Designing and Constructing Ecologically Sensitive and Functional Outdoor Living Spaces

Unity’s March 2023 Newsletter

Spring is undeniably here, bringing with it a frantic mix of cold and nasty, wet, and warm. We are feeling the excitement here at Unity. Hellebores are nodding on their stems, pansies and violets are showing their faces. The birds are chatting up a storm.

It’s so hard to be patient at this time of year! I can be found holding my head about 2 inches above the ground trying to figure out whether my perennials are emerging or if that’s just a bit of green that blew in on the wind. Catch me in the hoophouse fondling our new perennials, scheming about bringing them home to my garden and planting them right on top of the perennials that haven’t yet emerged. Patience, Martha!

I have found that a better use of my time is to work on prepping beds that don’t yet have anything planted in them. One method I’ve used a lot over the years is to dig out squares of sod and turn them upside down, next I put a layer of cardboard down, then I layer this with topsoil and mulch which holds the cardboard in place. This method provides an excellent weed barrier in the first year. It’s not ideal if you want to plant immediately after making your bed, it’s better if the cardboard has some time to begin breaking down, getting nice and soft.

We get a lot of questions about mulch and topsoil in the springtime so I thought I would take a little time to tell you about our bulk material and why we choose it. Here at Unity, we carry an enriched topsoil. This means it’s got lots of organic matter mixed in with the soil. The blend that we carry also has sand in it. This blend is beautiful, it is fine and not ridden with clumps or large rocks. We have brought in enriched topsoil samples from companies that were offering it to us at a cheaper price. Every time we could clearly see a difference in product. The color, weight and consistency of other soils led us time and again to choose our current product. The price is indeed higher than our competitors but the value shows.

As for shredded hardwood mulch, we only offer undyed mulch here at Unity. We have a lot of folks asking for a dyed mulch and while we can certainly understand that the aesthetic is desirable unfortunately the dye contains harmful chemicals that will eventually seep into the soil and also run off after heavy rains.

bulk topsoil 2

From left to right: shredded hardwood mulch, pine bark mulch, and enriched topsoil.

Finally, I am breaking one of my newsletter rules today by using this opportunity to remind you all that our spring opening is fast approaching! March 25th is our first Saturday open for the season. We will have coffee and pastries, a tree raffle and a whole bunch of plant specials. We will have a limited supply of spring annuals. There will also be ample opportunities to talk with our staff and to walk around the grounds. Plant production tours will be running at 11AM and 2PM. We also welcome dogs on leashes! We really hope to see you there to help us start off the season with a bang!

Martha O'Neill, Retail Nursery Manager


Nursery Production

March is an exciting time here at the nursery as we watch our plants wake up and show signs of life after the winter. Now that the weather is warming, we are shifting plants out of their winter homes and into the outdoor nursery areas allowing them to reacclimate to the outdoors and making room in our protected tunnels for new, more tender plants that we’ve been and will continue to pot up and grow out throughout the Spring. For our trees that have remained outside all winter, we’ll remove the insulating straw and space them apart so that when the leaves emerge, they won’t shade each other. We’ll also do any needed structural pruning before the leaves emerge. I’ve read that now is a good time to prune because you can see the structure of the tree more easily without the leaves present and soon the sap will be flowing which will help the cut surfaces heal more quickly.

mexican oregano

Inside the greenhouse, we’ve been planting up the seedlings we started about a month or so ago into plug trays. Herb seedlings are planted up into their Jiffy pots to grow out for sale this Spring. Recently, I was able to get some plants of Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) which I’ve potted up and hope to propagate through cuttings. I learned about this herb from a local chef last year at the farmers’ market, and by great coincidence, a greenhouse near where my sister lives in Ohio was growing them, so I picked up a few while visiting in early February.

Once it warms up a little more, we’ll pot up the woody cuttings we rooted out late last summer along with some native azaleas (pictured left) and American Holly cultivars we will be buying in from Carolina Native Nursery (NC) and Heartwood Nursery (PA). Heartwood Nursery propagates some interesting American holly varieties including a yellow-fruited variety called Canary, two low-spreading cultivars that only grow 3-4’ tall and 8’-10’ wide called Clarendon Spreading and Maryland Dwarf, and others including Dan Fenton, Liberty Belle, and Old Heavy Berry.

native azalea liners

In a couple of weeks, we’ll receive our bare root tree, shrub, and fern liners. We have our fingers crossed that the Maidenhair Ferns will arrive this time. I’ve tried for several years to bring in some of these without luck. Maybe this will be the year.

And, a little reminder, we've set up an online store where you can buy herb and vegetable plants now and schedule pick-up for later when you are ready to plant your garden. Click here to visit our online store. Here is the list of what we are growing this year: Unity-grown herb and vegetable list.

Theresa Mycek, Production Manager


Unity Landscape Design and Build

If you’ve driven by Unity after dark lately, you’ve probably noticed something new. Several low voltage lighting fixtures have been installed, including up lights to showcase specimen trees and path lights for our walkways.

unity office lit up

As the sun sets, Unity’s office lights up.

Low voltage landscape lighting is a popular choice among businesses and homeowners to enhance the beauty and value of their outdoor spaces. By illuminating walkways, specimen trees and accenting architectural features of your home, low voltage lighting can create a warm atmosphere perfect for entertaining guests or simply enjoying an evening outdoors.
In the field of low voltage lighting, technology continues to advance. We believe that training is an important and ongoing part of the process of staying up to date with the current trends as well as advancing our staff’s knowledge and skills. Unity’s Irrigation and Low Voltage Lighting Specialist, Walter, recently completed several trainings.

Low voltage landscape lighting offers unlimited options for showcasing your home and landscape. If you are interested in learning more, please reach out to us to schedule a consultation.

Sandy Appel, Chief Operations Officer

Walter Harrison with certificates

Walter Harrison, Irrigation & Low Voltage Lighting Specialist