Partners in this New Hampshire landscape company combine their complementary skills to create landscapes in tune with Mother Nature
In sustainable meadows seeded by Dunbarton Design Group, butterfly weed usually appears the first growing season.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PRAIRIE NURSERY.
Wayne Lamarre and Porter Weeks of Dunbarton Design Group, Dunbarton, N.H., are business partners and are building an enviable reputation for providing their customers with beautiful landscapes that are also ecologically sustainable. They’re passionate about sustainability, but they realize that property owners expect beautiful landscapes, as well.
Dunbarton Design Group
Headquarters: Dunbarton, N.H.
Partners: Wayne Lamarre, Porter Weeks
Market area: New Hampshire’s Lakes Region to Boston
Services: Landscape design, construction, master planning, consulting, lectures
Lawns and meadows can co-exist
They bring unique and complementary talents to their clients. Lamarre holds a degree from the Massachusetts School of Art and Design and is LEED AP certified. Weeks is a native of the town in south-central New Hampshire that bears his company’s name and he has a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Their company is becoming well-known for transitioning high-maintenance lawns to low-maintenance, cost-saving meadows. But, they emphasize they’re not on a crusade to rid their market of turfgrass or lawns.
“People enjoy lawns for recreating. But, when appropriate, we also like to ask them to consider less lawn and more natural landscape options, alternatives that in the long term will save them money and are better for the environment.”
The partners rarely make suggestions to clients without a serious discussion. While clients may initially want and expect floral beauty throughout the growing season, Lamarre and Weeks introduce them to the idea of using plant material that is adapted to the area and will not require significant ongoing maintenance. That doesn’t mean there isn’t upfront costs or maintenance requirements, at least initially.
Patience is a virtue
Establishing a meadow, for example, is a long-term process. Meadow areas are becoming increasingly popular on larger properties, such as HOAs, major commercial sites or company headquarters. The impetus is more often the desire to reduce maintenance expenses rather than environmental. Even so, the environmental benefits are real, and anyone desiring to go this route has to realize that they’re making a serious commitment.
“People don’t expect patience to be part of a landscape plan,” says Lamarre.
There are many reasons to return a landscape to a more natural state. Lamarre and Weeks have seen them all.
“Often the site has been clear-cut, stripped of vegetation, soil, wildlife and wildlife habitat. Sometimes all native plants have been replaced with large lawns and scattered beds of exotics, elements of limited ecological benefit requiring great effort to maintain,” says Lamarre. “We are typically not called in until something is not optimal on a site.”
In almost all cases, Lamarre and Weeks seek to restore native vegetation, often including wildflower meadows, to clients’ sites. Wildflower meadows reduce normal maintenance and costs, sometimes by as much as 80 percent once fossil fuel use and weekly labor inputs are considered. The benefits arising from these sites extend beyond time and money. By reducing stormwater runoff, for instance, meadows aid water infiltration into the soil, recharging aquifers. This is especially true on sloped sites. Also, because most native plants have deep roots they’re well-adapted to holding the soil and preventing erosion due to stormwater and wind.
A planted bed transitions to lawn and sustainable meadow in this southern New Hampshire landscape by Dunbarton Design Group.
PHOTO BY KATHLEEN HATT.
(Editor’s note: While most popular turfgrasses have shallower root systems than many native plants, numerous peer-reviewed studies have documented the ability of well-maintained turfgrass to capture runoff and significantly reduce the potential for soil erosion.)
A step-by-step process
Following discussions with the landowner about the benefits of establishing a sustainable landscape, these are the steps Weeks and Lamarre typically take to transform land from a construction site or large area of lawn to a meadow:
Site Analysis: To create a natural landscape from either an established lawn or from a clear-cut parcel, Weeks and Lamarre begin with an intensive analysis of the site. They inventory the plants on the property and nearby plant communities, as well. These plants serve as indicators of soil type and local ecology. They collect and analyze soil samples. They also collect data on drainage, prevailing winds, solar exposure and local flora and fauna.
