Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Embracing Organic Land Care – One Design at a Time Roots…

 Part I:

Embracing Organic Land Care – One Design at a Time Roots…

By Michael McCleese, AOLCP

Twenty-five years ago I took a job on a landscape crew as an out of shape, burned out social worker.  It was a particularly hot summer and I’ll never forget what it was like hefting 24” balled and burlapped boxwoods out of a trailer onto a planting bed.  I was used to carrying a pager, talking on the telephone, and having long lunches with co-workers.  Landscaping was tough. The sun was brutally hot. The work was hard and physically demanding. Sweat and grime soaked my clothes and at the end of the day; I was really, truly hungry.  As the weeks passed, leathery calluses began to replace the blisters on my soft palms.  I noticed something else that summer while I dug holes and mulched and edged and planted. As the calluses got tougher and my body slimmer, I started seeing colors in the garden, not just green, but 40 kinds of green and 20 kinds of yellow and lavender and blue!  I began to notice venation in leaves and that some shrubs and trees had exfoliating bark on their limbs and trunks.  Then the big surprise, I started noticing shapes and textures and grade changes in the landscape. Amazing! A garden designer was born!

I think it’s important for designers to remember their roots. How did we get where we are today? Where did we start?  What motivates us?  Where are we going? Most important, how and why did we find our way to NOFA and the NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care? It is more important than ever that we know the answers to these questions. We see what is happening today. The earth is pushing back. It’s hotter and colder than it’s supposed to be. Super storms have been raging on all continents. Epic droughts are appearing around the globe. And, many species of bees and other pollinators, our link between food production and starvation, are inexplicably dying by the billions.  We have a big job on our hands. Since we can’t snap on a cape and fly around saving the earth with our ‘Green’ super powers we’ll have to do the next best thing; design sustainable, chemical free spaces one landscape or garden at a time.  It’s not so overwhelming when you look at it that way.

If you’re like me, designing gardens is a passion. It’s amazing how quickly our craft is evolving into one of the very tools which will help bring humans back into harmony with nature. It wasn’t like that just a few years ago. It seemed that designers of permaculture sites and designers of ornamental landscapes were at polar opposites in how a garden should look and feel.  But now, like peanut butter and jelly, we’re beginning to come together! I’ll be attending a permaculture design course this summer in Vermont. People are beginning to listen to us. Convincing politicians is a whole other story! Our measure of success as designers depends upon our communication with our clients. Education is our biggest and best tool.

What our clients learn from us is more important than what we present to them on a CAD drawing or on a piece of vellum. If clients can grasp the core principles of our OLC training, the rest will follow. For example, below are two photos of gardens I designed. Garden 1 was designed and installed before I completed my NOFA training and before I stopped using chemicals and long distance materials. Garden 2 shows a landscape I designed after my NOFA OLC training. Both gardens are artfully designed and pleasant to look at. My designs today include mostly native and edible plants. The point is, our clients will embrace sustainable designs and the OLC principles if we show them that they can still enjoy and live in beautiful spaces. And, knowing that they are contributing to healing the planet will inspire them to share what they learned.  All good stuff!

Garden 1 – Installed Without NOFA OLC Principles

Garden 2 – Installed Using NOFA OLC Guidelines

For the next 2 months I’d like to share some of my projects with you and some of the techniques and practices from a few of the talented caring people I know who are changing the world through ecological design. In the meantime, I hope you will take a few minutes out of your busy schedules and reflect on your design roots, where you’ve been and where you’re going. Until then, thank you for healing the planet one garden at a time…

Michael McCleese, AOLCP                                                                                                                                           A Guy & His Dog Landscaping                                                                                                      www.aguyandhisdog.net                                                                                                  mikemccleese@gmail.com