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FIELD NOTES: THE INVASIVES – Not a Summer Blockbuster!

I’m one of those gardeners that walks through my garden with a cup of coffee in the morning, checking out what’s blooming, what insects are eating which plants and (always) weeding as I go…

But wait, there’s that vine/weed with the orange root. BITTERSWEET ALERT!

I’ve found that my morning strolls through the garden are the best way to stay on top of the INVAIDERS, otherwise known as the INVAISIVES. No, it’s not a summer blockbuster movie, though, like the mega movie productions,  we’re spending millions of dollars on the removal of these unwanted species that never quit and threaten native species. Oriental Bittersweet, Virginia Creeper, Poison Ivy are just a few vines that keep invading from the woods behind my home. Not to mention Japanese Barberry, Winged Euonymus (Burning Bush), Multiflora Rose and Buckthorn – the invasive shrubs that keep appearing as “reruns”.

I was shocked to learn that my county, Essex County, is #2 in Massachusetts with the most invasive species reported. Here are the  culprits:

Top Ten Abundant Invasive Plants (by number of reports)

  1. multiflora rose – 1190 reports
  2. oriental bittersweet – 1085 reports
  3. glossy buckthorn – 962 reports
  4. perennial pepperweed – 760 reports
  5. Japanese barberry – 637 reports
  6. purple loosestrife – 577 reports
  7. Japanese knotweed – 438 reports
  8. European barberry – 428 reports
  9. coltsfoot – 408 reports
  10. winged burning bush – 407 reports

To see the “cast of characters” and their pretty photos:

Just when I think I’m on top of the situation in my garden, I’m allerted by my boating friends that they need to stay on top of the highly aggressive aquatic invasive species issued by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Then my arborist tells me that the INVAIDERS/INVASIVES are not just plant life. We’re now encouraged to know where our firewood comes from and be sure not to move it from county to county to keep insect infestations from spreading.

How will I ever remember all these threats to my local habitat, let alone to the bigger environment? I do find that the more I read up on these issues, the more I retain (by osmosis, I guess) and can keep my radar up. It seems that’s the best we can do!

TO LEARN MORE and keep your radar up for invasives…

National Invasive Species Information Center 

What The Nature Conservancy Is Doing

Mass Audubon – Invasive Species in Massachusetts

Controlling Invasive Plants at Home

Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs


The first warm days of spring always generate Real Estate listings, bring homeowners outdoors to chat with neighbors and prompt a walk-around-the-yard inspection. Inevitably, my phone rings a lot on Monday mornings in March and April…

“The front of my house looks awful”

 “There’s nothing special about my entry – how can I make it a focal point”

 “No one knows which door to use when they come over”

 “Getting ready to sell our home and need the WOW factor to attract buyers”

If these comments sound familiar, could be your home is in need of a facade face lift. This is often the solution for a client lamenting their lack of “curb appeal” or the mediocre “first impression” of their home. A major structural change or a new paint job isn’t your only recourse for a significant facade improvement. Oh yah, I’ll evaluate your plantings too, after all, that’s how I make my living. But simple structural add-ons, some windowboxes, trellises, a new landing or walkway can make a big impact at a reasonable cost.

 Some before and after examples to get you thinking…

BEFORE - a lost path & blank wall

Adding a new arbor directs visitors from the front driveway/parking area to the entry door the homeowner wants them to use. It not only frames the view, but gives an Asian touch and preview to the interior decor. The homeowner made the custom trellis from my design – its pattern repeats the shape of the upper windows, adds interest at the entry to fill the blank wall and balances with the door and window shapes on the facade. The perennial vine used in the cedar planter keeps from year to year, but the varieties and colors of the annuals can change each year to give a whole new planting look.

The new Bluestone walk includes the square shape repeated in the trellis and upper windows - a unifying feature at the ground level

A secondary Bluestone walk with gravel was added for circulation between the greenhouse, front entry and the right side steps that lead to a screen porch.

BEFORE - 2 story home with massive scale

AFTER - Awning Trellises added to the lower windows align with the roofline of the covered porch


 The awning trellis around the 3 lower windows is just enough to add character and draw the eye down from the massive Dutch Colonial facade…now even the plants are more noticable.

BEFORE – House “disapears” with larger homes beside it

 This homeowner said, “My house disappears with the larger houses next door on both sides. I need something to draw attention to my house”.

The plantings were completely redone and a large tree was transplanted from the backyard to fill and cover the left side of the house where there are no windows. The front entry needed scale added  to draw attention away from the neighbors homes, so a new Granite Porch, steps and wood Pergola with railings were added to give it a new focal point, not to mention “curb appeal”.

