Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Right Support or My Geodesic dome-dwelling, Dancer, Small Business Mentor

I recently shared a train commute with my friend, Geoff, who founded P'unk Ave, Indy Hall, and other crazy-amazing Philadelphia projects.  We caught up and swapped small business stories (Rooted being much smaller than most of Geoff's projects!).  I shared my desire for a small business mentor to help with some infrastructure.  Geoff said, "You have to meet my friend Amy.  She co-founded Headlong Dance Theater, offers financial literacy to artists, and lives in a geodesic dome in South Jersey."

If you were to ask me to describe my ideal bookkeeper/accountant/business mentor, I GUARANTEE you that contemporary dance and geodesic-dome dweller would be featured in the description.

I've since met with Amy, developed a companionable barter for her services, and am generally exhaling much more freely.  Of course, when it rains it pours.  I've also found a multitude of resources for small businesses.

Thankfully, Rooted Landscaping is super healthy.  And in large part due to this dynamic community, it's only getting stronger!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kevin will serenade you

Want to experience some of your favorite landscaper's other talents?  Come to Yogawood this Friday night, 11/16, from 6-7 pm for Will's vinyasa yoga class.  While you move and sweat off the week, Kevin will serenade you.

This morning, Kevin gave me a sample while I did a self-lead yoga practice at home.  It was amazing.  Hearing acoustic guitar, a strong voice, and original content completely shifts the feel of a practice.

Get invigorated.  Get grounded.  Just get there!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Come home happy: the Karpiak project

One spring, Kevin and I got our acts together and re-landscaped our front yard.  It was beautiful.  Every day, I literally sighed as I pulled up front.  I took in the hanging flower baskets framing the door, the fragrant herbs as I walked up the steps, the overall picture.  It made me happy to come home.

That should always be our experience.  Our home can be an oasis.  But... sometimes life gets in the way.  Or we feel lost about how to handle an aspect of our property.

We've got your back.

The Karpiaks have a beautiful bungelow with a hidden back driveway.  It's a pretty great way to enter the house.  You turn up a steep winding lane, reaching through the shade until you arrive in their backyard.  However, it was feeling kind of unmanageable.  Limited light, steep slopes, clay soil, and railroad ties that had been knocked about by various drivers.

I totally knew how they felt.  Everytime you come home you furrow your brow.  What do I do with this?  

You call us.

Shade gardens can be super low-maintenance and involve lots of perennial and native-species plants.  Bearing in mind some of the influences we found around the house-- a Buddha on the porch, a well-loved Japanese maple-- we went for a Zen, minimalist feel.

Kevin began laying cardboard down as weed barrier.  It's water permeable & more environmentally-friendly than landscaper fabric as it breaks down.

Lots of compost to help with drainage in the heavy clay.

He removed the existing railroad ties to neaten the edge.

Let there be plants!  Lots of evergreens, a few flowering perennials, and plenty of ferns that will fill in as ground-cover, ultimately cutting down on weeding.

Plants moving in!  Two shade tolerant magnolias to offer lush blossoms and fragrance upon returning home.  Lots of skip laurels and rhododendrons, good for managing water run-off, happily blooming in the shade, and offering low-maintenance visual allure.

A rich root mulch, re-buried railroad ties, dug in to keep that neat edge.

Dappled light through the shade garden.

A soaker hose establishing the new planting.  Creating that happy sigh to welcome you home.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fear not your hedges: the Bandock Project

Our friend and fellow yogini, Ms. Bandock, is an avid gardener.  However, her Queen's Anne Lace hedge was infested with poison ivy.  Every time she attempted to prune or weed she contracted the rash.  Stink.

Thankfully, Kevin has pretty much self-inoculated against poison ivy given how much he's been exposed!  He's also adept at getting rid of the poison ivy.  Soaking the roots allows you to get at the base of the plant & prevent years of regrowth, as Ms. Bandock had unfortunately experienced.  This method eliminates the need for harmful chemicals!

She is now poison ivy free!  And happily enjoying her Queen Anne's privacy hedge again.

She also wanted to enjoy a fire pit with her guests in the backyard.  Kevin suggested a circular irregular slate patio, to not occupy the entire lawn, but to give her a safe place to enjoy evening fires.

Voila!  Around the periphery, fresh grass seed.  The grass will grow up to the edges of the patio.

More enjoyment from her own backyard.  This is what we love-- making your home suit you!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

From row-home concrete backyard to private oasis: the Conrow project

Our friends, the Conrows, have a fantastic house in downtown Collingswood.  For years, they've had a backyard concrete patio that didn't do much to inspire outdoor fun.  It was practical, sure, but didn't reflect either of their design inclinations, nor offer much privacy.

