Lawn Murder

by Leslie Duthie

The lawn takes on many connotations for all of us. It is a place to meet, a place for Native flower gardenkids to play, to relax, the ultimate suburban habitat. Lawns can also be hard work – our lawns need water and require fertilizer to keep that deep green lushness yet provide little in the way of habitat or ecological value for anything other than humans. From an ecological standpoint, I started to rethink the importance of the “lawn” and to consider a smaller lawn or lawn alternatives that do not require fertilizer, water, or much mowing. Ultimately, I decided the best solution would be to replace the lawn with new gardens.

I have never used much fertilizer or water on the lawn, so it is a mix of weeds, dandelions, violets, pussytoes, clover, and some turf. As a result, I can forgo mowing for more extended periods, forget watering, and do without the fertilizer entirely. It may not look great all year, but it was useful when my children were young and needed places to play and gather with friends. Now that the children are grown and my husband and I built a patio for gathering, it was time to reduce the lawn.

Bring on the Cardboard

In the past, I would have undertaken the long and arduous task of removing whatever sod or plants that were impeding the creation of new garden spaces. That digging also meant losing whatever topsoil and organic matter accumulated in the soil and creating a large pile of sod to compost. I could use herbicides or solarize the lawn by covering it with clear plastic, but what else was being killed in the process?

None of those options seemed appropriate, so in the early spring of 2020, stuck at home, I undertook lawn murder using a different method. A method I found to be easy and manageable no matter your space’s size. The pandemic required each of us to purchase items online that were delivered to our houses. Groceries, pet supplies, furniture, home improvement, and organizational items all came in a box. I began collecting cardboard boxes (preferably plain brown ones with little printing) and realized that I could also scavenge my neighbor’s cardboard boxes on recycling day.

Rather than digging or using herbicides to kill the lawn, I could lay pieces of cardboard over the surface of the grass to smother it. Cardboard degrades quickly while also smothering whatever plants are beneath it. I was fortunate to have access to a large amount of decomposing wood chips to hold the cardboard in place. Other than decomposed wood chips, you can consider using small logs, branches, manure, compost, or just soil to keep the cardboard in place.

Once I had used up all my collected cardboard, I realized I wanted more. I purchased Ram Board at my local hardware store. Ram Board is cardboard material used by renovators to protect your floors during remodeling. It comes in large rolls and can be cut to any length. You can see in the picture below that I used a lot of woodchips to hold down boxes of various sizes. On the Ram Board, I only had to put chips along the seams of the cardboard. Finally, after covering a large rectangular area, I wanted to shape my new garden area, so I retrieved additional boxes and used them to make a more rounded area rather than another big square. In all, I have killed almost 1000 square feet of former lawn.

Planting Time for the Annual Seeds

At this point, several options are available: The cardboard needs some kind of cover to help it stay moist and degrade while opening up a planting area. A light coating of compost or soil would be sufficient to break down the cardboard, and I could begin planting in late summer or early fall. I could have applied the decomposed wood chips across the entire surface and allowed them to decompose with the cardboard, in which case I could plant the following year. I was ready to plant the first spring, so instead, I ordered a mix of topsoil and compost and covered all of the cardboard and wood chips with a 2” to 4” layer of soil.

I have expanded my narrow strip garden along a fence line into a larger garden bed. There is a saucer magnolia at the back corner of the new garden, and I left a red cedar and blueberries along the fence. That existing strip of the garden already has many sun-loving perennials, species you would find in a meadow. My goal was to use the expanded garden area to create a more meadow-like setting in this section of the yard and to attract more wildlife to my corner of suburbia.

A mix of soil and compost covers the cardboard and woodchips.

This article is reprinted with permission of  the Ecological Landscape Alliance. Please continue reading the article here.

Leave the Leaves!

by Anna Failkoff

Rethink Garden “Clean Up”

While planting natives is an essential step toward creating habitat, how we manage our plantings will determine whether we can sustain and support the life-cycles and successful reproduction of many other organisms including birds, butterflies, moths, bees, salamanders, and frogs.

While planting natives is an essential step toward creating habitat, how we manage our plantings will determine whether we can sustain and support the life-cycles and successful reproduction of many other organisms including birds, butterflies, moths, bees, salamanders, and frogs.

Autumn is when many of us think to put our gardens to bed by removing leaves and cutting back perennials. Yet to truly support living creatures year round, it’s much better to leave fallen leaves, branches, stems, and seed heads where they are rather than raking, blowing, shredding, or cutting them away. Leaves and other organic matter insulate plant roots through the cold winter months and then decompose to build up living soil critical to healthy vegetation. This organic matter also stores large amounts of carbon, which is crucial to a resilient planet in the face of climate change.

Rethink your “clean up” this year – take inspiration from the following ideas to manage your leaves and other natural materials in fun and creative ways while protecting creatures all year long.

