Monday, August 11, 2014

Going Organic in Charlestown, RI

Going Organic in Charlestown
Food for the Birds Becomes Long-Term Sustainability for RI Couple

By Kathy Litchfield

CHARLESTOWN, RI – Mike Divney believes in healthy communities. As a land planner, LEED professional and site engineer, it was important for him to find a knowledgeable professional to partner with when he was ready to alter the landscape surrounding his coastal Rhode Island home. 

            The one-third of an acre he and his wife Jean own now boasts an organically maintained lawn, a rain garden full of native plants, a thriving blueberry bush that feeds the birds, pervious grout on the patio to direct stormwater runoff and an organic herb kitchen garden growing mint, basil, chives and parsley. 

            The couple eats organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables and is exploring the use of red wiggler worms for composting their kitchen waste, to then use as rich fertilizer in their yard.

            Divney wasn’t always savvy on employing sustainable landscape practices. He credits the 9-year NOFA accredited organic land care professional he has partnered with - Frank Crandall - for being an excellent teacher as well as a constant student which he greatly respects. 

“Years ago, (Jean and I) had worked with other landscapers who really took a narrow view. It was, ‘what plant do you want and where do you want it,’ rather than, ‘what is it you’re looking for on your property long-term, what matters to you and how would you like to practice this,’ “ said Divney.

 “When we started looking around and asking for references we found Frank and were very impressed with his knowledge and professionalism. He not only had the horticultural background and an artistic discipline, but he is an encyclopedia of knowledge.  There’s been a lot of collaboration in our professional relationship and that’s why it’s so treasured by us.” 

It all started with a blueberry bush. When the Divneys bought their property, there was a decades-old blueberry bush which was in the way of alteration plans. According to Divney, Crandall carefully excavated the bush, took it away, stored and nurtured it for two years, then brought it back and replanted it. 

“It is a very important source of food for the birds. We never get any of the berries and that’s ok,” Divney said.

Crandall also advises the Divneys on how to protect the trees around the house during alterations, and on regular maintenance of their perennial beds including pruning and mulching techniques that minimize water inputs.

Divney is excited to share the beauty and efficiency of his rain garden, filled with native plants, and the new pervious grout on his patio, which directs rain water to run beneath the patio onto a gravel base rather than into stormdrains, which delights the engineer within him.

Through his work, Divney had watched the trends in sustainability over 30 years and knew that he was inclined towards organic land care, but didn’t know about the NOFA program until he met Crandall. 

The fact that Crandall was accredited meant a lot to Divney – that he had done his homework, was always learning new things and was tied into an organization dedicated to the ongoing education of land care professionals. 

“We’ve made a few mistakes of course, but we’re trying to do things the right way,” he said. “Obviously most people who know anything about health and nutrition are purchasing organically grown fruits and vegetables and trying to get them from local farmers when possible. It’s important to tell your friends and neighbors about this. With someone like Frank to help me here in Rhode Island, we can see the fruits of what we’d like to accomplish and do a great deal on our own. It’s important in our small community to get everyone to realize our water supply is provided from surface runoff from land and streams. We have to protect the aquifer. This isn’t just for now -- what we do has an effect for future generations.” 

Divney likely sounds like an AOLCP’s dream client. He is educated, understands what he wants and enjoys being an active partner in the organic land care of his beloved home. He enjoys learning new things and loves sharing what he has learned with others. He is also invested in his community, believes that what he does on his property affects his close-by neighbors and makes decisions based on what is best for the land, wildlife and water into the future.

            “If you start with sustainable processes, you can save the expensive use of chemicals, you can reduce the amount of water you require and discover more economical ways of doing things. It’s important to work with a professional to help you optimize the most cost effective and sustainable ways to do these things. You start with your microenvironment. If you keep your microenvironment healthy, you’ll be a healthier person, and can help create healthier communities,” he said. 

