Featured Members

by Kevin Richardson

Do you know that the same microbes in a compost pile that break down food scraps, lawn clippings, leaves, paper, and wood back into soil are also responsible for these same mechanisms in nature that provide all the food and protection plants need? Nobody is out spraying the forest or prairie with chemical fertilizer or pesticides, and they are doing just fine! Continue reading

by R.P. Sokol

The 2013 winter trade shows have brought some pleasant surprises to us at Fourth Generation Nursery. The first is that many in the Landscape industry are beginning to “get it;” rainwater harvesting is finally starting to catch on. And second, an increasing number of professionals recognize that “Storm Water Management” means more than diverting runoff onto the neighbor’s property. Continue reading

by Maureen Sundberg

Introduce water into the landscape and it brings changes in light and sound. Introduce water in the form of a natural pool, and the results are magical according to Chris Rawlings of Water House Pools. “Take something as ancient as stone and put it with something as alive and precious as water, and it’s just magical. I love creating these environments that weren’t there before, creating a new space and bringing life onto a property that didn’t have it before.” Continue reading

by Nick Novick

John Engwer had been running his own Wrentham, Massachusetts-based landscaping business for about twenty years when an idea occurred to him while looking through one of the trade magazines. One of those hydraulic mulch-blowing trucks would sure make it easier to service the growing number of client properties that needing mulching; much easier than continuing to spread it all by shovel and wheelbarrow. But, it wouldn’t make economic sense to purchase a $150,000 piece of equipment that would only be used for a couple of months out of the year. Continue reading

by Carrie Wiles
Located in the heart of Chester County, PA, North Creek Nurseries strives to propagate and market plants that develop the relationship between people and sustainable outdoor environments. Focusing on eastern US natives, the combined 45 acre/two farm footprint produces over seven million perennial, ornamental grass, fern, and vine plug liners annually. Employees are serious about providing the horticulture and landscape markets with top notch material. As owner, Steve Castorani puts it, “Our philosophy is that people make a difference in the profitability and success of an organization. We have an exceptional staff, we work hard as a team and we have fun doing what we do. All of which encompass an ideal work environment.”

Interview with Suzanne Gebelein

Water is one of nature’s most abundant resources with over two-thirds of the globe covered in blue. Fresh water, however, has become an increasingly precious resource. In arid parts of the globe, fresh water falling as rain has been valued and saved for centuries. And now, traditionally water rich areas, such as New England, are feeling pressure on their water sources, due primarily to increased lawn and landscape irrigation.

One of ELA’s newest members, The Great American Rain Barrel Company, located in Hyde Park, MA, started with the goal of creating a sustainable means for harvesting and collecting water for use in the landscape. They will be talking about rain water collection and exhibiting their products at the ELA Conference & Eco-Marketplace in Springfield on March 3.

ELA: What prompted you to get started in the rain barrel business?

Great American Rain Barrel Company: Thank you for asking. We are proud of our roots in rain barrels which happen to go way back to 1989 just after my husband and I bought a food importing and packing company in East Boston. We import specialty food items from the Mediterranean in huge drums. We had just bought the business when two school teachers came to us and said they were interested in using our drums to make rain barrels modeled after those they had seen in English Gardens. Of course, we thought what a great idea and were delighted they liked our barrel.

Great American Rain Barrels

The two teachers developed a nice mail-order business, but after a few years they grew weary and came to us and asked if we wanted to buy it. It was kind of a no-brainer. We liked reusing the barrels, which could otherwise end up in landfills, and we had a big facility and distribution center so it was a nice fit with our food packing business. Thru the 90s we enjoyed a steady mail-order business recycling about 3000 shipping drums a year. When 2000 came with the Y2K panic, sales suddenly went through the roof. But the real shift came after 9/11 when people became more conscious of the environment and were finding ways to change things. This movement was fuelled even further when Al Gore published his book An Inconvenient Truth, and the green movement started to take over.

ELA: Many towns have offered rain barrels to residents at a reduced rate to reduce summer use of municipal water and to reduce the flow of contaminated water pouring down driveways and into rivers and streams. Are you involved in any community based initiatives?

GARBC: Absolutely! We have been a large player in community driven programs all over the country, with some of our earliest programs going back to around 2000 with some local Massachusetts towns. Our biggest municipal groups tend to be the Watershed groups that are trying to prevent storm water runoff that suffocates the rivers and streams such Riveraction in Davenport, Iowa and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper who sell thousands of barrels each year – but we have been awarded contracts throughout the country ranging in size from 20 to 3000. These programs are a great way to bring rain barrels to residents at discounted prices.

ELA: Who tends to install rain barrels? Do you have a typical client profile?

GARBC: This is a residential item, so it is a homeowner who buys and installs it. The homeowner is typically a gardener or someone who uses water outdoors or has concerns about water collecting around the foundation of their home. Other people come to us with specific uses as well, like water for their chicken coop or for their horses. They are trying to capture some of the thousands of gallons of water that splashes off their roof in the summer months for free and to prevent runoff.

ELA: Many houses have a relatively small footprint. When is it “worth it” for the owner of a small home to install a rain barrel? How much water can the average homeowner expect to collect?