Moths in leavesMany species of butterflies and moths, including our beloved luna moth, pupate and overwinter in leaves before emerging as stunning winged adults the following spring. Raking away the leaves is very disruptive to that life in the leaf litter. Leaf blowers are even more damaging, and also create noise pollution and use large amounts of fossil fuels – please discontinue this practice.

moth pupaeUndisturbed leaf litter is also essential to the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly, which requires two seasons to complete its life cycle. After a first season of foraging on its host plant (white turtlehead) the caterpillars crawl down and overwinter in the leaf litter. This once common butterfly is in decline due to loss of habitat and poor gardening practices.

eastern newtOther small creatures like the eastern newt, as well as many species of salamanders and frogs, spend the frigid winter months hibernating under the protection of leaves, rocks, and logs.


too many leaves

For many, leaf management can feel like a never-ending burden in the fall. Even if we want to leave the leaves, we can’t let them accumulate everywhere or they will smother the grass, clog sewer heads, and leave a slippery layer to get mushed into the ground by cars, snowblowers and pedestrians.

The problem is not that deciduous trees shed “too many” leaves, but that we have developed our landscapes and removed natural areas. Too much space is now taken up by driveways, streets, sidewalks, and lawn.

dead leaves are a resourceLeaves are an exceptionally valuable resource! They contain nutrients and organic matter that we should keep on site, instead of raking or blowing them from off our lawns and driveways and into the woods, or stuffing them into leaf collection bags to be taken off site. We can find more places for the leaves to go by shrinking our lawns, creating more planting space, and consolidating the excess leaves that fall outside our planting beds.

dead leaves can be used as natural mulchUsing leaves as mulch for a planting bed is a free alternative to buying bark mulch or other expensive and harmful inputs such as fertilizers and dyed mulches. The space under a tree is an especially critical place to keep leaves since many butterfly and moth caterpillars drop down from trees into the leaf litter to pupate and overwinter. Let’s do what we can to keep this colorful natural blanket where it falls.

Consolidate Your Leaves

dead leaves stored outsideAfter shrinking the lawn and expanding planting areas, there should be more room to accommodate the leaves removed from the remaining lawn and driveway.

Still too many leaves? Rake the leaves that fall outside the planting beds into a pile. Yes, in this case raking is okay (and leaf piles are necessary for jumping in!). Our goal is to not remove them from within our planting beds, which benefit from the organic matter and insulation for the cold winter months, limiting disturbance to the leaf litter and any overwintering creatures.

Where Do The Leaves Blow?

Inevitably, leaves will blow around and pile up in various corners of the yard. Rather than repeatedly removing leaves from the same spots, pause and pay attention to where they tend to accumulate or blow away, and plant accordingly.

storng-stemmed plantsPlant strong stemmed plants like ferns, baneberries and bugbanes, coneflowers, or milkweeds in the areas where leaves accumulate. Leaves often form a deeper layer in low, concave spaces of the landscape, like at the bottom of a slope or a valley.

ground covers planted in places where wind strips leaves awayThere are a few ground covers like sedges, creeping and rock phlox, pussytoes, bearberry, and groundsels, that can get smothered by leaves. Plant them in spots where the wind strips leaves away. Leaves don’t tend to stay put on elevated, convex landforms, so don’t fight it and work with what you have.

Wait until spring, just as you begin to notice sprouting and emergence, to remove leaves that get stuck in the crevices between rocks, against fences, and within shrubs.

plants can push through the leavesA common worry of gardeners is that plants cannot push through whole leaves or thick layers of leaves. Many woodland natives, even ephemerals like trout lily and squirrel corn, that are adapted to soils rich in organic matter created by decomposing leaves, have no trouble emerging through a good 2-6” of leaves.

make stick art with fall leavesIn addition to leaves, avoid over-removing items like sticks, stumps, and logs. Gather materials that may look haphazard (to some) into intentional piles or arrangements to be enjoyed by all. Frogs, salamanders, as well as fungi and other decomposers, like beetles and millipedes, all benefit from the extra opportunities to nest, feed, and overwinter in this woody debris. This can be done on a small scale in a suburban yard or applied to a rural woodlot. Gary Smith’s “Hidden Valley” sculpture at Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA illustrates this concept most elegantly with an undulating line of fallen longs.

standing vegetationLeave stems and seed heads of grasses, coneflowers, asters, and other herbaceous plants to sustain pollinators and non-migrating birds through the winter. Pithy or hollow stems of plants like Joe-Pye weed, flowering raspberry, and black elderberry, left up or cut back to at least 18”, provide perfect chambers for many of our native solitary bees to lay their eggs in, which hatch come spring. They are also beautiful covered in frost and snow.

Originally published on Wild Seed Project’s Native Gardening Blog

Photos by Heather McCargo and Anna Fialkoff, courtesy of Wild Seed Project.

Green Towson Alliance Asks the Baltimore County Council to Reject the Proposed Councilmanic Redistricting Map

Green Towson Alliance has sent this letter to members of the Baltimore County Council.


October 24, 2021

Baltimore County Council
400 Washington Ave.
Towson, MD 21204

Dear Baltimore County Councilpersons, 

Green Towson Alliance (GTA) opposes the October 6, 2021 map proposed by the Baltimore  County redistricting commission for two reasons: 1) the map fails to unite greater Towson into a  single district and 2) the map as drawn does not conform to the Voting Rights Act due to  unlawful minority vote dilution. 


GTA wrote to the commission on August 20, 2021 requesting greater Towson be included in a single councilmanic district. Greater Towson can be defined as neighborhoods that consider Towson to be their “downtown” and its perimeter closely resembles our association boundaries, which includes approximately 96,000 residents. This area is currently divided among four  councilmanic districts. While the proposed District 6 is more contiguous than the current District  5, the proposed plan persists in dividing greater Towson among four councilmanic districts. 

