Monday, June 23, 2008

Hope in Bloom for cancer patients

Here's an article featuring a landscape professional with a heart of gold. It appeared in the Monday, June 23, issue of the Norwood, MA, Daily News Transcript.

WALPOLE — Brenda Cooke is helping to change the landscape for local cancer patients - literally.

She is a landscaper who has donated her time to a nonprofit organization called Hope In Bloom that plants gardens in the yards of people fighting cancer.

Friday, Cooke, a Walpole resident herself, replanted gardens around the pool of breast cancer patient Lynne Bean of Ponderosa Lane in Walpole.

Cooke said the flowers serve as powerful symbolic inspiration. The perennials that are planted show cancer patients that they, like the new flowers in their yard, can bloom again. They encourage people to stick it out through difficult times, as the flowers do in winter, because spring is inevitable.

"Fresh cut flowers are an expression of love," she said. "It's a gift of life."

Bean was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2005. While she was being treated, a former co-worker told Hope In Bloom about Bean.

She said she is "deeply grateful for (Cooke's) willingness to donate her time."

Bean calls herself a survivor, but she said she still needs to make regular visits to the hospital for treatment. The new garden, she said, will surely help her continued recovery.

Cooke met with Bean about a month ago to discuss themes for the garden. After looking at catalogs and various sketches, Bean decided on a beach theme with a pink and lime green color scheme.

Cooke then went to work finding flowers and tall grasses to make the vision a reality.

Her work doesn't stop with planting flowers.

By weeding, clearing out space in the garden, tending to window boxes, rearranging furniture and building a lattice to hide pool equipment, Cooke worked to create a "clean, brightened space to enjoy" as well.

"Plants are very therapeutic," Cooke explained. "When the landscaping goes astray, it affects you emotionally and psychologically."

Straightening out a yard, she added, brings a patient "back into emotional balance."

A yard can fall into disorder because keeping it neat is not a priority for a patient undergoing treatment.

Survival was the top-priority when Bean was diagnosed with cancer, she said. She only attended to the "bare necessities" of life.

Along with being weak with illness, a cancer patient tends to spend time with family and devotes financial resources to children and costly treatments.

"It's a family situation," Cooke said. "It's a home situation."

As a cancer patient, you don't "have time to enjoy your landscaping, let alone make it enjoyable."

Bean is married with three children - Lauren, 9, Danny, 11, and Steven, 13.

Hope In Bloom has given her more than just a landscaper. Bean has found a confidant in Cooke.

The landscaper became involved with Hope in Bloom after losing her mother to breast cancer. Her mother, she said, taught her everything she knew about gardening. Cooke said it was an especially difficult time toward the end as the two looked out the window to a yard that had fallen into disarray since they had last devoted time together gardening it.

Cooke's father is also currently in a battle with cancer.

She also started a company, Gardens With Spirit (, that creates gardens with the aim of cultivating the mind and the soul.

Roberta Herson started Hope In Bloom last year when she lost her best friend, also a gardener, to breast cancer.

Three dozen gardens have been installed, but there are more than 100 requests from all over Massachusetts to attend to.

Today, Cooke and others in the organization are looking for volunteers, especially men, to help with the landscaping and for donations to purchase flowers and plants from nurseries. Donations can be made by consulting the group's Web site,

"People need to know they can make an impact," Cooke said. The impact they make is personal as well. Money isn't being given to a faceless organization. Like helping the Beans in East Walpole, she said, one would be "making a donation to your neighbor."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Congo put down after one attack too many

Congo the German shepherd made one attack too many — this one injuring and sending the 75-year-old mother of its owner to a hospital.

Congo, of course, is the big dog that chewed up 42-year-old landscape worker, Giovanni Rivera, almost exactly a year ago. He and four other workers came to work on the property of Guy and Elizabeth James in Princeton Township, NJ, that morning when he was attacked by the dog and several of its offspring. Rivera required surgery to patch up his wounds and eventually ended up with a $250,000 settlement.

