Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance


Atlanta Garden Design

The Garden the Sky

Posted by Author on August 15, 2013 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Image: Ádám Zoltán


It doesn't have to be this way.


The balcony, named in the 1600's by the Italians and, in one form or another, likely invented whenever mankind built their first two-story buildings, is by definition a piece of architecture. It is a truly novel idea, a structure that manages to extend an interior room, offer secure, sheltered access to the outdoors, and provide an elevated platform for viewing one's surroundings. In color, form, and style, balconies -- as architectural elements -- can create interesting rhythms and engaging compositions.


Images: Gerry Balding, Chas Eastwood, and Dorris D.


While everything I have just stated is true, it seems a little one-dimensional to characterize a balcony as only a piece of architecture. While a balcony space extends the building interior and is, quite literally, a part of the house, the structure also could not and would not exist without its strong relationship with landscape.


Whether it is overlooking a bustling urban street, a tropical ocean-front vista, or a more familiar suburban gardenscape, a balcony is as spatially and visually reliant on the surrounding landscape as it is structurally dependent on the building walls. As far as the designer is concerned, a balcony falls into a no man's land, or perhaps an everyman's land. The most successful balconies are created when architects and landscape designers recognize the space as both an architectural extension of the garden and a critical, attractive interface between indoors and out.


As a landscape designer who lived far too long in an apartment with only a couple square feet of wrought-iron fire escape to call my "outdoor realm," I want to be clear that the following comparisons intend no judgment. In a typical living situation, outdoor space is a luxury, and what appears to one person as clutter is, to another, just evidence of a utilized outdoor space. With all that said, I have grouped examples of balcony treatments into three main categories, as outlined below:

Images: Villa Afrikana, Jczii, and Daria Angeli


Some homeowners choose to keep their balconies neat, clear, and free of detritus. Advantages of keeping a "spartan" balcony include a sense of openness, the ability to move about freely, and the possibility of focusing visitors' attentions to the surrounding landscape. 

Images: John Hugh Glen, Coralie Mercier, and Louise Best


On the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, there is cluttered or "maximized" balcony. These spaces are easily identified by the presence of overflowing container plantings with sprawling, jungle-like vegetation. In addition to seating, a balcony such as this may also be crowded with other uses, including laundry and household items, pet supplies, and children's toys. In many cases, these overflowing uses are symptomatic of an urban dweller. To some residents, the balcony must fulfill the purposes of an entire backyard.


As with most things in life, there is a middle way with balconies. An approach that is "balanced," one that weighs sensory interest and spatial freedom, is most likely to appeal to the average gardener and homeowner.


Images: Jorge Luis Zapico, Kenji Izumi, and BadAlley


Intentional arrangements of plantings, tidy but still verdant and alive, can bring life to the steel, wood, and concrete of a residential balcony. Softening and screening external views to harsh urban alleys and suburban roadways can be achieved with foliage just as effectively as in a full-scale garden. Pleasant vistas and borrowed views can be frames and emphasized with plant material, furniture, and small objets d'art.


Images: Paul Heneker and StreetLevel


Regardless of how busy or how sparse of a balcony a gardener keeps, what might be easily forgotten is the inevitable impact that a balcony treatment will have on the adjacent interior spaces. While the structure's inherent colors, forms, proportions, and size may be beyond the homeowner's (or apartment renter's) control, many other qualities of a balcony are able to be freely and creatively manipulated.


The miniature outdoor realm we refer to as "the balcony" is yours to reimagine, and there are a number of off-the-shelf products available, quite a few attractive precedents to look to for inspiration, and some truly experimental concepts in the works. With all of these ideas at your disposal, you should find few excuses to settle for a balcony -- even a small one -- that is boring, lifeless, or lacking your personal touch.


Image: Erik Hovmiller


Garden Reflections

Posted by Author on August 6, 2013 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (0)

In more ways than one, the garden is a place for reflection. If the city and workplace is the realm of tedium, then it is in the unique refuge and seclusion of a garden landscape that one may contemplate life's more important topics and find room for self-reflection. In some gardens, placid, still bodies of water allow for another type of reflecting to occur as well. If you recall the Greek myth of Narcissus, you may be reminded of water's mirror-like quality; in that legend, the smooth surface of a forest pond allowed a young handsome hunter to fall deeply in love with his own reflection.