Most alarming in the proposed map is the boundary change that splits downtown Towson (the  area defined by the Downtown Towson District [DTD] Overlay) between two councilmanic  districts (see Exhibit A). The DTD Overlay is a performance-based zoning overlay with  environmental sustainability requirements that recognize the unique challenges of the urban  setting such as the heat island effect, lack of open space, poor air quality and the need for  complete streets (that reduce traffic congestion by encouraging safe walking and bicycling while  also reducing and filtering stormwater). Downtown Towson and its dense surrounding  neighborhoods have land use, land development and livability concerns that are very different  from the concerns of the more suburban and rural areas of District 3. Splitting the DTD between  two districts could cause legislative gridlock on many important issues. The Redistricting  Commission must acknowledge the DTD and its nearby neighborhoods as a community and  implement its directive to “provide districts that are compact, contiguous, and in which due  regard is given to natural, geographic and community boundaries.”  

The Voting Rights Act 

In keeping with our principles of environmental justice, GTA endorses the call for two majority minority districts and a third district that is nearly evenly divided between minority and white  populations. Maps such as those proposed by the NAACP/ACLU or Fergal Mullally, member of Indivisible Towson, show there are multiple ways to provide more racial equity in redistricting. As the NAACP/ACLU states in their September 28, 2021 letter to the Redistricting Commission,  their proposed redistricting map demonstrates that “it is possible to craft a racially fair plan  achieving Voting Rights Act compliance, while still adhering to traditional redistricting  principles, and satisfying all other legal and political requirements.” Giving citizens an  opportunity to expand the diversity of the County Council will help address the outsized burden  that minorities and low-income communities carry due to historic injustices and the  disproportionate harmful effects of climate change.

We believe the Baltimore County Council can ill afford to invite completely avoidable litigation  at a time when we must act on climate change and reckon with the county’s legacy of racism.  Please send the proposed map back to the Redistricting Commission to put the DTD and its  surrounding neighborhoods in a single district and comply with the Voting Rights Act by  enhancing racial equity throughout Baltimore County. 

With best regards,
John Alexander, Ray Heil, Patty Mochel, Beth Miller, Dr. Carol Newill,
and Lauren Stranahan 

The Executive Committee of the Green Towson Alliance

Proposed redistricting map for Downtown Towson

New law protects our planet, supports eco-friendly gardening in Maryland

What this means for your yard: Can you give up the “perfect lawn”?

Children playing in a yard without pesticides

It’s October and Maryland has a new law, one that will help the environment and give us gardeners a little more freedom. Earlier this year, the Maryland legislature passed HB322, known as the Low-Impact Landscaping bill, effective October 1, 2021. In a nutshell, communities—including homeowners associations (HOAs)—can no longer require turf in yards or ban certain types of gardens.

Instead, the new law allows homeowners to convert their lawns to habitats to benefit pollinators, birds and other wildlife and to install rain gardens and xeriscaping to help manage storm water run-off and conserve water. Yes, even in our front yards. (Jump to types of gardens referenced in law).

This may mean that our expanses of uniform green lawn may change. But that’s a trend that has been gathering steam across the country for years as our planet faces drought, climate and biodiversity crises.

Here’s a sampling of the headlines: “Are Traditional Lawns on Their Way Out?” Wall Street Journal; “Do You Have a Glossy, Green Front Lawn? What is this, the 1950s?” The Guardian; “The American Lawn: A Eulogy,” The Atlantic. Heck, even Men’s Journal has been reporting on “How to Kill Your Lawn” and claims that “smaller is better.”

We’re still in the early phases of a mass shift away from lawns, however. For many, grass is a hard habit to break.

Questions About Tree Care? You’re Not Alone.

The biggest plants in our gardens often get the smallest share of our attention. And it’s not because trees don’t need or want attention — or because we intend to neglect them.

Maybe it’s because they look so strong, holding most of their foliage overhead and not making their needs known near ground level, where we are busy paying attention to everyone else. Or maybe we just don’t have much tree-care confidence.

At The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., Julie Janoski and her Plant Clinic colleagues respond to gardeners’ and green-industry professionals’ questions — about 17,000 a year. And many of those questions are about trees.

From that sampling, the team can infer that people find trees a little enigmatic.

In 2020, they received calls, emails and visits from residents of 48 states, requesting help with plant and pest identification and treatment, pruning, arborist referrals and more. The questions are answered free of charge by two full-time staff members and about 45 volunteers, many of them master gardeners who receive 30 hours of training at the arboretum, which is about a half-hour west of Chicago and welcomes more than a million visitors a year.

The Morton’s mission is to act as “a champion of trees.” The 1,700-acre institution, preparing to mark its centennial in 2022, is a research center, conservation and educational organization — besides being an arboretum and public garden with more than 222,000 plant specimens representing some 4,650 species and varieties.

Ms. Janoski, a former landscape designer, has been the Plant Clinic manager for three years, working under the mandate she learned as a volunteer for five years before that: “To teach gardeners the best practices in plant care, based on the latest science,” she said, “unbiased and research-backed.”