Kevin and I spent some time thinking about the options (there are so many!).  With a project like this, there are also a lot of unknown variables.  How deep is the concrete?  Is there re-bar laced into the poured concrete?  Ultimately, we found a solution that worked for us and the Conrows.  We'd outsource the concrete removal for an optimal price for them and let our energy be focused on what we do best: building something beautiful.

Concrete begone!  Kevin and his crew began lowering the ground level and getting everything nice and even.

Mike even has a passion for geology!  We felt even more excited to secure the most beautiful slate flagstone.  This is where the project becomes art-- lots of time and attention to create a secure and attractive jigsaw patio.

Space allotted for the beds.  Right now, you see there's no screen between the Conrows and their lovely neighbors.  While these people are all fantastic, we all know the allure of a private oasis.

We wanted to maximize patio space so that the Conrows could fit their table, fire pit, and a few other items that live in the back patio.  Instead of creating a living privacy screen, we installed a cedar trellis.  It's thin, durable, affordable, and as the plant-life establishes, a vibrant screen that's appealing for the Conrows and their neighbors on either side.

As this photo demonstrates, there's a fair amount of shade.  English ivy is a highly successful shade vine, but it's also pretty opportunistic and requires a lot of maintenance. The Conrows are like many Rooted clients-- they prefer low-maintenance.  For those reasons, we elected to plant a shade-tolerant variety of clematis.  It's a little slower to establish, but once it does it offers beautiful purple/blue flowers that are consistent with the larger color palette of the planting.

When we met to do the estimate, we walked through the Conrow's home.  It's a beautiful reflection of both their tastes.  I noticed lots of cool greys, purples, and earth tones.  We wanted a sense of continuity as you enter the outdoor living space, so the planting also reflects a variety of purples with some bright green ferns for contrast.

Love it!  Full privacy, an enchanting patio that directs drainage away from the house, and a perennial, low-maintenance planting.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The deer has plans

Today as I walked out to dump the compost I saw that the peach tree we planted this year had been a nice side salad for a deer earlier in the day. I was frustrated, noticing the blood rushing to my head and my shoulders tensing. How dare this deer do this! How dare he/she walk into my yard and...do exactly what deer are supposed to do. What an asshole that deer was, to eat. Some nerve.

Okay, so when I started to think about it that way I calmed down a bit. The deer and I aren't at war. The deer and I sometimes have competing interests. Other times we're cool. I doubt the deer is ever pissed and frustrated with me, though they'd have a lot more reason to than I do with them. After all I'm using a hell of a lot more resources than they are, and the land my house is on was their woods a century ago.

The reason for my anger is that I have plans for this land, I have a vision. This deer wasn't a part of that vision. That makes me a poor visionary, it doesn't make the deer an asshole. I have plans for this land, but so do the deer, ground hogs, finches, butterflies, and worms. The thing is, the thing that the deer and groundhogs are teaching me, is that a plan isn't a real thing. It's bullshit, it's subjective, and if it doesn't function it's flawed. It's not that the thing that caused the plan to fail is flawed, the plan is. Nothing is ever finished, plans are always subjective, and just because I say let there be a tree here doesn't mean it will stay there.

Before this season I didn't even know there were deer in the woods behind our house. Now I know. This winter I will amend the plan. This winter I will install a fence at the back of the property and plant wild deer treats all along the back of the fence. I don't know if this will work. If it doesn't I'll change it. Thanks for the lesson, deer.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Really There (Really Here)

I exhale as I walk to pull a tomato from the vine in the backyard. That's the carbon footprint of this tomato. Well, maybe that's an overstatement. I hauled the soil to the yard with my truck, but still, that soil will be in these beds for many years so that impact will balance out over time. 

There's nothing like walking out back to pick your next meal. Looking closer to home to meet my needs is teaching me a lot. The smallest spaces contain the universe. The smallest yard shelters insects, birds, and beasts that we too often distance ourselves from. I've got, at best, about another 70 years on this earth. The soil here grew peaches and apples a century before I was born. The offspring of these groundhogs will probably be battling some well meaning gardener long after I'm gone.