GARBC: Well let’s start by saying that it is worth it to the person who uses water outdoors. That means that you are watering plants, topping off a pool, washing windows and cars. What people do not realize is how much rain water a roof actually sees. In New England we typically get about 16 inches of rain for the extended summer months (May through September). The average roof in New England is about a 2400 square foot surface. If 1000 square feet of roof collects 600 gallons for every inch of rain that means the average roof sees 1440 gallons of water. If you get 16 inches of rain, that means 23,000 gallons of water splash off your roof. That is a lot of water and can go a long way toward saving money and helping a town manage its resources. One 60 gallon barrel will feed 100 square feet of garden about one inch of water a week. If you are using that rainwater and refilling your barrel, you may be able to collect about 1000 gallons a season per barrel. It generally takes about two seasons to pay for a barrel depending on the community and the cost for water and sewer

ELA: Do you need to have rain gutters in order to collect water? Are there other options?

Rain diverter

GARBC: Yes and no. Gutters certainly do the job best and barrels fill quickly. However, most structures have someplace where the water pours off in a concentrated way. You can simply dangle a chain from that point onto a barrel lid to collect the water.

ELA: You’ve probably seen some creative barrel installations. Could you describe some of those?

GARBC: Not only have we seen creative installations but we have also heard of some creative uses for water! The most interesting of course are the complex irrigation systems using our barrel. The most that I have seen in one application is 12 linked barrels for a plant garden. The barrels were stacked on stands to create pressure and put on timers in a greenhouse.

ELA: You will be exhibiting at the ELA Conference & Eco-Marketplace on March 3. What will visitors to your booth see?

GARBC: The Great American Rain Barrel and Save the Rain Diverter collecting water! We will have live demonstrations of our collection system. Stop by to see how easy it is to collect and save rain water.

Van Berkum Nursery in Deerfield, New Hampshire, was begun in 1987. A long-time supporter of ELA, Van Berkum Nursery is currently forcing plant material for the ELA container garden to be featured at Boston Flower & Garden Show.

by Leslie Van Berkum

One goal at Van Berkum Nursery is to provide perennials that we feel will help gardeners create more sustainable landscapes. We currently maintain three lines of native plants and one group of really tough perennials that stand the test of time.

Current and Former New England Natives

Our New England Woodlanders collection is made up of shade plants indigenous to New England, all of which are nursery propagated and grown here at Van Berkum Nursery. We also have a collection of Appalachian Woodlanders, officially native to the Appalachian area, but which do very well in New England gardens. The perennials in both of these collections are valuable additions for shade gardens and naturalizing backyard woodlands. We encourage folks to buy native plants that are nursery propagated, versus wild collected, so that we are not depleting the natural populations of our lovely native perennials.

Dodecatheon meadia

There are many wonderful native perennials that are indigenous to areas south of here, but do very well in our New England climate, too. The theory is that these plants grew in New England before the last ice age. When ice cap went down to the Delaware Water Gap, it took our plants with it…the nerve! These natives have not made it back up here yet, so we have put them on the Appalachian Woodlanders list.

Meadow Perennials

Van Berkum also grows a line of meadow plants to go along with our Woodlanders. The New England Meadows line is made up of plants, both open pollinated and horticultural selections, that are indigenous to the New England area and which grow well in meadow conditions. Since our region is not home to many indigenous meadows, consider these plants for use in garden situations.

Helenium autumnale 'Moerheim Beauty'

In the New England Meadow line, we do use cultivars. Most of our customers are working with ornamental gardens, not mitigation projects. Since there are so many good cultivars available in the sun meadow lists (think monardas, eupatoriums, asters, etc), we felt that it would be a mistake not to include them. Most of these plants started as chance seedlings in someone’s garden and happened to have a great flower color, growth habit, or disease resistance. An attentive gardener noticed it and started propagating it from cuttings or divisions, thus cloning these traits.

These meadow plants are perennials with native genes, and once in the garden, they will flower, seed in and spread mixed seedlings. We also offer some of the American native meadow plants that originate in the west but are suited to our climate as well. They are not included on this list because they are not indigenous to our area.

Only the Toughest and Most Care Free

Recently, Van Berkum introduced a new plant collection called Wicked Ruggeds. Resulting from a brainstorm of Peter van Berkum’s, Wicked Ruggeds are a mixture of native and non-native perennials. The idea behind this series is that as more newly bred plants are introduced into our plant palette, the line between long-lived perennials and annuals is becoming blurred. Many of our customers are asking for long-lived perennials that rarely need dividing and that can be used in massing.

Astilbe chinensis 'Visions in Red'

We have thought hard about the plants we grow, and we have been ruthless about what we have left off the list of Wicked Ruggeds. These are the really tough plants that, when given the correct conditions, will thrive over the long run, seldom need dividing, and won’t need picky deadheading. Keep in mind that a lot of the other plants we grow will last in the garden for a long time, but will need dividing every four or five years to look their best. We have not included these. Also, a lot of great plants we grow tend to be somewhat short lived, but will seed-in reliably and give a lifetime of beauty, such as Aquilegia, Corydalis lutea, and Campanula persicifolia. We have not included these either. Wicked Ruggeds are perennials that you can plant in a specific place and that will thrive with minimum care.

We feel that the plants in all four of these perennial collections help us create more sustainable gardens. When gardeners site plants correctly by using native plants in their indigenous habitats and/or by using plants that thrive for a long time with less care, then gardeners use less water, less money to replace perennials, and less time fussing over their gardens. Let’s hear it for more time to enjoy our gardens!