When the judge hearing the case against Congo last summer, ruled that the dog was a “vicious” dog and should be put down, thousands of Congo’s supporters weighed in to save his life, many claiming that the dog was just protecting its owner from a perceived threat.

Take your pick — either Congo was, in fact, a vicious dog or he perceived that the 75-year-old mother of its owner, Elizabeth James, was a threat when he attacked her.

The family had the dog and his three offspring euthanized this week. According to news reports of the dogs’ death (there were many), their owner Guy Games denied the dogs attacked his mother-in-law. He insisted that they jumped on her “in play.” — Ron Hall

Monday, June 16, 2008

A lighter look at water shortages

Last week California's Governator declared the state was in an official drought and ordered water be transported to the driest areas.

This is a very serious problem and could have a major impact on landscapers and others in the Green Industry. With that in mind, my favorite fake-news source, The Onion, provided a list of ways for California to conserve water, including:

  • Gardeners must haul their own water from Mexico

  • Upon the conclusion of each Shamu Show at San Diego's SeaWorld, all persons seated in the Splash Zone must wring out their wet clothes over the lip of the orca tank

  • Wildfires only allowed to rage out of control on odd-numbered days

  • Top scientific minds will be summoned to see if they can somehow utilize the immense body of water immediately to the state's left

  • Click here to see the whole list.

    — Mike Seuffert

    Saturday, June 14, 2008

    J-1 visas and student workers just don't cut it

    I read with great interest a recent article in the Vineland (MA) Gazette that told how businesses on Martha’s Vineyard are surviving in spite of not getting all the H-2B seasonal guest workers they wanted.

    The headline suggested that the businesses have been able to hire enough employees for the tourist season in spite of failure of Congress to expand the H=2B program. And in spite of a chamber of commerce official saying that local businesses were anticipating a shortage of about 1,200 workers this summer.

    Martha’s Vineyard, of course, is one of America’s busiest and most popular summer resorts.

    As I scanned the headline I wondered, wow, am I missing something here? Could my landscape friends be overstating their need for seasonal workers? Could it be that the H-2B program, as some its critics whine, takes jobs away from our young people and other U.S. citizens desiring employment?

    Nobody wants to see that, right?

    As it turns out, neither is the case. And, the H-2B critics are, in fact, just whining.

    The article described how some of the island businesses acquired workers through J-1 visas that allow foreign students to work seasonally in the United States. Others hired local students (mostly high schoolers) for jobs such as bussing tables, cleaning guest rooms, etc.

    We’ve talked to a lot of landscape business owners these past few years and while many are doing fine with local help, many others have had little or no success attracting reliable local workers, students or otherwise. Often, again in the face of criticism of the H-2B program, at wages considerably better than those at a fast food joint.

    Let me just state — the J-1 program doesn't work for landscape production because these foreign students generally take off in September or October, just when most landscape companies have recovered their costs and are ready to burn rubber in hopes of making their profit for the season.

    Local high students, you say? How many do you know that aren’t involved with summer sports, band or working in internships? Darn few are willing to work five or six long hot days in a row through the course of a season. That’s what I’m told.

    The J-1 program works fine for amusement parks and tee-shirt shacks that are busy during the relatively short summer season. After Labor Day these businesses generally don’t need as much help so they don’t mind if these workers take off.

    The landscape business is a longer, harder pull. It takes a tougher worker, and a worker that shows up long before the summer tourists arrive and is still producing through most of the fall.

    The H-2B seasonal guest worker program remains one of the few programs instituted and administered by our federal government that actually works just as intended. Too bad it isn’t being expanded. — Ron Hall

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    Sticking to his guns on an unpopular issue

    Dan Gardner is a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. To my knowledge Dan’s salary is not tied in any way to the agrichemical industry, and I suspect that the newspaper he works for is not dependent upon that same industry for advertising revenue. I can’t say that’s the case categorically since I don’t read the Ottawa Citizen.

    Several weeks ago Gardner wrote a column essentially saying that he was satisfied with the findings of a Health Canada review finding that “ there is reasonable certainty that no harm to human health, future generations or the environment will result from use of exposure” to 2,4-D. That herbicide, of course, has been subjected to more studies than just about any other chemical product you can think of the past 60 years or so since it’s discovery.

