Tagged with "Management"
Edwina von Gal's Radicle Thinking
Does the world need another garden gadget? Well . . . I have so many new tools pitched to me, all promising to do a better job. Ugh, so many disappointments—and so much more garbage. But, I am intrigued about a new one that has real promise. It’s a new way to mow that is winning over hearts with the environmentally conscious and the lawn care industry: Little robotic electric mowers, or mowbots, that are programmed to mosey around yards, cutting the entire lawn every day or two.
Think of the legions of trucks and trailers loaded with large, loud mowers that invade our neighborhoods weekly. Then, imagine them gone—totally gone, along with their noise, gas guzzling, and emission spewing.
Then think about all the fossil fuel saved not only by switching to electric but by eliminating all the trucks and trailers needed to transport massive machines to every lawn and then haul grass clippings to the landfill where they emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
And now think about how much time your landscaper would save by renting a robot or two to you and operating it remotely. Instead of riding a noisy, polluting machine around endlessly in circles and breathing its fumes, your landscaper could take a quiet moment to hear the birds and bees on your property and make a better home for them.
Now, imagine healthier grass. Tiny daily cuts from a mowbot are so much less stressful to your lawn than weekly big bites. As a result, your lawn will have fewer weeds because stress-free, happy grass will outcompete them. Plus, you’ll have healthier soil: Those tiny clippings are ideal fertilizer, and the tiny mowers don’t compact the soil.
Yes, it’s better for our ecosystem to have as little lawn as possible, but we all like to have some to play on, and that patch of lawn needs mowing. Why not reduce the size of your mowers, too? An added benefit … less stress for us . . . feeling less annoyed about those people who haven’t reduced their lawns yet, but have switched to mowbots. At least they are making less noise and doing far less harm to our planet.
Landscape professionals I know are convincing me that mowbots are worth trying, worth adding another gadget to the world. Do you have experience with robotic mowers? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com
Note: Perfect Earth does not endorse any particular robotic mower companies, nor do we receive any compensation for saying we think they may have great potential.
FACT: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 17 million gallons of gas are spilled each year refueling lawn and garden equipment—that's more than the amount of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez disaster.
FACT: Every year in the U.S., we use 1.2 billion gallons of gas and 100 million gallons of diesel fuel to power lawn mowers. One hour of operating a typical mower equals the emissions of a typical car driving 500 miles. (U.S. Department of Energy)
FACT: During the summer months, grass clippings can account for nearly half the weight of the waste collected in some communities. (University of Idaho)
FACT: Grass clippings contain about 4% nitrogen (N), 0.5 percent phosphorus (P), 2% potassium (K), plus small amounts of other plant nutrients. (University of Illinois) Leaving small clippings on your lawn reduces the need for additional N by up to 50%. (Cornell University)
When Bridget Goodbody and her husband Neil Radey bought their house in East Hampton more than 20 years ago, they inherited a large expanse of lawn and a garden that looked “like it had been won in a poker game" (and it had been—literally). Like many people, they cared for it with conventional practices: mowers, blowers, and chemicals. But over the years they learned from Edwina and Perfect Earth just how toxic—and unnecessary—these practices are. First, they stopped using chemicals on their lawn. Then, about six years ago, they took their landscape to the next level: reducing their lawn by 12,000 square feet and filling it with a robust mix of native plants—from silvery-leafed mountain mint (Pycnanthemum) to fragrant sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) and huckleberry. “Planting all these natives has enhanced the beauty here,” Goodbody said. “There are bees, butterflies, and a lot more birds. Red-tailed hawks fly over whenever I go out and in the spring I look for flashes of bright red or yellow when the tanagers return.” Their dog Star heads out every morning for her daily walkabout, following the path around the house. “I like watching the seasons unfold. The garden makes me feel rooted and attached to this place in a much deeper way than ever before,” says Goodbody. “Having it is a way to care for one tiny corner in the world and make it a healthier place.”
This is part of a series with Gardenista, which ran on October 20, 2023.
Photo: A detail of a planting in the Bosque garden, designed by Piet Oudolf. Oudolf created a horticultural master plan for The Battery in 2004. Rich with texture, color, and fragrance, the gardens are filled with perennial and native plants designed to be enjoyed year round.