This garden helps clarify that everything we're looking for out there isn't out there. Laying in the hammock in the tree in our side yard can feel like a hammock in Guatemala or Costa Rica. The relaxed mind that I had in those places wasn't a product of those places. The tomato isn't exclusively grown in Mexico, or spinach in California. And laying in a hammock in South Jersey with the sun filtering through a magnolia feels just as good as being under a palm in Panama, as long as you are really there. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I will wake up tomorrow and not be superhuman

Most nights I go to sleep with undone tasks weighing me down. I trick myself into believing that the next day I will wake up at 3:30 in the morning and be superhuman. Tomorrow none of my insecurities will stop me form doing what's best, I won't be lazy, cranky, tired, or allow hunger to make me irrational. I will move from task to task, happy and productive

In reality the next morning I wake up, frustrated with myself from the day before. Frustrated with the jerk who piled all of this weight on my back, and resentful. Out of spite I ignore the list that this ogre of last night has made, and instead I groggily distract myself on Facebook or read a blog. I eventually stumble out the door, a few minutes late for an appointment, and pissed at the me of twenty minutes ago. 

I face the same troubles in our garden. In Walden, Thoreau talks about how a small garden plot can serve you, but on a large farm one can serve time as if it's a prison. When planning my garden this year I convinced myself that I would be excited to get out there every morning and tend to it. I made too many beds too quickly and planted some things that I regularly use too far back on the property. Some days I am excited to get into the garden before the sun rises, but often my ever changing moods  turn against me and our garden. I am learning though, however slowly. Next year I may go a bit easier on my future self. 

Slowly I'm learning that wisdom is not always some ancient esoteric knowledge passed down on stone or papyrus, but is often the simple realization, after years of banging my head against a wall, that banging my head against the wall really hurts. Tomorrow morning I may wake up at 4 am, stoked to pull weeds under the rising sun. It is an amazing experience! Other days though, I will hit snooze until 10 minutes before I walk out the door. I will stumble through the house, confused, rushed, and utterly human.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gas station gardens

For some time now I've noticed a trend of gas station attendants creating food gardens.  


It's not widespread.  Plenty of gas stations are landscaped with strictly ornamentals.  I took a quick drive this morning to pass by several of the veggie gardens I've noticed in recent years.  I pulled over, in the first instance got gas, spoke to the gardeners, and with their permission took some photos.

Exhibit A.  My new friend is Nepalese and planted these squash and cucumbers.  Obviously, his patch is highly productive, but adjoining a major highway-- not to mention the nearby pumps.  He shared that this is a long-term practice he's carried in his global migration.  Seeing these resourceful beds reminded me of Vietnam.  Especially in and around Hanoi, I saw people garden everything.  Literally.  Food growing on highway median strips, out of cut milk containers on balconies, in old cups on steps.  I had never seen such persistent food growers and greatly respect the inclination to tend plants.

By the pumps, this gas station gardener had tomatoes, marigolds, and even some roses growing in large containers.  This brings me to my concern: is there potential contamination to the food?  What is the soil like in and around a gas station?  How does the air quality affect the plants?

Secondly, if there is contamination, given the issues with so much of our store-bought produce, is this still worthwhile given the risk?

I reached out to the wise interwebs.  A few friends said that strict environmental regulations usually mean that the soil is safe from gas, however, they worried about lead contamination from paint and from the massive amounts of car exhaust.

I headed to another gas station garden.  This gardener told me he emigrated from north India.  He said that he too gardened this way at home.  He had set up a bed behind his gas station, adjoining a neighboring business.

I could tell that the garden, on a raised bed, was highly productive.  So what about those lead contamination concerns?

On the one hand, I really respect these gardener's inclinations.  Many of these workers are on site more than 80 hours a week.  I respect that they use some of that time to also grow food.  Plus, gas stations are inevitably an environmental blight.  Plants are often the most powerful forces to clean soil and air.

I just wasn't sure about these plants...  I turned to Kevin & my internet crushes at Root Simple.  After sending away soil samples, it seems that the Root Simple gardeners may be dealing with some lead contamination, likely from paint in the 1950s.  They researched ways to safely grow.  The first suggestion is raised beds!  Go gardener #2!  The most labor intensive method is simply hauling up the contaminated soil and replacing it with new, safe soil.  However, each of these gas stations would likely be re-contaminated given their locations and services.

Phytoremediation, or introducing plants that pull lead out of soil, is another fantastic solution.  Guess what plant does that well?  Sunflowers!

 Gas station #3.  This Nepalese attendant lined his station with sunflowers.  Smart gardener.

