The Best Urban Revitalization Formula for 2018

Neighbors Uniting + Nature and the Great Outdoors + Empty Lot Beautification = Urban Revitalization! 

creating-more-with-less-imageIts happening everywhere in the U.S. now–and even in Akron, Ohio!

I was so honored to write this article highlighting this formula for TURF DESIGN-BUILD magazine a few months ago.  Here it is in its entirety:

Opportunities To Green Up Small Urban Spaces












Five reasons why you need to hire a freelance contract copywriter now

vice tighteningGood News for 1Q/2Q 2015: Pent up demand for marketing communications projects letting loose!

Bad News for 1Q/2Q 2015: The vice is tightening to get it all done.

Okay, I will admit this from the beginning, as a long-standing freelance or contractor copywriter, this blog is a little self-serving.

But, listen up all you marketing managers, creative agency directors and non-profit presidents responsible for your organization’s marcom:

If the vice is tightening on your promotional needs: Hire or contract freelance copywriters... without going through the hassle and time crunch to hire more full-time staff.

Most businesses like yours are pulling out of the recession and handling pent up demand for marketing communications services. Managers have more items on their promo plate than they have hours in their day. Since business is growing, all those shelved communications proposals and marketing plans are being dusted off and implemented. Is the vice tightening up enough yet?

Then, outsourcing your many writing projects–large and small–to freelancers is one of the smartest, most economical decisions you can make. Hiring someone to write your sales collateral, blog posts and web copy can free you up to do your job and provide you with better ROI.

So,with this in mind, here are the TOP FIVE reasons why hiring a freelance contract writer makes more dollars and sense:

  1. Experts in their field. You are a fantastic manager and creative individual, and you may even be a great writer with considerable training, but do you have the time or focused expertise to sit down and write a polished professional piece from start to finish? Your time is money. You don’t need to spend entire afternoons tweaking brochure content or creating press releases. Think of how much money you are worth per hour and multiply it times the amount of hours it will take you to finish writing that instruction booklet or product description.
  2. Flexibility. Working with a freelancer provides you with flexibility. You can work out an agreement that meets your specific needs within your budget, whether it’s on a per project, contract or long term basis. Freelance writers offer better rates because of the flexibility they offer in terms of working arrangements.
  3. Save time and money. Freelancers are a more cost effective option when compared to hiring because you don’t have to spend money and resources on the hiring process, training, benefits, and the cost of continuously employing someone. You can work out a service agreement based on a specific budget number. Better still, professional freelance writers meet deadlines and go above and beyond expectations because they are hungrier and want to renew your business more so than any permanent employee who knows a consistent paycheck will always be there no matter what their deliveries may be.
  4. Eliminate overhead and HR bureaucracy. When you hire freelance contractor writers, no need for office space (unless you already have it), insurance benefits or paid vacation. They want to build a long term relationship with your company without the insistence of full time work. Freelance writers focus on the project at hand. They are not distracted with office politics. And you deal with one person for everything. No agency protocols to mess with.
  5. Bring in fresh outside perspectives. You’ve spent hours thinking about your business and tweaking your products and services. You can probably recite your current brochure in your sleep. Because freelance writers have most likely worked for your competitors at some point or already taken on a similar project under another roof, they have more diverse thinking and are more capable of generating new ideas and thinking out-of-the-box to make your products and services sound even better.

A Word to Communications Majors Entering the Real World: Network First, Cover Letter/Resume Second

English Major SymposiumHow many English/Communications/PR/Journalism majors realize that 70-80 percent of jobs available are never posted on traditional job sites or posting boards?

I was honored to present to a group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed graduating English majors from Ursuline College, Walsh University and Mount Union College last Saturday as part of  a group of professional writers giving a little reality therapy on what to expect when entering the real world of job seeking and the workplace after (or while) earning that hard-earned degree.

It was a brilliant move on the part of Dr. Ronald Scott, Walsh University Division Chair and Associate Professor of English, to bring about 100 students together for a half-day focused on An English major? What job will you find with that?”

During my presentation, it was a show of hands for how many have ever attended a professional networking activity (i.e., IABC, PRSA, SPJ, NEOSTC):  I believe I saw 2 hands go up.

A show of hands for how many had a profile on LinkedIn.  It looked like 3, maybe 4.

A show of hands for how many have put together a portfolio to take out to interviews and post on personal website.  Again, it looked like 3 or 4.

And finally, a show of hands for how many have had or looked into corporate or company  internships.  That looked like a good half-a-dozen at most.

