Meet Cindy, Office Manager at Holmes Fine Gardens!

Let’s go behind the scenes at Holmes Fine Gardens and get to know our Office Manager, Cindy!

If you could write your own job title that best describes what you do at HFG, what would it be?

As the office manager, I typically wear many hats. My primary tasks include office duties like billing, accounts payable tasks, payroll, and sourcing many of the plant materials we use in our jobs. In addition, I’m responsible for handling the phones and working with customers and suppliers on questions that arise. In this role, I’m often the gateway between the crews in the field and the back-end requirements that allow them to function effectively on the job.

What’s a typical day like for you?

While some tasks are consistent, my job often changes from season to season. During the late winter and early spring, I’m often working on scheduling and sourcing materials that we need to begin our clean-up and planting season. Once I get to late spring and throughout the summer, we are working at full speed. Sourcing materials and scheduling customers is where much of my time is spent to ensure we properly align materials with upcoming job requirements.

What do you enjoy about the work you do?

There are many pieces to the puzzle when it comes to a landscape job. While the challenges may be difficult at times, it really is gratifying to hear from customers when it all comes together.

If I weren’t so damn good at my job, I’d probably be…

A Professional Home Organizer! I’m a sucker for home edit shows and I’m constantly updating and reorganizing my house. While I won’t go as far as to say I enjoy interior decorating, I would really enjoy helping people find ways to best utilize the space in their homes.

What are your hobbies?

I’m the mom of four so family life can keep me pretty busy.  Spending time with family is important to me and I can often be found chasing them around town for games and activities. When I get some downtime I like to relax by the pool or catch up on a Netflix series.

In another life, I’m pretty sure I was…

The lady in the village that people brought their babies to, to be rocked and held.

On Sunday mornings, you can usually find me…

Teaching religious education classes at St. Rose Church. Most weekends of the year I volunteer as a catechist at St. Rose for my son’s first and third-grade classes.

 

 

A Deep Dive into Invasive Plants

 

As the owner of Holmes Fine Gardens, I spend a lot of time driving through the neighborhoods of Newtown and its surrounding towns. And since this region is void of skyscrapers or big cities (ok, we have none!), the world around me is clearly in view at all times. I observe lakes, forests, sterile road intersections, underpasses, cul-de-sacs, suburban roads, and property after property with their green spaces in between, filling the voids. 

Unfortunately, that void often equates to invasive plants or the competitive plant thugs easily seen from the roadside as I cruise by in my truck. These may include creeping tendrils of bittersweet collapsing and strangling everything in its path, a sea of Purple loosestrife filling entire fields to the brim, walls of Barberry foliage, Autumn olive, or Burning bush, just to name a few of the culprits common to our area.

At certain times of the year, these plants have their day in the sun and are quite pleasing to the eye. From Burning bush ablaze with fiery foliage in the fall to Autumn olives’ sweetly fragrant, shimmering gray-green leaves that entice the senses. These plants are often looked upon with sympathy and saved from the secateurs or herbicide. The mindset being – if nature didn’t want them to thrive, they wouldn’t be here in the first place.   

Many of these plants were introduced by either the US Highway Department to help with slope stabilization or wayward travelers returning with cuttings or seeds of ornamental and medicinal plants. Not all non-native plants are as opportunistic – some lure our songbirds and insects with berries and seeds, becoming their dispersal service that has originated from a newly tilled area or spot of barren earth.

Why do we need to worry about these plants? The USDA Forest Service estimates that 42% of our native plants are taken over by invasive species. They outcompete our native flora, and like it or not, many are here to stay. However, giving in to these aggressive plants is not an option. What can we do? We need to pick our battles and fight back in areas that make the biggest impact. 

The characteristics of these plants stand out, making them easily identifiable: They are the first plants to leaf out in the spring, they topple native trees and shrubs, they create a line-of-sight driving hazard on tight corners, and they suppress the desirable plants that create the biodiversity that our birds and insects rely on to thrive. Further, they are just an eyesore. In many communities similar to ours, numerous organizations work together to manage these unwelcome pests by replanting with vegetation beneficial to our native fauna.

