Sunday, November 6, 2011

If you plant it, they will come.

Even the smallest of gardens, like my mailbox garden shown here, attracts wildlife. Here we see many bees and a monarch. Turn up the volume and hear many birds in the background. In fall, the rudbeckia triloba and echinacea seed heads will be eaten by birds. The birds hide in the flowers and fly out as we enter the driveway!
So simple, so much fun!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Weed and Feed or Asthma? Maybe a little splash of a learning disability? You make the choice.

This is a copy of a letter I am about to send to our local paper and post on My intention is to educate people who do not realize the dangers they are subjecting their families and pets to when they apply these products that are so easy to buy and apply. I have been thinking of how to do this for about two years and this was the jump start I needed. Seeing our education tax money being used to spray chemicals at our high school was my wake up call. Seeing these signs here at the school made me sick. I am relieved to get started on my mission and hope you will join me. -Diane

Areas where lots of kids hangout were sprayed.

 I discovered today some of the tax money we pay to the Board of Education for our children’s schooling is being spent on chemical lawn care and toxic pesticides that were applied to school property this week. A broadleaf weed killer was applied which contains a chemical called 2-4D.  2-4D is used by lawn care companies and homeowners to kill broadleaf weeds such as clover and dandelions in lawns. This chemical is proven to be highly toxic. Cancer, asthma, autism, Parkinson’s Disease, ADHD, and birth defects have all been linked to exposure to common lawn care chemicals, such as 2-4D. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds home and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia by almost seven times. This definitely poses a risk to our children.
Do you know want to know where this chemical was applied? At  Coginchaug Regional High School and The Board of Education buildings. Tru-Green is a lawn care company, formerly known as ChemLawn,  which was hired by our Board of Education to spray the grass. On Tuesday August 23, 2011, the Tru-Green truck pulled up, a man got out and started spraying all the lawns close to the building with toxic pesticides. The use of these types of chemicals on properties is very dangerous. When I saw the little yellow signs that read PESTICIDE APPLICATION, I was livid. I could smell the chemicals and my stomach felt sick thinking of all the teenagers who very soon would be walking across this grass, not knowing what they are walking through, stirring up, breathing in and tracking home. A chemical used to KILL should not be applied to places our children hang out, especially for the reason it was applied. I photographed many of the areas where the little yellow signs were, documenting the sprayed areas. I walked around the building, careful not to step on ANY lawn, smelling that familiar sickening chemical scent and my jaw dropped when I saw this last sign directly in front of the Board of Education. I realized who would have hired this company to do this. The BOE, who oversees our children’s future, is exposing them to toxic chemicals. And spending our tax money to do it!

A little background on me. I am a fairly new CT resident, having moved here in 2006. I also hired Tru-Green to “fix” our weedy lawn for 2 seasons. They underbid every other company I called so I went with them. They said all the right things, how it was “safe” for my young children to walk on the grass once it was dry. I did not know any better-many homes in the neighborhood used this company, or another company like them.
 In 2008 I started to discover what chemicals they were applying to my property and how they work. I went through the UConn Master Gardening Program and learned how our soil is alive with beneficial microorganisms and how there is a whole web of life in our soil, feeding the plants (including grass) naturally.  I learned how organic lawn and garden fertilizers feed the soil organisms slowly, stay put and release nutrients to the grass plants as needed. Synthetic chemical fertilizers bypass the soil, feeding the grass directly, leaving a lifeless soil and then the excess runs off into streams, ponds, lakes, and eventually, the oceans.  Synthetic chemical fertilizers are like a drug to plants--they give plants an immediate boost, the excess washes away and the plants stress out and therefore need MORE chemicals. It’s an endless cycle of toxic sprays and synthetic pellets being applied to the lawn. I stopped using Tru-Green. I no longer believed that what they were using on my property was “safe” like they claimed. “Just stay off until it is dry” is NOT true. The chemicals stay there much longer and get on our shoes. They migrate from our shoes into our carpets where our babies play and put toys with 2-4D into their mouths. The chemical 2-4 D has been tested to be found in carpeting for a full year after application!
I went back to college to study horticulture and landscape design and got a job at an organic garden center. My lawn has now been organic for three years and is safe and quite pretty. I have studied lawn care in school, learned organic gardening and lawn care at my job and have become passionate about spreading the word that these everyday, easily available lawn care products are just down right dangerous! They are especially dangerous to small living things like children and pets.
I do not want my tax money spent on something that can directly harm our children! I want to feel secure knowing the BOE is looking out for my kids! This is ridiculous!