A good portion of the symposium was spent on presentations by college career center coaches on how to “perfect” your resume and cover letter.  Don’t get me wrong–this is a very, very important step and needs to be handled.

Yet, I hoped to get another message out there loud and clear on the importance of getting out there and networking, too.  And how to make it a priority and elevate it to a high art.

Listen up you starter millennials, whether majoring in English or not:   It’s who you know. It’s how you stand out. It’s how you relate to business professionals one-on-one.

To succeed in the art of networking, that means:

1. Maintaining eye contact and leaving your smart phone in your pocket on silence.  Okay, okay, smartphones can come out when typing in contact information or showing something from your online portfolio.  After that, shove it back in your pocket…and keep it silent.

2. Asking a lot of inquisitive questions about others and their struggles and challenges on the job– it’s really not about you at first–in fact it seldom is.

3.  Instead of trying to fit in and following the rules–get outside your box and take chances.  Find your gimmick, schtick, juice…and let ‘er rip. Don’t be annoying, just charming.

Scary? Yeah, maybe at first, but it fades quickly.  If you reach a level like me where every day you go out there, make a fool of yourself somehow, someway…and in the end no-one really cares.  Get out there and stand out a little–that’s what counts!  And in fact, by doing this you will most likely endear yourself to someone who will want you more than anyone else.

And…let’s not forget the most crucial element in the art of networking that will jettison you to the top because only maybe 5 percent of job opportunity seekers will do this:

networkingFollow up!  Keep sending appropriate, clever, focused, awesome correspondence that will keep you top of mind when an opportunity arises.  Don’t be a pest, just persistent.  Believe me, you’ll eventually nail it!

What’s Trending for “Goin’ Green in 2015”?

What’s the best news about Green Trends in 2015?

Nearly every industry seems to be trending toward environmental responsibility, more companies than ever are setting up or adding to their in-house “greenprints” and most consumers are demanding green products and services at home and in their communities.

Here’s the “Top 6″ of what’s most trending for “Goin’ Green” in 2015:

DSC_00351.  Urban farming. In response to the swelling demand for fresh, local food, expect to see integrated gardening projects becoming commonplace. People are beginning to reject the idea that farming is necessarily a rural pursuit. Community gardens are cropping up in the ever-increasing vacant city lots from abandoned home teardowns. Backyard chickens and goats are taking up residence as a result of eased-up city ordinances. Food forests are taking root from increased funding and resources from community foundations and non-profits.

In Akron, look for increased use of vacant lots in Summit Lake, West Hill and North Hill and around the Zoo for accelerated urban farming practices.

ms-julies-kitchen-9109562.  Increased sustainability in dining. The National Restaurant Association has identified sustainability measures as one of 2015’s hottest industry trends. Watch for more sustainable fish and seafood options, more responsibly-raised and free range meat and poultry served and more locally-grown ingredients added to major entrees. More restaurateurs will be partnering with local food advocacy groups to decrease food waste through composting, and conserving energy, water and other resources.

In Akron, look for increase in food waste partnerships between locally-owned restaurants and coffeehouses and composters.  

alpaca sweaters3.  Demand for natural and non-toxic materials. Already trendy, especially when locally- sourced and increasingly health-conscious.  Think zero-VOC paints, low-VOC carpeting and natural fiber insulation. Materials such as limestone, alpaca wool and local pine lumber are increasing in demand. More and more options for sustainably produced, socially responsible clothing and furnishings are all around us. We’ll see green lines from both high-end designers as well as moderate retailers like Target’s Tom’s collection and BeGood.

In Akron, look for alpaca insulation available for home energy retrofits and increased consignment stores identifying natural materials and locally-made  goods in their mix.

filtrexx living wall4.  Living roofs and walls. These “lively” roofs and walls are becoming increasingly popular not only as green home features, but also cropping up as strip mall/commercial office building adornments. Besides conveying energy efficiency benefits and helping regulate surface water runoff, they protect a building’s interior from electromagnetic radiation. Green walls and roofs not only improve aesthetics, but also moderate temperatures around buildings.

In Akron, look for a new terracing systems on hillside community gardens and living walls and green roofs on new and renovated commercial buildings.

passive haus5.  Investment in greener homes. Smaller footprints and greener features ranked at the top of the trends list among NAHB survey respondents with 74 percent saying their next homes are smaller; and 68 percent saying their homes will get greener in 2015—far surpassing the other trends on the survey. According to Green Home Builder magazine, homeowners are ready and willing to live in greener homes even for extra money. Builders are rising to the occasion with more energy-efficient new construction and water-conserving plumbing without premium pricing. Net zero, water smart and passive houses are increasing in demand.  With the increasing affordability of solar power (and even geothermal and wind) for individual consumers, this type of home is likely to explode in popularity over the next year.

