Thursday, September 24, 2009

Good God! I got interviewed by the Mayor of Providence's office

Feature: My Business
Cris Larson Digs into the Roots of a Greener Landscape
As thirty Providence residents prepare to train for careers in the sustainable landscaping industry (thanks to a partnership between Groundwork Providence and the Providence Housing Authority launched this week) local experts in this sector of the green industry have designed a curriculum that will prepare students to compete for better-paying jobs in the future. One of those experts is Cris Larson, a landscape designer and current president of the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association.

According to Larson, “Probably one of the biggest challenges that the green industry faces is trying to find qualified workers … so what this program is doing is giving those potential employees the knowledge and that edge over the inexperienced labor that you might typically see in the landscaping world.” Participants of the program will be receiving 6 weeks of instruction in sustainable landscaping and urban maintenance.

City News caught up with Larson, also known professionally as The Garden Consultant, at the Groundwork Providence community garden on Grove Street to dig into the roots of her field.
How is your field (landscape design) contributing to the creation of green jobs in Providence?
I’m the ideas person. I’m a one-woman show and I don’t have any employees myself but what I do is create the designs for my clients and then they will either give it to a landscape company or install it themselves. As the designer, I’m kinda’ the first step at creating different landscapes so it’s like a trickle-down effect almost. So I would work with, let’s say, a landscape company that would employ someone from Groundwork Providence. You know, keep a steady flow of work for them coming.
Describe the kind of training that takes place in order for an individual to be a landscaper.
You don’t really have to have any kind of qualification to do landscaping right now. In my travels as a landscape designer and horticultural consultant, I see a lot of the aftermath of work by people who don’t know what they’re doing. A lot of it can result in bad outcomes like trees dying or mulch being improperly planted, or even hardscapes that aren’t installed correctly.
An organization like RINLA (RI Nursery & Landscape Association) tries to promote professionalism in the field. We try to promote the certified horticulturist program. It’s kinda’ like a step above being a master gardener. They have to take a course and a test and have to maintain their certification with so many hours of volunteer work within the field.
So what role is RINLA going to play in the training being offered to potential landscapers?
Groundwork Providence contacted RINLA and a couple of faculty from URI, folks from the garden world, and folks from the landscape world – a well-rounded group – to ask us to provide input on the pertinent information that landscapers should learn. So they based the curriculum on the information we had given them. They’ve been working with us very closely. Some of us will be teaching some of the classes too. I will be teaching the urban landscape plant class. Another RINLA board member will be teaching the permeable paver class. So they’re getting people that know their stuff and are also able to convey their information and knowledge to the students.
In your opinion, how is a program like this beneficial to the green workforce?
I have a lot of friends who are landscapers and a lot their angst is driven by this challenge – the workers might come from a temp agency, or they don’t have the interest or the knowledge to really do the work well. I hear the same anxieties from my clients. So what this program is doing is giving those potential employees the knowledge and that edge over the inexperienced labor that you might typically see in the landscaping world. We need those educated people.
On the other hand, too, these potential employees and workers might also be able to garner better-paying jobs in the industry. If you’re educated you might be able to get a foreman’s job, for example. So I think this Sustainable Landscaping Curriculum through Groundwork Providence will give people that edge over others.
Why did you choose this profession?
I started off wanting to be an environmental lawyer. My dad was an attorney in upstate New York. I went to Cornell, which really doesn’t have a true pre-law program. So I took some plant sciences courses. In my junior year I started taking business law classes and that’s when I started thinking, ‘wow, I really don’t want to do this!’ So I graduated with a bachelors’ degree in plant sciences and a minor in ornamental horticulture. I worked for an industry in Middletown and they made me their landscape designer. One day I had an epiphany. Why am I not doing this for myself? And so I went and started The Garden Consultant in 2000.
Every year, it’s been getting a little bit better. The past couple of years I’ve been cranking out the work and I can’t complain! I’ve got clients all over the state and in New England and do a lot of work in Providence. In my designs, I use all native plants. I do more stuff with drought-resistant material and things like that. The push for green industry and with programs like what Groundwork Providence is doing, and with the push for more green space in inner cities and urban areas, I think there’ll be more demand for these types of eco-friendly materials and landscaping.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Every design is different. I enjoy that a lot of my clients become friends. When their gardens have grown into maturity, they’ll come back to me and say, ‘I really like what you’ve done.’ To have someone love their yard and once I bring that happiness to people, that’s when I feel like I’m helping to make the world a better place. It sounds cheesy but that’s what I like most about it.
How would you encourage others to get excited about this field?
There’s almost a stigma that goes with being a landscaper. But I think there’s going to be a big shift with the new green industry. As it becomes a more popular field, it’s going to be cooler. I have to say it’s actually a pretty cool job! I love my job! At the end of the day, people in my field look at their work and think ‘wow, I really accomplished something!’ There’s a great deal of satisfaction that comes with this job.
For more on Cris Larson’s work, go to and to find out more about the programs offered by the RI Nursery and Landscape Association, go to

