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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

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

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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Lawn at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, being topdressed with compost. (Photo: SafeLawns.org)

Is your lawn looking patchy? Mid-August to mid-September is the optimal time to renovate or establish lawns from seed. Here’s how:

  • Shade? Add shade-tolerant seed such as fescue to thin areas under dappled shade.
  • Crabgrass? Rip out crabgrass and add a blend of bluegrass and rye seed for heat and sun tolerance.
  • Moss or rock-hard dirt? Aerate (poke little holes in the soil), add compost, and seed.

If you’re facing tougher problems like grubs or Japanese Knotweed, have we got the post for you!

In general, any lawn will benefit from core aeration, compost application, and overseeding at this time of year. Adding this treatment you your annual maintenance will improve your soil, thicken turf, and reduce weeds over time.

 

 

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Spanish Bluebells

Spanish Bluebells – Hyacinthoides hispanica

Umbrella Magnolia

Umbrella Magnolia – Magnolia tripetalta

Flowering Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood – Cornus florida

Redbud

Eastern Redbud – Cercis canadensis

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