In Akron, look for a new Passive House to be built by new home developer and more efforts in solar panel and wind (in the form of windpod) installations.  

Bike blog : cycle freight : Outspoken delivery6.  Cargo and e-bikes. There’s a revolution rolling down our city’s streets, and its symbol is cargo bicycles and e-bicycles (aka electric bicycle using batteries–many solar-powered). E-bikes utilize electric–even solar– batteries to offer a boost when needed for pedaling up hills. These two new-wave bicycle types are the #1 health trend identified for families in ParentMap.  Okay, the cargo bike is slow and heavy, but it transports several bodies on one vehicle and over-sized goods that once was the sole transport option belonging to the automobile. More than any development in the past few decades, these two bicycle transformations fulfill the promise of integrating bicycling into our daily lives.

In Akron, look for bicycle grocery delivery service to be offered by non-traditional grocer and more bicycle commuters mounting e-motors on their rear racks.


Recyclebank: The List: Green Trends to Watch For in 2015

ParentMap: #1 health trend for families  

National Association of Homebuilders

Green Homebuilder magazine

National Restaurant Association

#1 Marketing Trend for 2015: Quality Information Content

professional_writer_buttonQuality writing still matters… and now, it’s more important than ever!

Here’s why:

There are more social media venues for marketing than ever before, and the ever-increasing desire to segment and personalize requires quality copywriting and content creation versatility.

Today,  your business relies on its online reputation. Ongoing quality correspondence and professional sales collateral supports that reputation.  Hiring a professional writer is a great way to maximize your company’s online and offline branding potential.

With this mind, here’s the Top Five Reasons why you should invest in an expert writer:

  1. write stuffYour website represents your entire company. If your site features well-written, engaging content, you promote a high-quality entity. Remember that in most cases what you write is less important than how you write; therefore it’s mandatory to collaborate with a content writer who can put facts, feelings and an effective call-to action into words in an ideal manner.
  2. Connect to your clients more effectively. Professional writers know how to write for different audiences. Trained writers know how to analyze audiences and then target them with various writing strategies.
  3. Google values fresh content. If you don’t have a full-time writer on staff, chances are your website content rewrites and blog posts are afterthoughts. To maximize your SEO potential, you need to frequently update your website and blog with quality information. Good SEO practices will help your website rank higher in search engine results, draw more visitors and enhance the popularity of your website, ultimately generating increased revenues.
  4. Concise social media content reaches more people. People are far more likely to share information via social media when it’s engaging. Professional writers have been trained to write effective headlines and titles, which is an important skill for managing any company’s social media accounts.
  5. Completing projects more efficiently. With a professional writer on hand, you can plan and implement group projects much more quickly. Communication is key when developing long-term plans, and your writer can help you develop tangible goals that everybody understands. The professional writer knows how to work effectively in a team with graphic designers to make the images and visual style work with the words.

damn good writing

“The Need for Quality Information Content as the Most Important Marketing Trend” is based on research conducted by Washington, D.C.-based TorchLight Hire, one of the nation’s largest  marketing and communications recruiting and staffing firms.

Ever had a work project that drove you crazy?

RV Tour1One of the few times in my life when I was unable to complete a work assignment, definitely due to lack of skills, was the time when a unique media relations project landed on my desk while serving as Information Officer for the State of Minnesota’s Tourism Office.

I was told to host a group of recreational vehicle (RV) travel writers on a six-day excursion throughout the state. The purpose was to feature the state’s finest RV campgrounds with adjacent tourist attractions for the travel writers to experience, ultimately resulting in a splash of positive feature articles that would appear in popular RV publications.

This particular tour proved unique in that I had to be the official driver of travel writers experiencing the state first-hand in a RV donated by a local dealer who also happened to be a top supporter of the Minnesota Governor. Overall, I was excited about the assignment, but a bit nervous about the fact that I had no previous experience driving “oversized” and “over-elevated” vehicles. This inevitably became my downfall!

Here’s how it all went down, down, down:

On Day Two, I sheared the large antennae and AC cover clean off the RV’s roof while driving under a local bridge without enough clearance. On Day Three, I backed into a parked delivery truck, taking the rear bumper off the RV and annihilating the truck’s passenger side. On Day Three, I forgot to set the parking brakes when stopped on a steep bluff, resulting in the RV rolling backwards downhill, pitching over an embankment and lodging into a grove of mature pine trees.