For two decades, The Battery has been a model for public parks and sustainable horticulture in New York City and beyond, proving that what we work toward at Perfect Earth Project is possible—and beautiful: You can plant drop-dead gorgeous landscapes for biodiversity. You can care for these perennial gardens, which are designed by a world-renowned designer, without any toxic chemicals—and do it for decades. You can create and plant a playground to handle floods from ever-frequent storms. You can nurture old-growth trees. You can grow an organic farm right in the middle of downtown Manhattan and use it to teach and feed people. You can do all of this while welcoming millions of people 365 days of the year—for free.
The powerhouse behind The Battery is Warrie Price, the founder of the nonprofit Battery Conservancy, which “designs, builds, maintains, and activates” the park. It doesn’t surprise me at all when autocorrect changes “Warrie” to “warrior.” She’s been a beloved and fierce advocate for conservation and sustainable horticulture for decades. “I think we have done an extraordinary project that began so small, but then really took off because how can you not want to keep making things beautiful?” she says. “At The Battery Conservancy, we like to say we’re ‘devoted to wow.’”
Price shares her thoughts about The Battery.
How did The Battery Conservancy begin? How did this park come to be the beloved place it is today?
I was asked by Betsy Barlow Rogers to create a nonprofit for The Battery. The park had a master plan created by landscape architect Philip Winslow, who sadly died before the project could begin. But Betsy said make sure you’re in accord with it, because if you can't visualize, if you can't be excited to implement it, then it’s going nowhere. The master plan is the skeleton of the park, the guidelines. But there was no horticulture, no horticulturist on the team at the time, no playground, no bikeway, no urban farm. Still, it provided the guidelines, and we review it every time we make a change in the park. After reviewing and embracing the master plan, I created The Battery Conservancy. We started with the promenade. We hired Piet Oudolf, who was not well known here at the time. He created a master horticultural plan. I think his genius is bringing the natural world into this romantic environment. In 2003, Piet first designed the Garden of Remembrance after 9/11 to honor those we lost, those who made it home safe that day, and those who would come later. It was created by private funding and a whole lot of volunteer hands. We’ve been able to enjoy them for 20 years, but they’re now about to go through reconstruction with the changes to the park. [Oudolf’s other contributions include the Bosque gardens, woodland plantings, and the bikeway.]
I think from the beginning, I wanted to make the park its own destination, not just a passageway. It was important to me personally because of its rich heritage.
What do you need for a successful garden?
When you’re planning a garden, whatever type it is, you need two things to ensure its success: authenticity and a program for how you’re going to use it. First, you have to be authentic to the landscape. Take the time to understand the history of the land, its topography, geography, and soil. Then, the second thing you need is a program, visualize how you’re going to use the space. If you don't have a program, if you haven't visualized how you want to be there, enjoy it and be a part of it, you're going to have a failed garden.
Why are public parks and gardens important to city life?
Beauty never stops healing the soul, and gardens are beautiful: green gardens, multi-color gardens—all plant life. Also, public parks and gardens in cities are unexpected, so they're cherished. They get people to stop because there is always something of interest happening, especially in a perennial garden. When you come to The Battery every week, you'll see the gardens change and evolve.
Our goal at The Battery is to enhance life mentally and physically. When you physically walk through the gardens, you interchange with nature. Mentally there’s a quiet sense of what beauty does to get your mind concentrating on something. That's an additive to good health and a good feeling versus dealing with the stress and the problems that surround you in a very urban setting.
Why was it important to be toxic-free from the start?
I learned a lot about conservation from Mrs. Johnson. [Price was college roommates with Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President and Lady Bird Johnson (or Mrs. Johnson as she called her), and lived at the White House for a time. She helped Lady Bird Johnson found the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX, where she is also a founding director.] When we started the Battery Conservancy, I always thought, no pesticides, no herbicides. We’re small. We can afford to pull our weeds ourselves. We can think of other ways instead of chemicals. For example, we’ll use integrated pest management like beneficial nematodes instead of toxic sprays. Nature has remedies if you’re knowledgeable. We worked with Rutgers to pick the best turf blend for the lawn we do have. We love our nitrogen producing clover in the lawn. The parks department found our perennial gardens to be much more economical than cutting hedges and mowing lawns all the time. We have a slogan: plant our parks. We want to set a standard for both public park design and maintenance. The gardens here are the essence of what the park is.
Thanks to the efforts of Warrie Price and The Battery Conservancy, cracked and barren blacktop was transformed into a perennial haven planted for biodiversity and beauty—and always taken care of without toxic chemicals.