From the interwebs, our friend Mike shared his thoughts:  "I definitely love... to think that we can reclaim and transform all these 'damaged' spaces with vibrant and potentially edible spaces-- but the reality is that the soil/plant uptake of certain chemicals is definitely a real concern...  Arsenic or lead and some other heavy metals of VOCs and dioxins are unfortunately a whole lot  "stronger" than... plants like a tomato [in terms of] cleansing soil.  Underground storage tanks leak often, things spill, and stuff like lead has a significant half life with its neuro toxicity, [meaning it] hangs around a long time... In certain areas, the toxicity downsides outweigh the benefit of some local produce.  That being said, you can improve the health of a location aesthetically by planting non-edibles."

I would certainly love to see fewer gas stations and healthier job opportunities for my new gardener friends.  In the immediate future, I love their resourcefulness and will continue to watch their gardens grow.  I'd love to become better versed in plants that beautify toxic sites.  If any readers have research or links to sites that have experienced renewed health thanks to plant-life, or a combination of efforts, please share in the comments section.  Plants are powerful-- to the imagination and to the physical world.

Shout out to local business! MOORE BROS. rocks our world!

We have happily found a source for wine bottles to frame our raised beds as well as those of clients.  Moore Bros Wine has been so generous & kind in storing wine bottles for us post-tastings.  I unloaded a few hundred in my basement just this morning.  Rooted may need a wine bottle shed soon... the landscaping take on a wine cellar.

Small business collaboration!  Re-purposing!  Artful design!  Exclamatory statements!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Nap outside


It's really good for you.

We often hear from clients that their yards stress them out.  They find it challenging to maintain them, are irritated by insects, or can't find beauty in their properties.

I hear you.  It's a challenge.  There is a lot to keep up with, but there are many ways to build efficiency, function, low-maintenance, and pleasure into your property.  Sometimes it requires some initial effort but over time you can find that your property becomes much more manageable.  (We can help!)

Our property felt really out of control.  We had trees that were ready to fall on our neighbor's houses.  The first big effort was felling those trees.  We were sad about it, but we had to be pragmatic about being responsible home-owners.  The up-side is that the loss of the trees created ample sunshine to feed our now bountiful garden.  We kept the trees on the property by using the logs to create raised beds.  That way we didn't have to pay to haul them off-site, but could keep them around.  The soil was so compacted from rescue dogs that used to trample it and all the tree roots, that it would be years before we could have had a successful garden directly in the soil.  Now we have a productive garden, thanks to the service of the trees framing out raised beds.

We tried to keep as many trees as possible and we also planted new fruit trees along the creek bed at the back of our property.  They'll help prevent erosion of the soil and they're far enough away from the houses to not pose a threat of falling in a storm.  Plus, fruit!

So now for taking pleasure in our surroundings.  Years ago we purchased a hammock in Panama.  We simply loved the woven hammocks that we continued to find in Central America.  We knew it wasn't practical for us to hang a hammock at that point, but we figured we'd hold onto it for whenever the right circumstances emerged.

This year we kept looking around.  Where was it going to go?  Obviously, we want shade, and we now have less shade.  We wanted some privacy.

A friend posted a photo of a hammock strung between the V branches in a tree.  Yes!  Now I started looking more closely at our trees & we identified the perfect spot.

Under the magnolia!!!

No nails.  Kevin cemented in a post & hook.  He then wired together a few pieces of bamboo to slide in the V of the branches.  The magnolia was not harmed in the process of hammock hanging.

This hammock is woven, so we store it in a waterproof box under the bush.  Safe from the rain, inside during the winter, & easily accessible on a warm day.  (I can't wait to purchase a few more hammocks as back-up when I go back to Guatemala this winter to lead a yoga retreat!)

And the view.  Sweetly enjoying the lovely land around me.  Finding pleasure.

One day I opened up an instructive YouTube video from a permaculture specialist.  I expected to find a lot of content on maintaining mutually supporting systems in a garden.  This highly lauded permaculture specialist walked the viewer to the little havens he had created in his garden.  He laid down by a swale and began plucking berries off a nearby bush.  He shared that here he could hide from his chores, and his wife, a little while longer.  I was so happy.  It is credible content to think coherently about enjoying the space that you inhabit.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Groundhog Chronicles

October 22, 2012

Humans are in the house.  Maiga looks out the window as Superstorm Sandy approaches.  A fat, happy groundhog munches on her arugula and spinach.  Blast.

Several more groundhog sightings follow.

Kevin is adamant that a groundhog can take out a garden.  He begins watching YouTube videos.  Friends compare him to Elmer Fudd.  He buys a Hav-a-heart trap.

The groundhog scoffs.  

This becomes battle royale.  Kevin catches several feral cats, squirrels, opposums, and a raccoon in the Hav-a-Heart trap.  Maiga becomes convinced that the groundhog is orchestrating this all safely from his forest den.  

