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!

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:








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