December 2010: Green Scene


Score me, baby

Wouldn’t it be cool if your house came with a number that told you how energy-efficient it is? Charlottesville will soon be one of the first communities in the U.S. where such a thing is possible. We’ve been chosen by the federal Department of Energy to be one of 10 places to pilot a Home Energy Score program, in which homes will be assigned a value that’s akin to a car’s miles-per-gallon rating. 

The local LEAP program, which has already been performing home energy upgrades around town, will administer the new scoring program. “The important thing to know about the score,” says LEAP director Cynthia Adams, “is it’s an asset rating, not a performance rating. It’s only concerned about the structure itself, not how you interact with it.” If you crank the thermostat and take long showers, of course you’ll use more energy. But a house with a good energy score offers the potential to save a lot on utility bills, while one that scores poorly is ripe for energy-saving upgrades.

If you’d like to be part of the pilot phase, send an email to, or keep your eye out for a launch announcement early in 2011. Once the program is fully established, Adams envisions homebuyers getting energy scores along with home inspections—no big deal, since the process takes less than an hour.—Erika Howsare

Coffee table reads

This month Betty shares with you some of her favorite green reads to place on your sustainably harvested wood coffee table! 

The first choice for local tree-huggers like myself is The Remarkable Trees of Virginia, a beautiful culmination of a four-year effort to “locate and describe the state’s most interesting and significant trees.” It includes photography by local Robert Llewellyn. 

More practical would be The Better World Handbook, a comprehensive guide to green living subtitled “Good Intentions to Everyday Actions.” Its simple cover and pragmatism makes it a classic and part of Betty’s inspiration. I also like The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices. Cradle-to-Cradle is a must, written by local eco-visionaries William McDonough and Michael Braungart, who also launched an international product certification program.

For a wide audience including kids, How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: 365 Simple Ways to Save Energy, Resources and Money by Joanna Yarrow is colorful and engaging, raising awareness with a call to action.

The former English teacher in me loves Recycle This Book, a creative compilation of 100 top children’s authors’ tales of going green. 

Feeling funny? Put out a tongue-in-cheek title like Wake up and Smell the Planet or How I Save 1/16th of a Billionth of the Planet by James Glave. As a former “cul-de-sactivist,” I can’t wait to crack this one open for some laughs.

Finally, what coffee table would be complete without a copy of Dr. Suess’ The Lorax?

Check out Better World Betty’s local green living resource list at and blog at


Betty on the loose! 

Better World Betty has been a community presence and an ABODE regular for several years now, but in November the green-living maven started popping up in all kinds of unexpected places around town. Her BRAG campaign (that’s Betty Recognizes Acts of Greenness) took her to the Darden School, the City Market, Greenberries and other spots, where she “caught” local folks in the eco-friendly act. People carrying reusable coffee mugs, taking public transportation, and riding bikes were rewarded with two “I got caught by Betty” buttons each. 

“The cool added feature of this campaign was the ‘pin it forward’ concept, where people get to play Betty and ‘catch’ other people doing sustainable actions!” says Betty. This means that, although Betty’s part of the BRAG campaign is over for now, there could still be a button out there with your name on it. Betty gave out close to 800 buttons, including some to schoolkids eating local foods during Farm to Schools week.

Meanwhile, Betty is the recipient of a challenge grant from the Virginia Environmental Endowment. She intends for the funding to kickstart a Green Business Challenge and a Green Action wallet card program. Perhaps when she gets this stuff rolling, someone will hand her a button!—E.H.


Hooray for Hollyworld


The adage “Prune when the saw is sharp” used to drive me crazy before I learned to let go of the little things. The readiness of your tools does not determine the best time for garden tasks; the worst that can happen to a holly if you prune any old time is that you’ll have to look at naked stubs for a few months. You can kill a holly if you try—though it will take some time—by withholding water or food, but not by cutting it. 

More important than pruning is to learn what conditions the holly prefers and all the different kinds so you can place them properly and get them to do what you want—serve as formal sentinels or iconic mushrooms; obscure the neighbor’s hideous shack; provide berries for birds; or decorously skirt a naked foundation. 

‘Nellie Stevens’ is a fast-growing Chinese-English hybrid, popular for screening. Reaching 30’x15′ with a distinctive pyramidal shape, they’re usually hard pruned in nurseries to thicken them up, then planted closely and kept sheared. If you have room, you could plant a line or triangle of Nellies 10-15′ apart (or perhaps just one) and let them grow unmolested.

Japanese hollies, in contrast, are slow-growing, with finely-textured small leaves sometimes mistaken for boxwood. ‘Helleri’ is the classic mushroom-shaped foundation plant; ‘Soft Touch’ forms a dense 2’x3′ mound; and skinny ‘Sky Pencil’ makes a 6-8′ pole, useful as an exclamation point if you just can’t help yourself.

Most hollies are evergreen, though winterberry drops its leaves to display dazzling fruits. American, English, and Chinese also make showy red-orange berries. Inkberry and Japanese hollies produce modest dark blue orbs. Some need a male pollinator in the vicinity (American and winterberry), some do not (Chinese and ‘Nellie Stevens’). 

Hollies are adaptable to sun or shade, preferring acid soil, the default condition of our native clay. They grow well in a moist, though not wet, situation. Inkberry and winterberry are the exception to the drainage rule, however, and thrive in swampy spots. 

For all hollies, it’s important to fertilize, especially where roots have had many years to deplete the soil. If leaves turn yellow, apply Holly Tone and an acidic mulch like pine tags or shredded pine bark. As with any broadleaf evergreen, protect from winter winds. If the ground freezes and the wind blows, leaves will burn and the plant will suffer. Pines and junipers with their thrifty needles are better in windblown places. 

Wait until mid- to late February or March to cut back American, Chinese or hybrid hollies that have gotten too large. Wait for new spring growth on Japanese holly to harden off before shaping. Any overgrown holly can be cut to the ground in spring to regenerate over the years.

But if you’ve planted wisely, you shouldn’t have a lot of pruning to do other than snipping a few boughs for the halls. Cut low so the stubs won’t show.—Cathy Clary

Garden questions? E-mail Cathy Clary at