Invasive plants can also become a public health risk. This may occur between Japanese barberry, ticks, the local mouse population, and Lyme disease. Due to its gnarly, thorny nature, barberry can quickly take hold. Add in its high seed count combined with the plant’s natural ability to alter the pH of the native soil, and you have an invasive plant that can thwart its competitors. The result? The white-footed mouse can now live free and easy because its living quarters are impenetrable, allowing both the mouse and tick population to thrive.

Clearly, I’m not a fan. In areas with a high density of Japanese barberry, there is an increase in tick populations (and mice), which increases the potential for Lyme and other-tick borne illnesses.  

For now – because of the need to focus on one concern at this time (bad plants) and the need for brevity to hold your undivided attention – let’s just agree that ticks are a public health concern causing all manners of physical pain and sometimes lasting health concerns.

These unsightly and overgrown areas represent an imbalance that we have all grown so accustomed to seeing, we can hardly imagine what a drive in the country would look like without these plants blocking our view. 

At Holmes Fine Gardens, we are passionate about improving the aesthetic and functional landscape that we all participate in, whether observed through the windshield of our car as we drive by or in our backyard. Although this may sound like an enormous task, each of us should be dedicated to helping restore each plot of land we are invited to work on, large or small.

Please call us with questions at 203-270-3331. We are more than happy to survey your land or help develop strategies to manage all aspects of your property.

 

Welcome Fall & the Wonders of Water Features

Welcome to the Fall Edition of our Quarterly Newsletter! 

The Pumpkin Spice Everything season has arrived, and that means a busy time in the garden on all fronts. Fall is a great time to get to work on the usual end of season checklist but it’s also a time to move forward with your wishlist… from planning out a fresh garden design… to planting that cool specimen tree you’ve been dreaming of… to creating that new perennial bed with the plants you scored at that great end of season sale. On our end, we’ll be doing a bit of all of this right alongside you.

Water Features – A Multi-Sensory Experience  
water feature in landscape
Heron admiring the view

Soul soothing and beneficial to local wildlife, a water feature, be it a pond, stream, or waterfall, provides instant relaxation and peace to your property. We regularly collaborate with Cooper Ponds – Danbury, CT on the design, installation, and drainage requirements for custom water features in our area. Not only does a water feature add value to your home, it significantly cools the temperature of your outdoor space creating an environment you can enjoy on a hot summer day.

natural stream
Recreation of a natural woodland stream
It’s time to plant bulbs & spruce up those outdoor containers! 

If you’re in need of bulb planting or adding a custom fall container or two… just reach out.
We are here to help!

bulb and container garden

Photo Contest

Icelandic Container Garden
Icelandic Container Garden

 

Keep Those Photos Coming!

Submit your garden or plant-inspired photos by November 1st to be entered to win one of our exciting prizes!

The Details

We are looking for shots that capture the beauty, color, creativity and candidness captured in your own garden setting. Photos that bring your garden to life!

Enter your best shots in our 2021 Photo Contest and you could win…

1st place – one 10-foot flowering tree installed by Holmes Fine Gardens

2nd place – a 1-year membership to New York Botanical Gardens ($90 value + 2 complimentary Member passes)

3rd place – a $50 Gift Certificate to Shakespeare’s Gardens

INSTRUCTIONS:
  • Email no more than 3 of your best photos to –marketing@holmesfinegardens.com
  • All entries must be sent in by November 1st
  • Prizes will be awarded on December 1, 2021
***Should you NOT want your submitted photos used in our future marketing material including print and internet please note this in your return email. Should we use one of your photos we will, of course, give you a photo credit!

TAKE A CLOSER LOOK

Sweetness Every Season
Sweet Bay Magnolia
Sweet Bay Magnolia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magnolia virginiana – Sweet Bay Magnolia  

Sweetbay magnolia is a small, gracefully shaped tree that has a lot to offer throughout all four seasons. This native ornamental bears attractive, lemon-scented flowers in spring and sporadically through the summer. Glossy green foliage persists on the tree nearly all year long. Showy red cone-like fruit provides color, interest, and food for wildlife in fall, and smooth gray bark adds beautiful color and contrast in winter.