Some questioners arrive in person, bearing exhibits with evidence of the crime.

The other day, a man walked into the clinic with photos of a five-gallon bucket of bagworm bags he had handpicked off a besieged arborvitae. The larvae of these native moths in the genus Thyridopteryx feed on tree foliage, including his Thuja, junipers and even deciduous trees, combining their silk with the foliage to make bags that resemble tiny pine cones. When the larvae mature, they hang the bags from branches and pupate inside.

“Because they use so many needles, between eating and making bags, they can defoliate a tree,” Ms. Janoski said. With evergreens, which don’t regenerate their foliage as often as deciduous trees, this is especially taxing.

Fall webworm on a twig dogwood shrub. The larvae of a native moth, fall webworm are appearing now, forming large, gauzy enclosures on the ends of branches of a wide range of plants. The advice: Any harm will be cosmetic, so view them as bird food, and don’t panic. – Margaret Roach
fall webworms
Fall webworm on a twig dogwood shrub. The larvae of a native moth, fall webworm are appearing now, forming large, gauzy enclosures on the ends of branches of a wide range of plants. The advice: Any harm will be cosmetic, so view them as bird food, and don’t panic. Credit…Margaret Roach

Fall webworms (the larvae of another native moth, Hyphantria cunea) are appearing now as well, forming large, gauzy enclosures on the ends of branches of a wide range of plants. The advice: Any harm caused will be cosmetic, so view them as bird food, and don’t panic.

No such reassurance, sadly, is offered in response to inquiries about the invasive, destructive gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar). Arboretum researchers conduct trapping each year to identify where populations are, and how serious the risk.

At the clinic, callers seek guidance in spring about spraying the biological insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Btk), but it’s too late for that now. From summer throughout fall, the advice is to scout for the tan-colored egg masses on tree trunks, branches, firewood piles and even buildings. Using a putty knife or similar instrument — not your hands — scrape the eggs into hot, soapy water.

“The more that we destroy now,” said a recent issue of the clinic’s popular Plant Health Care Report newsletter, published weekly during the growing season, “the smaller the population for next year.”

egg masses on tree
Plant Clinic callers seek guidance in spring about using biological insecticide to fight gypsy moths, but it’s too late for that now. Instead, look for the moths’ tan-colored egg masses on tree trunks, branches, firewood piles and buildings, and using a putty knife or similar instrument, scrape them into hot, soapy water. Credit…The Morton Arboretum

Those seeking advice on choosing plants, including trees, are urged to do on-site observation and plant research before shopping. The Morton Arboretum’s online plant search includes detailed profiles of about 265 tree possibilities.

Do an honest evaluation of the long-term space you can offer a tree, said Ms. Janoski, who often hears from people wanting to retrofit a tree that has grown too big alongside the house, using some miracle of pruning that just doesn’t exist.

“People think about height, but forget to ask about the mature width of trees,” she said. “That river birch they’re considering may be 30 feet wide at maturity; siting it eight feet from the house won’t work.”

Ask what you want from a tree, and what will it ask from you. Besides matching your soil moisture and type, light conditions and space, think about its intended role.

Questions about trees that will block an unwanted view are common, and most of those asking assume that an evergreen wall is the solution. Ms. Janoski encourages them to consider other possibilities. Deciduous shrubs and small ornamental trees will do the job of screening, say, a patio that you don’t use in winter from a neighbor’s. “You don’t need 20 arborvitae,” she said.

Where you may need an evergreen or two is to hide something like the neighbor’s trash cans. But the rest of the screen could be more dynamic, alive with plants of various shapes and sizes.

And there are other reasons to consider diversity: “Planting another maple in an area full of maples is not the best plan; look at other options,” Ms. Janoski said. In a changing climate, a diverse palette can help minimize potential wholesale losses.

planting a tree
Younger, container-grown trees will settle in and start growing faster than field-dug specimens that may take three to five years to reestablish root systems and resume growth. Credit…The Morton Arboretum

Trees can require a major investment in time and money, but the clinic has good news, based on research.

Younger, container-grown trees, up to two-inch caliper (the trunk diameter measured six inches to a foot above ground), settle in and start growing faster than field-dug specimens that may take three to five years to reestablish root systems and resume growth.

Whatever size you transplant, are you thinking that fertilizing when you plant will speed things up? Don’t do it, the experts say.

With a transplant, promoting root growth, not canopy growth, is the immediate goal. Until the root system has time to reestablish itself, that fertilization will be ineffective.

Most of a tree’s roots are in the top two feet of soil, where they can access water and air. Clinic clients often express frustration that some trees develop prominent surface roots, which can be a tripping hazard and make it difficult to mow the lawn; the roots, in turn, can be injured during mowing.

“They may be annoying, but you need to protect them,” Ms. Janoski said. Cutting a surface root damages a tree’s ability to take up water and nutrients, and may open wounds that provide entry for disease.

Some trees, including various maples, are prone to developing surface roots, which are more common in hardpan clay soil, or when erosion occurs because trees are on sloping sites. Frost heaving caused by bouts of alternating freeze and thaw can also expose roots.

“I’ll just add soil on top,” people say, “and then grow grass right over them.” But piling additional topsoil over roots can harm the tree, Ms. Janoski cautioned.

