On Saturday, November 28, 2015, start your holiday season off right by scheduling installation of Christmas decorations by A Yard & A Half Landscaping Cooperative.

We can prepare your home or business for holiday festivities with indoor and outdoor arrangements of evergreens, berries, and branches; roping, wreathes, and kissing balls; holiday landscape lighting; poinsettias; and even Christmas tree delivery.

As a thank you for supporting small and locally-owned businesses, if you contact us on Small Business Saturday for your holiday decorating, we will include a free 20″ mixed evergreen wreath with your installation.


Why Support Us on Small Business Saturday?

A Yard & A Half Landscaping Cooperative is a 28-person, 100% worker-owned business. When you spend money with us, it stays in the Boston-area economy, as we pay workers from East Boston and Lynn, a floral shop in South Boston, a Sudbury nursery, a hardware store in Waltham. Profits stay local, too, supporting our pro bono work with local charities, creating more jobs, and making better lives for our families and neighborhoods. And because we live and work here just like you, we make sure that we’re making the best business decisions to benefit the local community, from avoiding synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to recycling all of our plant pots and organic waste.

If this sounds like an approach you want to support, contact us via our webform or call 781-788-8855.


Richard Nangle speaks in support of Article 10, as Faith Michaels and opponents prepare to speak at Nov 18th meeting. (Photo: Jenna Fisher, via Twitter)

Update to “Brookline’s Blower Ban: A Contractor Weighs In

On November 18, 2015, the Brookline Town Meeting declined to ban gas-powered leaf blowers, with broad recognition that the proposed ban would unfairly target contractors, private homeowners, and small institutions. (The ban was amended to exempt Town crews and non-residential properties over 5 acres, most notably the Country Club.)

Town Meeting voted 143 in favor, 57 opposed and with 2 abstentions to refer the question of whether to tighten restrictions on leaf blowers to a moderators committee.

“We need a policy that would make the rules easier to understand and easier to enforce,” said Town Meeting member Chuck Swartz of Precinct 9, one of almost a dozen people to speak on leaf blowers. “We can find something that will work for all of us here in Brookline.” (Jenna Fisher, BrooklineTAB)

Opponents of Article 10 included landscape contractors, elderly residents, and residents who felt like the blower issue was a distraction from more significant issues facing the Town. Faith Michaels, a representative of the green-industry group BrooklineLeaves.org, offered to lead an effort to educate contractors, workers, and residents about reducing the impact of blower use. Several speakers asked the Town to lead by example, rather than exempting itself.

The Advisory Committee recommended referral, noting that they had already identified 8 steps that could be taken by the Town immediately to improve application and enforcement of the current blower restrictions:

  1. Implement a registration system for all landscape contractors operating in Brookline.
  2. Improve public education about the existing restrictions on the use of leaf blowers and other lawn care equipment by residents and contractors.
  3. Edit Article 8.31 of the Bylaws to improve its readability, to clarify whom and what it applies to, and to include a reference to Article 8.15 of the Bylaws.
  4. Edit Article 8.15.6(f) of the Bylaws to include a reference to Article 8.31.
  5. Encourage the police department to maintain its policy of proactive enforcement of November 17, 2015 Special Town Meeting 10-12 Articles 8.15 and 8.31 of the Town’s Bylaws.
  6. Encourage the police department to feel empowered to issue citations for violations of Articles 8.15 and 8.31 of the Town’s Bylaws when it is appropriate. The objective of enforcement should be to control noise, and the department and its officers should feel comfortable using both warnings and citations to achieve this goal.
  7. Encourage the Department of Public Works to continue purchasing replacement equipment that complies with the decibel levels set out in Article 8.15.
  8. Encourage the Parks and Open Space Division of the Department of Public Works to develop a formal policy that identifies ways to minimize the use of leaf blowers, when it is practical.

BrooklineLeaves.org has a wealth of scientific information on the noise, health, and economic impact of bower use, as well as steps that contractors and homeowners can take to make Brookline a more pleasant place to live and work. To learn more about the issues on both sides of the blower debate, see Reports of the Selectmen and Advisory Committee (pp 69-86).

Codman Academy Charter School in Dorchester, MA occupies a storefront in one of Boston’s low-income neighborhoods, sandwiched between units of affordable apartment housing. Their “playground” was a packed dirt yard abutting a parking lot. The school, which uses trauma-informed design to help at-risk students feel more grounded and safe, looked to the Community Outreach Group for Landscape Design (COGDesign) to create a more appropriate play space. Designer David McCoy of Geographia Landscape Design developed a beautiful plan for a sensory and environmental playground, and A Yard & A Half Landscaping Cooperative was lucky enough to be able to install it. Thanks to COGdesign and Codman Academy for the chance to participate in this exciting project!

empty dirt lot with low metal fence

Play area before construction.

landscape plan

Master Plan by David McCoy

poster from 2nd grade class saying "thank you for building our park!"

