July 19, 2008

Greener on the Other Side? So What?


While Hampton Roads is abuzz with mowers, sprinklers and saw- toothed machines, some residents refuse to chime in. Are they w? Rebels? Or simply willing to surrender under the siege of 100- degree heat, rising fuels costs and $100 water bills?

Paving the way toward low-maintenance, low-environmental-impact landscapes, they're using sustainable materials and natural resources that amount to a hill of freedom.

Michael Poyner' s former home, a Virginia Beach condominium, boasted a did-it-himself, worry-free retreat.

"I eliminated all grass cutting and designed the area to be economically sustainable and ecologically friendly," Poyner, 62 , said.

He built a wooden deck atop 75 percent of the yard and let his creative juices reign over the remainder. Poyner constructed a concrete and rock waterfall, a pond and a 5-by-10-foot stone patio.

But the real genius of the former machinist and industrial arts teacher flowed in his elaborate watering plan.

Using a cistern, timer, water lines, drip emitters and other simple mechanisms, Poyner rigged a relatively carefree system that diverted rain water appropriately and regulated the water which sustained the pond, waterfall, and even the potted flowers on the deck.

Slow-release, timed watering only when necessary saved money and city water, he said. The absence of flower beds and grass meant no spraying, fertilizing or mowing.

"You've got to pay attention to the environment," Poyner said.

A large, adjustable umbrella cooled the deck and protected the wood, which only needed a quick staining every two years.

Poyner, now of Chesapeake, spent about $5,000 but figures he broke even a few years and several memorable barbecues later.

So what's a hard-working person to do with weekends free?

"Play racquet ball, bike or run!" said Gino and Grace Colombara.

Having maintained a large lawn in Newport News for 12 years, they'd decided they'd "been there, done that," Grace Colombara said.

The couple intentionally chose a small lot in Ocean Park when they moved to Virginia Beach. They gleaned inspiration, advice and plants from friends and neighbors before recently completing their own outdoor haven.

Consisting only of a small deck, decorative stones and a peripheral bed of knockout roses, butterfly bushes and lantana, the $500 project affords an attractive, aromatic setting and fresh flowers .

The couple spends about 30 minutes per week on maintenance.

Rosanne Roble surrendered to the shade gods decades ago.

She'd sacrificed countless hours and bags of seed, and run her mower until its smoke signaled "give it up."

"Why fight nature?" she decided.

The family simply rakes stray leaves, pine needles and cones, which fall from 17 giant trees, back onto the large corner lot and watch the wildlife from lounge chairs. Husband John Roble calls it a "little woodsy park."

Said son John Ryan Roble, a Virginia Tech rising sophomore: "There's nothing natural about a manicured lawn . Areas like this, with natural plants, are a lot better for the environment. They act like a buffer. They can filter the water before it hits the storm drain."

Tan and green stones can replace beds and small lawns, Tom Rozier of Dreamscape Designers Landscape Architects in Virginia Beach advised.

Within stonescapes he uses low-maintenance, low-growing shrubs and ground covers, like English Ivy, liriope, ice plants, junipers and verbena, which tend to spread, minimizing weed growth.

Statuary and pathways can "break up the monotony," Rozier said.

Folks can explore the possibilities at Superior Marble & Stone on Frederick Boulevar d in Portsmouth.

The 5-acre lot holds everything from crushed granite to huge boulders, including river rocks, decorative gravel, flagstone, grey and plum-colored Belgian blocks, fountain and feather boulders, slate, cobblestones, marble chips and more.

Prices vary, said yard manager Robin Haislip, but "you don't have to mow it and you don't have to replace it."

It "makes sense" to Grace Colombara.

"It's simplifying your life, and that's what it's all about," she added.

Learn more about sustainable landscaping at www.landscaping.about.com.

Nora Firestone, [email protected]

great grass, less fuss

How can you get gorgeous lawn without spending the whole summer tending it?

The July 2008 issue of ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, has the no-sweat (well, maybe a little sweat) plan to help you spend less time tending your yard and more time kicking back and enjoying it.

Just follow this three-step plan:

Mow like a pro by aiming high. Mow every five to 10 days and don't cut the grass shorter than 2 to 3 inches high.

Also, mulch as you mow , leaving clippings to return useful nutrients to the lawn, save raking and reduce the amount of ferilizer used.

Finally, mow in a row. To avoid uncut strips, mow back and forth, creating slightly overlapping lanes.

Keep it tidy. Don't forget to trim around trees, posts and other scruffy areas that the mower can't reach. The best and fastest way to do this is with a string trimmer. For easy handling, choose a light, electric trimmer with a top-mounted motor for better balance. For the best control, tip the head at a 15-degree angle as you work.

Water it right. Start early. The morning is the best time to use sprinklers, before it gets too hot and moisture evaporates. Night watering can cause damaging mold and fungus to grow in your lawn.

Make sure to give it a good soaking , encouraging roots to spread down, which helps maintain grass health. Aim for an inch of water a week, including rainfall.

Source: ShopSmart

about the cover

Cover design by Nick Mrozowski, The Virginian-Pilot.

Cover illustration from iStock.com


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