AFTER - Granite Porch, Steps, and Wood Pergola add scale to this entry


Here an Arbor and Trellis Fence are used to connect the narrow garden space between the house and a property line hedge, while framing the “Garden Room” for privacy from the street view.

These planters, selected for clean lines, blend well with the architecture around them and plants hide an electric meter on the front facade

 After a new car port was added next to this mid-century style house, the owner wanted to unify the space between the entrance at the side, the car port wall and the driveway.  We used left over concrete pavers (purchased from a neighbor) set in gravel for the stepper path from the driveway to the side entry deck. Again, the square pattern of the windows is replicated in the path material to create unity and interest.

The concrete stepper path blends well with the house style and a wide, gravel dripline seperates the lawn from the foundation to make mowing easier.

Plantings are used to soften the hard surfaces and Car Port wall

If your house sits close to the street or sidewalk, think about eliminating any narrow strip of grass and just go with plantings in scale with the bed depth and front windows of your house.

BEFORE - Sunken brick landing is a tripping hazard and salt spray killed all the plantings (except 1 shrub)

AFTER - The brick landing is re-laid with a cobble accent strip and new plant selections are tough enough to survive road salt and winter plowing. Annuals are added to beds each year for summer color.

 You can always use matching planters to frame a doorway, clamp-on planters spilling over with plants on a railing, or add widowboxes bursting with annuals for an inexpensive, quick fix to add color, scent and eye candy to any entry or facade.


Try putting your houseplants outdoors in unique wall planters this summer. It gives them a growth spurt while they perk up a shady area or covered porch.

Don’t forget the finishing touches:

Happy Spring! It’s just around the corner.

These are a few of my favorite things: 10 GREEN Gift Ideas

Gift giving…it can get crazy. During this hectic time of year, it helps to step back, evaluate your priorities and think GREEN alternatives to come up with some unique gifts for friends and family and cost saving ways to gather them. I try not to get caught up in advertising hype and gimmick promotions and do my best to avoid looking at all the catalogs and e-mail deals from retailers.

For years now, my approach to holiday gift giving has been on-line shopping and buying local. That really applies to most of my shopping. Just not into running around, dodging crowds of people and getting overwhelmed at shopping malls, not to mention wasting time and fossil fuel looking for a parking space.

Having perused many websites for green and garden related products, I thought sharing some standouts would get you thinking “options” to fruit cake, slippers and electronics. Could you be a convert to sanity shopping just waiting to be “unwrapped”?


Kiva Card and Kiva 2012 Calendar

Kiva is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.

 Environmental Defense Fund’s Presents for the Planet  

With EDF’s Presents for the Planet, you can celebrate holidays, birthdays, weddings and other occasions the eco-friendly way — by giving gifts that protect the Earth.


Hand-made in the USA, these computer circuit boards have been re-purposed into clipboards, instead of ending up in a landfill. They come in colors of Green, Red, and Blue and have been cleaned and sanitized from any dangerous chemicals. This is a clever gift for those who work outdoors, even sports team coaches.

Bamboo Shelves

Bamboo Shelves seem ideal for a garden house, greenhouse or all-season porch – great for holding potted plants, storing garden tools or displaying a collection.

Pop-Up Rain Barrel

The Pop-Up Rain Barrel captures and stores up to 60 gallons of free landscaping water. It is made from lightweight, puncture-resistant polyester with a zippered, mesh screen top to keep out bugs and debris and comes with parts for attachment and a pre-installed nozzle.

DriWater Self Watering System

Not a polymer, DriWater is a 100% natural, non toxic product used for the long-term watering of plants. This would be ideal for watering houseplants (or  Poinsettias) for people who travel or have two homes.

Sunbeam 100% Pure Beeswax Candles

Did you know, for every forty pounds of honey produced from bees, one pound of beeswax results? Beeswax releases a honey-like aroma and emits negative ions that draw toxins, dust, pollen, mold and mildew from the air while it burns. These candles are 100% natural, unscented, additive free, hypo-allergenic, they burn twice as long as other waxes and are made in the USA. 

National Parks Annual Pass

This is a terrific way to give an eco-friendly, charitable gift to an entire family (since the pass covers the driver plus all passengers) and gives access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites including national parks, national wildlife refuges and national forests . It’s a reasonably priced gift that will encourage friends, family members and co-workers to explore America’s most beautiful natural spaces.  


These are just a sampling of green gifts related to home & garden and charitable giving. There are many impressive green and eco sites with everything from baby gifts and personal products to furniture.

 Go shopping to learn more:

 The Real Spirit of the Season: 14 Charity Gift Sites

The Nature Conservancy

Unique Gifts – most from recycled products

Environmentally Preferable Products

Green Business Directory

Are you asking the all important shopping question, are paper bags recyclable?

What about gift wrap?



