Organic goes beyond the vegetable patch

By Alex Ruoff
The Gazette
Thursday, July 15, 2010; GZ21

Richard Bajana remembers when he started working as a landscaper more than 20 years ago. He hated being told to spray pesticide.

"I did not like it when I had to spray the chemicals," Bajana said. "It was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to let things grow naturally."

These days, he does not spray anything except water on the lawns around Garrett Park and Kensington where he works.

Bajana's organic landscaping service, Richard Landscaping of Bethesda, is among a growing number of landscapers who forgo chemicals and work directly with the environment to create nearly self-sustaining gardens and lawns meant to leave less of a "footprint" on the land.

Bajana is one of three landscapers in Maryland and the District certified by the Northeast Organic Farming Association, which started in Connecticut to promote organic gardening, said Kate Mendenhall, the group's executive director. The other two landscapers are in Towson and Cecil County.

"Organic farming has really been our focus," Mendenhall said. "It wasn't until home gardening became in higher demand that we started organic landscaping."

She said her organization's turf management and organic land care training programs were instituted more than seven years ago, but have seen the majority of their participation in the past three years.

New York leads the country in Organic Land Care Professional accreditations with 108. Fewer than 500 people in the United States are accredited by NOFA.

Bajana said that since he started his business in 2003, the popularity of organic landscaping has grown. He said his client base has been growing as more people gain interest in cutting back on their home's environmental footprint.

"In the past three years, it's been more and more and more," he said. "It's starting here."

Bajana declined to comment on what he charges on average for lawn care, but said the prices typically are above average, because his methods are more labor-intensive.

"It's harder to be organic, but it's better," he said.

The system Bajana and his crew of five employs differs from most residential landscapers in a number of ways, from the tools and plants he uses to how he plants.

Bajana said he first aims to see what kinds of plants a property can naturally support by looking beyond pH levels and seeing what kinds of microorganisms exist in the soil to determine what is appropriate for a specific property.

"We don't try to impose plants on your property or grow something that doesn't want to be there," he said. "We want to grow what will be there naturally."

In addition to reducing the use of chemicals and pesticides, organic landscaping focuses on improving drainage to make better use of water resources, using a variety of plants to keep the area lush and green, and maintaining natural plant cycles, Bajana said.

"Richard loves to use water elements like dry stone creeks and rain gardens to keep water in and let nature do what it is supposed to do: grow," said Parkwood's Charlotte Taylor, one of Bajana's earliest clients, who works with him on marketing and management. "There's more to the impact of your lawn than most people realize."

Taylor said they have designed and managed more than a dozen properties, from Garrett Park and Kensington to Potomac.

Although the popularity of organic landscaping is relatively new, its methods are not, Bajana said. "These are techniques that have been around for a long time, it's just now that people are asking for it."

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