A more Sustainable Wesleyan…

A more Sustainable Wesleyan…

This past December, I was invited to participate in a Sustainable Design Charrette at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. The event was organized by a group of students calling themselves WILDWES (Working for Intelligent Landscape Design – Wesleyan). This is very exciting stuff, especially when you consider that Wesleyan does not have majors centered on any of the design disciplines or even a plant and soil science department. A passion for their campus is what inspires this group of students. They are lead by Miles Bukiet and Sam Silver, both of whom will be graduating this spring, but have laid a foundation for the future of WILDWES.

Sam Silver (L) and Miles Bukiet (R)

Across the nation, young minds are being nurtured and stimulated at colleges and universities, with some hearing a call to action. During the sixties and seventies, the call was a new awareness of the planet and environment, and a revolution had begun. The careless use of chemicals came under attack and whole new generation was reintroduced to a safer and healthier way of life. This movement slowed during the eighties and nineties as we became a nation focused on personal wealth. But now, as Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a changing!” We are in the midst of a great revival centered once again on health of the planet and stewardship of the environment. Organic products are growing in popularity, discussions of native plants more common, and minimizing one’s carbon footprint has become a priority. The green industry is coming of age living up to its name.

The goal of the daylong charrette, was to bring together green industry professionals, community members, professors, administrators, and students, to discuss the university grounds and consider ways to make Wesleyan a more sustainable campus. The day began with presentations on sustainable practices by three green industry professionals and co-moderators for the day, myself, Jono Neiger (Regenerative Design Group) and Ethan Roland (Appleseed Permaculture). Following our presentations, the attendees were split into three groups, with each group given a location on campus to analyze, map, and make suggestions for improvement.

Ethan Roland presenting on the state of the planet
Me presenting on Rains Gardens
Jono Neiger presenting on permaculture design
Lunch was provided by the students
An impromptu Jazz trio for lunch. They were great!

What followed was truly an invigorating experience. The group, most of which new to this process, eagerly jumped into the process and after spending a frigid 45 minutes onsite, retreated back to our meeting place to flesh ideas and propose solutions. It’s an amazing thing to watch young minds come together with those more experienced and work as one toward a common good. And come together they did. Putting pencil to paper, and considering suggestions and guidance from the moderators, each group came forward with very creative concepts. It was a very constructive and fulfilling day.

Group with Ethan Roland
My Group
Group with Jono Neiger
Presenting concepts to the group
Presenting concepts to the group
Presenting concepts to the group
Presenting concepts to the group

Not wanting to slow the movement, Miles and Sam have taken their idea one step further by applying for funding from the university, securing a faculty advisor, and organizing a for-credit course for the 2011 spring semester. The class, a landscape design forum, now has 15 students signed enrolled and another several auditing. And that leads to the next part of the story for me; Tomorrow night will mark the first of four classes I will be attending to help these students develop formal plans for several areas of the campus. Other professionals are being scheduled to lecture during the semester, on a variety of topics intended to provide the students with a broad range of information. Their goal is to actually implement one of the plans they conceive before semester’s end, with secured funding, donations and the administration’s blessing.

These are exciting times for these the students. They are carrying a torch that has smoldered for some time, but been has re-ignited in the sustainable passion of a few who have decided that the future is worth the effort. It’s an exciting time for me too!

Stay tuned for updates, I’ll be blogging throughout the process.

Until next time, I hope you find the spark to re-ignite your passions on this Valentine’s Day, be they green or other!

Five New Year’s Resolutions for your Landscape!

Five New Year’s Resolutions for your Landscape!

This is the time of year when we promise ourselves that we’ll make a change and start being better at something. For all the garden lovers and homeowners out there, I would like to suggest five New Year’s resolutions to consider implementing for 2011. It may seem a bit tacky or rude, but making recommendation to clients for their gardens is part of my daily routine, so in that spirit I present five New Year’s resolutions for the home landscape.