Share your favorite green gift ideas…I’d love to hear about them.

REVOLT – Alternative to a Lawn, Step 3 – All grown up!


Remember what the new Ivy groundcover looked like just after planting last May?


 The groundcover, Hedera helix ‘Baltica’ (English Ivy) showing results in late August.


Although 1/3 of the starter plants died, plenty of Ivy sprigs have thickened into lush plants, setting roots as they spread.

Areas with more shade grew much faster.                 

We added more Flatstones to connect the front & side paths and seperate the ivy from the shrubs and perennials at the house foundation.

The Ivy contrasts nicely with surrounding perennials and shrubs.

It’s amazing how quickly the Ivy has grown from those small sprigs in flats into a lush carpet of evergreen groundcover in our front yard. By next spring it will look like it’s always been there. With as little as 10 minutes of weekly weeding and supplemental watering only twice this season, it is decidedly the way to go for low maintenance and water conservation.

Now we just sit back, relax and wear ear plugs while the neighbors continue to mow their lawns – that weekly ritual they all secretly dread.

More lawn alternative ideas – 

Drought tolerant Thyme, perennials and shrubs work well in this sunny, narrow entry garden.

Thyme and Vinca are very effective in this narrow border to a driveway I saw on Martha's Vineyard this summer.

An herb garden on a slope was a creative solution seen on a local garden tour.

A field of Lupine adds color and a natural look to this property line planting.

Mixing trees, shrubs, perennials and gravel to create an alternative backyard look.

Ornamental grasses are used in this public space, creating a focal point in a large lawn area.

Groundcovers, perennials and flowering shrubs are combined for texture, color variation and year-round interest in my backyard shade garden.

Ferns at Garden In The Woods, Framingham, MA

 It’s not too early to plan for the next growing season and challenge yourself to create your own lawn alternative, even if you start with just a small area at a time. Learn more…

 Reinventing The Lawn

 Reducing the Lawn – Meadows…and other Lawn Alternatives

Suggested reading:

The Wild Lawn Handbook: Alternatives to the Traditional Front Lawn, by Stevie Daniels

The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn, by John Greenlee

Covering Ground, by Barbara W. Ellis



REVOLT – Alternative to a Lawn, Step 1: Making the decision

I hate to bring up an out of season subject like SNOW, but remembering the piles of snow we had in Ipswich this past season seems a perfect place to start this particular topic and the beginning of our latest landscape project. Take a look at our front yard last winter…


 Now that is some serious snow…and it only gets worse in our small backyard. I mean, how high can I actually raise the snow shovel above my head to get it to stay on top of the already humongous pile anyway?  OK, back to why I’m bringing all this up. 

After that much snow comes spring (eventually) and the dreaded snow mold that we always get on the small lawn area in our front yard. Wait – I forgot to say that our lawn was already stressed from drought last summer accompanied by a town watering ban from June through September. Not to mention the grubs, who found those conditions perfect for digging in and eating the grass roots, killing every blade. By fall, the only green to be seen was clover and the crab grass and violets that moved in from neighbors on all sides. What a mess. The long New England winters offer a lot of time for dreaming and planning changes for yards and gardens.

 As you can see, things didn’t look any better in the spring. These photos were taken in early May.


For years I’ve been preaching to my clients, “Give up on that lawn, there are so many alternatives that would be more interesting and creative, less work, and much less expensive in the long run. Aren’t you tired of paying that mowing service or spending your limited free time mowing the lawn? Not to mention having to endure listening to the “mow & blow” landscape crews who invade suburban neighborhoods everyday of the week (and weekends, and at 7 a.m. no matter what day of the week). Oh, and keeping an eye out for little white flags that warn of toxic chemicals just laid down on that green carpet lawn that will harm your children and pets when you take a walk around the neighborhood.”

OK, enough preaching. I’ve talked the talk to many of my clients…now I’m walking the walk.

Thinking it would be hard convincing my husband to go along with this idea, I toyed with many planting alternatives to replace the lawn before I shared my idea with him. Unlike most men, who have a male bonding thing going on with their lawns, I thought Dan could handle the implications of no more lawn to mow! Like…

  •       No tune up of lawn mower each spring
  •       No running out of gas to fill the mower
  •       No spreading lime to sweeten our acidic soil and keep the moss out
  •       No organic weed control (which barely controls weeds anyway)
  •       No organic fertilizer applications 2-3 times per season
  •       Less water usage
  •       No contributing to noise and air pollution
  •       More room in the shed with the lawn mower gone

 He was in. He cleaned the shed and gave away the mower. Now we were both committed to this project.

Check back next week for – Alternative to a Lawn, Step 2: Removing the Lawn


Learn more about Lawn Alternatives: