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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Growing Plants and Gratitude Inside Prison Walls: Out and About with AOLCP Kate Lacouture

 by Kathy Litchfield

PROVIDENCE, RI – Kate Lacouture didn’t set out to spend several days a week locked inside towering stone walls, planting basil, rosemary and zucchini alongside maximum security inmates without parole.
     Yet she has found that throughout her 20-year career as a landscape architect in San Francisco and her native Rhode Island, working with groups and teaching them to grow food has proved one of the most rewarding things she’s ever done.
“I feel like these are important life skills that seem to have been lost to this generation of kids and young adults.  A lot of my inmates remember gardening with their grandmothers. And the women that leave prison are all excited about starting their own gardens and that makes me so happy,” said the Yale graduate who earned her master’s in landscape architecture from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1994.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

OLC Chat's Tonight 4/24 with Priscilla Hutt Williams

Happy Belated Earth Day!

The OLC Chat Series  will be moving to Thursdays @ 8pm  with our first talk TONIGHT 4/24. The new conference line is 1-631-482-9099 that can be accessed via phone or computer. This week I will be talking with Priscilla Hutt Williams. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Out & About with AOLCP Melissa Miles

by Kathy Litchfield

Employing “Common Sense” Principles for a More Positive, Permanent Future

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- Melissa Miles shared one word when describing her first job out of college – “awful!”
An environmental engineer at an oil refinery, she spent hours after work freeing geese stuck in oil pits that weren't supposed to be left open and driving them to a bird rescue in Delaware.
“It was perhaps the best example of the worst we've done, but a really good experience for me to see that first hand,” said the Philly native who has dedicated her life’s work to permaculture design, ecological restoration, green building and environmental activism.