Landscape contractor brings awareness to organic landscaping

This water feature, now three years old, has become a beautiful habitat for fish, frogs and turtles. Often there will be visiting birds, and even blue herons have been spotted from time to time.

Betsey Norton considers herself a pioneer landscape contractor in the Atlanta, Ga., region. As one who embraces the principles of organic landscaping through her company, Going Green Horticultural in Marietta, Norton says she’s in the minority for now, but hopes to see that change.

Norton’s mission statement, as stated on her company’s website,, says, “Going Green will become the leader in horticultural consulting in the Southeast by providing landscape companies, homeowners and community groups with the education and skills to implement organic and sustainable landscaping.”

Norton says, “I’d like to also be able to take programs to schools, because our children are the ones who will be doing this in the future and, frankly, most of the children are bigger environmentalists than their families are because of what they’re learning in school.”

It’s all about sustainability. “It’s not doing things today that will hinder progress for future generations,” she says. “That’s the goal of being sustainable and to impress the importance of that on our peers.” Norton also wants to spread that message within the industry. “I want to take whatever I can take as far as education or information to people about what I think we need to grow and how we’ll sustain it,” she adds.

Norton began working on the concept of Going Green Horticultural in 2008. She had been working in the industry since she was 16 years old, working in nurseries and with other landscaping companies. “I loved it,” she says. “In 2008, I had a little girl and was literally up in the night feeding the baby and had this epiphany that I wanted to do something different, make a difference in my industry and offer something that isn’t generally offered in Atlanta.”

Norton decided to start consulting and design work on the side. “It wasn’t that much business at all – helping friends with their vegetable gardens and learning different ways about fertilization and bug control,” she says. She didn’t have a model of how she wanted it to be, but knew she needed to do something. “In 2010, my husband Dave, who is also a landscaper, got on board with it. He said, ‘Let me help you to grow this business.’ So he took off from his full-time job and began doing Going Green full-time and started a new client base and almost a new product, because we’re focused mostly on using organic fertilizers and natural pest controls on properties, helping them to become more sustainable.”

Norton says the interest in organic gardening is picking up at a steady pace. “When I offer the service, it’s the same type of services from a conventional provider,” she says. “I really sell on the quality and the expertise of our abilities and then help to transition people who haven’t got the mindset. It’s really selling them on the idea that it’s healthier for you, it’s healthier for your family, it’s healthier for the environment,” she says. “I ask them to give us a try and they won’t be disappointed. The people who wanted it anyway are thrilled that we are offering it.”

Using native plants such as Mazus repans in this wet walkway area has helped to beautifully solve a landscape issue at this residence. Clipped boxwoods give the garden a finished appearance, while the perennials offer an informal feel.

Going Green services a higher-end residential and small commercial market with landscape design, installation and maintenance services. “They’re the ones who seem to be picking up on it first,” Norton says of the high-end market. “That’s due in part to lack of knowledge on the lower-end residential market.

“There’s also a stigma that natural, organic land care is going to cost a ridiculous amount of money,” she adds. “The product itself doesn’t cost me any more money. What may cost more money is that we spend more time doing the details on the properties.”

Going Green’s installation services are offered throughout most of the metropolitan Atlanta area; maintenance services are more limited. Going Green’s planning and installation services include landscape architecture and sustainable landscape architecture, design and installation, technical drainage and stormwater runoff prevention, rainwater harvesting, permeable pavers, bioretention ponds, rain gardens and rooftop gardens.

Dry creek beds are not only an attractive addition to the landscape, but also serve as a functional erosion and runoff control solution.

Maintenance is conducted on a daily, weekly or quarterly basis. The company also offers horticulture-only services, which includes mowing, edging, horticultural pruning, insect and disease control and integrated pest management. “We’re not going around treating things needlessly just because one day this summer it might be affected by aphids,” she says. “We watch and monitor plants and with that are able to better treat things so they are more sustainable in a landscape.”

Norton says her company is operated by a small but growing team. “We’re putting in place a couple of new key people to help us grow our business from one route to two, so that’s exciting,” she says. “We’re young and we have already been making a good headway in showing our initiative to our clients. Now that I’m fully capable and don’t have any other conflicts of interest, I am able to promote us to our industry as well, which I’m interested in doing.”

Norton has had to work her business around erratic weather patterns that have hit Georgia. “For so long we had the drought here. It got to a point where they said we were going to run out of drinking water in 38 days and then all of a sudden we got a 150-year flood and everybody forgot about it,” she says. “Now it’s concern for all of the erosion they’re having because the ground is so dry. It’s an interesting balance working in this region.”