Image: Dr. Lisa K.


Observing reflecting pools in various settings across different states and continents, I have come to recognize them as compelling landscape elements. Reflecting pools come in a wide range of scales and vary in shape, depth, and proportions. Common among all of the examples that I have seen is the sense of dimension and visual interest that the mirrored surface of these ponds, fountains, and pools can lend to a garden environs.

Images: Liz Delia, Glenn Fisher, Oddlittlebird, and Brian M.


If you recognize any of the above landscapes, it is likely that you find the precedents on the right end of the spectrum -- those reflecting pools that are the largest -- most familiar. I would caution the reader, though, from deducing that larger bodies of water are inherently superior. Even a modestly sized mirrored pool can quietly and elegantly hold influence in a garden.


When coupled with picturesque tree branching, seasonal color, architectural and site lighting, or landscape sculpture, reflecting waters can become even more visually interesting and engaging. In the same surface that Narcissus found the enthralling mirror image of his own face, you may be surprised to find the many beautiful new perspectives a reflecting pool will offer your garden. As the parable goes, the vain and conceited Narcissus met an unfortunate end in the pond's reflection, but if you take a moment to view the beauty of your garden in the still surface of a reflecting pool, you can be confident that your experience will be nothing less than rewarding.


Image: Patricia Hensch

Nesting in the Garden

Posted by Author on July 8, 2013 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Image: Porky Hefer


To be honest, this all might seem a bit cuckoo. Actually, that might be a pretty appropriate word for it. Across the continents, there is a small but burgeoning movement to install manmade "nests" in backyards, woodlands, and at scenic vistas.


At first glance, these organic, woven-twig objets d'art seem aesthetically aligned with the earth-based sculpture of Patrick Dougherty and other artists; a reader may remember my description of an encounter with one of Dougherty's deceptively "natural" works at the Dumbarton Oaks Ellipse a few posts back. While there are undeniable structural similarities, these objects are more than just sculptures or architectural follies. What makes these "nests" unique is their specific intended function.

Images: Porky Hefer, Jayson Fann, and Drew Kelly for the New York Times


These manmade nests are designed to be inhabited. Often perched at or just beneath the forest canopy, these structures have been envisioned as naturalistic shelters for sleeping, meditation, and sanctuary. In the United States, it seems that Jayson Fann, based out of California's Big Sur Valley, is the pioneering guru of the moment, and his studio provides information about overnight lodging and sells custom-installed "Spirit Nests" for delivery to your garden. Even if a possible user sees no spiritual significance in sleeping as wildlife does, the prospect of retreating to and awakening in an environment consisting entirely of organic forms, materials, and geometries should be universally enticing.



Images: Jayson Fann and Liz G.


It was a New York Times article, "Twigitecture," and its accompanying photo slideshow that first exposed me to these human nests, and since seeing the piece a few weeks back, I have found the concept to be creative, strange, and not quickly forgotten. As far as reconnecting with nature goes, it seems that a night one of these nests would put conventional tent camping to shame. With no synthetic screening, fabric, or zippers between the inhabitant and the outdoors, a man or woman could find the ultimate (though temporary) escape from the artificial, and sometimes wearisome, environments that civilization has created.

Image: Drew Kelly for the New York Times

Impermanence and Invigoration at Dumbarton Oaks

Posted by Author on May 23, 2013 at 11:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Image: Sam Valentine


Not all of the beauty, elegance, and visual interest that today's visitors encounter at Dumbarton Oaks is a product of a bygone era. The renowned hillside estate's gardens, its dramatic vistas, and its intimate choreography of outdoor rooms were created by Beatrix Farrand and a legacy of 20th-century landscape designers that followed her. Whether considering its fine details or overall composition, it is undeniable that Dumbarton Oaks is a unique, historic work of art. However, upon my recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Dumbarton also serves as a landscape in which one can experience fresh, contemporary artwork.


