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Ecological Landscaping Association trade show promotes sustainable beauty

Date: 3/1/2010

March 1, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Are there chickens in your landscaping scene? How about the use of natural stone products? Would you use rain barrels and cisterns to collect rainwater to use for watering?

These were some of the ideas presented at the 16th annual conference and marketplace presented by the Ecological Landscaping Association (ELA) at the MassMutual Center on Feb. 25.

Founded in 1993 and headquartered in Framingham, the ELA strives to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides, consider water and air quality, preserve biodiversity and acknowledge the health of landscape professional and clients when designing landscapes, according to materials distributed at the conference.

In between workshops and presentations, attendees walked through the vendors' area, where exhibitors had booths promoting products to awareness of ecological issues.

Paul Iorio of Green Street System LLC was speaking about his company's product, an individual tree box filter designed to allow a tree to flourish as part of a sidewalk landscape, while at the same time filtering storm water and preventing it from simply flowing into sewers.

The installation, including the tree, costs from $6,000 to $8,000 each, he said, adding that many states are looking at the system as an alternative to more expensive and traditional storm drains.

"You don't need to put water in a pipe," Iorio said.

Peter Schmidt of Compostwerks said his company has grown in the past two years despite the economy. Compostwerks produces a liquid organic "tea" that when added to compost produces a natural fertilizer. The product is sold for both commercial and residential uses, he said.

"People are cutting back on certain things, but they don't want chemicals around their homes," Schmidt said.

The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, a national organization to raise awareness of the plight of the honey bee, brought along a hive to help make the point that bees must be part of a natural environment. Member Ted Jones, a beekeeper from Connecticut, said the decline of the honey bee population still continues and so far scientists haven't any "real smoking gun."

There are several factors that may be responsible, he explained, from a lack of clover, an important source of nutrients for bees, to droughts.

The impact of a honey bee decline is significant as two-thirds of the food supply relies on the pollination bees provide, Jones said.

He noted Congress has cut funding for research into the decrease of the bee population.

Richard Roth of the Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team was at the conference to remind landscapers that a "useless mud hole in August" may actually be a vernal pond, an important place for the breeding of both insects and amphibians vital to the food chain.

"They [vernal pools] are a lunch counter for wildlife," he said. "Everything shows up to eat."

Roth brought along a selection of salamanders, newts and toads found in New England vernal pools.

His booth mate, Oona Aldrich, was representing the New England Herpetological Society. She had a black rat snake in her arms, now endangered in Massachusetts, and a number of other snakes in aquariums. Those species included the only two poisonous snakes found in the state, a timber rattlesnake and a copperhead.

She said the exhibit was to educate landscapers about the snakes they might encounter in New England and to remind them although there are poisonous snakes, the last time anyone died from snakebite in New England was 400 years ago.

Chickens were once part of the urban, as well as rural, landscape and Jono Neiger of the Western Massachusetts Permaculture Guild was promoting their return.

He had several hens and one rooster in a movable wooden and chicken wire pen resembling a Quonset hut. The pen had no floor allowing the chickens to peck at the ground without running free a prime consideration for people living in cities.

He explained the goal of the organization was to integrate multiple functions for property and the keeping of chickens is just one example. Neiger explained the chickens literally till the soil through their pecking and scratching while producing fertilizer. They are also producing eggs, which allow their owners to become more self-sufficient.

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