Monday, September 15, 2014

Going Organic in Westport, CT: A Joyful Restoration of Home and Landscape

Going Organic in Westport, CT
A Joyful Restoration of Home and Landscape
By Kathy Litchfield

Carol Quinn loves gazing out the windows of her 1850’s home, nestled on two acres in Westport, Conn. 
“It just looks so beautiful. It looks like we live in a park,” said Quinn, who is working with 12-year NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional Michael Nadeau of Plantscapes Organics.
 “We were interested in organic gardening and we love our yard. We know that organic gardening is healthier for our child, healthier for our neighbors and healthier for the earth, and that’s why we do it!” said the enthusiastic homeowner, who has invested countless hours of time and energy with her husband David Mayo to restore their house and beautify their landscape over the last two years.  
She said Mike and his brother Dan Nadeau came highly recommended.
“Mike and his brother Danny are wonderful people. We met them through the builders who did work on our house, and another client who used them in Ridgefield. Their gardens are phenomenal. Ours are just starting off,” said Carol, who looks forward to watching her perennial beds, a rain garden and a new rock garden grow and develop alongside her organic lawn.
The couple purchased their circa 1859 house a few years ago, and represent just the third family to have owned it since its construction. It was one of the last houses built before the Civil War in Westport, she said. The previous owners, children of a couple who had passed away, didn’t apply chemicals or perform heavy maintenance on their lawn, which worked out well for the couple’s desire to plant organic grasses, she said, since remediation was unnecessary.
Originally the property was part of a farm, then an estate, and it maintains stately old swamp maples, a huge black birch, ancient dogwoods, a tulip tree, a Japanese maple, many lovely old evergreens and an azalea bush “that looks like a tree,” laughed Carol. The property also features a 60-foot-tall Dawn Redwood, huge silver maples and a healthy 75-foot-tall American elm.
The couple started with their house restoration, by hiring Mike and Chris Trolle of BPC Green Builders in Wilton, Conn., who specialize in non-toxic and green certified building materials “right down to the non-toxic pipe dope used to sweat the plumbing fittings together,” said Mike Nadeau. “The driveway is native gravel to absorb rainwater, except for a small basketball court that was paved with porous asphalt.”
The couple received a preservation award from the Town of Westport for their home restoration, and then embarked upon their organic land care mission.
“Mike and Dan have been very professional. They came up with a landscape plan based on what we wanted, implemented it, did it in a timely fashion according to what our budget was and found a fellow who did a beautiful job on our fountain too,” she said.  
Utilizing an old well stone on the property and rocks gathered from throughout its acreage, the fountain is a highlight of the Quinn’s organic landscape, which features sitting areas and beautiful views of the gardens from their wraparound porch.  
A rain garden, planted on a natural slope, showcases native plants, helps to disperse rainwater and solves a puddling problem they experienced during heavy rains.
David and Carol don’t use sprinklers in their yard. For the first two years of their new organic landscape, they are employing battery-powered irrigation timers and drip tubes to help new trees and bushes get established, at Nadeau’s suggestion.
“There are zones for each different hydrologic requirement, based on plant needs, which are monitored and adjusted during the season. This takes advantage of natural rainfall and provides just enough moisture to establish a strong root system; then it will be turned off,” said Mike Nadeau. “By using drip irrigation, water is applied only where needed and you do not water the weeds between plants. The irrigation can be activated during droughts if appropriate. The cost is a fraction of a permanently installed system and protects our plants through their guarantee period.” 
As for the organic lawn, “it takes care of itself,” said Quinn, who first learned about organic gardening from a friend who is on the board of directors of the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center in New York City.
“The center focuses on how children’s health is impacted by different things in the environment. I’m not a scientist, but I think that chemicals used as fertilizers or insecticides or herbicides cause some degree of sickness in people. So through (my friend) I started to get interested in what people put on their lawns. We decided, with Mike’s guidance, to choose plants that were native and indigenous to Connecticut. We’re getting rid of invasive species (including knotweed). We really want to have plants and grass that will grow within the boundaries of our climate,” she said.
The couple also chooses organics when it comes to fruits, vegetables and meats. Carol feels fortunate to have a great farmer’s market on Thursdays in Westport, the Saugatuck Craft Butchery which sources and carries local and organic meats within 100 miles of Westport, and the Double L Farm Market that carries a wide selection of organic foods, as well as a Whole Foods Market nearby.
She looks forward to watching their organic landscape develop over time, and hopes others in Westport will learn about organic land care and implement organic elements into their own yards and gardens.
She said she would love to help arrange for a speaker on organic land care to present at the Westport Public Library, where seminars are well attended.
Looking forward, the couple plans to explore the possibility of restoring the wetlands at the back of their yard, in collaboration with Nadeau and the Town of Westport, as well as continuing their ongoing battle with the ever-creeping poison ivy.
“Mike and Danny and their crew are just tremendous. They have integrity, they are hard working, they’re creative and they’re helpful,” said Quinn, who sees them as partners in her organic gardening choices. “They seem like they’re really invested in the result and dedicated to the process. I admire Mike so much. He is so knowledgeable. He’s just fantastic.”
Nadeau feels similarly about the couple.
“David and Carol’s attention to details and being totally committed to organic land care make them the ideal client for us. They challenged us all through the design, installation, and maintenance phases to research new materials and find the best organic/green products to use,” Nadeau said.

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