thank you for making our driveway

Happy New Year! At this time in 2014, we were full of excitement and trepidation as we started on this journey of worker-ownership after purchasing our business from our retiring boss. Now, we can look back at our first year as a cooperative and feel proud of our accomplishments:

  • Completing 140+ beautiful landscape construction projects including hardscape, plants, lawns, and custom site furnishings
  • Providing ongoing organic landscape maintenance services to 120 Boston-area households and condo associations
  • Fulfilling our goal of job creation by increasing our staff to 22 people
  • Receiving an Economic Development grant for our development of a democratic workplace
  • Sharing our knowledge by speaking at the NOFA Winter Conference, the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives National Conference, the Worcester Roots‘ workshop on Cooperative Conversions, and the WORC’N Worker-Ownership Meet-Up

Thank you to everyone who continues to support our efforts by referring friends, offering constructive criticism, making us coffee, and sending us love notes. We wish you a healthy and growth-filled 2015!

cooperative word cloud

In the month of April, Future Boston is running a series of guest posts about the Cooperative sector and how we are transforming the Boston economy. We appreciated the opportunity to share our perspective, along with our friends at Restoring Roots Permaculture Co-Op.

The most exciting thing about becoming a worker-owned cooperative is seeing each member blossom as an owner, and seeing a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Two weeks after the purchase, we had a bobcat, truck, and trailer stolen from our yard. Even though it was winter and many people were off work, everyone jumped to action, retracing steps, looking for clues, filing insurance paperwork, spreading the word. What could have been our first opportunity for finger-pointing and defensiveness was instead our first successful test of solidarity, where our different strengths and ways of looking at a problem came together.

We’re naturally good with rocks, plants, soil, and rulers. Democratic business ownership comes with a whole set of new behaviors and skills: speaking up in meetings, asking questions, taking notes, finding more information, networking, reading financial statements, setting goals, evaluating success. It’s exciting to see that even those of us with 12, 15, 19 years with the company have more to learn. We’re grateful to be a part of the vibrant cooperative community in Boston and beyond, where the value of  “cooperation among cooperatives” has given us good partners on the journey.

Read the whole post here.


Learn to make your yard more inviting and usable with this free workshop from A Yard & A Half Landscaping Cooperative and Hillman Homes. Get inspired with take home tips to increase curb appeal, reduce maintenance, and cut costs using sustainable and organic landscaping practices. Bring your questions and photos of any outdoor trouble spots. We will leave plenty of time for Q&A with designers from A Yard & A Half to help you get your lawn and garden off to the right start this spring.

Sunday, March 23, 2014, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Hillman Homes, 1381 Washington St., West Newton, MA

About the instructor: Carolyn Edsell-Vetter has been with A Yard & A Half since 2000. She is a NOFA Accredited Organic Landcare Professional and MA Certified Horticulturist. Carolyn enjoys sharing knowledge with homeowners and professionals, teaching design, site assessment, and business courses for the Boston Master Urban Gardeners program and NOFA. 

About Hillman Homes: Rachel Hillman has been a real estate broker since 2002. Hillman Homes offers real estate services to buyers, sellers, and renters. Our firm is different: we include Realtors, mortgage lending and estate planning under one roof. As a referral-only business, we ensure that our clients are our #1 priority.

COGdesign logoA Yard & A Half has been a long-time supporter of the Community Outreach Group for Landscape Design. After 16 years of connecting designers to under-resourced communities throughout Eastern, MA, COGdesign’s co-founder and Executive Director, Lucia Droby, is moving on. No one can fill Lucia’s shoes, but we hope that you will  help us to reach the best candidates for the position of Executive Director.

If you have experience managing communuity-based organizations, we would love to hear from you. Otherwise, we hope you’ll share the job description below with your own networks.

Executive Director – Community Outreach Group for Landscape Design (COGdesign)

Founded in 1997, COGdesign is a non-profit service organization offering quality landscape design for community-based groups; meaningful professional experience for student and practicing landscape designers; volunteer opportunities for those interested in strengthening communities by creating and improving neighborhood green spaces.

Position: Executive Director (ED), reporting to the Board of Directors, will have overall operational responsibility for the COGdesign’s programs, staff, volunteers and execution of its mission.

Leadership, Program and Management
•    Collaborate with Board to maintain continuity of mission and to develop, evaluate and execute strategic plan.
•    Work with Board President to plan Board meetings.
•    With Board input, initiate and coordinate landscape design projects, including matching designers with sites and facilitating communication and deliverables between designer and client.
•    Oversee COGdesign’s participation in installation and maintenance of projects with the Planting Brigade and green-industry partners.
•    With Board committee, manage and evaluate program performance including completed Projects and Planting Brigade volunteer activities.
•    Oversee work of staff and volunteers.

Outreach and Communication
•    Provide regular updates and recommendations to the Board of Directors.
•    With appointed committees, plan, publicize and execute special events including Project Showcase and other events based on strategic plan priorities.
•    Oversee and evaluate communications and strategies for email, social media, blog, marketing, PR and print including periodic newsletter to COGdesign supporters.
•    With Webmaster, provide oversight and content for COGdesign website at http://www.cogdesign.org.
•    Collaborate with Development Committee to identify and pursue strategic alliances with volunteers, partner agencies, municipalities, grant makers, donors and prospective project sites.

