Monday, September 15, 2014

Going Organic in Westport, CT: A Joyful Restoration of Home and Landscape

Going Organic in Westport, CT
A Joyful Restoration of Home and Landscape
By Kathy Litchfield

Carol Quinn loves gazing out the windows of her 1850’s home, nestled on two acres in Westport, Conn. 
“It just looks so beautiful. It looks like we live in a park,” said Quinn, who is working with 12-year NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional Michael Nadeau of Plantscapes Organics.
 “We were interested in organic gardening and we love our yard. We know that organic gardening is healthier for our child, healthier for our neighbors and healthier for the earth, and that’s why we do it!” said the enthusiastic homeowner, who has invested countless hours of time and energy with her husband David Mayo to restore their house and beautify their landscape over the last two years.  
She said Mike and his brother Dan Nadeau came highly recommended.
“Mike and his brother Danny are wonderful people. We met them through the builders who did work on our house, and another client who used them in Ridgefield. Their gardens are phenomenal. Ours are just starting off,” said Carol, who looks forward to watching her perennial beds, a rain garden and a new rock garden grow and develop alongside her organic lawn.
The couple purchased their circa 1859 house a few years ago, and represent just the third family to have owned it since its construction. It was one of the last houses built before the Civil War in Westport, she said. The previous owners, children of a couple who had passed away, didn’t apply chemicals or perform heavy maintenance on their lawn, which worked out well for the couple’s desire to plant organic grasses, she said, since remediation was unnecessary.
Originally the property was part of a farm, then an estate, and it maintains stately old swamp maples, a huge black birch, ancient dogwoods, a tulip tree, a Japanese maple, many lovely old evergreens and an azalea bush “that looks like a tree,” laughed Carol. The property also features a 60-foot-tall Dawn Redwood, huge silver maples and a healthy 75-foot-tall American elm.
The couple started with their house restoration, by hiring Mike and Chris Trolle of BPC Green Builders in Wilton, Conn., who specialize in non-toxic and green certified building materials “right down to the non-toxic pipe dope used to sweat the plumbing fittings together,” said Mike Nadeau. “The driveway is native gravel to absorb rainwater, except for a small basketball court that was paved with porous asphalt.”
The couple received a preservation award from the Town of Westport for their home restoration, and then embarked upon their organic land care mission.
“Mike and Dan have been very professional. They came up with a landscape plan based on what we wanted, implemented it, did it in a timely fashion according to what our budget was and found a fellow who did a beautiful job on our fountain too,” she said.  
Utilizing an old well stone on the property and rocks gathered from throughout its acreage, the fountain is a highlight of the Quinn’s organic landscape, which features sitting areas and beautiful views of the gardens from their wraparound porch.  
A rain garden, planted on a natural slope, showcases native plants, helps to disperse rainwater and solves a puddling problem they experienced during heavy rains.
David and Carol don’t use sprinklers in their yard. For the first two years of their new organic landscape, they are employing battery-powered irrigation timers and drip tubes to help new trees and bushes get established, at Nadeau’s suggestion.
“There are zones for each different hydrologic requirement, based on plant needs, which are monitored and adjusted during the season. This takes advantage of natural rainfall and provides just enough moisture to establish a strong root system; then it will be turned off,” said Mike Nadeau. “By using drip irrigation, water is applied only where needed and you do not water the weeds between plants. The irrigation can be activated during droughts if appropriate. The cost is a fraction of a permanently installed system and protects our plants through their guarantee period.” 
As for the organic lawn, “it takes care of itself,” said Quinn, who first learned about organic gardening from a friend who is on the board of directors of the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center in New York City.
“The center focuses on how children’s health is impacted by different things in the environment. I’m not a scientist, but I think that chemicals used as fertilizers or insecticides or herbicides cause some degree of sickness in people. So through (my friend) I started to get interested in what people put on their lawns. We decided, with Mike’s guidance, to choose plants that were native and indigenous to Connecticut. We’re getting rid of invasive species (including knotweed). We really want to have plants and grass that will grow within the boundaries of our climate,” she said.
The couple also chooses organics when it comes to fruits, vegetables and meats. Carol feels fortunate to have a great farmer’s market on Thursdays in Westport, the Saugatuck Craft Butchery which sources and carries local and organic meats within 100 miles of Westport, and the Double L Farm Market that carries a wide selection of organic foods, as well as a Whole Foods Market nearby.
She looks forward to watching their organic landscape develop over time, and hopes others in Westport will learn about organic land care and implement organic elements into their own yards and gardens.
She said she would love to help arrange for a speaker on organic land care to present at the Westport Public Library, where seminars are well attended.
Looking forward, the couple plans to explore the possibility of restoring the wetlands at the back of their yard, in collaboration with Nadeau and the Town of Westport, as well as continuing their ongoing battle with the ever-creeping poison ivy.
“Mike and Danny and their crew are just tremendous. They have integrity, they are hard working, they’re creative and they’re helpful,” said Quinn, who sees them as partners in her organic gardening choices. “They seem like they’re really invested in the result and dedicated to the process. I admire Mike so much. He is so knowledgeable. He’s just fantastic.”
Nadeau feels similarly about the couple.
“David and Carol’s attention to details and being totally committed to organic land care make them the ideal client for us. They challenged us all through the design, installation, and maintenance phases to research new materials and find the best organic/green products to use,” Nadeau said.