(As seen in Providence's City News. I have to apologize for the crazy font sizes, I had to tweak it so it would fit.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Interesting article about thirsty landscapes from the WSJ -

The Wall Street Journal

Home & Family

Turf Battle Heats Up Over Limits on Water-Guzzling Landscapes


There's a turf war under way over America 's lawns, and it may be headed for your yard.

Later this year, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to expand its WaterSense conservation program to include a voluntary label for newly built homes. Homes could win certification if they consume roughly 20% less water than standard new homes. Along with criteria for high-efficiency toilets and faucets, the program has a landscaping clause that could strictly limit the amount of turfgrass participating builders plant. The rationale: Homeowners waste a lot of water laboring to keep lawns lush.

Before & After

[TURFWAR1] Southern Nevada Water Authority (2)

This Las Vegas home's owner got a rebate for replacing 2,200 square feet of lawn with water-efficient plants.


Locally, some cities and water utilities, in Florida, Nevada and Texas, for example, already offer homeowners and builders financial incentives for taking steps to decrease water usage, including reducing the amount of lawn in residential yards. But the EPA's latest bid to go green would take the movement national, and that has the turfgrass industry up in arms.

"It puts a label on grass as bad that it's not something to be used," says Kris Kiser, executive vice president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, a trade group representing equipment manufacturers for the landscape, lawn and other industries. Mr. Kiser says his group and other landscape-trade organizations are lobbying legislators to oppose the proposed WaterSense criteria for landscaping. And Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., the world's largest lawn and garden company, has criticized the EPA's outdoor plan as "arbitrary" and "not supported by science."

Under the plan, WaterSense would give participating builders two options for landscaping new homes. The first: Turfgrass can't exceed 40% of the landscapable area. The second: Builders may use a "water-budget" approach and an EPA-provided online tool to design landscape based on a regionally appropriate amount of water, as well as individual plants' water needs. "So basically, a yard in Maine or Minnesota could have larger turf area than Las Vegas ," says Virginia Lee, EPA's WaterSense program team leader.

Ms. Lee says the average home in America uses 30% of its water outdoors, and in some areas of the country that number soars to 70%. While there's nothing to stop homeowners from planting all the turfgrass they want once they move in, with WaterSense landscaping as an initial template, she says, "we are trying to teach people to plant appropriate landscapes."

Looming Water Shortages

That the nation's water supplies need closer monitoring and preservation is generally not in dispute. Water managers in 36 states anticipate shortages by 2013, according to a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office. Between 1950 and 2000, the U.S. population nearly doubled, but public demand for water more than tripled, according to the EPA.

The problem is particularly severe in regions battling competing forces of drought and heavy population growth, such as Las Vegas , Texas , Florida and Atlanta . A five-year study of Nevada homes that converted lawn to Xeriscape a broad term for water-efficient landscape that includes flowers, plants and trees found converted areas used 75% less water on average. The study was conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Turf Tear-Up

Homeowners in some towns can get financial incentives to replace certain types of turfgrass with plants deemed more water efficient. Here's a sampling (some awards are capped and funds may be limited):


Water-bill credit of up to 75 cents a square foot for converting landscape designated as "high water use" such as Kentucky bluegrass and sheep fescue to lower-water-use plantings. Plus, 25% off the cost of renting equipment for grass removal.