Needless to say, the RV was totally trashed. Halfway through the tour, I decided to cut my losses and dispatched a passenger van to drive the writers back to the airport so they could fly home early.

Back at the office, the aftermath was brutal. I had to explain everything to my angry superiors and RV owner–as well as the Governor himself. Not only had I run up tens of thousands of dollars worth of damages to the outside of the vehicle and the ill-fated delivery truck, but I also destroyed the engine, forgetting to re-fuel with diesel instead of regular gas. Luckily, the RV was insured, engine replaced and body repaired.

travelwritertour1I wasn’t fired. Believe it or not, all of the resulting travel articles were overwhelmingly positive, although they did include mention of the misadventures and mishaps of an untrained and unlucky chauffeur.

The only lasting consequences were acquiring the nickname of “Crash Crain” and only allowed to drive a small and cheap 15-year-old state-sanctioned Chevy Nova while on any official business.

IABC Heritage Conference 2013 Elevates My Game

IABC Heritage Conf TitleLast month, I had the privilege of attending the International Association Business Communicators (IABC) 2013 Heritage Region Conference in Indianapolis.

At first blush,  I wasn’t much enamored with visiting a city in a “Red” state nicknamed “India-No-Place” nor do I spend much time sports fanning (conference theme was “Elevate your Game,” and Opening Night Reception was held at the NCAA Hall of Champions).

But, whIndy Canalen I found out  that my fellow IABC Cleveland/Akron Board Member Kavita Sherman was one of the instrumental conference organizers;  that I was being offered a nice stipend to cover the majority of my costs; the location was just one state over and less than a five hour drive; and that coincidentally I could “Priceline” a top hotel overlooking the Central Canal Culture District that I covered in a recent article I wrote on “stormwater management”  for Turf magazine,  I couldn’t pass it up.

I’m pleased to report that my preconceived notions about the conference were blown away quickly after experiencing the incredible hospitality of the city and conference hosts together with the quality of the conference programs and presenters.

Chapter Leaders Forum

IABC Cleve logoMy first encounter at the conference was attending the Chapter Leaders Forum.  Here,  I picked up a lot of great tips for working on building and retaining memberships serving on the Board as Membership Director for the IABC-Cleveland/Akron Chapter.*

Key Take-aways:  Try “Tour and Talks” by holding your meetings at members’ workplaces; keep age differences in mind when programming; consistency (time, place, etc) and quality of speakers is paramount; mentoring and buddy systems for new members; guest coupons; robo reminder calls mixed with personal calls; assign special short-term projects for members to feel involved and special–joining Board can come later.


 McClearyWhat’s Your ‘It’   Tim McCleary, The Involvement Practice, Sandy Hook, CT.

Tim was backed up by “graphic recorder (aka mindful artist)  Breah Parker,  who continually synthesized verbal content into detailed graphic charts, bringing the words and interactions in the room to life for participants– way cool as I never experienced that before. Key Take-away:  When influencing, your constituents will only remember 50% when you dialogue, 75% when immersed, 90% when involved.

SiteLogoWhats in it for Me?  Cindy L. Graham, Goodwill Industries, Indianapolis, IN.

Key Take-aways:  The customer is the boss; be available to the customer 24/7 and reach them wherever they are on multiple channels; the customer conversation never stops; create communities where they can dialogue with you back and forth; people love loyalty programs.

 Break-out Sessions

SmithJump Start Small Business Communications  Will Smith, EScreenz, Entre Computer Systems, Rochester, NY.

Key Take-aways:  Small businesses with small marcom budgets represent 50% of working population and generate 65% of the new jobs for marcoms.  Spend time and money on making a killer world-class website with lots of links; use the newswires.  Case studies:  Small bank offered community free meeting space, Manufacturer developed fan base for snowplow lovers with killer YouTube videos and online chat sites.

 WilliamsWhy Reptation Risk is More Than a PR Issue  Sean Williams, Communication AMMO, Cleveland OH.

Key Take-aways:  Technology, data security, regulatory compliance are types of risks; the “reputation” economy is growing all the time; Good measures of reputation include (1) direct feedback from relevant publics (2) positive share of social media (3) positive share of media coverage; Communicators notoriously fall flat on knowing numbers, regulations and business; content analysis is too much on “boiling the ocean.”

ImmEleven Ways to Rock Your Communications Career  Tracy Imm, Charm City Chicks, Baltimore, MD.

