Several years ago, one of my friends told me I was the “greenest person she knew!” Although surprised, my “normal” is apparently not the norm. I am constantly trying to harness the greenest of measures for mutual benefit! When I reflect on how I got to this point, it has been a gradual process but steady.
I remember rescuing lady slippers, Jack in the pulpits and ferns from construction sites in “my woods” when those woods were developed for housing when I was a teen. I took heartbreak to action and created a garden and have never stopped. Even up to the week I was moving from Georgia, I was involved in the rehabilitation of an otherwise failed dry pond at the high school to transform it into an ecological teaching garden that, within the first year, attracted 7 kinds of frogs.
The gas lines of the 70’s are why I have opted out of jobs that require a long commute. The planet simply can’t sustain them. Other travels are planned to minimize gas use and pack in errands.
I consciously find ways to save energy – switching to LED fixtures, low water use faucets and appliances, installing energy efficient windows, solar panels and using limited outdoor watering help me to lighten my ecological footprint. I recycle everything I can. When I was a kid, I ruined my mothers’ dishtowels because I refused to use paper towels to cool cookies and we didn’t have cooling racks!
Composting and managing the soil and plants organically is good for the environment and good for me. I don’t need to use synthetics. My rain garden is watered by my rainbarrels and our backslope is no longer a lawn but rather a healthy conservation landscape with native plants that slows the rush of water from the uphill neighbor.
I have been active in my communities wherever I have lived. The efforts have transformed school and church properties from mown swatches to native plant oases such as the creation of an award–winning, high performance garden at Coolidge HS in DC even as I “grew a community” of kindred spirits around me. Closer to home, my community pool gardens and grounds are now planted with mostly native plants and the lawn care is both organic and robotic. I don’t think I ever explicitly said “this is greener, so it’s better”. Rather, the results demonstrate it is healthier for kids and families in swimsuits and is beautiful.
Much of my work is happening near home, but I am also working on a stream water quality project on family land in Pennsylvania, rehabilitating a worn out cornfield back to a multifunctional riparian forested buffer that is rich in food crops that are indigenous to the area. This project has led to other projects – a warm season grass meadow, the conversion of a powerline cut into a pollinator corridor, the establishment of an apiary with plants to support the bees and the latest, a hazelnut orchard, which is a work in progress. A future tall warm season meadow is also planned. The farm is producing ever cleaner water and the stream is running cold and clear as it heads to the Chesapeake Bay. This undertaking even won the PA Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2018, of which, my family is very proud.
My journey of fostering native plants, energy saving, recycling, designing sustainable landscapes and leading by example all seems to be pretty second nature to me at this point. After all, I have been doing this for a long time. But the irony is, I am pretty sure I have a ways to go to get to the light impact on the planet that I strive to have. So, I may be green, but there’s a deeper shade of green that seems even cooler and beckons me to dig deeper.
Authored by Ann English, Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection RainScapes Program Manager