What are you doing for biodiversity?
We’ve been working with Audubon NYC and now have more birds in the park than ever before. We leave seed heads during the winter and have planted different types of ornamental grasses and habitat. We’re a destination for migratory birds. They're so beautiful, and they bring such life. We're also a Monarch Waystation [A habitat designated by Monarchs International that supports migration and reproduction of Monarch butterflies]. We’ve planted milkweed. They also feed on Agastache and other flowers as they make their way south. We’re feeding them along the way.
We have also decided to support our native bees as much as possible. We will no longer be hosting European honeybee hives in the park because we know our native bees need uninterrupted space for themselves. Bees are great communicators of life. They give hope when you see their populations increasing.
We want everyone to “leave the leaves'' instead of throwing them away. They fertilize the lawn and become habitat for insects during the winter. And then of course, we’re toxic-free. We cultivate everything—our urban farm, forest farm, all the gardens, lawn maintenance—without chemicals and always have. We can all be conservationists.
What are the challenges of having a public park during climate change?
The evolution of The Battery is always about change. We have to adapt to the garden’s needs—and those needs change. I would say every 20 years the needs must be re-evaluated and adapted. We certainly see this now.
For a thousand years, there has been the relationship of landscape to water. As I mentioned earlier, we’re about to go through some changes. The promenade is being totally rebuilt. It will be elevated six feet to handle rising sea waters from climate change. There will still be the Gardens of Remembrance, they’ll just be different. They will be more like embankment gardens because everything will be raised up high and you'll walk up to the promenade versus down to it the way you do now. We hope the project will be completed by 2026.
We recently completed a playscape, which was designed after Hurricane Sandy, to flood and recover. Instead of ignoring this flood prone area, we reimagined it for play. We want to be a model for waterfront flood prone areas all over the world. Come talk to us about creating bioswales and reserve tanks under climbing structures and climbing mounds. Ask us about designing with salt-tolerant plants that like wet soil. A couple of weeks ago when we had a deluge of rain from a storm, the playscape didn’t flood. We don’t want municipalities to leave these areas dormant. We've learned a lot. We're now able to share that knowledge with others.
For so long this park was all about water gazing, to paraphrase Melville, and now it's a landscape about learning. It's a landscape to impart so much knowledge through our gardens, through our biodiversity, through our birds, through our bees. They’re all telling great stories. I think about the evolution of how we are today, how our “learning landscape” has evolved through our programing. This transformation, these 30 years of designing and rebuilding, we now have this transformed landscape of 25 acres, and gardens and horticulture—no pesticides, no herbicides have been a huge part. We continually say no to things that were very much part of traditional park management.
Do you have a favorite time in the garden?
I love the beginning of the morning. The light is so magnificent because it reflects off the waters. But then the sunsets are fabulous, especially now. I also adore being by the fountain in the middle of a warm day. I watch all the children playing surrounded by plants—the coolness of the shade and the refreshing water sprays. I’m happiest when I see the way people interact with the garden—especially the children. I think, you know, it worked. The people make the programs come alive. We’re free to the public and open 365 days of the year, 24 hours of the day. And the impact is so much bigger than just us. It's so much bigger than downtown. It's so much bigger than any other park. Gardens are beautiful. You can never underestimate the power of beauty on mental and physical health.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The densely planted gardens are magical in fall.
Photos: Courtesy of The Battery Conservancy
Radicle Thinking by Edwina von Gal
I’ve been thinking about what our landscapes say about us. Just the same as clothing, homes, or cars, landscapes tell the world a lot about their owners. They also tell the stories of the billions of lives—visible and invisible—that are living (or not) in our yards and how we are treating these plants, animals, and fungi that were there before we took over, and still need a home.
Garden owners and gardeners manipulate properties, creating gardens that showcase to the world just how smart, successful, tasteful, plant savvy, carefree, or eco-conscious they are, or want to look like they are. The more carefully clipped, sterilized, and controlled a property, the more resources (time and money) were obviously needed to get it there. Control sends a clear message of wealth and power. More control means fewer surprises; minimal changes from season to season and year to year—frozen in time, predictable, and rather lacking in life.