For someone like me in “Career Mid-life Crisis,” clearly experiencing age discrimination in job searching and straddling the two worlds of corporate employee (though part-time) and freelancing–I was at full attention sitting in this one. I walked out with no less than a dozen books and blogs I need to read in order to keep moving forward! Key Take-aways:  Discover your “Why”  and don’t start with your “What”; check out Ralph Marston’s “Power of Purpose” and subscribe to his “Daily Motivator”; the reason you may be unhappy at work is that you have a “Values Conflict”; Be an early adapter, stay relevant and never stop learning–at least one hour a day!; luck happens when prep meets opportunity; ask the universe for what you want, own that room and then you’ll be sure to get it.

 EnslenWrite Normal  Samantha Enslen, Dragonfly Editorial, Tipp City, OH.

Why can we not write like we talk?  The best writing is simple–like you are targeting it to a clueless kid–but most writers can’t do that.  Key Take-aways:  Use “The Universal Story” template and you can’t go wrong–“Once Upon a Time,” then “Suddenly,” then “Luckily,” and finally, its “Happily Ever After;” readability needs to be at the 7th grade level; vary the length of your sentences.

 DemoBarattanstrating ROI: How Public Relations & Social Media Drive Business Metrics  Melissa Baratta, Affect, New York, NY.

Key Take-aways: 30% of us are not tracking ROI; Setting realistic goals include grounding in reality, knowing the limitations of resources and commitment from executive leadership; you’ve got to keep a good mix of PR, social media and marketing going; Social media audiences–LinkedIn is for the B-B commercial and industrial, Twitter is for small business tips and Facebook is for consumers; quality over quantity.

Student Involvement: Key to IABC’s Future?

On either side of the conference, I had the opportunity to taxi a Kent State University student to and from the conference.  She was put through the ringer by competing on one of three student teams whose challenge was to come up with a full-fledged marketing communications campaign for a new sports service within a few hours. She indeed survived the challenge and had a great time at the conference. But. she was the last student standing for our Cleveland/Akron chapter and was now checking out for good.  I learned from her that IABC needs to ramp up student involvement.  Makes sense–after all, they are our future!

* The Cleveland IABC chapter hasn’t officially “slashed on” Akron, but since half the Board works and lives in Akron, and we’re re-introducing programs and focusing on recruiting there, I add it on whenever possible.

Design-Build magazine COVER STORY: 2014 Trends for Home & Garden

Design Build Trends Word CloudI had the privilege of providing the cover story again for October 2013’s Design-Build magazine.  It’s all about “Bold & Balanced,” Rise of the Millennials and Incredible Edibles.  What a great year for home and garden in 2014.  READ ON:

Colors are vivid, edibles are erupting, men and millennials are influencing designs, and balance is more important than ever.
By Tom Crain

Few landscapers can argue the fact that one of the most important things they can do for their businesses to ensure long-term health is to keep up on trends in their areas of expertise, fields and industries. Only by doing so can they prepare themselves for changes and ensure they have the proper resources and skilled operators in demand in a constantly changing work environment.

“In this current economy in general – and landscaping, in particular – you have to know how to connect the dots, understand your customer, drive consumer sales and build your brand,” says Suzi McCoy, owner of Garden Media Group, Philadelphia. She is also author of the annual Garden Trends Report, one of the most published garden studies in trade and consumer news.

Canete Landscape Design & Construction in northern New Jersey has an essential need to keep up with the trends. “We have large commercial clients who ask us to change the landscape look of their properties every few years,” says owner Tom Canete. To hold onto these accounts, Canete needs to know what the most cutting-edge, contemporary look is during new installation periods.

Turf DesignBuild delves into the major trends that will heavily influence 2014 landscapes.

Location, Location, Location

Current landscaping trends tend to reflect more on regional economic and practical needs, and less on the happy-go-lucky across-the-board whims and desires of the past. Much of it is due to landscaping’s new social and economic-minded demographic taking the helm.

“Landscape design trends tend to be regionally based most of the time,” explains Stacy Zimmerman, communications director of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), Harrisburg, Penn. “What works in the Northeast usually is not the trend in the Southwest.”

In north Texas, Chris Lee, president of Dallas-based Earthworks, says the biggest trend is moving toward more sustainable landscapes and efficient water use. “We are doing a ton of designs and installations based on native plantings and xeriscape concepts, primarily due to the ever-increasing water restrictions and shortages.”

That’s the typical story in the South where landscapers are dealing with rising drought issues while a rapidly increasing population places extreme pressures on local water resources. “While some areas of the South have been dealing with this for years, it’s relatively new to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, believe it or not,” adds Lee.

