PRFCT Perspectives

Tagged with "Plants"

Martin Architects meadow

Photo courtesy of Nick and Christina Martin.

“Mother nature is the ultimate landscape designer. We’re just her helpers,” says Emilia deMauro, who, along with her sister Anna, runs the East Hampton, NY, landscape-design firm deMauro + deMauro. Their approach to design is imbued with a sense of community and responsibility to preserve the beauty of the native environment.

The sisters grew up shuttling between the rolling hills of rural Northeastern Pennsylvania, where their artist dad lived, and the farm fields and overgrown thickets of the east end of Long Island, where their mother was farming and gardening. “Both of those landscapes play a huge part in our designs,” says Anna, who studied at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. “There’s something so beautiful in the wildness. We're constantly pulling from those memories.”

They found kindred spirits in clients architect Nick Martin and his wife Christina. The couple believed strongly in “pivoting away from green lawns that require chemicals and continual labor, and, most important, that strip our community of habitat for creatures big and small,” says Christina. They hired the sisters to design the landscape outside of Martin Architects, Nick’s new Bridgehampton office on the Montauk highway. A busy thoroughfare, situated just past a gas station and across from a bank, didn’t deter them from achieving their joint vision: a self-sufficient oasis, lush with native plants and alive with birds, butterflies, and wildlife, that looks beautiful year-round.

The property was neglected when the Martins bought it. “To transform the space, we removed the asphalt driveway, regraded the land because the pitch was so bad, with the goal that it wouldn’t need irrigation,” says Nick. He also tried to reuse as many materials as possible.

For the front-yard meadow, which is 90% native, the deMauros handpicked every single plant. They had roughly plotted out a matrix on paper in the office before “throwing it all up in the air come planting time,” says Anna with a laugh of their instinctual process. “Something happens when you lay out a garden,” adds Emilia. “There’s a little chaos and unknown in nature and that’s where the fun happens. You can’t be too rigid.”

While the garden is not even a year old, it already has become an attraction for wildlife and humans alike. The Martins have spotted an uncommon Henry's Elfin butterfly and specialized native bees like Colletes banksi. “The meadow has become a haven for insects and bird, all sharing space,” says Christina, who is also studying biodynamic gardening. It’s also attracted people, including Perfect Earth Project founder Edwina von Gal, who recently was compelled to step on the brakes while driving by to find out more. She’s not the only one. “We have friends stopping by to ask about our plant lists,” says Christina. “That’s the whole idea. We want to share our garden and inspire as many people as possible because the more people who do this, the better.”

The deMauros are encouraged that aesthetics are shifting. “People want to do the right thing,” says Emilia. She and her sister have seen how frustrated people are with the time, money, and effort to keep green lawns and clipped hedges. “It’s important to have these conversations. No one needs a ‘perfect’ lawn. We want to show people that they can have habitat on their property and it can be beautiful.”

Martin Architects path

Anna and Emilia planted a loose allée of native single stem Magnolia virginiana ‘Green Shadow’ trees, leading to a wood sculpture. “This space was intended to have a slightly more formal feeling from the front of the property with fewer plantings and more stone dust,” says Emilia. Photo courtesy of Nick and Christina Martin.

Martin Architects path 2

For the hardscape, the sisters used stone dust for the driveway and paths. It’s water permeable, acts as a mulch, and is “beautiful at all times but especially in winter when the garden has an open and serene feeling to it,” says Emilia. A Magnolia virginiana ‘Sweet Thing’ tree anchors one end of the path, which is flanked by asters, narrowleaf mountain mint, prairie dropseed grass, and three kinds of Carex. Photo by Doug Young, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro.

Martin Architects meadow 2

For the meadow in the front of the property, the deMauros devised an interspecies matrix planting. They densely planted small perennials (grasses such as prairie dropseed and wavy hair grass and flowering species including slender blue iris, gray goldenrod, and white heath asters) approximately 12- to 18-inches apart to help with weed suppression and water conservation. “We are always considering plants that match each other, such as sun/shade patterns, seasonal interest/growth patterns, succession bloom, site conditions,” says Anna. Photo by Doug Young, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro.

Martin Architects path 3

In front of the property is an old footpath that has been worn away by people walking along it over the years. “We wanted to honor it, so we covered it with stone dust with the hope that people will continue to use it daily and enjoy the insects and birds, and just the plain old beauty of the garden,” says Christina. Photo by Doug Young, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro.

Martin Architects planting

The whole office came out to plant the meadow together. “We wanted everyone to have a part in the garden and I was amazed at how much fun everyone was having putting their hands in the dirt,” says Christina. “It was a bonding experience.” Photo courtesy of deMauro + deMauro.

Martin Architects stone area

Nick wanted to use a series of rocks to create something sculptural, but “we realized that the most sculptural way of using them was to leave them as if ‘they fell off the truck.’ They formed a grouping as a gathering space hinging the composition of the grade to the structure” he says. “We modified the layout, added succulents, and nature did the rest." Photo by Doug Young, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro.