Atlanta has had its share of water issues and Norton has adjusted her company’s services accordingly. Some clients have an erosion issue or topsoil loss on their property. “I try to work to manage the water on a person’s property,” she says. “For instance, if they need to have drainage addressed, I make the best efforts to manage it on their site, whether it’s piping it to an area where we do a rain garden or whether it is letting it dissipate into the groundwater through French drains or a bioretention barrel.

“In our urban and suburban areas, there has been so much growth that there are major earthmoving effects that have occurred on neighborhood streets,” she says. “At the end of the road, they’re getting everybody’s rainwater because everybody pipes it out off their property and toward their neighbors’.”

Going Green retrofits a lot of places to manage water. “Rainwater harvesting is a different animal,” Norton says. She advocates several ways that clients can harvest rainwater, including underground systems. “I’m a proponent of the Original Rainwater Pillow,” she says. “I’m good friends with the company, feel confident about their product and I promote it to my customers if they’re interested in actually doing a rainwater harvest.”

The Original Rainwater Pillow is a horizontal rain storage system equivalent to 20 rain barrels that would hold 50 gallons of water each. “That water is reusable, clean and absolutely safe to use,” Norton says.

As in many cases throughout the United States, properties and homes were planned and landscaped with little consideration to the amount of runoff leaving the property, to the amount of extensive maintenance and supplemental irrigation that would be required and to the fact that many plants are simply unsustainable in the Southern landscape, Norton points out. “We are at a pivotal time in making the decision to continue on as things have been or to choose more wisely,” she says. “Making the right decisions about refurbishing an old landscape or designing and installing new features will speak to the sustainable future of a property.”

Georgia’s clay soil can be difficult to work with due to its small particles that pack together tightly, not enabling water or air movement. Bioretention uses landscaping to filter water and reduce runoff, which the EPA reports is the primary contributor to water pollutants.

In designing landscapes with an eye to how they will be maintained, Norton – who is certified in sustainable landscaping – says the principles of sustainable landscaping should prevail. “When you are designing a landscape, you want to design for things that are water-wise,” she points out. “It doesn’t mean everybody has to have xeriscaping because it’s low water and low maintenance, but it does mean that we are going to plan things that are appropriate to the landscape and that are sized appropriately for where they are going to grow and live in the landscape.”

That can be a challenge for designers who don’t possess that type of knowledge “of the plant in its fullness and where it naturally wants to be and not putting things in places where they’re just not going to thrive and are going to be too big and have insect damage because they’re in too much shade,” Norton points out.

Norton’s rule is this: “Planning for the best maintenance practices is planning for the best planting plan. The design is just a beautiful aside, but once you know your plant material, you’re going to have a much better success with the outcome.”

Rooftop plantings are another service provided by Going Green Horticultural; Norton points out that a growing concern over reducing rooftop runoff and the heat island effect plaguing urban areas have made them a more popular choice.

To help clients achieve an organic garden, Going Green Horticultural plants host gardens designed to attract and house beneficial insects, such as predators, parasitoids, soil builders and pollinators. Plants commonly used include catnip, which attracts lacewings, a predator of aphids, and it also draws cats to help keep rabbits and other rodents away. The host garden also includes insect shelters, such as stone paths and compost piles, to encourage ground beetles that prey on cutworms, moth larvae, slugs, snails and root maggots. Crab spiders lie in wait for prey, camouflaged on daisies and other yellow and white flowers.

Norton’s biggest challenge is to grow her business in a sound fashion. “It’s in balancing the time we are on properties for maintenance versus the time we are on properties for installation. We want to grow both sides of the business because the maintenance is bread and butter,” she says. Norton believes her company is growing despite it having been started during the recession. “Our business is built on relationships,” she says. “I have no doubt that I’m building a good relationship with my peers in the industry, especially with horticulture and irrigation specialists, landscape architects and environmental architects. We’re all like-minded and we’ll refer each other for service when the need arises,” she adds.

Going Green Horticultural

Location: Marietta, Ga.
Clientele: Residential
Services: Landscaping; maintenance andestate management; design, architecture andinstallation; gardening, including rain gardensand edible gardens; and consulting services

Carol Brzozowski is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has written extensively about environmental issues for numerous trade journals for more than a decade. She resides in Coral Springs, Fla.