Lee says his customers are looking for native and sustainable planting options beyond succulents and rocks. “If you can bring native plants into the landscape that extend beyond what people normally consider xeriscape and show them that sustainable can be beautiful, you will have great success in this market.”

In the Northeast, landscape designers are dealing with a completely opposite climate scenario: flooding. Most Northeast-based landscapers agree the recent bout of extreme weather will dictate more sobering trends in the industry for years to come. “The only thing I have to say about trends in the next few years is that it’s all about drainage corrections, garden renovations and tree replacements after Hurricane Sandy,” explains Susan Olinger, Sterling Horticultural Services, Flanders, N.J., and immediate past president of APLD.

Most landscapers agree the trend crossing all regions is the increasing concern for handling stormwater runoff. More and more municipalities are instituting stricter ordinances, and water fees are rising along with the creekbeds after a downpour. As a result, ecological concerns for the pollution of groundwater, rivers, lakes and bays are climbing higher and higher in clients’ consciousness.

“I’m being asked more and more to come up with design approaches that incorporate the handling of stormwater runoff with native plantings and natural stone,” says Terri Long, an Asheville, N.C.-based landscape designer in the Blue Ridge Mountains where many creekbeds wind through high-end properties. “Rather than collecting water in catch basins and piping it away in drains, resulting in a generic, sterile look, the use of the dry creek bed becomes not only a beautifying, natural-looking feature with a functional purpose, but also a green solution.”

millennials at homeMillennials Rule

It’s not only regional considerations driving current trends, but also the shifting demographics of those who are now purchasing homes and making the landscaping decisions. What used to be the realm of the Baby Boomers and DINKS (dual income earners no kids a.k.a. Yuppies) is now relegated to the Gen Y/Millennial WINKS (single women income earners with no kids) and DACKS (dads at home caring for kids).

“Millennial women are a larger buying demographic than female boomers; they are now 20 percent of all home buyers and representing one-third of the growth in home ownership since 1994,” says McCoy. “In addition, millennial men are taking an equal role as the homemakers in domestic duties and raising the children.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past decade due to the growing numbers of female breadwinners, men out of work, and the shift in men’s lifestyle and career choices.

Now that young women are paying for landscaping projects and young dads are having more say about design, what does this mean for trends moving forward?

mancaveMasculinity Reigns Supreme

“It’s a masculine and feminine balancing act in work, home and life,” explains McCoy. And that applies to landscaping installations. Homes, as well as outdoor living environments, are celebrating the masculine influence as the workplace did with women in previous decades. That means strong, bold statements, more simplicity, outdoor barbecue setups and man caves with techno entertainment options.

“Waterproof roof structures over the top of an outdoor patio space work great for this,” says Matt Corrion, president and landscape architect with Denver-based Outdoor Design Group. Corrion lists roofed patios, which blend indoor and outdoor living spaces, as one of the leading trends in home design. “Outdoor amenities can be protected by the weather. Flat-screen televisions, ceiling fans, outdoor kitchens, bar areas, speakers and lighting can all be incorporated into this outdoor space. Overhead roof structures also create a more intimate feeling space, creating an outdoor room at a much lower cost than adding a fully-enclosed indoor room to a dwelling.”

tulipsPastels Are Out; Contemporary Colors Are In

Stay-at-home dads are also influencing plant colors and combinations. Princess pinks, butter-soft yellows and lipstick reds are in retreat. Both Benjamin Paints, which trends paint color interiors, and Pantone, which trends fashion color choices, give a thumbs-up to bold blues, periwinkle purples and celosia oranges. “There has been a push to find new ‘orange’ options for the landscape lately, and I see that continuing,” attests Lee.

It makes perfect sense then that according to Garden Media, blue pansies and purple violas are the rage; and red geraniums and yellow marigolds are passè. Also popular are colorful edibles, including blueberries, grapes, orange peppers and purple eggplant.

Blacks, whites and grays continue to surge. These color trends align with contemporary landscape planting choices. McCoy says mono color and pairings of black and white in the garden will continue their popularity. HGTV selects white as the trendiest color for its bright light influence and enhancement of other colors.

Interesting geometrics are taking a leap, too. McCoy says “umbelliferous” shapes – those plants that carry flowers on the end of spoke-like stems – are popular. Circular plantings are back, and wildly-overgrown amorphous and perfectly-sculpted geometric are being fused together.

GAINSSustainability Continues

The landscaping trend continuing its full-steam boil across all demographics, particularly with millennials, is sustainability. Just ask any landscaper from the mainstream to the highly green circles about how difficult it is to operate a business without sustainable considerations.