SWEET DIRT

Welcome to Sweet Dirt! In this section of our newsletter, you’ll find links to local activities to seek out, books to read, movies to watch, and other tidbits – all with a nod towards the horticultural world we love.
 
The Perfect Season to Take a Hike!
Holcombe Hill Nature Reserve
Holcombe Hill Nature Reserve

Reconnect with nature during this colorful time of year by exploring one of Newtown’s many parcels of protected lands – forest bathing at its best! Over the years, the Newtown Forest Association has done a tremendous job protecting more than 1,100 acres of open space, forest, farmland, wildlife, nature preserves, and watersheds throughout Newtown with the goal of sustaining these beautiful spaces for future generations.

Some of our favorite protected lands worth exploring include:

Holcombe Hill Wildlife Preserve:
This 86-acre parcel of land boasts an elevation of 830 ft above sea level, one of the highest points in Newtown, and offers spectacular views of three counties from its 30 acres. The preserve is the perfect place for dog walking on freshly mowed/maintained pathways, a photoshoot from the highest point, or a woodland exploration along its edges. Be sure to take note of the everchanging native plants that truly bring beauty to every season.

Nettleton Preserve:
Offering the most spectacular view in Newtown, Nettleton Preserve is the start of a five-mile hike that terminates 5 miles north on a horizon of rolling hills. This Preserve offers the opportunity for a short meander through the immediate fields and is also a popular spot to sit with a cup of coffee and admire the view from one of the highest points in town. Holmes Fine Gardens contributed to this outdoor space by planting a variety of disease-resistant crabapple trees at the start of this bucolic trail. Varieties include: Prairie Fire, Floribuyda, Adams & Donald Wyman.

Brunot Preserve – Meadows:
The magic of the meadows awaits as you stroll through the woods and over gently rolling hills on this 3.1 mile loop. The west side of the property will take you in and out of Bethel. Fun Fact: James Brunot is known for having produced the board game Scrabble and manufactured the wooden pieces locally.

Hattertown Pond Preserve:
This 28-acre property is chock-full of a little bit of everything including two streams, wetlands, ponds and vernal pools, beautiful rolling woodlands, unique stone walls, and evidence of historical agricultural activities. What more could you ask for in a hike?

White native aster
White native aster

 

 

The Importance of Rewilding Our Landscapes

a rewilded landcape in fall
a rewilded landcape in fall
A young, rewilded property – Newtown, CT

As a landscape designer, I’m constantly taking in elements of the surrounding landscape, both in my many travels throughout the U.S. and at properties, I visit locally. I often slow my car down to a crawl, sometimes parking on the shoulder with hazards blinking, just to get a better view of a visually appealing landscape (peering behind fences if needed) or at times… an appalling one. After snapping a few photos, I drive away and contemplate how we can pass along the positive attributes from sites that hold appeal and apply these ideas and solutions to the less appealing ones. I find myself constantly attempting to bring forward creative ways to fix these neglected eyesores or improve upon a simple, unfinished garden. These neglected areas have always bothered me – how and why did they get this way? It seems that in the many spaces where humans lay hands in the form of progress, we tend to mess it up.

By providing food, housing, roadways, and other basic human needs to society, natural spaces have become lost, leaving only the remains of scarred landscapes in far too many instances. The responsibility is then left to the property owners, developers, landscape designers, engineers, architects, and landscape professionals to make good land-use decisions that will enhance these areas. If left as is, these sites tend to become a dumping ground for additional debris, turning natural spaces into permanent, unwelcoming eyesores. Once these areas become overrun with invasive plants, debris, or are neglected, a door opens for even more degradation, including dumping and trash pile up, noxious weeds galore, and more. Like a teenager’s room – the messier it becomes, the more it’s inclined to move down a path of further disarray.