Instead, apply two inches of compost or coarse-textured mulch, which are more porous than topsoil. Important: Don’t risk root damage by digging up the turf first. Just top-dress it with the compost or mulch, which will need replenishing as it breaks down.

Mulch volcano around tree
The dreaded “volcano mulch” is damaging, trapping moisture against a tree’s bark and inviting pests, disease and decay. Use a medium-textured mulch, three or four inches deep, and keep it four or five inches away from the trunk. Credit…The Morton Arboretum

Do we really need to repeat this? Apparently so. Never pile mulch against the trunks of trees.

The dreaded “volcano mulch” so often seen is damaging, Ms. Janoski said, trapping moisture against the bark and inviting pests, disease and decay.

Keep mulch about four or five inches away from the trunk. You want to see the root flare — the spot where the base broadens, just above the soil line. A maximum of three or four inches depth, using a medium-textured mulch, is recommended.

A living mulch layer — rather than rings of lifeless, bagged stuff — adds diversity to a garden, but digging beneath an established tree is tricky and potentially damaging, Ms. Janoski said. When you’re attempting to add ground cover, stick to small herbaceous plants (like landscape plugs or very small divisions) and use a trowel or soil knife, not a shovel. Planting shrubs beneath established trees is not recommended.

We water the tomatoes, and the pots on the patio, but when was the last time we watered our trees?

The northern Midwest had a 12-week drought this spring, and the clinic staff worked to spread an urgent message: “We remind people constantly that when it’s hot and dry for 10 days or so, even mature trees need water,” Ms. Janoski said. “Your lawn will come back, but trees may have long-term damage.”

She can’t give customers a precise prescription for how long to water, because water pressure varies, but except with small trees (or abundant patience), this is not a job for a hand-held wand. Instead, she suggested, set out sprinklers in the root zone, and use rain gauges or makeshift tools — repurposed tuna or coffee cans will do, as will any flat-bottomed pan — to measure rainfall. Your goal should be to provide the tree with at least one inch of water a week, unless nature does it for you.

More plant questions? Ms. Janoski and the Plant Clinic staff welcome them at or 630-719-2424.

Margaret Roach is the creator of the website and podcast A Way to Garden, and a book of the same name.


Baltimore County to plant native shade trees at Radebaugh Park in Towson, as its completion nears

By Cameron Goodknight
Baltimore Sun

After more than five years of planning and construction, Baltimore County will plant 93 native shade trees this fall to complete the last phase of Radebaugh Park.

“The trees will contribute to the beauty and pleasure experienced by people who use the park. As the trees grow, they will provide shade and cooling breezes,” said Carol Newill, a Green Towson Alliance member who helped lead the group’s efforts on the park.

Radebaugh Park
Shown in this photo, taken in September, 2020: Dr. Carol Newill, Avery Harden, Delegate Cathi Forbes, Nick Linehan, Richard Ames-Ledbetter and his granddaughter Lucy. Workgroup members not pictured: Tracey Marcantoni, Shannon McDonald, Devin Leary, Kevin Sprouls, Rena Daly. Photo credit: Paul Newill-Schamp

The park, in Towson’s Aigburth Manor neighborhood, was designed by the alliance to accommodate people of all ages and physical abilities in neighborhoods around Knollwood, Towson Manor Village, Wiltondale, and downtown Towson, said Newill.

Families are already using the park, but a formal ribbon cutting to celebrate its completion will be delayed until spring to plant the additional trees, according to Baltimore County Councilman David Marks.

The trees are being planted as part of the county’s Urban Tree Expansion Program, which is part of the state’s Watershed Implementation Plan, an effort to reach pollution reduction goals for improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.

“The trees will take up and absorb more of the rain from the heavier storms we are experiencing and as the trees grow, they will capture more of the particulate air pollution that we have in our area,” Newill said.

The trees are counted toward credit with the state for cleaning up streams and the Chesapeake Bay, she said.

Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, said he is “very” proud of the park and the process to get the project finished.

“It’s taken about five years to get this park finished,” he said. “Eastern Towson hasn’t added any new parks since the 1990s, so it provides a bit of a green oasis in a very densely populated community.”

Marks has previously stated that working on the project is one of his proudest accomplishments during his council tenure.

The park has been in the works since 2015, when the Radebaugh family, which owned Radebaugh Florist & Greenhouses, sold the land to the county under the condition that it would become a park.

“They preferred to be good neighbors despite having an offer from a developer who wanted to construct 19 townhomes,” said Newill.

Paul Hartman, a longtime Towson community advocate, has praised the family in the past, saying more town houses would have created overcrowding in the area.

County officials announced in June 2015 that they would work to build the park after an environmental study found no problems that would prevent purchase of the property, which was comprised of greenhouses.

In November 2016, the county paid $1.1 million to build a park on the 2.4-acre parcel. The money came from Program Open Space, a state land preservation program funded by real estate transfer taxes.

Construction for the park broke ground in 2018, after the county agreed to fund the demolition of greenhouses and their concrete foundations.

In 2019, the park entered the second phase of construction, which involved grading the land into two tiers, laying down topsoil and grass, and removing industrial materials such as concrete and piping.

Newill, who is a physician with interests in public health and community wellness, said Green Towson Alliance has recruited an engineer, graphic designer, elementary school teacher, accountant, commercial photographer and various architects to help create the park over the years.