            The Divneys are very pleased with the results they’ve achieved using organic methods. After a one or two growing seasons’ transition, the Divneys are enjoying the landscape they helped to design and are grateful to Crandall for helping them achieve their heart’s desires.
            “We are delighted with the results. Our yard looks great!” said Divney. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Thriving Ecosystems that Creatures Call Home

“Out & About with AOLCPs”

Thriving Ecosystems that Creatures Call Home
AOLCP Teresa Mucci Creates Organic Native Meadows

By Kathy Litchfield

WILTON, CT – For some, there is nothing like arriving home after an intense work day, exchanging dress shoes for sandals and walking into a backyard meadow. Amidst birdsong, buzzing bees, and flowers swaying in the breeze, one enjoys the diversity of late afternoon sights, scents and sounds that can calm the mind and center the body.
      For some of Teresa Mucci’s clients, this has become a daily routine.
“Most people fall in love with their meadows. Over the years, walking in them becomes part of what they do and they see it as therapeutic,” said the seven-year AOLCP whose own 15’ x 35’ meadow outside her kitchen window provides hours of joy as she watches the wildlife – birds, bees, endless insects chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, opossums and the occasional deer. This is her test case to show people that no “bit of land” is too small to create a native meadow.
            While many know Mucci as the CT NOFA Winter Conference coordinator – she has organized it since 2009 – perhaps fewer know she studied art and photo journalism in her native Minneapolis, MN before moving to Connecticut, and over the years becoming a Master Gardener at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford in 2001, both graduating from and later teaching classes at the New York Botanical Gardens School of Horticulture and Landscape Design Program, and finally going pro by installing organic native meadows as an Ecological Landscape Designer.
            Mucci has clients for whom she designs and maintains meadows throughout Connecticut and New York.  Word of mouth is her chosen means of advertising and she enjoys talking with clients about the potential of their properties for beautiful native meadows as a place where wildlife thrives, and as an alternative to a monoculture lawn. She stresses that size doesn’t matter – a meadow can be as small or large as the customers’ vision.
            “I’m passionate about meadows with people, explaining there is so much interest and life during all four seasons. They’re always changing and exciting to look at. Wildlife feels invisible and thus safe in the tall matrix, so they settle in. I think it’s contagious, this love of meadows,” said Mucci, who encourages a “patient, gentle approach” to meadow development.
She talks with clients about the process: observing what is already growing, carefully timing cuts and selectively culling, to allow the release of the existing seed bank.
As the meadows develop, she works with the client explaining what to keep, what native plants to add,  invasives to remove and what to cut back over time. These client relationships can last for years and Mucci finds them very rewarding.
            “To me personally, it’s opening up a new idea. I’m in awe of where I get to spend time--that people have me on their properties and the trust that develops; the bond and the relationship that grows when you walk on land together,” she said. “Sometimes, people have something dormant within themselves that comes out, and I love that enthusiasm.”
            The very first meadow Mucci installed was a five-acre plot along Rte. 33, currently referred to as “the Gem of the Wilton Land Trust” by the current Land Trust President.  Another of her meadows is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike in the center of downtown Wilton. As a Trustee of the Wilton Land Trust for 15 years, she sees pro bono work as important and useful in developing a professional reputation.
Mucci first experienced fodder fields and prairies while growing up in her native Minneapolis, and visiting her uncles who were farmers outside the city.
“Minnesota has a real reverence and history with its prairies. That’s how this got planted in my soul,” she said. “There are 9 of these ‘prairie remnants’ from 250 to well over 1,000 acres. People are almost reverential in protecting them. They’re beloved and often photographed.”
Today, along with her long-time crew, she does a lot of meadow restoration and installation work as well as helps homeowners design natural areas to support birds and bees. She has lectured at garden clubs, land trusts, and other organizations and has published articles over the years. She taught at NYBG for three years on organic lawns, weeds and, meadows, and has taught meadows for the OLC accreditation course. 
            A current project found her in Cold Spring, NY looking at a mugwort-ridden meadow that last year seemed hopeless, but this spring, with early intervention “is just glorious!  We  rescued  the installed plants and they are lush, thriving and the owners are on the road to having their meadow back. I’m humbled by Mother Nature’s reaction when you work with her,” said Mucci. “We’re off to a great start on that property.”
It was over a decade ago when Mucci first called CT NOFA to inquire about OLC, and she shared her reaction when then-executive director Bill Duesing answered the phone.
“I was surprised that not only did a human being answer the phone, but that one of my long time heroes picked it up . . . this put NOFA even higher on my radar as a great organization,” said Mucci, who earned her NOFA accreditation in 2007 (CT course).
            “It was my connection with NOFA at that time that made me realize the chemicals we were using rather indiscriminately in my previous job were careless about the future. I knew there had to be a more responsible way,” said Mucci, who started her own business during the economic downturn of 2009 and was delighted to find so many people interested in organic landscaping and ecological design. So far each year has been more successful than the previous one.
            “It turns out that once you install a meadow for someone, you often are asked to maintain their meadow; and as the trust grows over time they give me other parts of their properties that need care such as grooming woodlands and consulting on whole property care.”
            Mucci feels blessed to have work that utilizes her communication skills and sharing her passion for native meadows.
“I often form friendships with the people who are my clients. There is a trust that develops. When I do a meadow project it is a process that goes on for several years, and I’m there on a regular basis. Each meadow is totally unique as no two parcels of land are identical; this makes one’s meadow very personal.  It is an evolving process and always beautiful!”

