July 2010: Green Scene

True colors, including green


How to design your garden by color? You may think you’re beyond color theory, or it’s beyond you. Oh, just let it all froth up in a Monet-like jumble and somehow everything will work out. But a successful impressionist miasma requires room for a whole bunch of different flowers and a certain cottage garden indifference to glaring clashes. If you don’t have both, you can run into trouble.

Good old Graham Stewart Thomas, British horticulturist and author, used to say the basis of all good color schemes is to separate the scarlets (reds and pinks with yellow in them—think poppies) from the crimsons (reds and pinks with blue hues—think Sweet Williams). And indeed, I once had a Pepto Bismol-pink cleome in a patch of orange-red floss flowers that nearly sent me screaming from the garden. A more successful pairing has been the classic single scarlet geranium, Pelargonium inquinans (Monticello has it), stuffed into large turquoise glazed pots: pure vibrant cool blue green bowls erupting with vivid flame-colored flowers among pleated green leaves.

Use deep purple butterfly bush or heliotrope (called “cherry pie” by the Brits for its scent) to soothe hot summer colors and the silvery greys of Artemisia to blend them all together. Ranging from rough invasive ground covers to ferny mounds meant for stroking, Artemisia cultivars ‘Silver King,’ ‘Powis Castle,’ and ‘Silver Mound’ all have textured spicy leaves and an affinity for hot sun and poor soils. Country people used to put wormwood and southernwood, also Artemisias, in windows and closets to repel flies and moths. 


— Calm clashing colors.

— Explore the Artemisias.

— Good luck with that groundhog!

Speaking of colors, sometimes green can be the hardest color to maintain in the garden. One reader, “Thrifty Gardener,” wrote in with two eco-dilemmas: groundhogs and reel mowers. With trapping verboten within City limits and $50 fees for sharpening reel blades, what’s a well-intentioned land steward to do? 

Consider inventive fencing as an alternative to poison (neither prudent nor humane), bullets (a no-no in town), dogs (not necessarily feasible) or illegal rendition. Try six-foot small-gauge rabbit wire (chicken wire is too flimsy to thwart the hefty rodent): two feet buried in an L shaped shelf, three feet straight up and one foot baffled over at the top. 

Reel mowers have that saintly I-am-not-an-internal-combustion-engine aura, but for the home lawn they can be inefficient. The hefty price for sharpening the twisty blade is certainly a drawback, but another problem is that reel mowers tend to get tangled cutting at heights of two inches or more, which faithful readers know is the sine qua non of proper lawn management.

Ultimately, a better route if you want to banish the pernicious gas engine is to get rid of the lawn all together. If you’re mowing it with a reel mower, there probably isn’t that much to begin with. Pavers laid in sand would avoid run-off and retain an open space near the house. Farther away, use low shrubs and groundcovers. But for God’s sake don’t plant a stoplight-hued ‘Firepower’ Nandina with a frilly pink ‘Little Princess’ spirea!—Cathy Clary







Reclaimed wood from Mountain Lumber is one option for a low-impact floor.

Coop art

Want to start keeping chickens and add to your collection of works by local painter Edward Thomas, all in one fell swoop? You’re in luck. Thomas is available for chicken coop construction. 

Having made a coop for one client out of scrap wood from local cabinetmakers Gaston & Wyatt, Thomas now has a bit of a feel for what makes successful chicken housing. His first coop is designed to house four to six birds and features a copper weathervane in the shape of a rooster. “It’s a fancy chicken house,” says Thomas. 

Commission Thomas to build you a coop and your hens will get a one-of-a-kind home. “All the things I build I usually use reclaimed materials,” Thomas says, “so it depends on what I can get at the time.” He’ll charge a minimum of $1,000—less, he points out, than many coop kits sold online. Give him a call at 882-5111.—Erika Howsare







Local grains? 

Yes, it’s true: One local farm is getting into the grain and legume business. Brian and Mihr Walden own Steadfast Farm in Albemarle and are already selling beef at City Market, but the ace in their sleeves is 10 acres of wheat. They’ve got plans to expand into beans, lentils, barley, oats and canola, and they’re selling CSA shares for those kinds of crops.

This is good news for locavores because, while locally grown produce and meat are easily available, grains and beans have been tough to find outside the supermarket aisles. 

You can read more about Steadfast Farm in the 2010 edition of the Buy Fresh Buy Local guide, which is out now; if it hasn’t arrived in your mailbox, download it at buylocalvirginia.org. As it does every year, the guide contains lots of info about local farms, farmer’s markets and local-food-friendly stores.—E.H.




A Zeer pot can keep your bevvies (or veggies) cool with zero energy use.

Hear, hear for zeer

If you don’t have the luxury of a root cellar and you’re looking to expand the capacity of your fridge, make yourself a zeer pot. Assembly is cheap, maintenance is minimal, and you can keep your sturdier perishables like vegetables, fruit, or packaged drinks cool without using any energy.

Pick two terracotta pots, one small enough to nestle inside the other. Plug up any holes and fill the base of the larger pot with enough sand to make the lip of the small pot level with the lip of the larger. Place the smaller pot inside, and fill the space between the two pots with sand. Once the space is packed with sand, pour in as much water as the sand will absorb. Place your beer or apples inside, and cover the smaller pot with a damp cloth. Keep the sand moist by watering it once a day. Stand back and admire your environmentally friendly creation, then give yourself a hearty pat on the back for being so handy.

You can keep your zeer pot anywhere that is dry and shaded—a covered porch or deck, a shed, or in a corner of the basement.—Lucy Kim



For the floor


Most builders, architects, designers and homeowners now incorporate sustainable flooring into their home projects, whether it’s for LEED or EarthCraft certification, or simply at the homeowner’s request. Sustainability considerations include use, durability, and aesthetics and your budget. Fortunately, we have many great local options to choose from, living in the heart of Appalachia. 


Reclaimed wood is a prime choice. Mountain Lumber Company (founded locally by Willie Drake) carries reclaimed flooring. As for new lumber, the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label assures conservation of natural resources and fair work conditions. Sustainable Woods only harvests diseased trees from Virginia’s FSC forests (we actually have two FSC-certified forests here), uses animals to pull the trees out, and uses a solar-fired kiln to dry the wood. Other FSC-certified wood floors are an option, but could be coming from Northwest Canada or South America. 


Many carpets are now made using recycled products—plastic bottles or cork—or renewables like bamboo. Carpet Plus is the local frontrunner. I recommend asking lots of questions about the materials’ origin and the manufacturing process.

Other options:

Ceramic tile is a durable option, and local manufacturing lessens the embedded energy cost of the product. Linoleum and marmoleum are biodegradable (check for the GreenGuard certification). Concrete floors are hip and definitely long-lasting. They retain cold and heat, which can save on home energy costs. Questions remain about possible pollution in the production process, however.

An expert’s opinion: Charles Hendricks, architect with The Gaines Group and chairman of the Shenandoah Valley Home Builders Green Building Committee, suggests “a sustainably harvested wood floor from Southwest Virginia, with a fallback of a locally harvested wood floor from the Shenandoah Valley.”

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






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