“We designed the park, using input from a large community input meeting we held in 2016 at the church on Burke Avenue nearby and the expertise of the members of our GTA work group — then two of us have met many times over the years with county leaders,” she said.

Today, the park property preserves open space in a dense part of Towson while providing residents another option when they’re looking for a place for picnics, walking and leisurely activities, said Marks.

Newill believes the addition of the trees will encourage children and adults to spend more time outdoors at the park, especially during the hot summers.

“We at GTA are delighted that the trees will be planted this fall. We will need volunteers to help keep the new trees properly watered during their first two growing seasons and in future years during droughts,” Newill said.

9 Items I Banned from My Kitchen and How I Replaced Them

Reduce waste and save money

by Anne Marie Bonneau
the zero waste chef

I tried to put these nine items into what-I-despise-most order but I found that kind of ranking simply too difficult. Bottled water or coffee pods? That’s a tough call, especially since Nestlé peddles both.

However, I’m leaning toward coffee pods. Not only do they create obscene amounts of waste—Keurig alone sold nearly 10 billion packs of pods in 2014—they also represent the Wall·E-fication of our society. Will every foodstuff eventually be pre-measured and pre-packaged for the specially designed machines that prepare it for us? Personally, I enjoy the ritual of brewing coffee in the morning—or tea. But you can now buy tea pods as well, surely a sign of the end-times.

Convenience has, at the very least, exacerbated—if not created—our waste crisis. Beginning in the 50s and 60s, consumer products companies marketed their wares—disposable dishes, disposable cutlery, disposable plastic wrap and eventually disposable everything—as time-saving lifesavers. As these companies and their products seduced and hooked us, they simultaneously chiseled away at our life-skills toolkit, leaving us more dependent on so-called disposable materials. (The term “disposable” suggests an item is “able” to be “disposed” of but the items must go somewhere in the environment.)

Yes, some coffee pods can be recycled. Nespresso manufactures its pods out of aluminum. Other brands produce pods consisting of plastic and aluminum. Theoretically, anything can be recycled if we throw enough money and specialized, outrageously expensive, heavy equipment at it. That doesn’t mean it will be recycled. And besides, recycling is a last resort. We can’t recycle our way out of our garbage crisis. Corporations produce more than our systems can possibly handle.

The list

1. Plastic wrap

Well before I went plastic-free, I rarely bought plastic wrap. Trash aside, do we want our food to touch this stuff?

Unfortunately, most [plastic wraps] are now made with low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC). (The exceptions are wraps used in catering and professional kitchens.) LDPE and PVDC don’t adhere as well as plastic wraps made with PVC, but more worrying is the fact that LDPE may contain diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA), another potential endocrine disruptor that has been linked to breast cancer in women and low sperm counts in men. — Dr. Weil


Place a plate over a bowl of leftovers to cover them. Or store leftovers—and all kinds of food—in glass jars. Glass offers the additional benefit of a clear view of the food you have on hand. If you can see it, you’ll more likely eat it before it heads south.

Store food in glass jars
                Store food in glass jars to see at a glance what is at hand.

2. Plastic baggies

Again, do you want plastic coming into contact with your food?

Yes, plastic baggies make packing lunches convenient but you can find many alternatives. And the cost of cheap baggies does eventually add up. On Amazon, with its rock-bottom prices, 90 Ziploc sandwich bags cost around $9. Ten cents a bag may not sound like much but if you pack lunches for a couple of kids and use a couple of baggies per kid, you’ll go through these in a couple of months. Isn’t Jeff Bezos wealthy enough?!


Pre-Covid, when I still worked in an office, I packed my lunches in glass jars. For small children, I don’t suggest packing lunches this way. Use metal lunch containers such as LunchBots or wrap up sandwiches in a large napkin, Furoshiki style.

3. Teflon anything

Back when my daughter MK wrote her blog The Plastic-Free Chef, a representative from Dupont once left a comment on a popcorn post, in which MK had slammed PFAS-treated microwave popcorn bags. (PFAS—also known as forever chemicals—render the bags grease-proof.) The condescending rep wrote about the virtues of Teflon at length, saying she “understood” my daughter’s supposed confusion. “You have arrived, MKat,” I told her.

Teflon-coated pans release toxic gases when heated. They also tend to wear quickly. Thoughtlessly use a metal spatula in there and you can damage the coating. When it begins to flake, it gets into your food. If you use the plastic utensils designed for Teflon pots and pans, you combine heat, plastic and food. But wait there’s more! The inventor of Teflon was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame (yes, that’s a thing). I wonder if the five gyres of plastic swirling around in and wreaking havoc on our oceans have been inducted yet.


I cook with stainless steel pots, cast iron pans and enameled cast iron. (Go here for more on choosing pots and pans.)

4. Bottled beverages

I banned from my kitchen not only bottled water but also other bottled drinks such as soda and juice. In addition to the plastic waste these drinks generate, most of them are unhealthy, filled with sugar and, like heavy bottled water, travel many miles to reach the store.


You have so many to choose from: iced tea, lemonade or, if you want to get adventurous, kombuchaginger beer or natural soda.

5. Coffee pods

See opening rant.