Repeat after me, I resolve to:

1   Severely limit or completely eliminate chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides! Seems like a no-brainer right? Not so fast. A quick stop at any garden center or big box nursery section reveals a plethora of chemical “solutions” (read: problems) for just about any problem (read: symptom). We have come a long way in the last few years my friends, but we still have a ways to go.

Start a compost bin! This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to lower your trash output and provide you with material to build soil health. Enough said!

Come to terms with my lawn! This one should have dozen exclamation points after it. As homeowners, Americans have developed an overactive adolescent crush on large expanses of lawn (read any symbolism you like into that one!). Lawns are boring, vast, resource sucking spaces, not meant to be tucked into every corner and under every tree. Now before you banish me to the Arctic Circle, I am not anti-lawn. When sculpted into the landscape, with enough room allowed for personal use and cared for organically, lawns are a beautiful functional part of any well designed landscape.

Not be afraid to stretch my garden’s legs! A quick drive through any suburban neighborhood reveals a major aesthetic problem with today’s landscapes, “The Foundation Planting”. UGH! Your yards are bigger than you think people and there is no need to shove all the plants in your garden up against the house in a bed that’s six feet deep. Expand the planting beds, and for this you’ll need to eliminate some lawn (see previous suggestion), but by doing so you will achieve a better balance in your landscape and the house will not look like it’s holding its breath trying to fit into a small space.

Experiment with foliage! (not what you’re thinking) There is a vast array of foliage color, size and texture in the plant world and it is here that good planting design begins. Mixing and matching plants with interesting foliage will provide year round interest, and any blossoms will just be icing on the cake!

Well there you have it, five simple resolutions that will make your landscape environmentally friendly, sustainable, and the envy of the neighborhood. Please consider any or all of them for your garden for 2011. Now, I’m off to build a worm bin!

Happy New Year, and please share your gardening resolutions for 2011, love to hear them!

Scott

Landscape Challenges – Letting go of a wet lawn!

Landscape Challenges – Letting go of a wet lawn!

The lower area of our yard borders a wetland, it has been a difficult space to work with. The previous owners established and maintained lawn there for years, although I’m not sure it was worth their effort. Americans are funny about our yards and the amount of mown lawn area we think we need, and this area is a prime example. For the first eight or ten years, we made a valiant attempt to keep this area looking “respectable”. But as my thought process changed about the suburban landscape, and the direction my landscape design company would take, I began to see other opportunities for spaces like our wet lawn. Five or six years ago, after so many years of not being able to mow until late June or July when the soil dried out, an idea surfaced; Wet Meadow!

Our Meadow!

This section of lawn receives a good amount of sunshine, and borders a wooded wetland area. We decided to let Mother Nature have her way, and with a limited budget to work with, we simply identified a line on the uphill side of the area that remained dry enough to maintain, and stopped mowing below it. The border line follows the contour of the land, and is defined as a long pleasing natural curve.

Pollinators love visiting the Goldenrod!

We have done little else in the subsequent years to maintain the area, except to mow it once a year in the fall when the soil is dry enough to allow, and I am happy to report that Mother nature did not disappoint us with her plant selection. Aside from the turf grasses that were seeded there (now measuring in feet rather than inches), a wonderful collection of native species is present, and come the end of each July, August and September the meadow is ablaze with Goldenrod (Solidago sp).

Paths mown through the meadow allow visitors a closer experience

New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) is also present, as is Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). The last two years have seen the arrival of American Elder (Sambucus canadensis), and the stands of Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) that once were cut back on the woodland edge are now thriving in greater masses that explode each fall with bright red berries.

Boneset

Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) is growing throughout and adds a wonderful texture to the grasses. Unfortunately, as with many natural areas these days, several invasives have made their way into our meadow. Each spring gloves are donned and stands of Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) are pulled and disposed of, as is occasional appearances of Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).

Boomer certainly enjoys romping through the meadow!

So far with regular yearly effort these invaders have been easy to keep up with, but constant yearly vigil will be held. Our meadow is quite vibrant in late summer and autumn, but it is little more than green during the early parts of the year. This is soon to change however, as we will be planting a host of wet meadow natives in the coming years to extend the beauty of this area, and draw in many more species of wildlife.