The Connecticut legislature passed a law (P.A. 09-56) banning lawn care pesticide applications on the grounds of day care centers, elementary and middle schools (grade 8 and lower) as a result of residents’ concerns about children’s health and the environment. This ban went into effect for day care centers on October 1, 2009 and for K-8 schools on July 1, 2010. Some Connecticut municipalities have gone beyond the requirements of the law and have stopped using pesticides to manage turfgrass on all their municipal properties.
Read the details of this law at

So technically what the BOE applied on Tuesday August 23, 2011 is not illegal. What it IS however, is COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY AND IRRESPONSIBLE. These chemicals were used to control the COSMETIC look of the lawn. I feel the health and safety of my children and neighbors is more important than the “look” of the lawn. Go and see it for yourself. It is green. It WAS safe--according to the BOE employee I talked with who claimed they have not used these chemicals in years at the school. It looks kind of pretty actually, weeds and all. Now it is still green with some dead weeds and is not safe for our children to walk across. 

New York State passed a similar law last year but took it one step further. They protect their children through grade 12. We need to do this here in Connecticut!
Several other states are realizing the dangers of these readily available chemical products and are passing tougher laws to restrict their use or ban them outright. Most of Canada’s provinces have passed laws banning not only schools and parks from using these products, but homeowners as well. The Home Depot in Canada does not sell the Scott’s chemical lawn care “step” programs anymore based on a law they passed to protect citizens from unknown dangers of lawn pesticides used for cosmetic reasons.
No one pays attention to the little signs. 

I believe we should not allow the BOE to spend our tax money so frivolously. Right now, we are cutting bus stops to save money (putting many children in dangerous situations) and spending it on this poison. Something is not right here. Do you agree?

Diane St John

Click here to read what the CT towns of Branford, Essex and Plainfield are doing to protect their citizens.

Here are some sources for the facts in my report on 2-4D.  and

And this is one of my favorite websites of a local community coming together with the children to educate others about toxic lawn chemicals. The kid tab page is especially cute.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Our Growing Backyard Nature Habitat

A back section of yard that was full of invasives. We chopped them down, tarped the area for a summer, then added truckloads of leaves in fall and started to plant. 
I have always been interested in nature. I grew up camping, hiking and playing outside.  My husband affectionately has called me “Crazy Plant Woman” for about 18 years (when he first realized my affliction). In the past five years I have become seriously interested in nature. I moved from Chicago to Connecticut in 2006 and now had a house with 2 acres, one of which was the lawn, the other is mature woods with a beautiful creek running through it. My kids and I spend time exploring in the woods and playing on a small area of the massive lawn, “the playing field” which my husband turns into a baseball or football field, depending on the season. When my children started school here I went on field trips with the outdoor education teachers at my kid’s school and realized I had good, native plants growing in my yard. The kind the Native Americans would use for band-aids and to make toothbrushes to brush their teeth. I became even more interested in nature. I decided to go through the UConn Master Gardening program. Wow-now I saw the invasive plants in my yard and began pulling them out for several years. I became more interested in nature. I went back to school, this time for horticulture and landscape design. I got a job at a great garden center well known for it's teaching of organic land care practices and cool plants. Now I am immersed with nature all the time, and very happy about it.
One area of the outdoors I am fascinated with is the insects, birds and wildlife. So are my kids. I have found nature is not only meditative for me, it is for my kids as well. I purchased a CT bird book and a bird feeder four years ago when my oldest son Sam was six and a half. He got a notebook and went out and sat in the garden with the book and tracked the birds he saw.  My heart was smiling. My daughter Catherine is happiest when we are able to find a toad in the yard. My youngest, six year old Henry is the most like me. He gets home from daycare and immediately walks the entire yard, alone, and quietly observes the changes since the previous day.  He picks peas and eats them. He rushes to tell me all he saw and takes me to see it. He notices the tiniest things. He finds four leaved clovers. He knows which bugs are beneficial for the plants, which are not.
I am now immersed in the biggest challenge of all. Returning my yard to nature. We do not need an acre of lawn. We need at most a large patch. The wildlife needs the habitat and we are going to give it to them, one small area at a time.  I have seen firsthand, if you build it, they will come. I started this process a few years ago by cutting down a large area of multiflora rose and smothering it with truckloads of free chopped leaves from my landscaper friend. This area is now planted and growing native trees and flowers, which are the habitat for birds, bees, butterflies and as of Sunday, a box turtle we saw digging around. That turtle has no idea how happy he made us, and how determined we are to make more room for him and his friends. The nature girl in me has taken over and is spreading to my children and any of their friends who come by.