January 2011: Green Scene


 A greener view

Some older PVC or vinyl blinds contain lead, so replace if installed before 1997.

The windows in your home likely offer a beautiful view of the great outdoors, but did you know that they may be costing you as much as a fourth of your total heating/cooling expenses? So after you’ve caulked and weatherstripped your windows to reduce air leakage, Betty recommends purchasing eco-friendly window treatments. Blinds, shades, and draperies can reduce heat loss up to 10 percent in the winter and cut heat gain by 45 percent in the summer.  


You’ll want to stay away from petroleum-based material like polyester, nylon or rayon and purchase organic cotton, linen, silk, or naturally fire-resistant wool. Ideally, buy a thick material that’s light-colored on one side and dark-colored on the other side so you can reverse them for the seasons. The drapes should overlap in the center and cover the window completely. When you clean them, opt for CO2 cleaning rather than the polluting percholoroethylene dry-cleaning.  


Stay away from PVC or vinyl mini-blinds popular in the mid-‘90s, as some manufactured outside the U.S. contain lead. Unsure? Remove if installed before 1997. FSC-certified, low-VOC finish wood blinds are available at most online and brick-and-mortar retailers. However, roll-down or Roman shades made of natural bamboo, sisal, or other grass are a nice tree-friendly wood alternative.  

At our home we did a combination of insulated natural grass blinds with a dark curtain for added efficiency. Until we could afford expensive new windows, this was an energy-smart solution.   

Check out Better World Betty’s local green living resource at betterworldbetty.org and blog at cvillebettyblog.blogspot.com.

A roof made of rubber

If you don’t like the look of asphalt shingles, but you can’t spring for slate, consider roofing shingles made from recycled tires. Several companies, including EcoStar and Da Vinci Roofscapes, manufacture rubber shingles that look a lot like more luxurious roofing options, like slate or cedar. 

The rubber ones aren’t just clever mimics. They have good properties of their own: They’re lightweight but sturdy; they’re fire-resistant; and they’re usually warranteed for at least 30 years. Maintenance is quite minimal. Plus, you have the satisfaction of knowing that your roof came from castoff materials that would otherwise be taking up landfill space.

Disadvantages? According to roofery.com, rubber shingles typically cost about four times as much as asphalt (though still less than slate). And you might have to answer worried questions from your kids about Santa’s sleigh bouncing off onto the lawn.

Check out rubberroofingshingles.com or ecostar.carlisle.com for more info.—Erika Howsare

People, get renewable

Are renewable energy systems only for the well-to-do? It can seem that way, when you consider the initial investment required to, say, put in a solar hot water system. Sky Blue and his business partners at the local inn and hostel Alexander House wanted to do just that. But, “as a small new business we did not have five or six thousand dollars,” he says. Through a government grant, they were able to install a two-panel system to heat the hostel’s water.

Blue’s latest project, a cooperatively run business he’s calling Energy for All, looks to connect homeowners—especially low-income residents—with the grants and other resources that can put renewable energy within reach. Partnering with Waynesboro-based Earthstar Energy Systems, the new business will install solar hot water and solar radiant heating systems. It’ll also sell D.I.Y. kits and provide training for folks who want to do their own installations. The systems “just don’t really require a whole lot in terms of interfacing with the plumbing and electrical systems of the household—the skill level required is pretty low,” he says.

Though Energy for All won’t be fully up and running for a few months, Blue is looking now for folks to join the fun, as workers and advisors. Contact Blue at 806-9486 or energy.for.all.cville@gmail.com.—E.H.

Sleep mode 

To go dormant is to sleep and wait for spring. Jungles grow and rot relentlessly with no pause to gather resources, but here in temperate North America our flora take a winter break, giving the gardener, too, a chance to husband resources and, perchance, recharge.

Crape myrtles should never be given crew cuts; leave old seed heads over winter.

Visiting other gardens is one of the best ways to renew, and this time of year garden memoirs are my preferred mode of transportation. Visuals are crucial. The best of them—Henry Mitchell (The Essential Earthman, 1981) and his trusty illustrator, Susan Davis; Celia Thaxter (An Island Garden, 1894; 1988) with American Impressionist Childe Hassam’s watercolors; and Clare Leighton’s rare Four Hedges (1936) illustrated with her own wood-engravings of her sea-swept English garden—are palpable treasures.

You want to feel these books in your hands like well-composted, friable soil. They’re well worth the search through Abebooks or the bowels of local book stores. A recent foray with Barnes & Noble’s “Nook” pulled a blank on Mitchell, proving that the classics of garden literature won’t necessarily make it to the e-book databases (It’s all about sales, baby). 

My winter treat has been Our Life in Gardens (2009), by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd—the story, through plants and an amusing array of domestic farm animals, of how these life partners made a place for themselves in Vermont and modern American gardening. Eck’s Elements of Garden Design (1996) is a staple, but I’ve only come upon Winterrowd since his recent death and obituaries. Stumbling across things (as long as it isn’t a steel rake with the tines up) is one of the best parts of gardening.

Along with the company of a good book, a little light pruning may be in order.  Leave the shrubs alone—you’ll either cut off flower buds for spring or leave ungainly stubs—but it’s a good time to take a look at deciduous trees. 

Winter dormancy facilitates cutting live wood—limbing up a shade tree, taking off a threatening branch over a walkway or roof, correcting bad structure on a young tree. When the tree isn’t actively growing, cutting causes less stress and, when it’s leafless, it’s easier to see what you’re doing.


*Not dead, but sleeping.

*Get a good book in your hands.

*Don’t butcher the crapes.


You might want to thin out a crape myrtle that’s gotten too shrubby. The tree-forms should never be given crew-cuts (a.k.a. “crape murder”). Leave old seed heads, which look like jingle bells, over winter. The idea is to nurture a pleasing structure.

‘Natchez’ (white, 20’x20’) or ‘Sioux’ (pink, 15’x15’) are best with three to five main trunks. Cut off excess trunks to the ground to open up the interior and show off the delicately mottled branches. Lop off smaller sprouts with hand pruners.

Leave no stubs and don’t cut into the main trunk. No need for wound paint. A little “bleeding” is natural.

After an idyllic day of poring through old garden prints and sculpting trees, the fortunate gardener can turn into bed, pleasantly tired, to dream of March (We’ll deal with February next month).—Cathy Clary