Going Organic in Riverside, CT
Worry-Free Status of Yard Pleases Organic-Savvy Homeowner
By Kathy Litchfield
Twenty years ago, Clara Park was in graduate school in California, eating organic eggs and vegetables. She and her husband were studying English and wanted to live what she called “environmentally responsible” lives.
“We wanted to be environmentally conscious and didn’t even want a house for a long time. We lived in the city without a car and we thought that was a good thing to do,” said Park, an east coast native who lived in Texas, Washington D.C. and New York City before moving to Connecticut. “When we moved here, we thought if we were going to have a house, we wanted to choose responsible methods of caring for it.”
While her husband began law school at Yale, the first thing she did was to seek out an organic community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm share.
She then read lots of articles and researched organic lawn care methods. She and her husband wanted to leave grass clippings on the lawn, leave autumn leaves where they fell and take care of stormwater runoff.
“I talked to the lawn care man who worked here for the previous owner and asked if he could leave the grass clippings but he said their machines weren’t built to do that,” said Park. “I wanted the grass to grow longer and be cut less often as it was better for the soil. So I started looking online.”
Park found Mike Papa of Artscape Organic-Care, LLC on a google search. She was impressed with his seven-year NOFA accreditation status and appreciated his can-do attitude and commitment to organics from their very first meeting.
“Mr. Papa is really amazing. He’ll talk to you about anything and has lots of logical things to say,” said Park.
The 20-year previous owner of Park’s property was an avid gardener and perennials flourished and looked perfect , she said. In addition the lawn was green and well-groomed by a conventional lawn care company.
“It looked really great but there wasn’t enough organic matter in the lawn. Some of the plants were too crowded together and diseases could spread. Mr. Papa had a lot of observations that were really helpful,” she said. “He told us it was all about the health of the soil and how we could improve that.”
Papa said that a state of the art soil testing program as well as testing of the plant tissue was key, as was selecting appropriate grass seeds for Park’s lawn.
“Clara’s property has many plants and we did lot of trimming to allow appropriate habitats for turf and ornamentals, following her budget,” said Papa. “I always tell my clients we use some calcium nitrate (in our natural blends) strategically, to provide extra slow release nitrogen in spring to promote growth. Stewardship skills are key to avoiding the use of pesticides.”
Six years later, Park said the lawn grows lushly in spring and holds its own while the summer sun beats down upon it.
While hot temperatures in August and September challenged the sprinkler system this year, she said Mike and his crew returned as often as necessary to help them work with the sprinkler company to adjust the watering.
“Also they’ve been taking out crabgrass and re-seeding the subsequent bare patches. We have a lot of clover in the back that we don’t mind, but are trying to keep the front clear for the neighbors – though we haven’t weeded much this year!,” she said. “The back was a disaster after Hurricane Sandy, blew over a huge oak that knocked down two others, but my husband dug a pond and Mr. Papa landscaped it for us.”
The Park’s backyard features a beautiful 30-foot-long pond where goldfish – some five years old and reproducing – swim in the midst of grasses and flowers. Clara’s husband enjoys walking out to the pond at night and feeding the goldfish, and her 10-year-old daughter loves to walk their pet cat, Delphine, on a leash around the backyard.
A cat on a leash? One reason this is important to Clara is that she loves watching and listening to the numerous birds inhabiting their one-third of an acre.
Robins, jays, cardinals, doves, blackbirds and hummingbirds frequent her yard more regularly since she started organic land care and installed the pond, and that makes for a beautiful landscape to gaze at from the windows of her home.
“I just like Mr. Papa so much. I like how he thinks about the yard. I don’t worry about how it looks. I have total faith in him and he just takes care of everything,” she said.
Papa said he enjoys the peace of mind he is able to bring to clients like Park.
“The customer likes me so much from the simple fact that we care, are honest, and there is peace of mind (in knowing) that we work in a pesticide free zone,” he said. “My goal is to always work toward a balance in all we do, in addition to our observations and intuitions.”
Park said her yard “doesn’t have to look perfect, because it is healthy.”
“When we moved here I expected more people would be into organic lawn care, but a lot of people just want the service and don’t think about the methods. I know our yard looks great most of the time, and that it stays healthier longer. I’m confident that everything is ok and I don’t have to worry about it. Mr. Papa looks out for the health of everything!”