Friday, July 25, 2014

Thriving Ecosystems that Creatures Call Home

“Out & About with AOLCPs”

Thriving Ecosystems that Creatures Call Home
AOLCP Teresa Mucci Creates Organic Native Meadows

By Kathy Litchfield

WILTON, CT – For some, there is nothing like arriving home after an intense work day, exchanging dress shoes for sandals and walking into a backyard meadow. Amidst birdsong, buzzing bees, and flowers swaying in the breeze, one enjoys the diversity of late afternoon sights, scents and sounds that can calm the mind and center the body.
      For some of Teresa Mucci’s clients, this has become a daily routine.
“Most people fall in love with their meadows. Over the years, walking in them becomes part of what they do and they see it as therapeutic,” said the seven-year AOLCP whose own 15’ x 35’ meadow outside her kitchen window provides hours of joy as she watches the wildlife – birds, bees, endless insects chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, opossums and the occasional deer. This is her test case to show people that no “bit of land” is too small to create a native meadow.
            While many know Mucci as the CT NOFA Winter Conference coordinator – she has organized it since 2009 – perhaps fewer know she studied art and photo journalism in her native Minneapolis, MN before moving to Connecticut, and over the years becoming a Master Gardener at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford in 2001, both graduating from and later teaching classes at the New York Botanical Gardens School of Horticulture and Landscape Design Program, and finally going pro by installing organic native meadows as an Ecological Landscape Designer.
            Mucci has clients for whom she designs and maintains meadows throughout Connecticut and New York.  Word of mouth is her chosen means of advertising and she enjoys talking with clients about the potential of their properties for beautiful native meadows as a place where wildlife thrives, and as an alternative to a monoculture lawn. She stresses that size doesn’t matter – a meadow can be as small or large as the customers’ vision.
            “I’m passionate about meadows with people, explaining there is so much interest and life during all four seasons. They’re always changing and exciting to look at. Wildlife feels invisible and thus safe in the tall matrix, so they settle in. I think it’s contagious, this love of meadows,” said Mucci, who encourages a “patient, gentle approach” to meadow development.
She talks with clients about the process: observing what is already growing, carefully timing cuts and selectively culling, to allow the release of the existing seed bank.
As the meadows develop, she works with the client explaining what to keep, what native plants to add,  invasives to remove and what to cut back over time. These client relationships can last for years and Mucci finds them very rewarding.
            “To me personally, it’s opening up a new idea. I’m in awe of where I get to spend time--that people have me on their properties and the trust that develops; the bond and the relationship that grows when you walk on land together,” she said. “Sometimes, people have something dormant within themselves that comes out, and I love that enthusiasm.”
            The very first meadow Mucci installed was a five-acre plot along Rte. 33, currently referred to as “the Gem of the Wilton Land Trust” by the current Land Trust President.  Another of her meadows is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike in the center of downtown Wilton. As a Trustee of the Wilton Land Trust for 15 years, she sees pro bono work as important and useful in developing a professional reputation.
Mucci first experienced fodder fields and prairies while growing up in her native Minneapolis, and visiting her uncles who were farmers outside the city.
“Minnesota has a real reverence and history with its prairies. That’s how this got planted in my soul,” she said. “There are 9 of these ‘prairie remnants’ from 250 to well over 1,000 acres. People are almost reverential in protecting them. They’re beloved and often photographed.”
Today, along with her long-time crew, she does a lot of meadow restoration and installation work as well as helps homeowners design natural areas to support birds and bees. She has lectured at garden clubs, land trusts, and other organizations and has published articles over the years. She taught at NYBG for three years on organic lawns, weeds and, meadows, and has taught meadows for the OLC accreditation course. 
            A current project found her in Cold Spring, NY looking at a mugwort-ridden meadow that last year seemed hopeless, but this spring, with early intervention “is just glorious!  We  rescued  the installed plants and they are lush, thriving and the owners are on the road to having their meadow back. I’m humbled by Mother Nature’s reaction when you work with her,” said Mucci. “We’re off to a great start on that property.”
It was over a decade ago when Mucci first called CT NOFA to inquire about OLC, and she shared her reaction when then-executive director Bill Duesing answered the phone.
“I was surprised that not only did a human being answer the phone, but that one of my long time heroes picked it up . . . this put NOFA even higher on my radar as a great organization,” said Mucci, who earned her NOFA accreditation in 2007 (CT course).
            “It was my connection with NOFA at that time that made me realize the chemicals we were using rather indiscriminately in my previous job were careless about the future. I knew there had to be a more responsible way,” said Mucci, who started her own business during the economic downturn of 2009 and was delighted to find so many people interested in organic landscaping and ecological design. So far each year has been more successful than the previous one.
            “It turns out that once you install a meadow for someone, you often are asked to maintain their meadow; and as the trust grows over time they give me other parts of their properties that need care such as grooming woodlands and consulting on whole property care.”
            Mucci feels blessed to have work that utilizes her communication skills and sharing her passion for native meadows.
“I often form friendships with the people who are my clients. There is a trust that develops. When I do a meadow project it is a process that goes on for several years, and I’m there on a regular basis. Each meadow is totally unique as no two parcels of land are identical; this makes one’s meadow very personal.  It is an evolving process and always beautiful!”

 For more information, contact Teresa Mucci at