“Across the board, it’s all about low-maintenance landscapes, drought-tolerant turfs such as meadows, highly-efficient irrigation systems, perennial planting designs inspired by nature, plant “communities” (as opposed to monoculture) and adding edibles,” says Zimmerman.

Brad Blaeser, president of Milwaukee-based The Green Team is hopping with requests for natives, water retention/bio-filtration/green roof-type projects and edibles since he opened his then “out-of-the-mainstream” deep green landscaping door in 2006. In addition, Blaeser is increasing his services in compost-type pickups, and for the first time he’s seeing a surge in demand for natural playscapes and outdoor learning classrooms in his hardscape side of the business.

Sabrena Schweyer of Salsbury-Schweyer, Akron, Ohio, agrees. “Edibles, not only as vegetable gardening but also edible landscapes and permaculture plantings like food forests, are growing in demand,” she says. Schweyer also sees a new intertwining of resiliency, sustainability and placemaking in urban landscapes, as evidenced in the wildly popular new public spaces including New York’s High Line and Houston’s Discovery Green.

How To: Keeping Up With the Trends

“The majority of gardening information still comes from family and friends (a.k.a. word-of-mouth), but websites, gardening blogs, Twitter and Youtube are gaining considerable ground” as places landscape designers and architects use to keep up with the latest landscape trends, says Suzi McCoy, owner of Garden Media Group, Philadelphia.

To educate his employees about landscaping trends, Tom Canete, owner of Canete Landscape Design & Construction in northern New Jersey, is constantly reading trade magazines and networking with his peers.

Chris Lee, president of Dallas-based Earthworks, finds it easy to keep up with the trends in Dallas. As he explains, “since our market is just a little behind, we can look at the residential trends in other markets to incorporate here later.”

Homesteading Is Here To Stay

Both Zimmerman and McCoy can’t say enough about the current homesteading trend, with 80 percent of Americans concerned about the health of the environment around them. The focus is on zen and happiness in the garden, emulating a mini slice of the hobby farmer. That means heirloom varieties, plants that attract the “B” critters (birds, bees and butterflies), chickens, overgrown and oversized hanging baskets, windowsill herb garden planters, and, of course, sensory, fragrant and community gardens.

And for the “New Age” millennial men seeking their true inner happiness, fermentation gardens for homemade beer and wine are trending high.

tomatoesIncredible Edibles

On a recent visit to London’s Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Tracy DiSabato-Aust couldn’t help but realize that worldwide, gardeners are salivating for edibles.

“When the Kew’s iconic Palm House has stalks of corn growing in front of it, you know there is some kind of shift going on,” she says. DiSabato-Aust is an Ohio-based Euro-trained landscape designer who is also a well-known author, TV personality and triathlete.

DiSabato-Aust also experienced the “IncrEdibles” fall program at the Kew. “Incorporating decorative vegetables into the garden alongside herbs and cut flowers is really cutting-edge.” Popular for DiSabato-Aust’s clients lately is to mix festive vegetable plants like ornamental kale, heirloom tomatoes and multiple colors of peppers with traditional varieties of sunflowers, dahlias and zinnias for cuttings.

Blaeser agrees with DiSabato-Aust on American gardeners’ appetites for edibles. “We continue to sell existing clients with traditional plantings and the concept of swapping some elements out with edibles, including herbs, hot peppers and salad greens, to accompany some traditional annuals or even nontraditional perennials that can later be repurposed within their landscape or back into our yard production,” he says.

Corrion sees the urban gardening trend for edibles jiving perfectly with the “natural lawn” trend, replacing traditional bluegrass with alternative turfgrasses, xeriscape plantings, monocultures of spreading shrubs or perennials, native plants, natural meadows or a combination of these elements.

“Both can work well together,” Corrion explains. “Placing decorative paths between beds and installing attractive raised planters to keep the space looking a little more organized are both great additions.”

My community garden planting a few miracles…growing a new community

(as seen in this month’s Akron Eutopia Report: )

“Gardening is cheaper than therapy… and I might even get tomatoes.”

“Gardening requires lots of water…most of it in the form of perspiration.”

“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden here this summer?”

These are just a few of the things I heard in my community garden over opening weekend.  It told me a lot about the people involved and the expectations of what the new Glendale Community Garden means to this community.

Glendale Community Garden

Bringing all Kinds of People Together

Jan Green, Karen Edwards, Karen Starr and I spent a couple of cold, and blustery early spring afternoons canvassing the lower part of our West Hill neighborhood with flyers.

Jan Green is a new resident of West Hill, and a retired nurse who grew up farming.