My first hint of the gardens' contemporary art offerings was a distant, perplexing form that caught my eye as I approached the Ellipse. Paper wasps weave their nests from gathered wood fibers and plant stems, and if not for the great scale of the structure I was staring at, I might have mistaken it for such a nest.

Image: Sam Valentine


At closer inspection, the structure was a wildly swirling assemblage of branches, stems, and vines. Sited on the edge of the formal, elliptical lawn, the organic vortex emerges from an imagined root system in the lawn and winds its way through the air and seamlessly into the canopy of the double-rowed American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) hedge that surrounds the Ellipse. It was only after returning home to my computer that I ascertained that the single sculpture that I observed is actually the last remaining figure from a larger, site-specific work called "Easy Rider" that was created by Patrick Dougherty in 2010.

Images: Sam Valentine


Eventually I departed the Ellipse for some of Dumbarton Oaks' other enticing garden spaces, and I enjoyed about a half-hour of inspired wandering before coming into contact with the gardens' other current installation. During my late-April visit, all of Dumbarton Oaks -- as well as much of Washington, D.C. -- was abloom with the violaceous, lavender blossoms of wisteria vines. My awareness of these chandeliered flowers was especially heightened as I approached the historic Wisteria Arbor, and then looking east, I was surprised to find myself under a billowing canopy of another sort.

Images: Sam Valentine

Historically known as the Arbor Terrace, one of Dumbarton Oaks' enclosed gardens has been transformed by Cao | Perrot Studio into an environmental artwork: "Cloud Terrace." The work's defining feature, an undulating, airy canopy, is constructed of surprisingly down-to-earth materials -- galvanized steel poles, tensioned steel cables, and crumpled puffs of chicken wire -- and extends to form a ceiling over the room. Suspended from these cumulous forms like many raindrops on the verge of falling are 10,000 Swarovski Elements cut-glass crystals. Even despite the identifiable materials that went into the work, the composition is surprisingly, and powerfully, cloud-like.


Both of the works that I observed last month are parts in a series of rotating contemporary installations at Dumbarton Oaks. The works were stimulating, interesting, and in their own ways quite beautiful, but the contemporary interventions did nothing to outshine the beauty of the historic landscape. And that, I feel, is exactly how it should be. If the footprint of these temporary artworks, as well as their zones of visual impact, were calculated as a percentage of the total estate gardens, it is unlikely that they would surpass even five percent of the Dumbarton Oaks landscape. Likewise, the impression that these isolated contemporary moments would have on a first-time visitor is probably minimal; the underlying garden steals the show.


The incorporation of modern features into a historic setting is never without risk of controversy, but the harmony found between the old and new artworks at Dumbarton Oaks is something to strive for. The artistic interventions are unobtrusive in size and placed in well selected, enclosed sites that prevent the works from visually "spilling out" into the estate's larger historic fabric. By including the temporary exhibits of contemporary artists, the garden is functioning quite intelligently, and narrating on multiple levels. Repeat visitors are seeing a familiar landscape in a new light, and the gardens are allowed an impermanent but invigorating breath of fresh air. All gardeners, I think, could agree that that is a beautiful thing.

Image: Sam Valentine


The Joys (and Challenges) of Owning an Ornamental Pond

Posted by Bonnie Helander on May 7, 2013 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (2)

When I was planning a move back to Georgia and looking for a new home in Peachtree City, south of Atlanta, I fell in love with the second house I saw. I stepped through the front door and my line of sight went directly to the back patio door where through the glass I could see a lovely pond and waterfall.  This small but serene water garden is what I get to enjoy as I sit on my back deck.

My pond as viewed from my back deck.

Over the last 9 years I have learned so much about the joys and challenges of maintaining an ornamental backyard pond. For me, the pros really do out-weigh the cons but sometimes I get a little annoyed when the reality of nature encroaches on my vision of a perfect little pond paradise. Right now I am dealing with a very persistent Great Blue Heron that has discovered my pond and my fish!  I have a collection of about 30 small Koi and gold fish that have been merrily enjoying their wet environment until the monster heron intruded on their space. Now the fish are so traumatized that they are hiding and I have not seen them for days.

