July 2011: Green Living

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What’s that smell?

The air has been heady with fragrance. Last May, I found myself intoxicated beneath a musky sweet full-blown privet, strewn with honeysuckle and climbing roses, wafting about like an olfactory Disney movie. Scent in the garden is best in early evening when the air is still warm and each plant pregnant with its own aroma. Chinese trumpet lilies, sweet autumn clematis and flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) see us odoriferously through summer.

Some people say there’s no sense growing a rose that doesn’t smell, and I used to agree until I succumbed to repeated experience with landscape roses. A motley group of hybrids bred for disease and pest resistance, they run the gamut from ‘The Fairy’ and early Meidiland varieties, to the newest in the popular trademarked Knock Out line. Some have a light scent, but their strong point is vibrant color on very hot sites. A driveway planting of bright white ground-hugging Meidilands, or a 3′ hedge of the now classic double red Knock Out, make a bold statement under difficult circumstances for a long time.

However, they don’t all bloom all summer. The fragrance of the old climbing tea ‘Sombreuil’ was haunting all the more for its singular spring flowering. If you have the space and inclination, there is a world of roses, along with their legendary fragrances, to explore. Local aficionados still lament the closing of Sherando Roses, which used to also offer a variety of clematis as their natural entwining companion. Since then, I’ve had good experience with mail order—heirloomroses.com grows them on their own roots in Oregon.

Roses are not the most sustainable plant in the gardening world. They take extra water and fertilizer to do their best, need protection from the local fauna (white-tailed deer), and especially for older varieties, an attention to the insect world with sprays, organic or not. And yet we will do it because we love them.

Mine are inside a deer fence—three hybrid teas and two climbers stealing space from edibles—and so far have not required any poisons. The climbers are in corners, tied with twine, and the hybrids—a garish rainbow of ‘Queen Elizabeth’, ‘Mr. Lincoln’, and ‘Peace’—are in a row at the end of the strawberry patch, both prospering in abundant water and rich soil. Even landscape roses need dead cut out and an annual trimming, so the dedicated rosarian needs a good pair of leather gloves, perhaps even gauntlets, or at least a shirt that covers your wrists.

We can offset the energy footprint of a few extravagant roses by emphasizing thrifty plants elsewhere. Sedums, Russian sage, rosemary and ornamental grasses are right at home in the heat and ordinary, even lean, soils. The xeriscape (drought-tolerant landscape) has been working its way east for decades now, as more people find themselves in similar sere circumstances.

As we dance along the edge of what is possible and what is not, let us stop to smell the roses.—Cathy Clary

Cathy Clary is a gardening teacher and consultant; she tends ornamental beds and a kitchen and cutting garden at home in a hollow south of Charlottesville. Read more about her at hollowgarden.com, and e-mail her with questions at garden@c-ville.com

Let me break it down

Got part of your house, like an outdated bathroom or ill-conceived porch, that needs to be taken apart? You may be able to get volunteers from Charlottesville’s Habitat Store to help, saving you money and causing warm fuzzies re: reducing waste and helping those in need.
With Habitat’s help, everything from sink faucets to stair railings can potentially be salvaged from your house and kept out of the landfill—cutting your project’s disposal costs along with its environmental footprint. You won’t pay a contractor (or devote your own Saturday) to do the demo work. And since you’re donating materials to the Habitat Store, which resells them to raise money for Habitat for Humanity, you can claim a tax write-off too.

Sound good? E-mail Halsey Blake-Scott at halsey@cvillehabitatstore.org, or call 293-6331, to start the ball rolling. Habitat folks will give you an assessment of what parts of your structure can be salvaged and how much time it’ll take.—Erika Howsare

Growers’ know-how

Ready to take your garden to the next level? A trio of local workshops is set to bring you up to speed on some of the home grower’s more advanced techniques.

First, on July 7, the Local Food Hub will offer a workshop on Integrated Pest Management, which is a way to keep out unwanted bugs without resorting to chemical sprays. You’ll come away with a bunch of other tricks up your sleeve—including natural predators—so you don’t have to reach for the poisons. This one takes place at the Hub’s Educational Farm, runs 4-6pm, and costs $35. Call 286-2176 or e-mail info@localfoodhub.org to sign up.

July 16 at 5:30pm, a potluck at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Unitarian Church will set the stage for an hour-long film about growing cover crops and compost crops—in other words, the crops that feed your soil instead of feeding you. This one’s free, but you should bring a local and/or organic dish to share.

And for the truly serious gardener, a permaculture design course will happen August 18-30 in Victoria, Virginia (with Sundays off, that’s 11 days of instruction for $1,100). You’ll learn all about this comprehensive approach to sustainable growing, constructing demonstration gardens in a woodland site. Another option: Sign up only for the $350 three-day orientation. See naturesfriends.ning.com or e-mail wearenaturesfriends@gmail.com.—E.H.

Turn on, drop in

In my basement right now is an army of laundry detergent bottles that I haven’t yet found the time to recycle. Had I been using Dropps detergent instead, I wouldn’t be harboring this unwanted collection. The super-concentrated brand comes in small dissolvable packs that you toss right into the washer with your clothes. After 20 loads, all you’ve got to dispose of is one plastic bag. 

The makers of Dropps point out that, with traditional liquid detergents, there are a lot more materials and energy involved in the packaging and shipping. And as you’d expect, Dropps detergent is biodegradable, chlorine-free and phosphate-free. 

Not too many products earn nods from both Dwell and Woman’s World. On dropps. com, a 20-load package costs $7 and a 40-loader is $13.50. You can find it at Target, too.—E.H.

A safer clean

The bathroom can be a dangerous place. On average, Americans use 10 personal care products, containing 126 ingredients, per day. And many of those ingredients contain lead, formaldehyde, pthalates, arsenic, and other heavy metals found to be carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and neurotoxins. The Environmental Working Group found that 60 percent of sunscreens contain the potential hormone disruptor oxybenzone, and 61 percent of tested lipstick brands contain residues of lead. No regulation exists for personal care products in the U.S., so it behooves one to be a wise consumer.

Make your own. D.I.Y. toothpaste is easy. Heather Wetzel, local certified herbalist at Heather Herbals, recommends buying a spice jar and shaking together 1 oz. baking soda, 1 oz. salt, and 20 drops of an essential oil like peppermint, tea tree, or clove. As for soap, the local farmers’ market has some homemade varieties.  

Less is more. Remember—the fewer ingredients, the better. Crystal brand deodorant contains only ammonium alum, which is effective and lasts years and years. Multipurpose Dr. Bronner’s can be your soap and shampoo. The bottle touts 18 uses in one! 

Be a label reader. You can download the list of safe ingredients for sunscreens, baby shampoos, cosmetics, and other personal care products from the Environmental Working Group by going to ewg.org /skindeep. They have an extensive cosmetic database.

Avoid the worst offenders. That would be hair straighteners, skin whiteners, oxybenzone, and products with fragrances.

Advocate. Get inspired by going to www.safecosmetics.org and watch “The Story of Cosmetics.” Donate to help pass legislation that encourages truth and transparency and/or tell your legislator to sign the Safe Cosmetics Act. 

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

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