 For more information, contact Teresa Mucci at

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Lawn Guy With a Mission: Out & About with AOLCP Fred Holdsworth

By Kathy Litchfield

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Fred Holdsworth has always been a lawn guy. He also doesn't beat around the bush -- he says what he means and suggests his customers find someone else if they desire the fast effects of chemical weed killers and fertilizers.

“Many clients just don’t have the patience for organics. I’m honest with people and don’t try to fabricate anything or tell them something will work when I know it probably won’t,” he said. “Most clients I work with have mostly green lawns but they haven’t ever done anything. Very rarely do I have chemical lawns transitioning to organic. Depending on their expectations and budget, I tell them it’ll take a couple of years and here’s what we can do.”

Practicality has served Holdsworth well over the years. As a youngster, he worked with his Italian immigrant grandfather in the wealthy Villanova area, landscaping people’s yards and planting vegetable gardens.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Native Plants at Earthtones Nursery in Woodbury, CT by Jenna Messier

Lisa and Kyle Turoczi, owners of Earthtones Native Plant Nursery and Landscaping, gave our NOFA group a tour of their lush and lovely nursery which is snugly nestled among the hills of Woodbury, CT on a 68-acre parcel of land.  The couple are committed to improving the native habitat of Connecticut by producing high-quality native plants for various ecosystems such as wetlands, meadow, forest, and coastal to name a few.
Kyle in front of post and beam barn
Lisa speaking about biodiversity

Long term nursery bed up to 3 years
Ten years ago, they decided to start this nursery when they could not find an ample supply of these beautiful native plants to purchase and use on their landscaping and habitat restoration jobs. Today, their work and commitment has paid off, with hundreds of species being carefully and artfully cultivated on site.  Lisa told the group how they have studied and practiced various propagation techniques, some of which take 3 years to complete. To create new young plants, you have to have the patience of mother nature, whether it is reproducing nut trees which need stratification or ferns which come from spores.
Ostrich Ferns
Cold frame with babies
Deb Legge next to bog habitat