A Great Blue Heron is visiting my pond almost daily, making life a misery for my fish!

The heron has already killed about six of my fish. I set up a heron decoy (which didn’t work) and then I netted the pond for about three weeks. This seemed to solve the problem so I took the net off until I found another dead fish and saw my heron friend again three times in one day! So back goes the net for a while.

But the heron also points out one of the reasons I love my pond - it attracts wildlife - birds, fish, frogs, dragon and damselflies and other assorted creatures. Plus the beauty of water-loving plants is not to be missed! I look forward each year to the stunning colors of blooming hardy water lilies, lotus and iris. And, no matter what the season, the sound of falling water is a soothing addition to my garden that can mask street noise and allow me to decompress after a long day.

Dragon and damselflies are a wonderful addition to any pond.

A hawk sits on top of my bird feeder and stares into the pond looking for easy prey.

If you are thinking about installing an ornamental pond or pondless waterfall, you will benefit from the expertise of a professional landscape designer to create a water feature that will be naturally integrated into your outside space. Once the pond is installed, you need to keep on top of maintenance to ensure your pond is healthy for your plants, fish and other wildlife.  Excessive algae are a big issue in backyard ponds, especially as the temperatures warm up. Fish add to this problem but aquatic plants help counteract the algae by absorbing nutrients that encourage algae growth. Plants like water lilies also shade the pond from sun, further discouraging algae growth. It’s a balancing act but once you get the hang of it, you will so enjoy the experience of owning a pond.

Professionally-designed pond with lovely plants and boulders

Who wouldn't be charmed by this pond and waterfall!

Water lilies are not only beautiful but shade the pond, cutting down on algae.

If you want to add the sound and movement of water to your landscape but are looking for something simpler than a pond, why not add a fountain?  You can find directions online for DIY projects to make a small water feature out of an array of containers such as a wine barrel or ceramic pot. And, you probably won’t have any trouble with a heron!

This vintage fountain provides the soothing sound of water in the garden.

I love this Japanese lantern and water fountain - such a great focal point.

This simple, cobalt blue bubbler can be purchased at a garden center and adds color, sound and charm to the garden.

What a strking addition to a front courtyard, welcoming family and friends!

Passageways in the Landscape

Posted by Author on April 5, 2013 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (1)

Image: Reza Ahmed


Honestly, figuring out what to call them is the hard part.


They can take the form of intricately constructed, vine-covered wooden arbors, or they can be created organically by wild, swooping tree branches. Sometimes they are formed by two flanking rows of stout, stately tree trunks, and other times they are simply carved out of a leafy shrub thicket. I find terms like "arbor," "tunnel," "breezeway," and even "covered walkway" to be too narrow in meaning, and the architectural term "hallway" -- which all too often refers to the uninspired, leftover space of a building's floorplan -- certainly falls short of describing these engaging landscape features.

Images: Bill Barber and Kev Bailey


Though these "passageways" (for lack of a better term) are analogous to interior halls, as they also serve as corridors for passing from one "room" to another, there is an important distinction to be made here: While building hallways are all but an architectural requirement, garden passageways are a rarity. In conventional Western floorplans, there is little option but to provide an access corridor to living spaces and other rooms, and a hallway's skin is arguably just the byproduct of walling off those rooms. In the landscape, though, a screened or covered corridor is something that is far from granted. More often than not, landscape passageways are carefully considered and laboriously maintained features.

Image: Rafi Schatz and Sam Valentine


When building a garden passageway, a designer must carefully consider the placement, alignment, length, and width of such a feature. Will a conventional allée of trees provide sufficient structure, or must external views and harsh sunlight be more densely screened with a tight-knit vine structure? Does the garden aesthetic call for a formal, architectural solution or a looser, wilder scheme?


Garden passageways have powerful potential. From a visitor's first step to their last, the corridor is a special moving experience. The overhead tapestry can offer up a remarkable contrast of illuminated green leaves and deep-green leaves in shadow. The long, continuous barrel-vault effect can put focus on a distant axis, and the visitor's eye is strongly pulled ahead to the light at end of tunnel. Also, in the shade of the passageway, a gardener will find a microclimate of cool, refreshing stillness that refreshes on a hot summer day.