Coffee brewed in a French press or pour-over coffee maker is very simple.

6. Teabags

Teabags just about send me over the edge. Food manufacturers can charge only so much for a commodity like a teabag. So they have “improved” paper teabags by creating silk-like bags in order to justify charging a premium for them.

Many of these silky bags are made of synthetics—in other words, plastic, not silk. And some of them shed billions of plastic microfibers per cup of tea. (Yes, billions!) Even paper teabags contain “polypropylene, a sealant used across the [tea] industry to ensure bags hold their shape.” You want tea leaves infusing your piping hot water, not the chemicals found in plastic.


Loose leaf tea brewed in a teapot and strained out.

tea in jars
                 Looseleaf teas brew tasty tea, free of microplastics.

7. Paper towels

My mother—who at 89 grew up without paper towels—wonders how I live without them. Let me preface the following rant with the admission that my research into paper towel manufacture comes from the sawmill and paper mill passages of Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? However, I think I can safely claim that just some of the steps in the life-cycle of a paper towel include:

  • Chop down trees
  • Transport logs to the sawmill
  • Harvest scrap lumber from logs cut into rough boards
  • Transport scrap lumber to the paper mill
  • Run scrap lumber through the chipper
  • Add a bunch of water and chemicals to the wood chips to make wood pulp
  • Run the pulp across a bunch of screens to form paper towels
  • Bundle the long sheets into rolls of paper towels
  • Shrink wrap the rolls of paper towels in plastic
  • Transport the paper towels to the warehouse
  • Transport the paper towels to the store
  • Drive to the store to buy paper towels
  • Unwrap the plastic and throw it out or into the recycling bin because you’re in denial that that kind of flimsy plastic can actually be recycled
  • Use the paper towel once
  • Toss the soiled paper towel into the garbage
  • Argue with your partner or kids about who should take out the garbage
  • Lug your garbage to the curb because you lost
  • Repeat until the last tree falls


I have a lifetime supply of cotton rags I cut out of my kids’ old t-shirts. Yes, some nasty manufacturing processes went into the production of said t-shirts but I will use these rags for years. If you have the crafty gene, you could make some unpaper towels.

8. Paper napkins

I imagine people buy more paper towels than paper napkins—or use paper towels as napkins—but these too have easy replacements, unlike bathroom tissue. Don’t worry, I won’t include bathroom tissue on this list. However, regarding wipes for wee-wee, as clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology Lauren F Streicher, MD, told The Guardian last year,

People urinated long before toilet paper became available. There are zero health concerns with this … people have urine on their underwear all the time.”


Cloth napkins make eating more appetizing. They will also save you money over time, as will all of the suggestions on this list. Yes, you must wash them—I wait until ours actually appear soiled, usually after a few uses—but they take up very little space in the washing machine.

9. Highly processed food

Of everything on the list, highly processed food will require the most effort to replace. The Western diet—which the majority of us eat—consists of these products, almost always packaged in shiny plastic. It’s convenient but not healthy for us or the planet.


Cook real food. Yes, home-cooked meals require time to prepare but they taste better than highly processed food, will improve your health and likely save you money. You need not cook anything elaborate. For time-saving ideas, read my previous newsletter, “How to Save up to 5 Hours a Week in the Kitchen.”

homemade meal
            Simple and fresh homemade cauliflower and potato dal.

This article was written by Anne-Marie Bonneau and reprinted here with her permission. Read more on her website, The Zero Waste Chef.

Green Towson Alliance Calls For A Single Councilmanic District To Represent Towson

Green Towson Alliance has sent this letter to the Baltimore County Councilmanic Redistricting Commission

 August 20, 2021

The Councilmanic Redistricting Commission
400 Washington Avenue
Towson, MD  21204
Dear Councilmanic Redistricting Commission,


The Green Towson Alliance unites Towson area environmentalists to achieve a greener, healthier, more beautiful community through collaboration and activism.  We represent citizens in the greater Towson area who identify Towson as their downtown center.

 We are writing you today to express our support for a single councilmanic district more closely resembling our own organization’s boundaries for Towson. This area is currently divided among four councilmanic districts.  The urban center of Towson and its dense surrounding neighborhoods have unique concerns with regards to sustainable land use that are very different from the more suburban and rural areas which currently share the districts with Towson.  Uniting the Towson neighborhoods in one district will give our citizens a more cohesive voice to address our unique environmental challenges such as flooding, overburdened sanitary sewers and the heat island effect.

The Charter of Baltimore County calls for councilmanic districts that are compact, contiguous, and in which due regard is given to natural, geographic and community boundaries.  Please restore these qualities to the Towson district.

 We appreciate your consideration of our request.


John Alexander, Roger Gookin, Ray Heil, Patty Mochel, Beth Miller, Dr. Carol Newill, and Lauren Stranahan
The Executive Committee of the Green Towson Alliance

Saving the planet can begin in your own backyard

Searing heat waves, recurring downpours, and the news that insect and bird populations are declining precipitously all indicate that the climate crisis has already crossed our doorstep. While our government works out local, national, and global solutions, there are many proactive things we can do in our own yards.