Rebate of $1 to $1.50 per square foot of grass removed and replaced with desert landscaping.

$200 to $600 rebate for replacing turf areas with "non-grass," low-water-use, drought-tolerant plants.

$100 gift certificate to nursery for, among other things, "having no more than 50% of the landscape planted in turf" (only Bermuda, buffalo or zoysia varieties no St. Augustine ). Additional water bill credit of $50 to $300 for low water usage.

"Xeriscape Rebate" offers residential customers up to $1 per square foot for replacing turf grass with low-water-use plant material.

The EPA hopes its WaterSense program, launched in 2006, can mimic the success of Energy Star, the federal program created in 1992 to identify and champion products that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Energy Star label is now on thousands of items. By year-end, nearly one million new homes will have been Energy Star certified meaning built with qualifying materials and equipment that make them roughly 30% more efficient than standard new homes. While purchases of government-certified products are voluntary, over time they can skew the market toward products meeting the criteria. Over the Labor Day weekend, for instance, Sears and Lowe's hawked 20% discounts on appliances bearing the Energy Star label.

Opponents of the WaterSense landscape criteria worry the EPA certification, as currently proposed, might eventually gain similar traction as Energy Star among home builders. Some WaterSense labeled products, such as toilets, qualify for rebates in places such as Cobb County, Ga. , and Durham , N.C. Proposed legislation would give a federal tax credit to purchasers of WaterSense-labeled homes. Other water-saving rebates are listed at

But while significant strides have been made to reduce residential indoor water use with low-flow faucets, shower heads and other water-conserving appliances, outdoor usage remains difficult to curtail. "Indoors, water conservation is based on installing technologies that don't require significant changes in behavior you can still flush the toilet and do laundry," says Heather Cooley, senior research associate at the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research group. Outdoors, there is more behavior change involved with educating people about the volume of water being used and alternatives to lawns and irrigation technologies."

Public officials are trying financial persuasion to convince consumers to ditch grass. The Southern Nevada Water Authority runs a Get Off Your Grass, We'll Pay Cash program that pays customers between $1 and $1.50 per square foot of grass removed and replaced with desert landscaping. To date the program has converted turf equivalent to roughly 2,400 football fields. Building codes in the Las Vegas area also require that new homes cannot have any lawn in the front yard and only 50% lawn in back, says Doug Bennett, conservation manager at SNWA.

What Neighbors Think

Florida has its own voluntary program, called Water Star, that limits how much high-volume-irrigation landscape often that's turfgrass participating builders can install. But that can conflict with rules enforced by many homeowners associations that require well-maintained grass landscaping. This spring, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist stepped in and signed a bill permitting homeowners to replace lawns with more " Florida friendly" plants, regardless of neighborhood covenants. Some cities, such as Apopka , Fla. , even regulate the type of grass permitted for new homes to favor more drought-tolerant varieties such as Bahia and Bermuda over St. Augustine .

Such moves have met with mixed reviews. "No one here wants to see Xeriscape next door to them for the most part," says Greg Kullman, resident and former president of Silverthorn, a gated golf-course community in Hernando County , Fla. He estimates grass takes up about 90% of a Silverthorn home's yard. "Grass is a part of everyone's life from when you are first born. Without grass, a home would be bland, and if a home is bland, its value drops."

Virtues of Grass

Others say grass's own environmental benefits are being sold short. Scotts Miracle-Gro this year launched a Love Your Lawn consumer Web site. In its public comments opposing WaterSense's landscape criteria, the company asserts that healthy turf reduces soil erosion, traps dust and dirt and reduces surface temperatures. Scotts and other grass sellers are developing new seed varieties that need less water.