Like squeezing grains of sand through the neck of an hourglass, building such an elongated portal prescribes a period of controlled but pleasant moments for a garden's visitors. Like putting blinders on a horse, a garden passageway turns down the visual volume of other input and mutes distractions. A visit to Central Park or Prospect Park in New York City will prove that Olmsted and Vaux not only understood the value of such structures but also masterfully employed them to conceal, reveal, and create a sense of drama in their landscapes.


Memorable landscape passageways are not always a product of intentional design. A few weeks ago, while I was investigating the disappearing ruins of the Georgia Brick Company, which can be found at Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, I was surprised to find myself in something of an accidental landscape passageway.

Images: Padcoak1 and Trinity Simons

Neither manmade nor natural, or more precisely, a combined product of both, just enough of the ruins survive to tell a pretty clear tale of industry, abandonment, and encroaching wilderness. Nearly a century ago, the factory's stories-tall smokestack toppled over, and today, a dozen yards of its cylindrical form still holds together horizontally in the woods. As I slowly, cautiously stepped through it, I found myself -- just for a moment -- in an quiet world of cool isolation and self-reflection.

Image: Natalie Townsend

Author: Sam Valentine, BLA, LEED AP


The Crystal Icicle is Hung

Posted by Stuart DiNenno on February 27, 2013 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (1)

Image: Christopher Najewicz

The range of meaning that frozen, crystallized water molecules can take on is quite amazing. A few cubes of the stuff, when slipped into a beverage on a hot summer afternoon, is worth its weight in gold. On the other hand, if ice forms earlier in the fall than expected, it can mean the decimation of fruit crops and unprotected exotic plants, and leave a farmer or gardener's pockets empty. When ice coats roads and walkways on chilly winter nights, its very presence can lead to human injury or death.


As a visual element of landscape, though, I treat ice as a guest that is almost always welcome. When the winter sun peeks out the morning after a storm, crystals of frozen water can shine like diamonds. Where it builds up on leaves, twigs, and other plant parts, it can take on remarkable forms, sometimes even as wild as a glass sculpture from the studio of Dale Chihuly.

Images: Richard Brown, Jeremy Hiebert, and Marcel Bechter


To an art critic, visual interest is that special quality that has the power to catch the viewer's eye and make him or her stop, look, and reflect. In the landscape, visual interest is manifested in nearly infinite moments of color, form, and contrast. There is visual interest in the vivid, unexpected color of a flower in bright bloom; in the bright, rippling flecks of light on the surface of a deep, opaque pond; in the smooth-barked undulations of an ironwood tree (Carpinus caroliniana) trunk; and in the juxtaposition of soft, verdant moss against an otherwise lifeless, craggy garden wall.

Images: Rachid Lamzah, Marijan Mlađan, and Sam Cox


Picture for a moment adding glittering frost or glistening icicles to any of the landscape scenes that I have described above, and you might begin to recall the visual value that ice offers. Landscape admirers are quite fortunate that water freezes, and we should be even more appreciative that when it does it can take on an endless variety of appearances. Ice can be sharp and jagged or smooth and flat. Ice can shine, capture, and bend sunlight, or can have a dull appearance. It can form perfectly flat sheets or it can drip and freeze into organic, sculptural forms.


Where, twisted round the barren oak,

The summer vine in beauty clung,

And summer winds the stillness broke,

The crystal icicle is hung.


Almost two hundred years ago, the above stanza appeared in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Woods in Winter. At first glance, the juxtaposition of a lush, beautiful plant ("the summer vine") with an icicle may not seem like much of a compliment to the frozen stalactite, but it is pretty clear to me that praise is exactly what Longfellow is going for. The rest of the poem reads as a celebration -- if not an outright endorsement -- of the unique character that winter brings to nature, so it is likely that Longfellow is drawing parallels between the antithetical forms of beauty that hang in both summer and winter.


