Landscape designer, Edwina von Gal, has spent many years as an extremely successful, prolific and conscientious landscape designer whose creative visions have graced the landscape tableaus of such clients as Calvin Klein, Ina Garten and Cindy Sherman. With frequent collaborations with architect Maya Lin (think Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington), von Gal is well-known throughout the country for her unique, creative and environmentally sustainable natural landscapes utilizing native and other species that will flourish, grow and produce not only an environmentally positive landscape, but will make humans and pets safer as well.
A few years ago von Gal evolved her commitment to environmentally friendly landscape designs by founding and becoming President of the non-profit organization Perfect Earth Project (PRFCT), which urges homeowners and landscape designers and professionals to stop using chemicals by using and promoting toxin-free land management.
Perfect Earth Project’s mission states “We look to create a future when it can be taken for granted that land is managed without toxins and is safe for people, pets and the environment. Toxin-free lands support biodiversity and carbon capture and are a critical component in climate change resiliency. Toxin-free land management engages decision makers and practitioners in positive environmental learning experiences and inspires action, right in their own front yards. We see the landscape industry as a potential ‘army’ of environmental land stewards offering career opportunities that are currently undervalued.”
Known for her own successful use of environmentally friendly techniques, and proving that such a commitment can result in not only beautiful landscapes but acknowledge and protect Mother Earth, von Gal has spread her message with a series of seminars and an informative website that allows anyone with a conscious to visit to discover ways they too can transition to all natural maintenance of their lush, plush, pricey and pretty lawns and landscapes that is achievable without chemicals. The site also lists firms that specialize in toxin-free landscaping and identifies public spaces that are managed without chemicals.
Acknowledging the harmful dangers chemical use can create in the lawns, landscapes and land, von Gal’s organization keeps it real simple to digest – where would you want your own children, pets, guests and yourself to be relaxing, visiting or perhaps frocking about on – a landscape, public or private, that produces the same idyllic appearance achieved without toxic chemicals, or one that has employed the use of harmful toxins and chemicals – the choice seems simple doesn’t it?
Although not intentionally trying to resort to scare tactics, nonetheless this IS scary stuff, especially the negative effects on our most vulnerable, children and pets. According to Perfect Earth Project some stats include:
“Fifty percent of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs during the first five years of life; of the 30 most common lawn pesticides, 17 are probable or possible human carcinogens, 11 are linked with birth defects, 19 linked with reproductive effects, 14 associated with neurotoxicity, 24 linked to liver or kidney damage, 25 are sensitizers or irritants, and 18 are endocrine disrupters. Studies have shown even small exposures to pesticides at critical periods of development may cause acute or long term health problems, including asthma, neurological and endocrine problems and certain cancers.”
“Nearly half (48 percent) of all July and August calls to the Animal Poison Control Center involve pesticides, mainly from dogs and cats walking on lawns on which pesticides were recently applied. Over 50 percent of reported feline poisonings, and 15.7 percent of all pet poisonings reported to the Animal Poison Control Center in 2013 involved insecticides. Pet exposure to Malathion, a common pesticide used in ornamental trees and shrubs, can affect the function of their immune system, cause chest pains and difficulty breathing, and is an endocrine disruptor (effects hormones).”
Manage the land without toxins – it can and should be done – and von Gal is leading the rallying cry to mow down dissenters and rake up more informed and aware professionals and homeowners to utilize environmental land management so we can all enjoy the beauty of our land.
Keeping a busy schedule, von Gal did take some time to answer a few questions for Hamptons.com:
Congratulations on your accomplishments with Perfect Earth Project, what do you feel is the biggest obstacle to enticing both homeowners and professionals to utilize effective environmental land management, and why?
EvG: The landscape industry has been based on the use of synthetic chemicals for such a long time that both the service providers and their clients are convinced that you can’t have beautiful landscapes without them. So we need to build confidence in the fact that once landscapes are weaned of their dependency on chemicals, they can function much better than ever.
From a cost perspective, does the elimination of toxins and chemicals actually reduce or increase costs to homeowners and professionals?
EvG: Since toxin-free landscaping is based on enhancing natural systems, and not about buying products, right away there is a savings. There is some extra time and thought required to make the change, that might cost a bit more. So, all in all, it should be about the same. Over time, probably less. And, if you are doing your own work, and you don’t account for your time, it is definitely less expensive.
What public spaces have initiated environmental land management that you think the public may not be aware of?
EvG: There are many and the numbers keep growing. Probably the best known one is New York City’s High Line. Also toxin-free are The Battery Conservancy, Battery Park City and The Phillip Johnson Glass House (Note: located in New Canaan, Connecticut). Right here in the Hamptons are Madoo and Bridge Gardens.
What public spaces would you like to see adopt these practices here on Long Island, and/or the Hamptons?
EvG: I would be especially delighted to convert the grounds at the Southampton Hospital. It makes no sense for people visiting a health care facility to be exposed to carcinogens while sitting on the lawn. The hospital is interested so I hope this story might give them a little more incentive to get started!
How does a homeowner who wants to initiate effective use of non-chemicals on their property undertake to do so?
EvG: Read our website perfectearthproject.org! The first step is to look at what you are using now and why. You can read our lawn basics, or ask your landscaper to do so and then contact us for further support and specific problems. We provide free online help.
What are the top three actions you would hope a professional landscape designer would incorporate into an environmental land management design?
EvG: The key elements are proper watering (seldom and deep to get roots to grow way down and away from heat and drought), mowing (high 3.5 to 4″ to provide more photosynthetic surface and shade out the weeds, leave clippings (to return nutrient to soil), aerate, fertilize (with compost) and overseed in the fall (when weeds are dormant and grass is active).
Given your well-deserved and well-respected reputation as a landscape designer, how could/would you urge newer designers to incorporate chemical and toxin free techniques in their designs?
EvG: Reduce lawn size to area rug vs. wall to wall. No more than the owner will actually use. Plant trees and shrubs that are not susceptible to disease and insects. This does not mean strictly natives, variety is good as monocultures are less resilient. If planted well, in good soil, once established (two years) trees and shrubs should not need any fertilizing or pesticides at all.
How has the growth of Perfect Earth Project and its mission affected your designer undertakings?
EvG: It has taken over! I don’t do much designing any more as I am so completely immersed in promoting PRFCT. The response has been so amazing, I can’t stop.
Too overwhelming to consider transitioning to environmental land management? Then start where von Gal and Perfect Earth Project suggest – at the basics. Get aware, get informed and get moving on educating yourself for the protection of us all please! Remember, if you spot the “Look for Leif” badge you can rest assured that this is a safe place for you, children and pets.
Also, come out and celebrate Perfect Earth Project’s Biennial Benefit to be held on Saturday, September 3rd, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the home of Cindy Sherman.
For more information, visit perfectearthproject.org.