Martin Architects meadow snow

The meadow is striking covered in snow. They don’t cut back the meadow in fall but keep the stems and seedheads intact for wildlife. After returning from a family vacation to Sweden, the sisters came back with an even greater appreciation for nature au naturel. “Less is more. See the beauty in leaving things be,” says Anna. Photo by Jake Lear, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro

This is part of a series with Gardenista, which ran on January 25, 2024.

Brian Transformation 3

“The garden has been an adventure,” says Brian Sawyer, co-founder and partner of the award-winning, multi-disciplinary design firm Sawyer | Berson. When he bought the property seven years ago, the yard of his Bellport, NY, home consisted of an uninspired lawn and basic foundation plantings. But Brian saw potential. From the start, he knew he wanted a PRFCT garden—one that was toxic-free and nature-based. He carved out geometric beds and filled them with loose plantings, including many native varieties, such as an array of monarch-loving milkweed, ironweed, and Coreopsis, which “made a nice, low cloud of yellow” in the beds. He transformed the dull space into a richly layered wonderland that now brims with flora and fauna, including “twice the number of birds and a ten-fold increase in insects” since he first bought the property.

As every gardener knows, a garden is never complete—and is always unpredictable. Brian is already thinking about the changes he will make later this year. He plans to add more native Rudbeckia, noting that it “works better mixed with other meadow perennials and grasses and less as a stand-alone.” He loved the beebalm (also a favorite of bees, as you might guess) when it bloomed in July but learned that he had to pair it with something that would flower when it began to fade. He discovered that hollyhocks resent the humidity of Long Island and don’t like wet feet, the Joe Pye weed grew much taller than expected, and he rejoiced at the native Lobelia, which was “really robust and flowered most of the season.” “What’s been the most rewarding is the learning experience,” says Brian. “There’s much to edit this coming year, but that’s all part of the fun.” 

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Brian Transformation 4

Brian Transformation 1

Ottoblotto From Getty Images

Say It With Flowers

December 06, 2023

Edwina von Gal’s Radicle Thinking

As we head toward the shortest, darkest days of the year, we humans always start pondering big topics, like life, death, love, thankfulness, peace, and then set out to be better in the New Year to come. I, of course, am also thinking about plants and what they have to say about the world right now. Plants are the basic stuff of our lives: We need them for food and oxygen, and wouldn’t survive without them. They also provide great beauty. They are the “lilies of the field.” They serve us all and make no judgments—but how harshly we judge some of them!

Let’s consider "invasive plants" and the warlike language we have come to use when speaking about them. I’m well aware there are places where plants are taking over in a way that is very unfair for other species, and we might need to take a bigger role in a better outcome. But let’s bear in mind that some of these plants were intentionally introduced by humans. Others hitched a ride, as we spread around the globe. Of these introduced species, some, considered naturalized like Queen Anne’s Lace, have fit right in. Others, like clover and dandelions, have been targeted by the lawn industry as weeds, when they actually improve soil quality. And then there are those plants, such as Phragmites, Japanese knotweed, and mugwort to name just a few, that are considered so sufficiently aggressive and difficult to remove that they inspire attack strategies that involve mechanical and chemical warfare (flames, electric currents, toxic chemicals, and more).

What does the language we use about invasive plants say about us? For instance, ”the war on invasives.” Does their behavior warrant the intensity of our responses? How much do the words we use affect our feelings and our management policies? It is well accepted that aggressive language can have significant negative effects on relationships, collaboration, and overall well-being, while peaceful communication leads to more positive outcomes and healthier interactions. I believe the way we talk about plants can affect the way we interact with them.

Stop and think about these words associated with plant management strategies: fight, invasive, battle, eradicate, suppress, control, exterminate, zero tolerance . . . war. Is this how we should be making plans to “help” nature? Is this why smart and devoted environmentalists feel justified to use glyphosate (Roundup’s main ingredient) and other synthetic chemical herbicides? To arm themselves for battle?

A primary goal of removing invasive species is to restore diversity; we learned this from nature itself. A diverse system is generally more stable. Ecosystems tend to evolve toward higher levels of diversity and complexity—on their own. So, why aren’t we trusting nature to do that now? Maybe we want results to happen faster because some plant is causing us some inconvenience? Maybe there is money to be made in large-scale management schemes? Surely, we do have a role to play, but maybe it is time to be less aggressive, less harmful. Maybe we are not listening closely enough. As we approach the winter solstice, let’s stop for a moment, hear the plants, recognize their lives as good, and think in peaceful terms.

[Top Photo] Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), feared and targeted for its exuberant growth potential, contains high amounts of resveratrol and anti-inflammatory nutrients, which people have used to treat mobility, immunity, and circulatory system issues. Photo by OttoBlotto from Getty Images.

Worledit From Getty Images

About one billion pounds of conventional pesticides are used each year in the U.S. Photo by Worledit from Getty Images.

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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.

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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

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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

Photo: The owners of this garden designed by Refugia outside of Philadelphia replaced their front lawn with a vibrant, native meadow. Photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo.

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