Ice can be hard as a rock, slippery as oil, sharp as metal and beautiful as glass. Though the cold outdoor temperatures that form the substance are often hard to tolerate, I encourage you to enjoy the last few days of ice that you might have this season. Like all beautiful things, ice is fleeting, and before you know it, the only ice to be found in your garden will be melting in your glass of lemonade.

Image: Jeremy Hiebert


Author: Sam Valentine, BLA, LEED AP

Barking up the Right Tree

Posted by Stuart DiNenno on January 31, 2013 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Image: Sean Scanlon


Try this: hand a child a box of crayons and ask him or her to draw a tree. Crayola makes 8-packs, 24-packs, 64-packs, and even 120-packs, but chances are that no matter how many colors a kid has at his or her disposal, when it comes time to fill in the tree bark, a child will habitually reach for the crayon titled "brown."

Image: Sam Valentine


A connoisseur of landscape, though, knows the real story. Burgundy, red, copper, tan, yellow, green, black, and a subtle spectrum of grays are just some of the many colors that a tree trunk's outer casing can offer to the human eye.

Images: Kim Reese, Matt Bruno, Holly Kuchera, Jeff Stewart, and Jo H.

This time of year, most deciduous trees have been bereft of their showy leaves for months and are still many weeks from pushing out spring blooms. To be honest, other than bark texture, color, and branching structure, many trees have little to offer during the winter. Last weekend, however, while visiting the newly opened Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in Manhattan, I was reminded that even on a pitiless January day, tree bark can be quite stunning.


The memorial was originally envisioned back in the 1970's by architect Louis Kahn, and it is composed of twenty-eight huge monolithic granite blocks, displays a carved excerpt of President Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union address, and is centered around a bronze bust that is as impressive as it is gigantic.

Image: Sam Valentine


Despite everything else I experienced in this beautiful designed environment, I found the stark-naked, wintry littleleaf lindens (Tilia cordata) to have a surprisingly strong impact. The trees have been planted in a V-shaped skein, and against a blue, cloudless sky, their rust-colored branches had a vibrant, dramatic, and memorable quality.

Image: Sam Valentine



When I was a child, I have no doubt that I too reached for a brown crayon to fill in the trunk and branches of every tree that was born on my school desk. But I also have a vivid memory that shows that I should have known better. Of all the trees on my elementary school's playground, there was one that was my clear favorite. Yes, it was fun to climb and, yes, it provided cool shade on hot, sunny afternoons, but there was actually something else that drew me to it. I still have vivid memories of pulling myself up into the crotch of this tree, which I now recognize was a Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia).


Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, I remember the tree's skin was made up of thousands of chunky, flaky scales of bark. Inspecting its bark closely, my favorite tree showed me a surprising array of colors. The bark was speckled in gray, gold, copper, champagne-pink, mustard, silver, and, yes, of course, brown.



Image: Silvereye


Author: Sam Valentine, BLA, LEED AP


The Spice of Life

Posted by Stuart DiNenno on October 17, 2012 at 10:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Images: Sam Valentine


Gold. Red. Yellow. Burgundy. Fire-orange. Violet.


You could easily imagine this variety of colors being dabbed from a painter’s palette and onto his or her canvas, but these vibrant, expressive colors are also offered up by nature. Every year, as winter approaches, the leaves of deciduous plants morph through their unique spectrums. Parks, woodlands, and gardens erupt into a flamboyant exhibition of color.

Images extracted from “Leaf & Death” by Jeff Scher



Earlier this week, I stumbled upon “Leaf & Death,” a short stop-motion film by New York Times Op-Ed contributor Jeff Scher. Set to a jazzy 1929 orchestra tune, Scher’s animated leaves reminded me of two things. First off, the video cemented my growing awareness that autumn is firmly upon us. Secondly, it reminded me that the generous array of colors presented by trees, shrubs, and vines this time of year is nothing short of a work of art.

Images: Martin LaBar, Sam Valentine, and Liz West


Years ago, I had a conversation with one of my college friends, Maria, a young Columbian woman who was studying abroad in the United States, and the exchange still sticks with me. Walking through the University of Georgia campus on a crisp, chilly night in late fall, I looked over to see my friend’s teeth chattering. Facetiously, I asked Maria how she liked being this far north of the equator.