Financial and Fundraising
•    With Finance Committee and Treasurer, develop and monitor annual budget, oversee all federal and state tax filings and reporting.
•    Provide financial oversight and reporting to Board with Finance Committee.
•    With Development Committee, initiate and execute strategies to grow earned and contributed revenue (fund-raising).
•    With Development Committee, sustain, implement and grow outreach to business and individual donors.

The Executive Director is committed to COGdesign’s mission. All candidates should have proven leadership and management experience. In addition, other qualifications include:
•    Strong written and verbal communication skills with excellent interpersonal skills.
•    Organizational management with the ability to coach staff and volunteers, manage and develop teams to achieve strategic objectives and manage a budget.
•    Action-oriented, self-directed, entrepreneurial, and adaptable.
•    Ability to work effectively independently from a small office and in collaboration with people from diverse economic backgrounds.
•    Track-record of broadening a donor base, and initiating, developing, and sustaining deep relationships with a broad and diverse constituencies.
•    Marketing, public relations, grant-writing and fundraising abilities.
•    Demonstrated interest or experience in landscape design and implementation, and an understanding of the benefits these bring.

Please contact, before March 31st, 2014:
•    Diane Aronson: aronsons (at) comcast.net
•    Carolyn Edsell-Vetter: carolyn (at) ayardandahalf.com


In the process of funding our worker-cooperative, we found ourselves making the case again and again for the economic and social value of coops. This little infographic shares a little of what we learned about the cooperative difference:

Infographic on economic and social impact of cooperatives

Data from:








Rhododendron leaves curling in cold

Rhododendron leaves curling in cold

When winter temps drop below 0, Boston-area gardeners may need to exercise special care to protect plants. As average temperatures have warmed in recent years, the USDA has shifted its plant hardiness zones, so that much of eastern Massachusetts now falls within zone 6b, where it was 6a in the 1990 edition. In layperson’s terms, this means that many of the “hardy” zone 6 plants sold by local nurseries may only tolerate an average winter low temperature of -5 to 0 degrees. In addition to marginally hardy plants, newly-planted material may have tender growth that is more open to damage.

Frequently planted zone 6 cultivars include:

  • Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ (Japanese Holly)
  • Acer palmatum ‘Red Select’, ‘Sereiyu’, Orangeola’ (Japanese Maple – other cultivars may be hardy to zone 5)
  • Cryptomeria japonica
  • Oxydendrum arboreum (Sourwood)
  • Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweetgum)
  • Cornus florida (American Dogwood)
  • Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush)
  • Magnolia virginiana (Southern Magnolia)
  • Hydrangea macrophylla (Hortensias – varieties that bloom on old wood may lose flowers next spring)
  • Buxus spp. (Boxwoods – depends on cultivar, most not hardy)

If you have any of the above, particularly planted in an exposed or north-facing spot, take steps to protect them to prevent casualties. Damage may include bud loss, stem and twig die-back, or even complete death. Snow will provide some protection to the root zone, but you may also consider applying 4-6″ of mulch over the root zone. More importantly, wrap above-ground parts with floating row covers, burlap, or light blankets (not comforters or plastic!), secured against wind using bricks or large stones. Old-fashioned incandescent lights can also add heat around branches.

Remember that plants in containers are two full zones more susceptible to cold, so unless you have planted things for zone 4 and below, insulate pots or bring them indoors. Wrap pots with bubble wrap, blankets, or haybales, group plants along heat-reflective patios or walls, and cover exposed soil with evergreen boughs.

After temps warm, hold off on pruning branches that appear dead. Pruning too long before plants “wake up” in spring may invite further damage. Your landscape professional can help asses the extend of damage in late winter/early spring, to avoid removing more of the plant than necessary.

ice dam

A little preparation during the final days of fall can prevent many headaches and chilly emergency repairs. Here are some tips to prepare your yard and landscape for winter:

  1. Last winter, rapid accumulation of heavy snows damaged many flat roofs. If your house has a flat roof, make sure that you purchase a roof rake ahead of time, or contract with a snow removal company that offers roof clearing services.
  2. Disconnect and drain any rain barrels to prevent freezing and cracking. The empty barrels can be very lightweight, so make sure that they are secured so they don’t blow away in heavy winds.
  3. Inspect and clean the gutters and drainage systems. If you have a basement sump pump that drains into a dry well or exterior drainage system, it should have an overflow in case the system freezes up.
  4. Before the ground freezes, check the grading of soil around house foundations and behind retaining walls. When heavy spring rains come, you want the water to flow away from your house, and not to get trapped in a low point behind a wall.
  5. Inspect trees for cracked, dead, or broken branches that might damage your house or vehicles.
  6. Shut off water to outdoor faucets, then open the faucet so that any remaining water can drain out. Drain and store garden hoses and drip tubing. Have irrigation systems drained.
  7. Stock up on ice melt, selecting one that meets your family’s needs. Salt will damage concrete, so read labels carefully to select the appropriate product. Ice melt with magnesium chloride or magnesium acetate  as the active ingredient will damage plants less than salt or calcium chloride, though chloride can accumulate in soils and water supplies, and damage plants over time. Chlorides will also irritate pets’ paws and stomachs.
  8. Shift seasons for your maintenance equipment. Drain gas from the lawn mower. Fuel up the snow-blower, add oil, and check rotor blades, belts, and spark plug. Put away gardening tools, and have snow shovels at hand.

Our crews are available to help with your winter preparations. Drop us a line to schedule a free estimate.


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