PRFCT Perspectives

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Bridget Goodbody Star Img 2661 Crop Color

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.”

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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.

Untitled Design

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.

Bosque

The densely planted gardens are magical in fall.

Photos: Courtesy of The Battery Conservancy

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This is part of a series with Gardenista, which ran on July 28, 2023.

Photo by Edwina von Gal: A bountiful summer meadow flaunts black-eyed Susans and beebalm. To support pollinators, plan to have at least three different types (nine is ideal) of native plants in bloom during each of the growing seasons to provide a steady feast.

This morning in my family’s garden, we found two monarch caterpillars sporting their yellow, black, and white stripes munching on some milkweed. Overhead a song sparrow trilled. It’s been about five years since we started filling the small beds with native plants, and we’ve noticed a big change. What was once a generic garden full of sterile cultivars is now a hive of activity. I couldn’t be happier, but, also, I know there’s more to do for this ecosystem, and more discoveries to uncover. Through my work with Perfect Earth Project, I’m learning more about how to garden sustainably, specifically the principles of nature-based gardening.

Simply put, nature-based gardening means working hand-in-hand with nature, not trying to tame it into submission by clipping, mowing, and spraying it to fit an outdated notion of beauty. As Perfect Earth founder Edwina von Gal says, “Stop putting your garden into shapewear.” Instead, work with nature: Nurture your soil. Grow the plants native to your region and allow them to flourish without chemicals. Provide habitat for wildlife (humans aren’t the only inhabitants here). Plant a keystone tree (or ten!). You’ll be amazed, I promise, at the beautiful, bustling, and interesting environment that almost magically appears. As Joy Harjo writes in “For Keeps,” “Sun makes the day new. / Tiny green plants emerge from earth. / Birds are singing the sky into place. / There is nowhere else I want to be but here.”

Here are Perfect Earth’s principles of nature-based gardening.

1. Grow Native Plants in Your Garden.
They need so little, and they give so much. Aim for at least two-thirds in your yard.

2. Remove Invasives.
Get rid of the non-native plants that are taking over our landscapes and outcompeting native plants.

3. Say NO to Toxic Chemicals.
Nature-based landscapes don’t need synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to thrive.

4. Nurture your Soil.
Your garden is only as healthy as the soil in which it grows.

5. Maintain Biomass, and Mind the Mulch.
Leave the leaves and all organic matter, make compost, and grow a living mulch.

6. Reduce your carbon footprint. Less noise, less pollution.
Tend to your garden manually or go electric. Your neighbors (and your ears) will thank you.

7. Prune Prudently.
Stop chopping with abandon! Every cut is a wound.

8. Plant Trees Properly.
Do right by roots and don’t bury the crown when planting trees.

9. Water Your Lawn Deeply.
At least 30 minutes and only as needed.

10. Reduce Your Lawn.
Return part of your yard to the birds, bees, and butterflies. Maintain the lawn you do keep by following toxic-free practices.

11. Plant a Habitat Garden.
And watch the pollinators and wildlife flock to it.

12. Have Faith, Have Fun.
Change from a fussy and restrictive landscaping style to something more comfortable, loose, and personal. Let your landscape surprise you.

To learn more about each of these practices, download Perfect Earth’s guide to Nature-Based Gardening here.

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Photo: Toshi Yano
Moisture-loving blue vervain (Verbena hastata) grows in a field in New York. It’s attractive to birds, butterflies, like the common buckeye, and bees, especially bumble bees.

Monarda Hummingbird Moth

Photo: Melissa Ozawa
Beebalm or monarda, a perennial native to the eastern U.S., produces firework-like flowers in mid-summer. Here, a hummingbird moth can’t resist stopping for a drink.

Milkweed 2

Photo: Melissa Ozawa
If you plant it, they will come. While fritillary butterfly larvae don’t eat milkweed (they subsist on violets, instead), the adult butterflies will drink the nectar from milkweed.

Long House Philippe Cheng 1

Founded by renowned textile designer, author, and collector Jack Lenor Larsen (1927-2020), LongHouse Reserve is a 16-acre integrated environment in East Hampton, NY, devoted to the ever-changing interactions between nature, art, and people. It has committed to toxic-free gardening and embraced nature-based practices and programs. LongHouse empowers visitors of all ages to see and think in new ways, and to incorporate art and design into their lives, invoking an ongoing act of creation in a healthy space.

