Thursday, January 30, 2014

UNC Charlotte professor's book opens up world of native plants

The movement that tells us to choose native landscaping plants has found a firm footing in Charlotte. But it hasn’t always been easy to identify and find those plants once a gardener gets interested in species that support local wildlife and tend to thrive more readily in our climate.
That led UNC Charlotte biology professor Larry Mellichamp to publish “Native Plants of the Southeast” ($39.95, Timber Press).
The just-released, 367-page hardcover book by the director of UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens lists more than 460 species and rates their value as landscape plants. (visit for a chance to win a copy.)

Color photographs by Will Stuart and detailed plant profiles are intended to also make the book useful as a reference.
The garden’s Van Landingham Glen has been cultivated as a native plant landscape for nearly 40 years, and Mellichamp’s status as an authority has grown with it.
Classes for a native plant certificate proved so popular that a reference for gardeners was a natural step, said Paula Gross, assistant director at the gardens. “We feel like the homeowner wants to know which ones, where to get them, and how they perform.”
Now 15 to 18 classes a year are offered through the Certificate in Native Plant Studies Program. Native plants are also a focus of the spring and fall plant sales at the botanical gardens.
With the book published, the staff is focusing on raising money for a renovation to transform one-fifth acre in an ornamental garden into the Native Plants in the Home Landscape Demonstration Garden.

The staff thinks we’ll see the beauty of native plants and we’ll want to bring them home to remake our own ornamental gardens. Imagine that.
Sullivan:; Twitter @sullivan_obs 

Monday, January 27, 2014

New EPA rules give propane use a boost

We fire our gas grills with it. Soon we might also use propane to power up small engines for mowing and other lawn maintenance work.
New rules from the Environmental Protection Agency call for a shift to cleaner-running machines starting this year. Gas-powered landscaping equipment  is one of the targets.

“That’s one of the bigger polluters,” said John Jessup, executive director of the North Carolina Propane Gas Association.
Five years ago one or two companies offered propane-powered mowers, such as the commercial model shown here. Now 14 do, and still others plan to, Jessup said. It’s not just mowers that are getting a makeover. Tankless water heaters, heating and cooling systems and appliances are also buzzing on propane, which can be more efficient and cheaper than electric power, Jessup said.
Natural gas is the top alternative to electricity for heating, water-heating and appliances in Charlotte, and propane doesn’t really offer advantages in cost or performance, Jessup said. So that left little room for propane – until the EPA demanded better pollution control.
“Compared to the emissions on gasoline engines, propane is about 60 percent cleaner,” Jessup said. “It makes a huge difference.”
Sullivan:; Twitter: @sullivan_obs

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Shortcuts can make you a better hostess

Some people make entertaining seem so effortless. Talking to Vicki Payne recently made me realize a lot of it comes down to having reliable shortcuts.
Payne, who lives in Charlotte’s SouthPark area, is the host of “For Your Home,” PBS’s long-running, nationally broadcast home decor show. She’s got an impressive a list of schemes for saving time and work, some of them from projects she’s done on the show.
If you collect silver serving pieces, as she does, you’ll like the simplicity of this one. She lined a deep drawer in her pantry with fabric that prevents tarnish. (She walks you through the steps in a video below.)
The other tip is that Payne shops for silver pieces at estate sales and other places where she can find attractive prices. She cleans each item and tucks it away inside the lined drawer, and it’s ready to use. That’s one less thing on her to-do list for the next gathering.
With the holidays still fresh in our minds, most of us can see the value of shaving tedious work off of next year’s celebration. Otherwise, it’s tempting to just leave the silver in the drawer rather than to find an hour or so to shine it as the party draws near.
So take a tip from Payne. Spend a little more time this year looking for simple solutions to jobs that eat up your time when you need it most. I’m guessing Payne is already getting a jump on Christmas dinner.

Sullivan: and @sullivan_obs on Twitter

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kitchen design seminar will help untangle common problems

White kitchens are crowd-pleasers, but not every home is right for that look.
“The classic white kitchen does work in Nantucket,” said MaryJo Camp, a certified kitchen and bath designer. “Not everybody lives in Nantucket.”
Design that’s appropriate for the setting is a topic Camp will take up in “Downton Abbey Meets the Jetsons,” a seminar presented by the Carolinas Chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
The event will be 5:30-8 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Cosentino Charlotte showroom, 11435 Granite St. Tickets are $25. Register here.
How did she come up with a seminar that puts together two popular TV shows that are polar opposites when it comes to design? White kitchens are part of the reasons.
“I kept seeing white kitchen after white kitchen,” she said.
The seminar also explores the problem she’s taking on in her own kitchen renovation. The brick, 1980s Lake Norman ranch is traditional with dark wood trim and a brick fireplace in the family room – not her favorite look.
“My personal taste is very contemporary,” she said. “That style would not fit in this house. It would be like putting the Jetsons into Downton Abbey.”
The white kitchens and her renovation project illustrate the bigger issue that Camp will tackle in her discussion: finding a balance between the family’s needs and preferences and the architecture of the house.

Sullivan: and @sullivan_obs on Twitter

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Buyers and sellers can learn from kitchen design survey

If you had a chance to redo your kitchen, what would you change?
Researchers at the online home decorating site Houzz wanted to know for its first kitchen trends survey. They collected information from 7,500 people in the process of remodeling or planning to. There weren’t any big surprises, but what an interesting collage you can see in the results.
Most people didn’t want a bigger kitchen. They wanted to open up their space to make it feel more spacious, look better and become more useful, the report says. Only 37 percent were expanding.
Stainless steel appliances are still the top choice, with 65 percent going for those. Ninety-four percent were changing countertops, mostly to granite or quartz. Glass tile is the look for a backsplash, along with hardwoods for floors.
Traditional decor has ruled for decades in the South, but respondents under age 45 preferred contemporary styles.
The survey also asked the homeowners to rate the importance of eco-friendly appliances and materials. Forty-nine percent rated it as 4 or 5, with 5 being extremely important.
Most interesting, I think, were the reasons for the upgrades: New marriages, growing families, empty nests, and accommodating grandchildren or wheelchairs.
Just different ways of telling us what we already know: We want a kitchen that feels like the heart and soul of our home.

Sullivan: and @sullivan_obs on Twitter