New York Ironweed

The wonder of our meadow I fear, is lost on our family, friends and neighbors, and yet anyone of them that dared venture within when the meadow is blooming, upon hearing the buzz of thousands of pollinators, and watching hundreds of dragonflies and the many bird species that frequent the area now, would surely be won over.

Bluebirds have made the meadow their home this year!

Our suburban mentality and lack of understanding of the natural areas that surround us prevent us from experiencing the simple natural joys in life. Activities that excited us as children are long forgotten as we go about our hectic lives, but every once in a while, nature presents an opportunity to create spaces that remind us of her infinite beauty, if only we would let go.

Well after the season has passed, there is beauty in the meadow!

Do you have a problem area in your yard? Have you come up with a creative solution to dealing with it? We would love to hear about it! Please leave a comment, or head over to the Blue Heron Facebook fan page and tell us about it.

May you find simply joy in your garden!

Scott

http://www.blueheronlandscapes.com

The ABC’s of Compost Tea and the Soil Food Web Part 1

The ABC’s of Compost Tea and the Soil Food Web Part 1

Compost Tea or Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT) as it should be known, is gaining popularity amongst organic practitioners and home gardeners, but finds itself in the midst of controversy over its efficacy. It’s time to take a closer look at this very effective tool in the organic arsenal.

Any discussion of compost, AACT, and organic gardening, should begin with The Soil Food Web. Similar to the food pyramid used for nutritional guidelines for humans, the Soil Food Web is a mapping of the life and interaction of the organisms in healthy biologically active soil. Here organisms eat, live and excrete, and in turn are eaten and excreted by other organisms, producing nutrients for other organisms in the Foodweb and for the plants growing amongst them. So what keeps the Foodweb cycling? Compost. Compost, as most everyone knows, is produced by the decay or breaking down of organic matter by microscopic organisms. It is the foundation of Organic Gardening. Everything necessary for a plant to survive can be found in well made compost. At the basal level, composting really is the process of growing the microorganisms of the Soil Food Web, and organic gardening is the process of reintroducing these organisms back into the soil of our gardens. All compost, however, should not be considered equal. Nature has created very specific regenerative cycles for each of its plant communities, and by following these examples we can effectively create and maintain healthy, biologically diverse soils. I’ll have more on that in upcoming posts.

Ok, so up until now, whether you’ve knew of the Soil Food Web or not, if you use compost to amend your planting beds or topdress your soils, you have been growing and applying the microorganisms necessary to promote plant health. Bravo! You are doing your part to help nature succeed, contributing to the health of our planet and reducing our dependency on chemicals. There is an easier way however, and it’s here that Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT) can be a very effective and efficient tool for you.

It’s important to note here, the different techniques using compost and water to apply nutrients to the soil. They are; Compost Leachate, Liquid Compost Extract (LCE), and AACT. To produce Compost Leachate, one simply adds compost to water and lets it sit for a period of time. The resulting liquid is then strained and applied to one’s soils. To produce LCE, one uses the same process as Leachate, but agitates the slurry, either by creating a vortex or aerating (bubbling) the solution to extract the microorganisms and nutrients from the compost. The resulting liquid is then strained and applied.

250 Gallon GeoTea Brewer Photo courtesy Greater Earth Organics LLC

The process of making Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT) uses a small amount of compost in water, and blasts the microorganisms (through aeration) from the organic matter. Foods are then added to the tank, and consumed by the microorganisms. This is the beauty of AACT. When brewed with well made compost, the correct amount of foods and adequate levels of dissolved oxygen, the microorganisms multiply exponentially, and safely, producing a solution rich in microbial activity, that when applied, infuses the soil with the biology necessary to sustain plant life.

In part II, we’ll discuss the some of the organisms of the Soil Food Web, and the process of growing them by brewing AACT.

 

Read part II Here!

 

Scott

www.blueheronlandscapes.com

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Practice what you preach?

Practice what you preach?

