Fairfield County Edition

Chronicling Progress at Black Rock Church

An Efficient, Pesticide-Free Landscape Takes Form

As we move into spring, many of us look forward to getting back to gardening and landscaping more naturally. Black Rock Church has been working with several companies on a three-year plan to turn their Fairfield church grounds into beautiful, more self-sustaining eco-landscapes. The entire conversion process will be completed by Fall 2020. Dennis Marc, owner and operator of Organic Solutions (Facebook.com/OrganicPlantCare) in Norwalk, has been coordinating the logistics and process of developing the pesticide-free environment, as first described in Natural Awakenings in April 2017. 

“Three years ago, members and a pastor from the church set their sights on not only weaning their lawn and landscape off of pesticides and water-soluble fertilizers, but to also add additional lawn and garden beds that would eventually be self-sustainable with only the use of natural suffocants and microbial release fertilizers,” says Marc.

Marc explains 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. There are certain establishment fees that have to be applied initially to reach the above mentioned goals, he says. However, once the property has become manageable, the costs are generally the same as the companies that use broad-spectrum pesticides and water-soluble fertilizers.

In 2018, Marc continued to use both synthetic and organic microbial-released fertilizers for the lawn, shrubs and perennial garden areas. In order for this method of feeding to be effective, soil tests need to be done twice a year to ensure proper pH and nutrient levels. 

As the project has progressed, one of the foci this year will be on landscaping surrounding the church’s nearly 18,000-square-foot addition with a youth group area. Orlyna Mattera-Starr from Frank Mattera and Daughter Landscaping Contractors, LLC (MatteraAndDaughter.com), Susan L. Haynes, owner of Complete Designs LLC (CompleteDesignsGardens.com),
and Dorothy Shack from Westport-based Izzo and Son Garden Center (IzzoCountryGardens.com) are currently working from this year’s landscape and irrigation plan as they prepare for installing new annual and perennial flowers, ornamental trees, shrubs, hardscapes, and potted plants.

Throughout the conversion process Black Rock Church has developed a healthy relationship with their entire outdoor plant care team, including their new watering system provider, Conroy Irrigation.

“Over the past 4 to 5 years, we have been moving in the direction of smart watering. This includes using drip irrigation more frequently than overhead sprinkler heads for shrubs, trees and flowers. This process of watering gets right down to the root system of the plantings. There is very little, if any, water wasted installing a drip system for plantings,” says Pat Conroy from Conroy Irrigation.

The company uses smart controllers which can be programmed and used manually by a smart phone or remotely by computer. The controllers also allow the church to lessen the amount of water being used by using a weather station/rain sensor. The project at Black Rock Church, which Conroy Irrigation will be working on this spring, will require some overhead irrigation for larger grass areas and drip irrigation for all shrubs, trees, flowers and planters, Conroy explains. For the larger shrubs and trees, they will incorporate drip irrigation circles, or “halos”, around the shrub or tree’s root ball that they are watering. By doing so, the plant needs to exert more energy to get to the water, thereby creating a stronger root system. For potted plants, Conroy Irrigation will utilize micro-drip irrigation. 

A knowledgeable group of outdoor plant care providers, with the help of both Black Rock Church’s maintenance crew and church volunteers, continue to develop a lawn and landscape on their property that is more eco-friendly and safe for all to enjoy. With the natural materials Marc has been using on the property, the continued planting design and installation from Haynes and Mattera-Starr, and smart watering from Conroy Irrigation, the Black Rock Church grounds in Fairfield are on track to become a showpiece in the coming years.

Ariana Rawls Fine is Editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County/Housatonic Valley, CT.

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