Hiking about two-thirds of the way northward along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, you’ll hit “The Oblong,” a strip of land 2 miles wide and 51 miles long that, way back in 1731, became the border between New York and Connecticut, and essentially, the southern demarcation between New England Yankees and the rest of the early U.S. colonies.
On The Oblong, you’ll come to the spot where the tracks of the Appalachian North Metro Station cross the trail. You’ll also find a boardwalk that guides you through the thick cattails of the Great Swamp. Another option is a steady climb out of the thick woods along the side of Corbin Hill to get a spectacular view of open meadows. It’s also here that you’ll find the most welcome and unexpected rest stop on the entire 2,100-mile trail: Native Landscapes of Pawling, New York.
“Being on the Appalachian Trail and surrounded by the trail’s spectacular scenic greenway helps remind me why it’s so important for my customers to use native plants and employ more environmentally-conscious practices to compliment the natural beauty of the area that surrounds them,” explains Pete Muroski, founder and owner of Native Landscapes.
Muroski launched his business in 1987 to share his passion for plants and his commitment to environmentally-conscious landscape design and maintenance. “It’s basically a common-sense approach to gardening — using native plants indigenous to our region,” says Muroski. His company’s installation portfolio includes stone walls and paths, perennial gardens and nature-friendly water features. It also offers a full-service native plant garden center to help local gardeners learn about and enjoy the beauty of the region’s flora. He also uses it to educate other regional landscapers about using native plants and to service their special plant needs for their installations.
Owner: Pete Muroski
Headquarters: Pawling, New York
Markets: Communities in Duchess and Putnam Counties in NewYork State, Connecticut’s Fairfield County
Services: Rock and woodland gardens; waterfall and stream garden construction; design consultation; drainage irrigation and sprinkler systems; tree and shrub installation; retaining structures; landscape lighting; estate maintenance; site analysis; turf renovation; and native plantings
Employees: 20 full time; 8 to 10 seasonal
About a decade into operating his business, Muroski stumbled upon the opportunity to purchase 2 acres of land a couple miles from where he lived and operated his business. He was also captivated by the fact that the Appalachian Trail ran right through it.
The property, first owned by Sheffield Farms, was part of one of the largest dairy farms in the Northeast that, in one form or another, continued operations through the mid-1990s. Until the 1940s the farm delivered raw milk and loaded onto trains that regularly stopped there. When the dairy operations closed more than a half-century ago, the owners converted the barn into a popular dining establishment that served up local grub until its closure in the mid-1980s.
Since Muroski struggled to find local plants to fill his landscapes, he envisioned building up his stock of plants using the existing barn on the property. He saw it as the ideal native plant nursery, and it was large enough to house the offices for his landscaping business. To stay true to the vintage quality of the property, he painstakingly restored the barn’s original 1800’s historic look using white pine planking, rough board siding and commissioning a local artist to paint a period mural of the Appalachian scenery.
The garden center primarily features native perennials, shrubs and trees and also offers fruit and vegetable plants and seeds. In front of the center is a large demonstration pond with native fish, waterfalls and flagpole islands.
Muroski, who had always been an avid Appalachian Trail hiker and supporter, also seized the opportunity to serve hikers passing through the property either on foot or bicycle. Native Landscapes offers showers, restrooms, a recharge station for cell phones, mail stop, canteen for basic hiking supplies and overnight tent camping. During peak season, Native Landscapes accommodates more than 30 hikers a day. Muroski hosts narrated hikes of Native Landscapes’ gardens and along adjacent stretches of the trail. On special occasions, he organizes hiker picnics and barbecues.
Says Muroksi, “We’re honored to be on the trail and do everything we can to be hiker friendly.” Other visitors arrive on the Metro North train that rolls in from Manhattan 75 miles away three times a day.
Although Native Landscapes is known for its native plant nursery and trail stop, its major revenue comes from landscape maintenance and installation services.
“Over the years, and especially during this current recession, we have had to diversify and add services in order to survive,” says Muroski. To keep his 20 full-time employees and five work trucks busy year-round, he added tree pruning, mulching, holiday decorating for municipalities and snow and ice removal. Many of his clients are upper-income Manhattanites in recession-proof occupations who maintain weekend summer estates in the area that includes Duchess and Putnam counties in New York and Connecticut’s Fairfield County.
Muroski takes pride in educating his landscaping customers on the benefits of using native plants and employing sustainable and organic maintenance on their landscapes. For most, it’s an easy sell as they recognize the importance of being stewards for the Appalachian greenway.
“When it comes to their lawns, I tell them to keep their grass longer, allow clover and violets to grow on it, use less insecticides and herbicides, and more clippings and leaf mulch.”
Residents in this rural New York region greatly appreciate its natural beauty. Consequently, many favor low-maintenance landscapes featuring hearty native and adapted greenery.
A committed teacher
The unique soils that run through the Harlem Valley where Muroski’s clients are clustered also provides an important teaching moment, he says. “Soils in the valley are limestone and on the hillsides acidic,” he explains.
“Most people don’t realize the alkaline soils can’t accommodate the standard acid-loving plants of the Northeast. There are a unique group of natives adapted to these alkaline soils like juniper, honeysuckle, sumac, oak, chokeberry, St. Johns wort, bayberry and sweet fern.”
Muroski finds that after his clients hang in there awhile with these new practices, they see all the benefits including saving money, better health and aiding local wildlife.
Beyond direct hands-on education of his landscaping clients, garden center customers and trail visitors, Muroski is also sharing his knowledge of native plantings and sustainable landscaping practices to Westchester Community College’s Lady Bird Johnson Native Plant Center where he is an occasional instructor. He also maintains a popular blog site, “Living Landscape Journal.”
Nature Landscapes’ installation portfolio includes stone walls and paths, perennial gardens and nature-friendly water features.
Before YouTube arrived on the scene, he also created videos on native plantings and edible landscaping. They attracted the attention of such media outlets as HGTV and the LIME radio on Sirius Satellite Radio network, and even Paul Newman and his organic chef Michel Nishan. Newman employed Muroski to install native edible landscapes around his new Connecticut restaurant “The Dressing Room.”
For the past four years, Muroski has been a member of the Pawling Conservation Advisory Board. “Whenever there is a property development project in the area, we go in and assess what needs to be done to minimally impact the land and water resources. We comment on stormwater regulations and how these rules relate to the project, soils and other environmental issues.”
This past October, Native Landscapes won a 2013 Best of Hudson Valley award from Hudson Valley magazine. Naturally, the category was “Best Place to Design your Garden with Native Plants.”