The world of Garden design is chock full of talented people from all walks of life, and from all corners of the globe. And depending upon one’s perspective, the approach to designing a garden might follow a certain criteria to success. But does this mean that there are hard and fast rules? And (for the purposes of this post), do artistic denizens of Garden Design practice what they preach on their own Gardens? Well the answer to each of these questions is a definitive Yes…. and No. You see, just like the “Pirates Code” in the Pirates of the Caribbean, these rules  ” is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules”.

Here are a few of the rules… er guidelines that I follow when designing a Garden:

The Garden must match the surroundings. A garden or landscape should appear to fit comfortably into its space, and should complement the architecture of the home. The transition of that, which is designed, be it house or garden, should appear seamless, to that which is nature.

The soft tones of Boston City Hall pavers, and the blue of Nepeta create a pleasing entranceway.

The design should address realistic expectations of the client’s interaction with the garden. For the client with a green thumb (or even a want of a green thumb) bold swaths of perennials can be combined with shrubs and even vegetables. For those with little time or desire to work in the garden, lovely conifers, shrubs and a smattering of perennials will require little maintenance. For the entertainers, a patio garden and lawn space will provide ample room to play.

Bold swaths of perennials capture the remains of the day.

It should embody Genius Loci. Genius Loci, or sense of place, ties the garden to the heritage of its site. Alluding to the past can be a powerful design element when creating a garden. Experiencing the history of the site connects us to the life force of garden.

This Brownstone slab was found three feet below ground, when digging the corner pier for this porch. It now stands as a welcome reminder of what lay beneath this garden.

Finally, to paraphrase Captain Barbossa, there really are no rules, so have fun, and create something you will connect with and enjoy!

For myself, I do follow these guidelines at home, but it seems the one I am most successful with is Genius Loci, as evidenced by the wagon wheel in the picture below. It came with the house, and was soon placed against this sugar maple. That was over ten years ago now, and every time I pass by I am reminded of those that brought it here, and I hope they are happy with my efforts.

A lingering reminder.

This post was inspired by friend and fellow Garden Designer Susan L. Morrison of Creative Exteriors Landscape Design in the San Francisco area. She recently proposed a question to me and two other of our colleagues, Susan Cohan of Susan Cohan Gardens in New Jersey, and Rebecca Sweet of Harmony in the Garden, also in the San Francisco area. The question: Do designers practice what they preach? She then suggested we all post our responses on our blogs at the same time. It’s a great idea Susan thanks, it’s an honor to be included with three very talented designers

You can read each of their responses here:

Susan L. Morrison    Blue Planet Garden Blog

Susan Cohan     Miss Rumphius’ Rules

Rebecca Sweet     Gossip in the Garden

Thank you, dear reader,  for sharing this time with us, and I sincerely hope that you are happy with the garden you’ve created. Please leave a comment below and let us know.

Regards,

Scott Hokunson

www.blueheronlandscapes.com

Become a Fan of Blue Heron Landscape Design on Face book – http://bit.ly/yq1XT

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ScottHokunson

Connect with me on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/scotthokunson

When the cat’s away…..

When the cat’s away…..

Recent events have kept me from attending to all the details that keep each project moving along smoothly, and that has caused there to be a little downtime for the crew. When faced with idle time in the past, I could usually trust that my crew would keep themselves busy in some sort of constructive fashion. My current crew, consisting of 2 college aged males on the otherhand, upon finding themselves with some empty time, decided they would rather exercise their ceative muscles. When instructed to move an existing pile of brick, they instead decided to build a monument any mason was sure to be proud of. So, move it they did. All that was left was to sit back and soak up the accolades.

So my friends, I give you – “Pile of Brick”, by Justin and Mike.

DSC01199

Now in the past, I may have over reacted to this kind of “tom-foolery”, but I have matured over the years, and have learned to accept things for what they are. After all, they could have used their idle time in all manner of degenerate ways (that’s a story for another time!).  No, this time I took into account that the customer was fairly amused, and that their actions didn’t leave me with any repairs or the need to replace anything (which is also a story for another time!), instead I focused on the positive, and….. promoted them.

I am pleased to introduce the new Vice President and Executive Assisant, of material storage and brick stacking for Blue Heron! (I’ll let them decide which is which).