Here, Maiga & Kevin's life long animal rights politics clash with their desire to eat out of the garden.  Maiga advocates meditating on the groundhog, coexisting, sharing.  Kevin claims that's all rather naive.  That they've invested too much time and effort into the garden to lose it all.  

Tensions flare.

June 2, 2013

Two nights after a skunk sprayed and knocked over the trap (do we not have a master-mind groundhog at the helm?!) Kevin finds that vanilla extract on the cage and baiting with strawberries does work.  On this historic date he catches a groundhog.  Once caged he sees that he's indeed an adorable little rodent.  Confused, he eats several coconut popsicles while taking the groundhog to woods several miles away.

June 16, 2013

Another groundhog has ravaged the peas and lettuces.  Re-baiting the trap, this time the hog is caught quickly.  Is it the same?  Is it another groundhog?  Kevin asks me to identify him as though he were in a police line-up.  Yes.  He looks like the shapeless ball of fur that has been eating our veggies.  He too goes the way of the woods.

Meanwhile, I have been conspiring with friends to advocate for our groundhog brethren.  Our designer friend, Oskar Castro, creates a groundhog image inspired by Subcommandante Marcos, spokesperson for the Zapatista movement, EZLN.

Our friend, Mike, uses this groundhog image to turn the tables on Kevin.

Accompanied by this communique:
A communique from the Groundhog Liberation Front (Mike translated from Groundhog)- 

"Welcome to the struggle of all species to be free.
The war of greed over food ravages the earth and species die out every day. GLF works to to scare the rich and greedy oppressors and to undermine the foundations of their speciesist society. For too many years we have sought to simply feed our family and have been treated as second class animals to that puffy white cat. We have to show the enemy that we are serious about defending what is sacred. Together we have teeth and claws to match our dreams. Our greatest weapons are imagination and the ability to strike when least expected. We are practically invisible. We have no command structure, no spokespersons, no office, just many small groups working separately, seeking vulnerable targets to strike back for food equality. Find your family! And let's celebrate as we make ruins of their precious garden.

You cage us, we cage you."

End communication.

You cage us, we cage you." 
End communication.

Kevin feels truly mixed up.

Luckily, it gets better.

I had these tee shirts made.


Groundhogs continue to roam the woods behind our house and eat our vegetables.  On Sunday, we sighted a deer.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Avant Garden Updates

Here's an aerial shot of Avant Garden geometry.  Corn & sunflower beds to the right, with climbing zucchini building ground cover.  To the left, plenty of annuals like tomatoes, peppers, & cucumbers.  Some lettuces in the shade of cucumbers, & herbs like rosemary, basil, & chives.  Further back find berries & fruit trees.

Borage blossoms.  This herb enhances tomato flavor.  The blossoms are also edible.  They taste kind of like cucumber & marshmallow.

Spaghetti squash!  It is efficiently establishing this hugelkultur bed.

This hugelkultur bed is growing a small army of carrots.  We thin, thin, & thin again.  Baby carrots are adorable!

One of my favorite plants: lavender.  It loves full sun, well-drained soil, other friendly lavender nearby, & herbs.  It attracts butterflies & bees & generally smells fantastic.  Throughout the season I create sachets & spike-filled vases.

Potato plants leafing!

And an organic potato farm on our friend, Calyb's arm.

What makes it all grow.  Courtesy of our buddy, Yvonne.

Stay well-watered!

Monday, June 17, 2013


We love berries.  We love to eat them, watch them, sniff them, allow them to lure butterflies & birds.

Raspberries vine & tangle.  They get dense & fun but are low-maintenance.  Find a sunny out of the way spot & plant.  Our raspberries are new this season.  We're allowing them to establish and marveling at their serrated leaves & tiny blossoms.

Blueberry hill!  We acidified the soil with plenty of peat moss, holly tone, & bone meal fertilizer.

They're happy!  We're letting the birds help generate new growth.  As the birds bogart our berries the plant continues to produce more.  As these are young plants, we're game for anything that stimulates happy plant growth.  Once these plants are more established we'll net half the berries & leave half for the birds.  Alternate annually & share the bounty!

Strawberries love to crawl & wander.  We housed ours in a raised bed.

We have some full sun in the front yard that's under-utilized.  We'd like to expand the strawberry patch there.  Some grow strawberries vertically in poles or barrels, when space is limited.

Berries are beautiful and delicious.  Our yards should be places to delight all the senses-- sight, sound, scent, & taste!