A Clean Canvas: After analyzing the site, Lamarre and Weeks begin the process of creating a clean canvas, ridding every inch of the site of vegetation. They can do this by tilling in vegetation over the course of a year, or by using herbicides. The choice between tilling or spraying depends on how quickly the client wants to transform the property. Herbicides work faster, and the soil will be ready for planting in a few months. Whatever the choice, when seeding a meadow Dunbarton Design Group works whatever soil is present. Meadow seed mixes are matched to the soil on the site, which eliminates the cost of hauling soil. They incorporate soil amendments only to sites having traditional planting beds.
Seeds for Sowing: Using the site data they have collected, Lamarre and Weeks work with Prairie Nursery, Westfield, Wis., (www.prairienursery.com) to develop a seed mix to match the site’s conditions. They sow the seed by hand in combination with sawdust or peat moss or by using a no-till seeder, which makes little troughs, drops seed in and covers them with soil. Their market – from New Hampshire’s Lakes Region to Boston – requires mixes hardy to Zones 3 and 4. The best time to plant meadow seeds is in the fall. Weed-free straw is used to cover the newly seeded plot.
First Growing Season: Of the 15 to 25 varieties in the Prairie Nursery seed mix formulated for each site, three or four will appear the first growing season. When the plants have grown to 6 inches, they are mowed using an agricultural mower. Mowing allows maximum solar exposure, warming the soil and promoting germination of new perennial seeds. Mowing as much as two to three times a month during the first growing season also helps control annual weeds. Weeds may also be spot-sprayed or pulled. Once established, meadow flowers have the naturally deep roots common to drought-tolerant plants and don’t require irrigation.
An Evolving Meadow: Coreopsis, rudbeckia (commonly known as black-eyed Susan), coneflower and butterfly weed may appear the first growing season. Purple coneflower and asters will probably appear in the second season and, by the third, Baptisia (blue wild indigo), goldenrod and little bluestem become prominent. The exciting evolution of a meadow varies, but generally occurs in a period spanning three to five years. Much of a meadow’s success is dependent on the effort expended during that time. Once fully established, however, a meadow can provide color from spring to early winter.
Burning: Burning is an optimal way to promote meadow establishment, and is best done the second or third year following seeding. Before burning, Weeks and Lamarre consult the local fire department. “Not only is burning good for the meadow, but it can also become a fun and educational community event,” says Lamarre.
Maintenance Plan: Various parts of a sustainable landscape will require maintenance at different times. Dunbarton Design Group creates a custom plan for each landowner. The plan’s details depend on the degree to which the client will be involved in implementing it. The client may do all, some or none of the work.
Projects must promote good stewardship
Where requested, Weeks and Lamarre will do fine garden maintenance, welcoming the chance to remain involved in a landscape they designed and implemented. Maintenance is an opportunity to evaluate their work, a form of quality control.
While the two will do fine gardening, they don’t mow. They contract any mowing (usually with a tractor) needed either prior to seeding or during the first months of growth of a natural area.
“Mowing could mean more money for us, but we have chosen, as a company, to own no lawn mowers,” says Lamarre. The partners are selective in the projects they undertake.
For example, they’re adamant about not taking on any landscaping project that they feel would be detrimental to the environment. They want their clients to realize that they’re serious about promoting good stewardship of the land. But, in landscaping, clients often have one idea of what environmental means, and professionals have another. In those cases, they often spend extra time with clients trying to find a solution that’s both financially and environmentally responsible.
In the end,” says Weeks, “we find that people generally say ‘Yes’ to the right things.”
Weeks gives the example of a client who had contacted several other landscaping companies about his acre of open space. The obvious solution, it seemed, was loaming and seeding. Lamarre and Weeks proposed another option, a sustainable meadow. After a discussion of the merits of both approaches, the client selected their proposal.
Even with their 20-plus years of experience, the partners sometimes run up against something that requires expertise they don’t possess. That’s when they engage other professionals, such as arborists or meadow seed experts, to help them meet project goals. Whatever they do, they want the landscapes they create to be good for the environment, their clients and themselves.
Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Turf. She resides in Henniker, N.H.