    Gardner’s column apparently prompted a “deluge” of emails, from people opposed to the use of pesticides, including herbicide 2,4-D. Rather than retreat from his stance in the face of so negative response, he came back with a second column on the subject Saturday, June 7. The column offers a reasoned explanation of why he feels the way he does about this particular issue.

    My hat is off to Dan Gardner, not as much for his defense of a particular product or class of products but for being honest with himself and his readers. He didn’t let the unfavorable response to what he wrote change what he feels to be true.

    Click on the headline if you want to read what Dan Gardner wrote on June 6.

    Friday, June 06, 2008

    City's refusal to ban pesticides just delays the inevitable

    In the category of man bites dog in light of the near hysteria over lawn pesticide use that’s infected Canada, the council of Parry Sound, Ontario, turned down a proposal to ban the use of pesticides. The Parry Sound mayor cast the deciding vote.

    It seems that skunks and other critters have been tearing up the city’s cemetery looking for grubs, and the city director of operations wants to knock out the grubs with an insecticide. To appease one particularly persistent pesticide critic, who was quoted in the local Beacon Star News as saying, “:I guess we have to control every aspect of our environment and make it as pristine as possible,” (Hey amigo, it’s a cemetery, so lighten up), the city apparently has agreed to try nematodes to control grubs at the town beach.

    I don’t know what the rush is to enact a pesticide ban in Parry Sound or any other city or village in Ontario anyway. What’s the point? It's all but certain that the entire province, including Parry Sound, will have a ban on the so-called “cosmetic use” of pesticides on lawns in 2009.

    As a point of reference, Parry Sound is a delightful city of about 15,000 people on beautiful Georgian Bay a 2-hour drive north of Toronto, Ontario.

    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    Clean Air Lawn Care getting killer press

    Clean Air Lawn Care looks like it might take off. The lawn service company, which is based in Fort Collins, CO, uses electric and biodiesel-fueled equipment to run its equipment. Its maintenance equipment is charged during the day by solar panels mounted on its trucks and at night with conventional energy.

    The company has been getting great press wherever it appears and it's starting to appear outside outside of its home base in Colorado. The company began offering franchises just last year.

    If you're looking for a way to break into the maintenance market and you need a positive marketing hook, you may have found it, assuming you live in a place that gets a fair amount of sunshine. Or you keep some incredibly long extension cords in your service vehicle. (OK, I'm kidding about the cords.)

    While I love the concept, I found the company's Web site, tough to navigate, but you may think it's neat. You can click on the headline to check out the Web site yourself. Go to the news section at the top of the site and see the kind of press it's getting. You might want to see if a franchise has made an appearance in your region yet, too. - Ron Hall

    Better dead than in the red

    Residents of Corona, CA are asking their city leaders to raise landscaping fees. In fact they're trying to force the city into action. Apparently aan earlier effort to raise the fees was voted down. Instead of paying for extra maintenance, the city chose to let grass discolor and die.

    Some residents weren't happy with that solution so they began collecting signatures to force a revote.

    According to the article on The Press-Enterprise Web site, "Corona will begin phasing in more drought tolerant plants and installing more efficient irrigation systems to keep costs down if the voters approve the rate hike. If the voters reject the increase, then the city will begin reducing its level of landscape maintained to close the funding gap."

    For the complete story click here.

    Landscape thieves nab shrubs, gas

    Several homes in Mukwonago, WI, have been targeted by thieves who are making away with trees, flowers and shrubs.

    According to Newsradio 620 in Wisconsin: Elsie Roth had her newly planted tress, shrubs and flowers dug up and stolen. 25 holes were found all around Roth's condo complex.

    "Just a little bit surprised," Roth said.  "This is something unusual. I don't know of any other time someone has taken landscaping out of the ground right after it's been planted."

    If that’s not enough, we have a report from Vancouver, WA, where a fuel tank at a landscaping company was targeted. Thieves got away with nearly $3,000 worth of gas.

    — Mike Seuffert