DSC01201

Now if I could only find their time cards……..

See you in thegarden!

Scott

www.blueheronlandscapes.com

Encore! Well…. maybe just a do-over.

Encore! Well…. maybe just a do-over.

To those of you that tuned it to watch “The Ultimate Backyard Makeover” on FOX 61 this past Saturday, I must first say thank you. Not only did you perservere through a long blog series, you went the extra yard. Now, if you found yourself saying “what the heck was that?”, you are not alone. Apparently there were some technical difficulties in the Fox 61 control room, and half of the show did not make it on air, so if you didn’t get it, it wasn’t you. Fox 61 will be re-airing the the show in all its glory again this Saturday (Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel) and this time you’ll get to see the whole thing.

So if you have it in you to give it one more try for cause, please tune in. Oh and just in case, better have a copy of your favorite movie to watch if things go awry again. I think I’ll rent moonstruck……

See you in the garden,

Scott

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron

Epilogue

Promoting a small business can be a daunting task. Finding the right venue to get your message out, getting ad copy just right and staying within a budget, all can test the reserve of even the most creative soul. That’s why, when the Backyard Makeover project presented itself, I gladly jumped onboard. A role in a televised production, on a local station, professionally filmed and produced, would surely provide needed exposure and credibility for Blue Heron Landscape Design. Most of the other participants, already advertisers with Fox 61, undoubtedly also knew of the value of this exposure, and also were quick to sign on. With stars in our eyes, we arrived, prepared for our companies expected fortunes.

Fate, I have always maintained, has a sense of humor, it seems, that it also has a sense of purpose. Here was a group of companies determined to take advantage of a brilliant opportunity, unexpectedly finding a greater purpose; Present a very deserving family with a private place of respite that they would not otherwise be able to afford. Now, I don’t mean to make our homeowners out as destitute, for they are not. Simply good people, that life threw one too many curve balls. And by no means are we, the participants meant to appear as saints, most assuredly we are not. This rather simply, became a feel good story that would benefit both sides in ways that neither could have imagined, and that is good story to tell.

Thank you to WTIC FOX 61, for providing this opportunity, and thank you to each of the other participants for making my job easier. Special thanks to Ron and the crew at R-N-L Enterprises, for without them we never would have pulled this off. And, thank you to you, readers, for the opportunity to tell this story, I know time is precious, and this has been a long blog. I hope you have enjoyed it.

Now, I must go, it just started to rain again, and I think I left my tools outside……

Follow this link to more pictures of the project from start to finish. http://www.flickr.com/photos/blueheronlandscapes/sets/72157620605924926/

See you in the Garden,

Scott

www.blueheronlandscapes.com

The FOX 61 Ultimate Backyard Makeover is scheduled to run Saturday June 27th at 12:30 pm. Please tune in! And feel free to email me any comments, even those less flattering.

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron PT. II

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron PT. II

Day two of our project began with a job meeting. This is a common occurrence, especially when so many contractors and vendors are participating. Four of those participants met on the homeowners back porch, and the discussion quickly centered on our first obstacle, and what would prove to be an ongoing theme for this project….Rain. Each contractor, stood with his umbrella, the whole group looking more like the crowd at the US Open, than a group of artisans set to reconstruct this backyard. Quickly, we dispensed with ‘interesting topics’, such as; “I wasn’t given enough notice for this project!” and “There’s no way this will get done by Friday!”, and refocused around the homeowner’s story and the opportunity we each had to help them out.

Each participant would bring his certain product or talent to the group; Ron from R-N-L Enterprises, would provide site work, bed prep, brush removal and lawn establishment. Darren from Birch Mountain Earthworks would supply us with mulch, topsoil and playscape mulch. Bryan from Winterberry Gardens would bring in the plant material and plant it. My job was to design the overall layout of the site, including, location of their new shed and new playscape, size and shape of the new patio and sitting wall, and the layout of all the planting beds. I also would be scheduling each of the participants time on the site, keeping each abreast of the schedule, and coordinating with the film crew as to their arrival, so each could be filmed in action and interviewed for the final production. After getting a little understanding and relief from the executives at FOX 61, we set our schedule and were off.