LongHouse is reaffirming and energizing its commitment to embrace nature-based practices, offering a place for respite and recharging in a garden that will flourish without chemicals or harm to nature. Their pesticide-free lawns are healthier for their visitors and the environment. LongHouse also has a closed-loop system, keeping all biomass on-site—look out for stick piles and sculptures made of plant material. In addition, they are helping the community reduce stress and anxiety by offering special programs that help visitors reconnect with nature, such as forest bathing in quiet wooded areas and gentle yoga on clover-covered lawns.

Long House Philippe Cheng 2

Photos by Philippe Cheng. Courtesy of LongHouse Reserve.

Allan Pollack Morris

Eco Anxiety Antidote

January 18, 2023

If you use a landscaper for the maintenance of your property, the beginning of the year is contract renewal time. Of course you are probably starting this year anxious about your health and the environment and you aren’t sure whether signing up for a weekly dose of noise and poison in your yard is the best thing to do. It just doesn’t quite feel right, which adds to your eco-anxiety. But instead of worrying more, you could use this moment to do good. Guaranteed good for the environment, and super healthy for you and your family.

You just need to ask your landscaper to do things a bit differently by switching to nature-based practices. He/she may not know how, and chances are, you don’t know either. So who does know? Sadly, there are very few nature-based landscapers, and there probably isn’t anyone better for you to hire than the one you have got. So unless they flatly refuse to try, don’t fire them. Let’s engage and train the ones we’ve got, and send the message out that this is the future of land care. It is healthier for them too.

Everything you need to get started is in our PRFCT LeafLet Basics of Nature-Based in English and Spanish. For a typical annual maintenance schedule, which you can use as the basis of your new contract, go straight to page 21 – review it with your landscaper. It should not cost more, there are no products to purchase.

What is nature-based? Here’s the nutshell: Healing, not Harming. Let nature do the nurturing.

  • No toxic fertilizers or insecticides. Fertilizers overstimulate plants and make them susceptible to disease. The right plant for your soil, doesn’t need them. Insecticides are not target specific, they kill beneficial insects and soil organisms. You don’t depend on your landscape to eat, so why not share it with a host of wonderful life forms that could find refuge there?  
  • Retain, recycle and reimagine all biomass. Keep what your property produces (grass clippings, leaves, twigs, weeds, etc.) and feed it back to the soil. It is the food your place made for itself. Better than anything you can buy, and without the carbon footprint. (See PRFCT Lawn Basics for more).
  • Plant at least 2/3 native plants. Plants did fine without us humans for eons, so if you plant the ones that evolved in your conditions, they will still be fine with very little from you. Plus, they provide just the right food and shelter for local birds and pollinators. (See 2/3 for the Birds for more).
  • Avoid and remove invasive plants. Get to know which plants are invasive. (See the Invasive Plant Atlas for more). Don’t buy them. Remove and replace any you have already got. (See Beyond Pesticides for more).
  • Water properly. Very seldom. Very deep. Over-watering is one of the most common landscape malpractices. It leads to a wide range of plant and soil problems and promotes tick and mosquito populations.  
  • Minimize pruning. Every cut is a wound. Plant with plenty of space for trees and shrubs to grow to their natural shapes. Leave deadwood and standing dead trees, unless positioned dangerously, they provide unique food and nesting opportunities.
  • Relax and enjoy. Your landscape is not your living room; forcing it to be tidy, clipped, and fixed in time is “dead room.” Let it be alive; always changing and creating new surprising delights for you.

Keep in mind, your landscaper doesn’t necessarily know any more about this than you do. So make sure he/she understands that this is an adventure in earth friendly relationships and as long as they are willing to truly commit to the practices, you will be happy. It is a whole new way to relate to your land.

Hooray, eco-anxiety reduction in action! You are doing something unquestionably good for the earth. (Not to mention yourself, your family, and your pets). Once you get started, you will find there was nothing to fear. It is all fascinating, joyous, and beautiful. 

If you encounter some problem that makes you want to give up, contact me: edwina@perfectearthproject.org

Suggestion: Watch as your nature-based landscape supports more and more birds and pollinators. Start recognizing and recording them on iNaturalist and eBird, and become part of a global network of citizen scientists.

Next month: Help me prepare for Biomass Part 2. Send me your composting concerns. If you aren’t composting, why not? If you are, what worries you? Write me: edwina@perfectearthproject.org

Bonus: All you ever wanted to know about climate change.

Photo by Allan Pollok-Morris

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