Published in the October 13, 2016 edition.


WAKEFIELD — Just when it seemed that everyone’s lawn was turning to straw this past summer, the grass on the grounds of the Hartshorne House was thriving. It was thick, healthy and bright green.

House directors, including Merry Eldridge, believe that the lawn’s success is largely due to an organic fertilizer spread by Jeff Dodge, owner of Velvet Green Lawn, a subsidiary of his landscaping company — Jeff’s Landscaping Inc.

According to an article posted at online site “Planet Natural,” the problem with growing and maintaining a picture perfect lawn is that it wreaks havoc on the budget and the environment. Between 30 and 40 millions of acres of land in the U.S. are devoted to turf grass, and Americans collectively spend big bucks — about $40 million every year —on seed, sod and chemicals.

But instead of chemicals, for the past six to eight months organic fertilizer has been used at Wakefield’s historic home, a product that has come without a price tag, thanks to Dodge. He estimates that he has contributed $1,000 in labor and products to keep the House’s lawn in tiptop shape but he does not begrudge the expense. Dodge believes that giving back to the community is all part of a day’s work. The contribution was greatly appreciated by Directors of the House, since the town does not set aside money in its budget for the House’s upkeep.

Dodge explained that chemicals leach into soil, contaminating everything nearby. Since the House on Church Street sits right next to Lake Quannapowitt, this means that the Lake water, its underwater inhabitants and visiting wildlife are often compromised.

To some extent, contaminants also can contribute to the green algae that appears at water’s edge, although this is only one factor.

Eldridge and other Directors believe the success of the lawn’s growth — in the midst of the worst New England drought in decades — is largely due to the new organic fertilizer.

Dodge, a White Circle resident, agreed and explained that the fertilizer is a composite of organic materials, such as plant and ocean by-products, as opposed to fertilizers composed of synthetic chemicals and pesticides. The product used at the House is considered a much safer choice due to its proximity to the Lake.

Former House resident Dan Hancock said that educational seminars were presented to Directors of the House as well as members of the Friends of Lake Quannapowitt before growing season got underway.

“Between eight and 12 people overseeing the House received the information with open arms,” said the Wakefield firefighter and vice president of operations at Velvet Green.

Eldridge said she has noticed how great (and green) the lawn has looked this season, an important matter, given that the grounds are the biggest draw for people searching for a location to hold events such as weddings and other celebrations.

In July, for instance, a wedding was held for 70 people at the House and the celebration continued for 10 hours. Even so, the lawn didn’t seem to suffer a lot of wear and tear.

“This year we’ve had the most events we’ve had in years,” said Eldridge.

Hancock also commented that the lawn this year is “impressive.”

“The roots are so much stronger,” he said.

Maintaining the lawn at the House has been a priority for reasons other than aesthetics. Lawns absorb water, which helps reduce storm runoff and improve water quality. Lawns also have a significant cooling effect, provide oxygen, trap dust and dirt, promote healthful microorganisms, prevent erosion and filter rainwater contaminants. Most important of all, lawns are gathering spots where people and pets can play outside — and hold special occasions.

“The goal,” said Dodge, “is to provide a safe environment for people of all ages and pets. Anyone who cares about the environment should consider going the organic route.”

“Another goal is to be good neighbors with the Lake by not adding anything to the fertilizer runoff and algae problem,” said Andrew McRae, treasurer for the House.

“We can be used as an example to others by trying to go green as much as possible.”

Velvet Green Lawn employs 13 people. Paula Houghton is the office manager and Paul Watts is the certified applicator.