R-N-L got to work immediately, clearing brush scraping sod from the beds, and excavating areas for the shed, the new playscape and the patio. They are an efficient crew, and were able to make quick work of theirs tasks, with the help of their Takeuchi Compact Track Loader (See picture at right). Carefree Small Buildings delivered the new shed, and with the precision of a surgeon the driver placed it exactly in the spot R-N-L had created for it. When commenting on how good the driver was, he replied to me, “oughta be, I been drivin’ this truck for 46 years”.

Next in were John from Nicolock Pavers, and his installer Gregorio. Jamie selected her paver style and color, Gregorio and I discussed the patio layout, and we set Monday as the day for installation.  Unfortunately, rain and schedule conflicts, would put the rest of the project off until the next week, but come that Monday morning, the place would come alive with activity.

In part III, tomorrow, we’ll do our best to stay out of everyone’s way, as the jobsite becomes a flurry of activity, including some emergency tree work, the patio installation, plantings and some very cool extras.

See you in the Garden,

Scott

www.blueheronlandscapes.com

The FOX 61 Ultimate Backyard Makeover is scheduled to run on June 27th at 12:30 pm. Please tune in!

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron

Each one of us, or so we were told by Andy Warhol, will be famous for fifteen minutes. And so, comes the time for Blue Heron Landscape Design. While pumping gas one day, I returned a call to a Ron, a Landscape Contractor friend of mine, who had left a message for me regarding a “Backyard Makeover” show the local Fox affiliate was preparing. They were looking for a Landscape Designer to head up the project, and would I be interested in being that person. He explained they need someone to look at the winner’s yard and come up with a plan for all the goodies that had been donated by the other participants, and oversee the construction and delivery of the “Ultimate Backyard”. This was right up my alley, so with eye towards exposure for the company, and the chance to help out a deserving candidate, I jumped in and set my alarm for fifteen minutes.

Several weeks later, I had heard that a winner had been chosen, and that the project was ready to commence. So I waited for a call….. and I waited for a call….. and, on Monday June 8th, while pumping gas at that same station (que the eerie music) my phone rang. “Hi Scott its Bruce from Fox 61, are you ready for your fifteen minutes?” The plan was for me to meet the homeowner and then be interviewed on camera by the producer, and….could I be there in three hours? and they would like the project finished by Friday (yes that same week!) so production could air the final product the following Saturday? The fast paced reality of TV had shed its light on Blue Heron, and I was not amused.

WTIC Fox 61 was looking for a deserving family within its broadcasting area, that had a problem backyard, and story to go with it. Almost one hundred submitted applications, which were narrowed down to the three most worthy. These three were presented on Fox 61’s website and a winner was chosen. Here is the winning entry:

I would love to win this contest for my husband and my daughter.    We bought our home several years ago seeing much potential in the run down, unkempt back yard.  Little did we know then that I would be diagnosed with MS a year later and become unable to work or help much with the physical activity it would take to transform the gardens and lawn.    In December, we had a baby who was born with a congenital heart defect and required surgery just last month.  Now that she’s home and recovering faster than anyone could imagine, my husband has been very intent on creating a play space for her in our backyard.    I think he envisions many things for our daughter, but a safe deck (our stairs are being propped up with kitty litter buckets!) and grass would be the simplest luxuries!  We see so many possibilities when we look out our windows – we simply lack the time, energy, and funds to realize our dream backyard.

Later that day, after having rearranged a considerably busy schedule, I met with the winners and the film crew, and we were off and running. The homeowners Matt and Jamie, along with their daughter Adeline, couldn’t have been nicer, and were very appreciative of what was about to happen to their yard.

Tomorrow, we’ll look in on the contractor meeting, See what each is donating, and encounter several obstacles in the project. Until then……

See you in the Garden,

Scott

www.blueheronlandscapes.com

The FOX 61 Ultimate Backyard Makeover is scheduled to run on June 27th at 12:30 pm. Please tune in!