“Thank You” poster from second-graders at Codman Academy


On Tues Oct 27, 2015, the Brookline Board of Selectmen took a vote of no action on Warranty Article 10, which would place a year-round ban all gas-powered blowers. The article was amended to exempt Town crews, the country club and golf course, but still was not recommended by the board. (Update: on 11/18/15, the Town Meeting voted to refer the question to a moderator’s committee. More details and background here.)

As a company concerned with the environment and with the health of both workers and community members, we agree that blowers are overused by both groundskeepers and homeowners. However, we are also concerned about the unintended consequences of a 100% ban on blowers, which we believe would disproportionately impact small businesses, workers, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. Here are our responses to some major points of the blower ban proponents:

1. Contractors don’t care.” There will always be contractors who break the rules. It’s up to Brookline to figure out how to enforce them. But a complete ban would primarily hurt those small, locally-owned businesses who do follow the rules. We even go our of our way voluntarily to try to do the right thing:
– We signed on to Quiet Communities and asked to be listed by Newton Safe & Sound as contractors who will perform hand-raking
– We spent the extra money to invest in blowers that meet the 67 decibel regulations, including electric ones.
– We pay living wages and benefits to our workers to create a stable, well-trained workforce. Our workers are not disposable; they want the company to be perceived as a good neighbor and community member.
2. “Banning blowers protects workers.”
If the blower ban is passed, we will be out-competed by irresponsible companies who hire day laborers as a cheap, short term source of manual labor to do hand-raking. These workers will not get basic protections of employment law like minimum wages, overtime, or workers compensation in case of injury. This blower ban will primarily hurt the very workers who are making Brookline a nice place to live. Landscaping workers may work 60 hours a week for 6 weeks removing leaves. They will face an increase in repetitive strain injuries from use of rakes or handheld electric blowers. If they’re not covered as employees under workers comp, they will likely be sent packing if they’re injured.
3. “Just rake your own leaves, already! Or pay someone else to do it.” The exemption for Town crews will save Brookline taxpayers some money, but the ban will raise costs for those homeowners who can least afford it: senior citizens & those with disabilities might not be able to do their own hand-raking, and will be hard hit by increases in costs to have someone else do their leaf removal. Alternately, they may not clean up leaves. That’s great for the soil, but neighbors might not like the messy look, and leaves in storm drains will increase street flooding problems.
4. “But blowers are so noisy…” At 80-100 decibels, walk-behind lawn mowers are actually louder than the 67 decibel blowers required under Brookline’s existing regulations. And that’s not to mention chainsaws, wood chippers, or excavators. Blowers have been targeted because often several are running at a time. Rather than an outright ban, Brookline might consider regulations similar to Cambridge and Arlington, which limit the number of blowers that can be used at any one time, based on the size of the property.
5. “What about the effect of blowers on allergies, asthma, and blood pressure?” We aren’t epidemiologists, but Alan Balsam, Brookline’s health director, has said that the Advisory Council on Public Health “found no compelling health threat” from the use of blowers in accordance with Brookline’s current regulations. Even the American Lung Association has recently acknowledged that the primary concern for pollution from 2-stroke engines comes from machines manufactured before 2012 EPA guidelines went into effect.

To learn more about what local landscapers are doing to be responsible blower users, go to BrooklineLeaves.org

landscape design  plan for small lot in cambridge

Thanks to everyone who attended our Gardening in Small Spaces workshop at this weekend’s NOFA Summer Conference! As promised, here’s the powerpoint presentation and handout.

If you missed the workshop, we looked at four case studies of urban gardens designed and installed by A Yard & A Half Landscaping Cooperative, bringing permaculture lessons to bear on planning and designing small spaces. We also explored some sustainable technologies for rainwater harvesting and urban agriculture, edible plant lists for containers, and resources for site assessment and planning.

The Winter Conference will be January 16, 2016 at Worcester State University.