Karen Edwards is a mom who owns some rental property near the garden and is a Farm-to-School teacher at a nearby Akron public school.

Karen Starr is  a mom, singer and local business owner of Hazeltree Interiors providing high quality home decor, interior design services and custom picture framing.

Glendale Community Garden

Connecting with the Neighborhood

“It’s about time we see something like this happening here,” said one of a few folks in the neighborhood who actually answered our knocks at their door. “It’s a longtime coming miracle for this forgotten area, that’s for sure.”

The Glendale Community Garden includes18 family plots, a berry patch, herbal spiral, twin compost bins, a trio of rain barrels, ornamental Zen zone and more.

So far it’s proven to be a miracle of sorts for the neighborhood.  It’s raising eyebrows, connecting area businesses and changing strangers into neighbors.

Where else can retired grandmothers, girl scouts, I.T. nerds, firemen, soccer moms, hipsters, Gen-Xers, rappers and bohemians share a few laughs and get down and dirty together?

What was once a cut-across vacant lot and occasional parking lot full of scraggly grass and gravel on Walnut Street next to the famous historic Glendale Steps (an abandoned WPA project from the depression era) is now a green urban oasis where pedestrians stop to relax, observe and smile a little.

Glendale Community Garden

Getting Started

It all started a few months ago with permission granted from the vacant lot’s landowner, and seed money from NeighborFoods, a newly-formed organization overseeing the new crop of community gardens popping up by the dozens around Akron.

A Facebook page went up, attracting local gardening participants, and initial planning meetings were held at Pure Intentions: The Wheatgrass Growers, hosted by owner Kathy Evans.

Landscaper and neighborhood resident Jeff Copley worked the sod cutter prepping the 18 plots.

Glendale Community Garden

Opening Weekend

Then, it was time for the garden’s Opening Weekend, May 9-11th.  It started with the arrival of the Keep Akron Beautiful Community Pride Trailer laden with garden tools and equipment.

Canton Road Garden Center followed by dumping more than 200 donated bags of Pro-Mix soil additive. Then, chilling rains blew in, postponing the tilling until the next day.

When the sun came out the next morning, more than 20 volunteers gathered to take on the dirty work, removing countless rolls of sod, tilling and cultivating the 18 -10’ x 15’plots and adding Pro-Mix and compost.

Pat Arnold, the Pro-Mix soil rep, was on hand to instruct the gardeners on how to work Pro-Mix into the soil in addition to offering other valuable gardening tips.

That afternoon, firemen from Fire Station #3 arrived with rain barrels, turned on their water hoses to fill the barrels, and helped heave the sod rolls into the haul-away truck.

Glendale Community Garden

Everyone Chips In

The owners of the 512 Fire Grill food truck who live across the street, fed hungry volunteers an authentic Puerto Rican-style lunch of empanadillas and alcapurrias, and provided lots of ice water.

Urban farmer Alex Miller put up a twin pair of compost bins and Lisa Nunn, Director of Let’s Grow Akron, offered moral support, gardening guidance, got the nearby fire hydrant tapped and leant a colorful sign to welcome visitors and gardeners alike.

Mary Dee from Asian Services in Action, arrived just in time to welcome three new immigrant families from Nepal who came with mustard seeds to plant. By the end of the day, all 18 plots were tilled, claimed and some even got planted.

In the coming days, the Girl Scouts prepped the berry patch, bricks were laid for a community herb spiral, a group squash and melon field was started and ornamental flowerbeds guarded the entrance.

It was all good!

Glendale Community Garden

Just the Beginning…

Soon, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s 3rd and 4th graders will “grow a row for the hungry” by donating their produce to the Akron Regional Food Bank. Come harvest time, the Salvation Army will open their kitchen and meeting space for food prep and preservation classes.

The Glendale Community Garden is a grand new experiment for this long neglected neighborhood. In a few short weeks it’s already becoming a neighborhood miracle, joining a growing movement of over 5,000 community gardens in the U.S., according to the American Community Garden Association.

“A garden can be more than just a place to stop and smell the roses,” says Steve Brooks, co-author of Green Guerillas: Revitalizing New York’s Urban Neighborhoods with Community Gardens, “All it takes is a small group of gardeners, who at the right place at the right time, motivated by ‘green’, will set a whole bunch of stuff in motion. Its spin-off effects can tip a neighborhood and bring an entire blighted area out of a cycle of indifference and decay.”

Created out of organized chaos and tended by a lot of love and kinship, I have to believe our new Glendale Community Garden will do just that.