Growing native plants and trees is a relatively simple act that could have a significant positive impact on our environment.  Many people don’t realize that 90% of the insects that live in our neighborhoods can only digest the plants that they have co-evolved with for thousands of years, as documented by University of Delaware entomologist Douglas Tallamy. The birds that we love to see in our communities eat insects and raise their young almost exclusively on insects.

The simple fact is that insects are a vital part of the local food web. No insects – no baby birds. Other wildlife would be affected as well: insects are a significant protein source for frogs, snakes, chipmunks, fox, even bears.

Mature oak tree
An oak tree is host for more than 500 butterflies and moths.

Growing native trees and plants is important because they are environmental powerhouses in our yards. An oak tree, for example, is a host for more than 500 species of butterflies and moths.  The non-native Crape Myrtle supports only 10 butterflies or moths. Baltimore, it’s obvious there is a problem when crape myrtles or nonnative nandina shrubs are ubiquitous in block after block of the city and suburban landscape.

This summer, Green Towson Alliance sponsored a Native Garden Contest. We were amazed not only by the beautiful native gardens that people are growing, but by the commitment shown by gardeners to supporting our ecosystem by growing native plants. And they’re not alone in wanting to support the ecosystem. Nearly 450 people participated in an online vote to choose the winners of the contest. That’s a lot of votes – and it indicates that people are hungry to learn about growing native plants and supporting our ecosystem.

The next step is for the local garden centers and landscape services to step up and do their part. Finding native plants and trees are not easy right now. It’s time for local businesses to offer native plants and trees, and it’s time for all of us to plant some natives in our yards.

Green Towson Alliance announces winners of the 2021 Native Garden Contest

By Cameron Goodnight
July 20, 2021

The Green Towson Alliance concluded its inaugural 2021 Native Garden Contest by announcing winners on July 26.

The contest included 23 participants with entries consisting of a single garden bed, an entire yard, or a community plot. Anyone who lives in Towson was eligible to be in the contest, according to GTA’s website.

Voting for the competition was open to the Towson community, with 12 finalists in the categories of community garden, emerging garden, small yard garden and large yard garden. A “special recognition” category for excellence was also announced with the winners.

The winner of the community garden award is Burkleigh Square, a community garden featuring an area for barbecues and picnics, a walking path, play area and vegetable garden. Last year, the park added a rain garden which addressed one area with flooding issues, according to GTA’s website. The improvements were organized by Melanie Hotham and Tracey Marcantoni, with help from the community.

Karen Williams of Lock Raven Village is the winner of the emerging garden category.

“I was surprised because I thought that the other contestants did a really good job showing off their garden and the competition seemed pretty stiff,” she said.

Williams’ created a sloping garden with native plants while she was stuck at home during the start of the pandemic.

“It’s only been about a year and a half or two years of work specifically trying to grow plants that are native and it’s been a really cool experience and I’ve enjoyed participating in the contest,” she said.

The emerging garden category was for participants who just started a native garden, she said. Williams’ garden also has two bird baths, and a fountain that she made last summer.

“I was spending so much more time in my backyard just like everyone and after noticing the bugs and the bees — I wanted to learn how to attract more of them,” she said. “The best way to do that is to plant the things that they like to eat so it just kind of snowballed from there.”

Craig Lammes and Kara Silber Lammes of the Rodgers Forge community are winners of the small garden category.

Their submission was a hillside native garden loaded with flowering plants and the rest of the property uniquely has no grass, according to Craig Lammes.

“When we moved into our house, it had a few traditional plants — so we had a blank canvas to work with. Kara had a strong imperative, no grass!” he said. “After about eight years, we have something growing out of nearly every square foot of our [yard]— front to back. It’s been all native species for years now.”

The couple originally heard about the contest through one of their neighbors and was “excited” to hear of the victory.

“Over the last few years, we’ve become interested in participating with the larger community of native plant gardeners,” he said. “So this was perfect — winning is just sort of a nice cherry on top.”’

Ashley Reinhart of the Greenbier neighborhood is the winner of the large garden category.

For six years Reinhart has worked on her native garden, primarily in the growing season. She defined gardening as a “labor of love.”

“I’m a schoolteacher, so I don’t get much time in it during the school year but during the summer is usually when I’m outside every day in it,” she said.

Reinhart’s garden is designed to absorb water in her hilly community by utilizing terrace levels, a rain garden, yard swells, rain barrels, and permeable walkways.

“We have water from uphill that we get so we had to design our yard to absorb runoff, prevent erosion, and half of our property has a downward slope, so we try to prevent runoff for our neighbors as well,” she said.

A special recognition for excellence was awarded to Judith Fulton of Ruxton, who gardens in and outside of her woodland neighborhood.

“We are astonished and excited to see how many people in Towson are creating beautiful native gardens,” said Patty Mochel of GTA.

GTA was created in 2015 by residents from neighborhoods in and around Towson who wanted to create a greener, healthier and more beautiful community. The goal of the contest is educating and encouraging the public to take the initiative to grow native plants and trees in their yards in an effort to support the environment.

“I think it’s awesome just for bringing attention to native plants and just creating public awareness, so I’m totally excited about it for that reason and I hope they continue it in future years,” Reinhart said.

According to GTA’s website, the Native Garden Contest will continue next year with plans to expand the competition to include a business category. The idea was inspired by Carl Gold, an owner of a downtown Towson business, who planted a variety of native plants outside his office.