Not all development is unpleasant and imbalanced. Here in the Northeast, we’re fortunate to be surrounded by many examples of beauty in both the natural landscape, from the coastal areas, rolling hills, woodlands, and wetland areas – to pleasantly planted areas in which property owners have spent considerable time and resources on development and maintenance.

land development
Landscape development in action

However, it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere and not see where the heavy hand of development has left a landscape in crisis. Take a look around and you’ll see evidence of these changes in many forms including erosion, invasive plants that take over our tree canopies and their understory (thus depleting wildlife habitats), hot sediment, and pollutant-infused water from roadways entering our streams, aquifers, and ultimately our drinking water, along with the effects of climate change. This development taking place all around us is in the form of roadways, parking lots, buildings and even playing fields to name a few.

newly planted natives taking root
A rewilded landscape in Newtown, CT

Luckily, landscape designers and gardeners are uniquely positioned to make a difference by rethinking how we approach our land practices. This gives me hope – there are ways to make enhancements, even on a small plot of land. The practice of rewilding our landscape has gained global attention and has proven to be an effective and valuable approach to healing the land on a parcel by parcel basis.

native meadow
A native meadow installed at a property in Newtown, CT; an easy way to achieve a naturalized setting

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a democratic Union that brings together the world’s most influential organizations and top experts in a combined effort to conserve nature and accelerate the transition to sustainable development, had this to say about the critical need for this paradigm shift in landscape development:

Human activity is degrading ecosystems and driving biodiversity loss faster than ever before. The need to reverse these trends is formalized in Sustainable Development Goals 14 and 15. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the post-2020 global biodiversity framework provides opportunities to rebuild the biodiverse ecosystems which sustain all life on Earth. Rewilding has the potential to do so at a landscape scale, and brings other important benefits for society.”

The rewilding practitioner achieves the goal of reversing biodiversity loss and restoration of healthy ecosystems by utilizing native plants to create the framework for naturally occurring biodiversity (before human disturbance) to repopulate the area and become a functional system. In essence, plant it and they will come!

Meadow crane's-bill
Geranium pratense (Meadow Cranesbill)

The benefits of using native plants compared to exotic species are tremendous. Doug Tallamy, an entomologist and professor at the University of Delaware, conducted a study chronicling the benefits of oak trees in our landscapes as it pertains to the diversity and quantity of caterpillar species that are supported by oak trees. He looked at caterpillars as they “fuel the food web” –  “they are so important, critically important, in running our ecosystems, and that’s what attracts me. Oaks are not just another plant,” Tallamy mentioned in his 2020 best-seller “Nature’s Best Hope”. Although oaks may take the prize for the overall numbers of other species that depend on them, not all properties can accommodate the space oaks require, and therefore other native plants-shrubs, perennials, groundcovers, and smaller tree species fill those needs.

Oak tree
Quercus alba (White Oak)

Our native plants have coevolved with the local animal species for hundreds of years. This symbiotic relationship provides food and shelter for the fauna, while the flora benefits from the propagation and dissemination of its own species. Exotic plants do not share the same qualities. Some, in fact, create issues in the form of invasive plants overrunning our properties along with providing empty calories for our local creatures. In turn, creating a veritable dining dessert, akin to a junk food diet. It’s always a good idea to supplant exotic plants with more resilient and beneficial native ones. Along with providing clean air, water, food and shelter, and even medicine, these transformed landscapes can help increase carbon removal and provide socio-economic opportunities that include community wellness through passive outdoor activities.

deer in woods

10 Rewilding Initiatives as Outlined by the IUCN Commission:

1. Rewilding uses wildlife to restore food webs and food chains.
2. Rewilding plans should identify core rewilded areas, ways to connect them, and
ensure outcomes are to the mutual benefit of people and nature.
3. Rewilding requires local engagement and community support.
4. Rewilding focuses on the recovery of ecological processes, interactions, and
conditions based on similar healthy ecosystems.
5. Rewilding recognizes that ecosystems are dynamic and constantly changing.
6. Rewilding should anticipate the effects of climate change and act as a tool to
mitigate its impacts.
7. Rewilding is informed by science and considers local knowledge.
8. Rewilding recognizes the intrinsic value of all species.
9. Rewilding is adaptive and dependent on monitoring and feedback.
10. Rewilding is a paradigm shift in the coexistence of humans and nature.