But nature wants it otherwise. It wants to grow and fill a place with life. It will never stop trying, and it is powerful. Keeping a place from aging naturally requires ever more control—more machines, more sprays, more mulch, more money. More impressive? The landscape industry hopes you think so. It has become a huge machine fueled by all the services a tightly controlled landscape needs to keep it looking just so. And yes, you know where I am going with this thought: the cost to the environment is harsh. Nary a branch out of line, never a nibbled leaf; no place for non-human lives to live—and not great for humans either, considering the constant onslaught of noise and poison.
There are alternatives and they are starting to send some new messages. How to read them? Even the “drive-by” eye can easily tell what priorities the property owner has in mind. Take a ride around and judge for yourself. Here are some of my thoughts:
Wall to Wall Carpet of Lawn = Power Play: lord and master of all. Nothing much but grass.
Trees and Shrubs Shaped with Military Precision = Control issues: everything bound up in shapewear.
Privet, Boxwood, Mophead Hydranges, Crepe Myrtles = Fashion Victim: two decades late to the party.
Yellow Warning Tags = Blind Optimism: “Huh, pesticides are bad for me?”
Huge Hedges = Insecurity: “I don’t want to engage with the community, but I want them to think I’m someone special.”
Monocultures—Huge Swaths of One Kind of Plant = Short on ideas: High Impact with minimal creativity.
Diverse, Unclipped Plantings = Setting the stage: challenging the norm-complexity is not the same as messy
Native Ground Covers = Spreading the love: finding new solutions like using large swaths of lawn alternatives.
UnMowing = Conscious Uncoupling: letting go of the norm, welcoming wildlife.
Major Meadow = Eco Chic: on trend, changing the garden aesthetic.
Gardens need a new look, a new kind of care that is caring and welcoming to all life…. Can you see it coming? Could it be time for a bit of self assessment? Landscape as therapy—the best kind.
The Book of Wilding: A Practical Guide to Rewilding Big and Small
, by Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell
“In this age of eco-anxiety, when we can so easily feel utterly powerless and overwhelmed by the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, experiencing rewilding seems to restore a sense of agency and ambition.” —Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell
“All gardens are a form of autobiography,” writes Robert Dash, the late creator of the magical Madoo, a garden in Sagaponack, NY, (Notes from Madoo, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000). The painter and poet wove an intricate story of art, exploration, and a reverence for the natural world when he created the two-acre garden more than 50 years ago. It features paths designed for “loitering”; structures painted in a panoply of colors: a lavender gazebo, sunny yellow arch, and robin’s egg blue bench; and a plant palette that spans the globe, including many native varieties. “Whenever possible, suitable native plant material is used—,” writes Dash, “plants that are garden-worthy and have decent manners, that is.”
For the past 14 years, Madoo Conservancy director Alejandro Saralegui has been the garden’s passionate steward. Dash was explicit that he didn’t want to “fix this garden in amber,” as he put it. “It must remain relevant.” Saralegui has been honoring his wishes, keeping alive Dash’s spirit of artistry and experimentation. “The garden is heavily planted and that sometimes calls for change,” Saralegui says. “It’s a remarkable legacy; we want to preserve and enhance it.”
Yet, one thing remains constant at Madoo: A deep commitment to organic gardening. “Madoo uses no sprays,” Dash wrote decades ago. It still doesn’t. In addition to being chemical-free, Saralegui follows an organic approach to care. “We allow plants to grow naturally, aside from the topiary, rake leaves into garden beds where they’ll decompose over time, and embrace native plants,” he says. He especially loves the garden’s mature, native trees, such as the fruiting pawpaw, or as Saralegui jokingly calls it, “the new cool Brooklyn kid tree,” or the stately Franklinia (“my pride and joy”), a rare bloomer that’s extinct in the wild but still grows in cultivation thanks to William Bartram, who saved its seeds hundreds of years ago. There is also an array of native grasses, Joe-pye weed, goldenrod, and spring-blooming Camassia, to name just a few native stalwarts that flourish in the landscape. Saralegui makes sure to leave the seed heads through the winter for wildlife. He also re-uses as much material as possible. The garden recently saved the original brick, for example, when they redesigned the rill, using it to line both sides of the new water feature. “We hope people go home, look at their gardens, and be inspired by what they’ve seen at Madoo,” says Saralegui. “And then bring a little magic to their own gardens.”
“Organic formality” is how Saralegui describes the look at Madoo. “Strong bones keep the garden from looking like a hippy hangout,” he says. “The painted hardscape also brightens the all green landscape.” But as Robert Dash used to remind people, ‘green is a color, too.” Photos by Alejandro Saralegui.