The EPA aims to implement the WaterSense program for new homes in early December but the agency could still modify the landscape criteria. One alternative model is Florida 's Water Star program, which doesn't directly limit turfgrass but rather the amount of landscape that uses high-volume irrigation. That distinction forces participating home builders to plant more drought-tolerant grass varieties or other water-saving plants without demonizing grass, says Deirdre Irwin, Water Star coordinator for the St. Johns Water Management District, one of five such agencies in Florida .

"Our agency has a strong position that it isn't turfgrass that wastes water but the irrigation and the wrong species in the wrong place," Ms. Irwin says.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sounds like Late Blight can't cut the cold...

For the first time in many weeks, I finally made it outside and did some stuff around the backyard. Holy crap, did I have some weeds. The one good thing about monstrous weeds is they are fairly easy to pull. The backyard looks somewhat like what is it supposed to now. I never did get to thinning the water lettuce in the Lake but there's always this weekend coming up. Below is the one window box on the side of my garage that overlooks Lake Larson. Not too bad for a complete afterthought. It's the only container I have that doesn't look like complete and utter garbage from the rains and that's because it faces northeast and has a little bit of an overhang. So, It didn't get hammered with water. The other showpiece window box on the front of the house did horrible and unspeakable things this year. The only thing left standing in it is the coleus, begonias, and the carex. The fushcia rotted totally away.

I'm starting to scheme about the new beds around the deck I want to start and soon. I think the next several weeks will be me ripping sod to audio books on my ipod. Then I can start to move stuff from the front that desparately needs more sun. How dare that big oak grow and cast shade in my yard over the past 5 years.

If you grow tomatoes, live in New England, and don't live under a rock you know that we have been having quite a time with potato Late Blight. I know, I know...potato diseases striking tomatoes?? That doesn't sound right! But in fact, tomatoes and potatoes are very closely related...closely enough that they can get sick from the same diseases. On Gardenweb, I have read a lot of accounts of Late Blight around the Northeast so it is here and not some big marketing ploy by Ortho or MiracleGro. My tomatoes may be showing a touch of it but I'm not that stressed about how they look because it has been a momumentally awful gardening year. I'm just glad that I got some tomatoes this season. Thankfully it has dried out and things aren't as water stressed as they were the majority of the "summer" (and I do use the term summer, loosely.)

I was just sent this article re: Late Blight and how it won't survive our winter from a gardening colleague -


Late blight won’t overwinter in Northeast, experts say


Retailers can share some good news with customers: Late blight won’t overwinter in the area, except in infected potato tubers

Late blight (Phytophthora infestans) has caused big headaches for vegetable gardeners in New England . But retailers can share some good news with customers: Late blight won’t overwinter in the area, except in infected potato tubers according to UConn Home and Garden Education Center .

Here’s the latest from Floriculture Greenhouse Update:
The pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, survives in living tissue and will be killed by freezing temperatures. Therefore, your customers do not need to be concerned about their soil harboring this pathogen and creating a source of infection for next year. Most years, late blight is sporadic or absent in our area because it spreads from the south on wind currents and arrives late in the season, causing far less damage. This year, the pathogen was introduced on tomato transplants carrying the disease so it arrived early and then we had very favorable weather for disease development and spread. If your customers grow potatoes and they have been infected with late blight, it is important to advise that they destroy or bury infected tubers. They should be buried two feet deep. Crop rotation and a thorough fall clean-up of any diseased plants in garden beds are still important practices for reducing the incidence of other diseases.

Some of my readings suggest that the Big Box stores like Lowes, Home "Cheapo", Walmart, and etc. were responsible for having the fungus on tomato plants brought in from god knows where. Tomatoes started from seed or from mom and pop garden centers were safer bets. Hmmmm...sounds like a great reason for the "Buy Local" push that has been gaining popularity out there.

Speaking of Tomatoes, you may remember that I had bought one of those upside down tomato planters from Gardener Supply Catalog this past spring. The jury is out and yes, they do work!!! I put a patio tomato in there so it wouldn't be a huge plant and I'm impressed. The one thing I will say is make sure you have something sturdy enough to hold it...I almost broke the railing on deckzilla when I first hung it. Eric had to rig something on the roof of the house next to the desk.