With the cold wind tugging at us both, I would have understood if her response was something to the effect of: “I’m not used to this cold weather!” Instead, Maria stated – quite assertively – “I like living where there are seasons. It’s beautiful.”


In North America, fall colors are something of a red flag that short, cold days are quickly approaching. During those bleak winter months, it is both common and understandable for Americans to fantasize about living in a year-round tropical paradise like Columbia. But Maria illuminated to me that life in such a climate offers significantly less in the way of seasonal variety. And variety, after all, is the spice of life.


Author: Sam Valentine, BLA, LEED AP


Finding your Balance in the War Against Mosquitoes

Posted by Stuart DiNenno on September 28, 2012 at 9:25 PM Comments comments (0)


Image excerpted from Killing Salt Chemicals advertisement, 1947

We have certainly come a long way since the heyday of DDT. This chlorine-based insecticide, which was quite effective at destroying mosquito populations, was used widely in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and was thought of as something of a ‘magic bullet’ in the war against mosquitoes. As many people who grew up in the mid-20th century can still remember, the “DDT man” was a frequent visitor to Southern neighborhoods, and in those years, the chemical was sprayed indiscriminately in homes, on produce, and even directly onto children. It was not until two decades had passed that environmentalists such as Rachel Carson began to question the safety of the chemical.


By the time it was finally outlawed in the United States by the EPA in 1972, DDT had saved innumerable human lives around the world from fatal mosquito-borne illnesses such as typhus and malaria and had certainly eradicated millions of annoying winged insects. There were costs, though, to this widespread chemical application, and scientists have since pointed to links between DDT exposure and cancer, diabetes, and child-development disorders. Perhaps most poignantly, by gaining concentration as it worked up the food chain, DDT nearly drove the very symbol of America, the Bald Eagle, to extinction.


DDT and its near-disastrous impact on American health and environment is now little more than a cautionary tale, but the war on mosquitoes is by no means ‘won.’ Put even a nature-loving environmental advocate like myself outdoors on a stagnant, Southern summer evening, and I will soon be swatting the air, slapping my legs and arms, and reaching for the deadliest bug spray that I can find.

Images: Jon Hayes, Travis S., Morag Riddell, and Jay Salikin

Fortunately, there is an array of mosquito-combating options that lie between the misery of bug bites and the complete decimation of the natural world. Most people know about bug repellant sprays and bracelets, citronella candles, and torches, but there is also a less-known solution. Relatively new to the market is a variety of time-release misting devices that can spray insecticides when you and your loved ones are out of range for exposure. Even better, most of these systems emit a natural, plant-based insecticide called pyrethrum that has the proven ability of “jamming” and quickly killing mosquitoes, and the EPA has determined that pyrethrum has a low toxicity to humans and other humans.

Images: Power Mister

Functioning quite like a lawn sprinkler system, the systems can be scheduled to spray at regular times or they can be switched on or off remotely. Even though pyrethrum exposure seems to be of minimal risk, the systems’ remote capabilities insure that exposure to family members’ and pets’ skin and lungs is limited.


As far as deadly poisons go, pyrethrum sounds pretty soft and cuddly. It is extracted from hand-harvested chrysanthemum flowers and seems safe for mammals, but it should never be forgotten that the chemical’s purpose is to kill. There are some unconfirmed reports that the misters can harm garden fish, and unfortunately, it will indiscriminately destroy all types of flying insects that it contacts. In eradicating your garden’s blood-sucking annoyances, the misters will also have a detrimental effect on fireflies, butterflies, and pollinating honey bees.

Image: Unique Outdoor Mosquito Pros

The war for comfortable outdoor spaces still rages on, and your Southern garden is at the front lines. If the persistent annoyance of mosquitoes is keeping you from enjoying your outdoor realm, then pyrethrum mister systems are convenient, unobtrusive, and appear to offer a safe compromise between human comfort and environmental protection. Like all aspects of gardening, though, the challenge is finding your own appropriate balance.


Author: Sam Valentine, BLA, LEED AP