose dependent. Timing matters for when the dose occurs."
"Stress hormones effect healing."
"Neuro Endocrine issues are effected by light and circadian rhythms."
"The U.S.A. has the highest cost for health care with the lowest life expectancy of western/developed societies."

From Keystone Panel including Ellen Dunham Jones:
"Being in a beautiful place improves health."

From The Future of Your Firm's Bottom Line: The Case for Cultural Diversity with Phil Bernstein, Carole Wedge and Susan Chin:
51 = percentage of women in the 'natural' world population
56.4 = the percentage of undergraduate population in the U.S.A. who are women
38 / 50 = The percentage of women in architecture graduate programs / the overall percentage of women in graduate programs
18 / 0.2 =  the percentage of AIA (non Associate members) members who are women / the percentage of African American women AIA members
14 = the percentage of women who are principals of firms
 7 = the percentage of women who are principals of firms characterized as 'large'
1/3 = the number of women in architecture firms
1/2 = the number of architecture graduates who are women who leave the profession

Why is diversity important?
Client base is changing to include higher numbers of ethnicity and culturally unique groups and women.
Clients are asking for diversity.
Intellectual resources are not fungible.
It is a workplace strategy to gather different perspectives and view points to create more relevant and culturally appropriate projects.

How do firms make the change?
It must be embedded in the culture from principals to policies.
Create and perform a diversity audit. This includes looking at team composition and asking questions.
Create a clear succession plan that allows all employees to understand what it takes to advance in the firm.
Small firms may need to spend more time talking to individuals about advancement in the firm or plans the owner has for their advancement.

At first there will be a subculture that does not support the goal. Persons will either come along with the goal or may choose another path that moves them out of your firm.

Why don't women make it to the top? Why is policy change important?
People tend to want people like them whether the same gender, socio-economic group, cultural identity or ethnicity.
There is an inherent structural unfriendliness in firms toward women. This may be reflected in leave policies or a lack of acceptance of flex schedules or project assignments that don't move women into progressively more challenging positions within a firm.

Current irritating buzz words and phrases:
Dive deep / Deep dive

Chicago is my favorite city from the Lakefront to the L to the friendly people to the buildings. Thanks for a great visit Chi-town!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Messy Collaboration

Architects, their consultants and school districts along with all their contributors are constantly debating and being asked to comment on the 21st Century Learning Environment. It's difficult to imagine this continuing to the be correct question when, last I checked, we are in the twenty-first century. Actually, fourteen years into the century and we are still developing schools similar in many aspects to the schools of the nineteenth century. How are we as architects challenging the design process that most of us are all too familiar? Are we merely changing up a few vocabulary words to fit with the current buzz words of our tech rich society so our client base feels comfortable with a few minor tweaks? Or is incorporating new technology in the classroom really what this about and not changing the process? Or are the architects truly involved with the process from curriculum design and debate? Are we part of the earliest community and board meetings where the first thoughts about a school are discussed? Are we working to create a design process and environment that helps districts formulate big changes that speak to the dynamics of our changing world...not just technology changes and wiring? And why would there even be a suggestion that is it important for an architect to be in the mix from the beginning and with the client's customers...and who are the client's customers?

And finally, are these questions relevant to either a 21st Century or a sustainable school.One of the big buzz words for both 21st Learning and sustainable design is collaboration. A truly collaborative process is extremely messy. It identifies all the potential customers the building will serve...not just the client who pays the bills and keeps the firm's doors open. There are many stakeholders including, but not limited to:
(1) The students and their parents who, while they may only inhabit the spaces for short periods of their lives, are the largest benefactor of collaboration.
(2) Teachers are an important part of how the space is used. They carry out curriculum and can feed curriculum changes that will support the building use. They are in the trenches with the largest customer group in a school on a daily basis. They are given spaces that may not make sense for changes in current curriculum or future direction of the educational process and what they need for their students.
(3) Administrative, food service and janitorial staff have needs and obligations along with limitations on their voices in the design process.
(4) Facility management professionals who are often the main connection of the design firm to the school district's customer base.
(5) School Boards have been elected to serve the best interest of the client but are not always at the table to be a part of the conversation.
(6) District Administration are the superintendents and principals who create part of the leadership and educational direction.

If we want to have a building that reflects what I see as one of the most important principals in the 21st Century process, everyone needs to be at the table regularly and without fail to provide input and design thoughts for their spaces.

What are the implications? Cost, of course, is a big one. Paying a design professional to be present from the beginning has a cost associated with it but it also has a big payoff for usability and relavance of the spaces that are created for the user groups. Time will be extended but can also be compressed with good communication and training for how to interact within the group process. Training will need to include information about the building and design process so the lay groups can understand what is needed and the concerns of facilities staffs and the design team. In my experience both in design and in the public realm, the result is an overall happier user group because they understand and can explain why decisions were made and how space were intended to be used within their curriculum base. The students will be engaged in something that is bigger than themselves. It can be a memorable part of their process in becoming a citizen and understanding how to participate in a public process. And, as a citizen rather than a consumer of that space, they may even help watch over, maintain, and create an atmosphere of safety by their mere presence emotionally and physically in the area.

Collaboration is messy. When we allow our groups to be citizens in the projects that are funded for them, we gain a new respect for our cities and what it takes to make great spaces!