We witnessed the harmony of nature at Earthtones, first passing beaver dams in a pond along the driveway, secondly watching a butterfly swooping around the trees, and most notably when we saw a turtle laying its eggs. Lisa and Kyle believe in working with nature and never spraying pesticides, which encourages both beneficial insects and birds which can keep harmful insect populations in check. Kyle, as a wetland scientist, really loves creating bogs and cultivating wetland species.  Below is a lovely pitcher plant, which is a carnivorous species. On the right, Deb is sitting in front of the bog with a 12 year old larch tree along the back edge, sweet ferns on the hillside, and milkweed at her feet.
Pitcher plant

When asked what is "hot" in natives this year, both Lisa and Kyle answered - MILKWEED!  I am pleased to hear that public awareness is growing in regards to the decline in the monarch butterfly population and now "everyone and their brother" wants to buy milkweed plugs! Well, Earthtones is currently sold out and Kyle wanted to remind everyone that monarchs eat other plants, too. Butterfly weed Asclepias tuberosa is a beautiful plant and is welcomed by monarchs and gardeners alike with its brilliant orange flowers. 
Butterfly weed

You truly need to visit Earthtones to appreciate the quantity of native species available and their unique attributes of beauty and function. You can check out their species list online at   Lisa and Kyle give public talks, have landscaping services and are more than happy to "talk shop" with plant enthusiasts.  They offer plants in containers and plugs. By using more native species, we encourage biodiversity, provide food and habitat for our pollinators, and create low-maintenance landscapes which are lovely and enjoyable for all.
Baby Yarrow plants
Plugs are available    they hand collect the seed to cultivate dogwoods

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Touring Cricket Hill Garden - What a sight! by Jenna Messier

Dan Furman, Manager of Cricket Hill Garden
     Yesterday was a lovely afternoon to stroll through Cricket Hill Garden and view a fantastic display of blooming peonies which blanket the cleared hillsides. Located in Thomaston, Connecticut, the nursery is situated on a forty acre parcel reminiscent of a zen sanctuary - complete with pond, ducks, woodlands and terraced gardens.  Dan Furman led the tour and provided guests with a history of peony culture, basic growing procedures and he identified the many varieties in bloom before our eyes.  Some of the Chinese varieties have been cultivated for over a thousand years!
     According to Dan's fact sheet, there are many good reasons to grow peonies beyond their gorgeous flowers such as they are drought-resistant, deer resistant, and extremely long-lived.
There are three types of peonies; tree peonies, herbaceous peonies and intersectional peonies which are a cross of the first two types.  Peonies prefer sun, but the tree peonies can live in partial shade, too.  Dan prefers to use Neptune's Harvest Organic Fertilizer, azomite rock powder and an annual application of compost to maximize peony growth and vigor.
Deep red peonies are cherished
This pink is so vibrant
 I saw evidence of many organic land care best practices at Cricket Hill Garden, which I wanted to highlight. Dan uses ground covers, some of which could be considered weeds, rather than having sterile beds of endless mulch.  White clover, sedums, mustard greens, and many other plants surround the bases of the peonies.  To some this looks weedy, but Dan says he likes to let other plants live among the peonies and hold back the pressure from more invasive weeds.
Jack in the pulpit are everywhere!
Milkweed and clover for pollinators
New at Cricket Hill Garden, Dan has been propagating fruit trees and selling the young stock.  He offers Asian Pears, Nanking Cherries, Paw Paws, and smaller fruits like raspberries and elderberries as well.  Dan has been trialing different cultivars, specifically when they are marketed as Zone 3 plants, although Dan reminds us not to believe everything you read! He has some small Medlar Trees and apricots as well.
A Small Medlar - a European fruit from the rose family
Paw paw with grafted varieties


I suggest you make a trip to Cricket Hill Garden to experience the magical place for yourself. But if you cannot, they can ship you peonies when the plants are dormant to ensure a successful transplant.
Go to and check out what they have to offer.  The hard part is selecting which peonies are right for your garden, with so many cultivars to choose from!
Umbrellas shade the peonies to prolong bloom time
Glass sculpture from Mundy Hepburn add to the beauty

Dan uses Root Pouches, made of recycled materials
Rows of young fruit trees