Black Rock Church Goes Organic: Landscape Conversion in Process
Mar 29, 2018 04:05AM
By Dennis Marc and Ariana Rawls Fine
Three years ago, members and the pastor of Black Rock Church set their sights on weaning the large Fairfield property off of pesticides and water-soluble fertilizers while moving toward more natural and efficient ways of maintaining its natural landscape. The entire conversion process began in spring of 2017 and will be completed by the fall of 2019. The goal of being completely organic-maintained by 2020 was set by and overseen by Dennis Marc, owner of Organic Solutions 2018, with Black Rock Church’s executive director, Pastor Jeremy Taylor.
“There are many factors to consider before initiating a conversion from an established pesticide-dependent property to a pesticide-free one; cost is definitely one of them,” says Marc, “The first thing we did was to take the homes that are inhabited by some of the church’s staff and their families and provide a 100 percent organic alternative for their tick control needs.”
The cedar oil used for these properties is nontoxic, and safe for families, pets and the environment. However, due to its higher cost and the need for more frequent applications, the annual cost is much higher. Marc treated two acres of church-associated properties with monthly cedar oil applications.
On the main church property’s established lawn areas, the plan called for removing the majority of undesirable grasses and weeds. The soil was prepared for over-seeding with disease- and insect-resistant grasses. To do so, the company deposited truckloads of untreated soil that contained compost as well as various combinations of topsoil, sand and clay.
A key component of the project was establishing sustainability-focused drainage and irrigation along with the proper nutrient levels. With the help of Tony Teixeira, co-owner of the Bridgeport-based Three T’s Irrigation family business with his brothers, the church incorporated efficient water use management into the overall property plan. With many hard surfaces to contend with, including parking lot sections and land abutting Black Rock Turnpike, the team used underground space to connect three landscaped islands by linking 400 feet of 1-inch water lines underneath the asphalt via existing storm drains.
With annual plants requiring as much water as a lawn, Melanie Fox of Fairfield-based Oliver Nurseries (OliverNurseries.com) worked with the church and the nursery’s designers to configure the optimal mix of plants and trees on the property and in landscaped beds. With a degree in fine art and graduate work in landscape architecture, Fox is the perennial manager for Oliver Nurseries. The objective for the Black Rock Church property was to establish beautiful perennials and plants that, with proper fertilization, pruning and watering, would be pesticide-free and more self-sustaining within two seasons.
As they were planning the plants, Marc and Fox needed to take into account when and how much the plants would bloom as well as how quickly the plantings might spread. Fox chose plants that would flower at slightly different times to attract pollinators and be visually appealing throughout the growing seasons. The hardy Hibiscus moscheutos is a water margin plant that is drought-tolerant once established, while several native species of black-eyed susans lend pops of vibrant color. The Pennisetum alopecuroides “Hameln” ornamental grass offers a pinkish-white bloom late summer through early fall. The design team also focused on simple and seasonally strong shrubs, such as the semi-dwarf variety of Hydrangea paniculata “Bokrathirteen”, or Sweet Summer. Boxwoods like Buxus semp “Green Gem” are semi-dwarf, low-maintenance evergreens that offer greenery year-round.
Another reason for encouraging self-sustaining plants is the decrease in water usage, says Teixeira. “Beneficial bacteria are crucial to organic growing and maintenance. But town water is treated for bacteria, so it can counteract the effects. As the plants get established, the usage of town water goes down,” he says.
Three T’s Irrigation installed an efficiency-focused combination of rotary sprinkler heads and driplines for the perennial plantings, trees and shrubs. With most of the plantings near the surrounding houses’ foundations, driplines were used to deter water issues with wood. In the upcoming phase of the project, they will be incorporating more driplines, including running lines to water baskets hanging on lampposts.
A new technology tool Teixeira integrated to conserve water usage is a controller that communicates with weather stations. The basic program can be adjusted to water according to the weather; if there is rain coming, the watering system will stop. Although the automatic controller needs seasonal maintenance, it can be controlled by Marc and landscape volunteers.
Prior to Oliver Nursery installing four new beds at the entrance way to Black Rock Church in the summer of 2017, a complete soil renovation was done. Over 60 yards of soil was removed and replaced with a similar combination of soil that was used for the lawn.
With the changes made in 2017, the turf density increased and the amount of pesticide control needed decreased. In addition, applying microbial-release fertilizers versus water-soluble ones greatly lessened the production of weed and disease infestations.
Cultivation and maintenance are also key for long-term success., says Marc. The maintenance staff at Black Rock Church has been properly trained in proper mowing practices and equipment maintenance.
Black Rock is now planning to continue to add more pesticide-free gardens and lawn areas this growing season with the help of Oliver Nursery, Three T’s Irrigation and dozens of volunteers from the congregation.
Black Rock Church is a non-denominational evangelical church located at 3685 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield. For more information about the church, call 203-255-3401 or visit BlackRock.org.
Dennis Marc is the owner of Organic Solutions 2018. Connect at 203-668-6448.
Ariana Rawls Fine is editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County/Housatonic Valley, CT and New Haven/Middlesex Counties, CT. She resides in Stratford with her family.