A real estate agent friend calls the week of Passover and Easter the “calm before the storm” that is the spring home buying market. If you are out on the open house circuit, keep your eye open for these common landscaping liabilities:

Drainage problems – Bare soil around the downspouts or foundation of the house, or soil that slopes in toward the walls of the house maybe warnings of a wet basement.
A lush lawn in the shade – Laying down new sod before putting the house on the market can be a wise investment for sellers, but buyers beware: Sod in the shade will need to be replaced or overseeded with more shade tolerant seed if it is going to look that good next year!
Hazard trees – Large trees with a significant amount of dead branches or those over hanging roofs and driveways may require expensive pruning or removal. If there are hemlocks, white birches, or other disease-prone trees on the property, inquire whether they are being treated so that you have and idea of the maintenance costs you’re signing up for.
A swimming pool – Because of liability and maintenance, pools can make resale so difficult that some homeowners end up filling them in. Only buy a house with a pool if it is a feature that you will use and enjoy.
The fixer upper – Buying a house with a yard that needs some work can be a great opportunity. Families often move because of life changes like expanding for a new baby or downsizing for retirement. You may want to reconfigure your new yard to suit your family’s needs — add a play set or reduce the lawn that needs mowing. As a general rule, plan to set aside approximately 1/10th of the property’s value for a full redesign that is in keeping with the size of the house and the character of the neighborhood.

Whether you’re buying a new home and want to be sure of what your are committing to, or selling a home and looking to increase curb appeal, consult a trusted landscape contractor to keep the yard from becoming a liability.

purple crocus in snow

After a record-breaking winter of snow, many Boston-area gardeners and homeowners are wondering what they will find when the snow and ice melt. Here’s a glimpse into what you can expect for spring 2015, and how to repair winter damage in the landscape:

  1. Hardscape cracks – Paved surfaces like driveways, walks and patios may have cracked concrete and popped up paving stones. Pavers and stones can easily be re-leveled, but concrete may need to be patched or replaced. If you are replacing a driveway or walkway, consider using concrete pavers, which are easy to shovel and to repair after winter. And if you’ve had it with the snow blower, invest in a snow-melting radiant heat system under your paving — works for concrete, brick, and pavers!
  2. Frost heaving – Newly-installed plants can heave out of the ground if left unmulched, so make sure to replant these to their correct depth as soon as the ground can be worked. Water regularly to compensate for root loss due to exposure.
  3. Salt damage – De-icing salts from roads and walkways burn the leaves and needles of nearby evergreens. Prune out any serious damage, and provide extra water to these plants in spring, as salt accumulated in the root zones may cause ongoing dehydration.
  4. Broken branches – Heavy snow from roofs and shoveling damaged many shrubs and even the lower branches of small trees. Prune broken branches back to the nearest branch union, making it easier for plants to recover.
  5. Winter burn – Unless covered by a protective layer of snow, evergreen plants such as rhododendrons and boxwoods can be damaged by cold, dry winter winds. Often, leaves die while the branch remains viable, so observe plants for new growth, then prune out any dead branches.
  6. Lawn damage – Lawns and plant roots were well-insulated by the snow, which should minimize cold damage. However, the snow made a nice burrow for voles and other small mammals, leaving holes in lawns and nibbling the bases of woody plants. Edges of lawns may also have been harmed by salt and plow trucks. Plan to rake out clumps, add compost, and reseed bare areas in spring, but wait for late summer for complete lawn renovations.
  7. Weeds – Moist conditions from melting snow combines with warming spring temperatures are going to create perfect germination conditions for weed seeds, so consider applying an organic preemergent such as corn gluten to minimize the number of weeds in the lawn. Mowing high and overseeding regularly are also important to inhibit weeds.
  8. Insects – The extreme cold may reduce hemlock wooly adelgid, but will not have a significant impact on winter moth, so schedule treatments as normal for maples, crab apples, and other favorite foods of winter moth caterpillars. Also, ticks thrive after winters of heavy snow, so use good gardening practices to keep ticks out of the yard, and begin checking yourself and your children as soon as snow melts and temperatures are above freezing.
  9. Bulbs & Perennials – Friends have asked, “Will my spring bulbs still bloom when they’re covered by 2′ of snow?” Yes! Bulbs respond to light and temperature, so even early bloomers like snowdrops and crocuses will stay “asleep” until uncovered and exposed to warmer spring air temperatures. Likewise, perennials will thrive after a winter well-insulated under the snow. Before new growth starts to emerge from the ground, cut back the messy crowns of grasses, coneflowers, and other plants that you may have left standing in fall to provide winter interest.
  10. It’s all just a mess! – Squashed plants, lumpy lawn, rubbish poking out of melting snow… We know. Breathe. A proper spring clean-up, some grass seed and a fresh coat of mulch are going to make everything look 100% better. Add some pots of pansies and narcissus, and you’ll be ready for spring!

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