By Lori Zelenko with Adrianne Frost
Drive down any Lane in East Hampton, behind the hedgerows are verdant lawns, gardens with a controlled riot of brilliant color, all meticulously tended. Under the surface, though, may hide harmful “helpers”: pesticides, weed killers, fertilizers that infiltrate and poison the ground beneath as well as pose risks to the life above. Enter Edwina von Gal, founder of the non-profit Perfect Earth Project, here to teach us all how to keep our surroundings not only stunning, but also safe for the planet, our pets, and our children.
Von Gal, originally a sought after landscape designer in New York City and the Hamptons, with a stellar client list including Calvin Klein, Ina Garten, artist Cindy Sherman and artist/sculptor Maya Lin, has been a part of life on the East End for decades, “I bought my first house in Southampton in the early 90’s because I was getting so much work here,” she remember “I stayed on for all the reasons we all love it here,’ adding, “Plus, it’s a great place to garden.”
She realized her calling as a voice for a perfect earth, a planet that is not plagued by pesticides, a healthier land for us all to enjoy after a trip to her dentist sparked her interest in how to provide people with earth friendly options. Asked where to get advice on reducing the chemical use on his waterfront property, she realized “I didn’t have an answer for him.” This started her quest and she began to educate herself. As she says, she just couldn’t stop.
In 2013 Edwina von Gal created the Perfect Earth Project, to educate homeowners, consumers and professionals about the hazards of lawn chemicals and the efficacy of natural alternatives. Today, she shares, “we are struggling to keep up with the demand. We are learning a lot about what inspires people to change their habits. We like to say that it isn’t the plants that are hooked on chemicals. It is the people.”
People are listening: Southampton Hospital, the East Hampton Historical Society, and The Parrish Art Museum have recently enlisted Perfect Earth Project for guidance and planning. “The Parrish was already working toward going without,” von Gal says, we just encouraged them to make it a real commitment and let everyone know what a great thing they are doing. “The hospital is no different from any large commercial property except that people do use the grounds as an outdoor waiting room. And, the hospital did see the logic in making the environment of a health care facility toxin-free to lessen any health risks.”
Professional landscaping too is evolving, “We are working on perception,” she continues, “promoting a certification that will help clients know that the landscapers they use have been trained in safe, organic practices. I hear more and more people expressing concerns about the yellow flags (indicating pesticide spraying) and huge military lawns mowed right next to a body of water.” She emphasizes, “Perfect Earth is a process, not products.” The solution is education and information about natural alternatives.
She cautions, if you are being told that you are getting organic maintenance, and the service provider has not done a soil test or changed mowing height or checked the irrigation timing, then you are not getting the best care. To get landowners and landscapers to redirect their focus, she has a voice in the community and beyond, from Perfect Earth’s social media a lively interaction with naturally-minded followers to her popular speaking engagements. Plus, she has a book coming out in January 2020.
Edwina von Gal doesn’t believe in projections so exactly what’s ahead for the next decade she doesn’t hazard a guess; but she acknowledges that perceptions are changing. Some things have moved faster than she ever imagined. Yes, she has made a difference. She hopes for a future where the demand for educated professionals will be met by a huge community of landscapers trained as land stewards.
Each week she and her staff publish a short and pithy PRFCT Tip, which generates a lot of response and conversation. Even if you don’t have a garden. You can sign up at www.perfectearthproject.org
After hosting three hugely successful benefits, this year she is doing something different. Rather than hosting a gala which she says, “gobbles up resources and creates a lot of waste,” Perfect Earth is throwing THE NON-EVENT: You’re invited to buy a virtual ticket and stay home. Relax. And while you’re enjoying your NON-EVENT special virtual art gifts, make sure everywhere you and your family and pets go is safe and perfect. For more information on how you can contribute to a healthier landscape, log on to www.perfectearthproject.org, sign up for notices and the NON-EVENT info will be in a tip soon.