a landscape rewilded
Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, NY offers the perfect example of a rewilded landscape

We all live on pieces of land that intersect with the natural landscape. How do we achieve better integration? How do we reconnect the native landscape to the planted one and do so in an artful and resilient way? It can be accomplished by creating spaces that take care of themselves – helping not just our visual feast but an actual veritable feast for nature’s creatures… and even our four-legged friends.

dog in native meadow

We can do this with one plant, one parcel at a time. Let’s clean up our rooms!

 

It’s Time to Start Planning!

 

Welcome to the Winter Edition of our new Quarterly Newsletter! 

Winter may seem like a quiet time in the landscape – in actuality, it’s anything but. Along with keeping an eye on plants and prepping garden tools for use in spring, taking a closer look at invasive plants while they’re in a dormant state and creating a garden plan for implementation in spring allows you to start with a clean slate and dive into the upcoming growing season with ease and excitement!

Take Control of Invasive Species

The best time of year to remove pesky invasives from the landscape is now, while they’re in their dormant state and before the native plants emerge. Invasive plants spread to wetlands and other natural areas crowding out the native plants that birds depend on. A few common culprits to be on the lookout for include – Garlic Mustard, Oriental Bittersweet, Multiflora Rose, and Japanese Knotweed.

Getting Creative in Winter 

hand drawn garden plan
Hand drawn garden plan, Dan Holmes

One of our favorite things to do during the winter months is to create personalized landscape designs for our clients. When approaching a re-design, a revamp of an old garden, or updating a site that offers a clean slate, we first carefully take into consideration our client’s goals and at the same time observe and understand the location and its unique conditions. By looking at plant material both naturally occurring and previously planted, observing how water flows throughout the site (including drainage and topography), and assessing the health and location of large trees – we are able to create a design that’s perfect for the site and also fulfills the property owner’s vision.

Now is the Perfect Time to Focus on Tree Concerns

tree work via bucket

Check out our latest ad featured in the Newtown Bee

TAKE A CLOSER LOOK

Did you ever notice how cool bark REALLY is?

There’s a lot more to bark than meets the eye – it’s similar in many ways to our own skin and plays a pivotal role in a tree’s survival by keeping moisture in and infection out. Bark also provides endless benefits to a host of other species within the forest ecosystem and adds aesthetic beauty to the landscape including the depths of winter when its texture really comes to life.

Sweet Dirt
Welcome to Sweet Dirt! In this section of our newsletter, you’ll find links to safe local activities to seek out, books to read, movies to watch, and other tidbits – all with a nod towards the horticultural world we love.

Consider taking a short drive up the road to NYBG! Among many horticultural happens both onsite and online, here is a mesmerizing opportunity not to be missed!

KUSAMA: COSMIC NATURE
Saturday, April 10 – Sunday, October 31, 2021

Public tickets on sale: March 16, 10 a.m. ET

Experience Yayoi Kusama’s profound connection with nature
Contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is one of the most popular artists in the world, drawing millions to experience her immersive installations.

Exclusively at NYBG, Kusama reveals her lifelong fascination with the natural world, beginning with her childhood spent in the greenhouses and fields of her family’s seed nursery. Her artistic concepts of obliteration, infinity, and eternity are inspired by her intimate engagement with the colors, patterns, and life cycles of plants and flowers.

entangled life book

Speaking of fungi… here is a book that comes highly recommended you may want to check out.

“Merlin Sheldrake’s marvelous tour of these diverse and extraordinary life forms is eye-opening on why humans should consider fungi among the greatest of earth’s marvels. . . . Wondrous.”—Time

In keeping with our mushroom theme, we recommend this award-winning documentary film about the secret world beneath our feet.

fantastic fungi movie