WEEKAPAUG — It’s not just what people plant in their gardens, it’s how they, or the people they hire, maintain their properties that makes their landscapes sustainable. That is the view of the environmental group Weekapaug Green, which hosted a discussion, “How Quiet Communities Contribute to Our Sustainable Landscape,” at the Weekapaug Yacht Club Tuesday. More than 30 people attended the event.
Panelists Jamie Banks, founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Quiet Communities, and Frank Crandall, owner of Frank Crandall Horticultural Solutions, spoke about how to create sustainable landscapes and how to care for them without using noisy, polluting gas-powered equipment.
Weekapaug Green Steward Julia Bradford said she hoped participants would learn not only about landscapes that use less water and feature native plants, but also how to make the move to quieter, battery-powered lawn and garden equipment.
“Sustainable would be using more native plants, but also how to transition from fossil fuel-based, noisy equipment to equipment that’s quieter,” she said.
The challenge is to persuade commercial landscapers to adopt battery-powered equipment.
“We have a lot of people who have gardening, landscaping services and they come in and invade,” Bradford said. “I think that with so many people having sprinkler systems in their lawns, the lawns are cut more regularly than they would be if you let the natural die-back happen in the summer.”
Banks, of the Massachusetts-based Quiet Communities organization, has a health care background and became concerned about the environmental impact of gas-powered equipment and its effects on human health.
The noise from commercial gas-powered leaf blowers, she said, has been measured by Harvard University researchers at 85 decibels, well above the 55 decibel maximum recommended for outdoor noise. But the health hazards extend beyond noise.
“It’s noise, it’s the emissions … fuel spillage, solid and toxic waste from all the chemicals that are used to maintain engines,” she said. “It seems like in different communities, what you hear people complain most about are leaf blowers.”
Banks explained that in addition to producing stressful noise pollution, gas-powered leaf blowers also produce air pollution in the form of exhaust, and release particulate matter into the air. Substances blown up from the ground can range from fecal waste from pets to pesticides, lead and fungal spores.
The increasing popularity of battery-powered lawn and garden equipment, including equipment for use by professional landscapers, offers a solution to many of the hazardous side effects of gas-powered machines. Electric lawn care, Banks said, is now evolving as quickly as electric cars.
“Today, you have 72-inch, 60-inch riding mowers powered with lithium batteries that will last six to nine hours, so really able to help the professional land care business owner do things quietly and without any pollution,” she said. “And things are just getting better and better.”
Crandall, a Charlestown-based landscape designer with clients in the Westerly area, said current commercial landscape practices were unsustainable.
“There are severe consequences of doing things the way we are doing them right now,” he said. “But there’s a problem that needs to be addressed and it’s been mentioned several times. So many of these landscape firms have no idea that there are alternatives. They don’t know that what they’re doing may be harmful.”
Crandall, who uses battery powered equipment himself, explained that his methods were part of his organic landscaping approach, the foundation of which is healthy soil.
“Soil fertility is the key to organic success,” he said. “If you have a lawn that has been maintained for years on a traditional program with inorganic fertilizers, herbicides, weed control, insect control, the problem is that soil is now going to need a transition period to get it to the point where it can be healthy.”
Other principles of sustainable landscaping, Crandall said, are water conservation and the use of predominantly disease resistant, native plants, which need less water and no fertilizers. Buying plants, mulch and compost locally are also good practices.
“I think the biggest thing is, when you look at a landscape, you want to make it as sustainable as possible,” he said.
Weekapaug Green Steward Mary Goodman said the group was planning to continue its sustainable landscaping outreach efforts.
“We have Friday farmers’ market in Weekapaug for the summer weeks and we will have more information there,” she said. “We talk to a lot of people at the farmers’ market at our table so we can pass out more information, and these people will probably change a little bit of what they do on their lawns and their property,” she said.