Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Efficient by design

As she began my tour of Beaver Lodge in Ashfield, Marie Stella said, “I’m a designer. I’ve always been absorbed by fashion, interior and landscape design,” Her current and ongoing design project is the landscape surrounding her beautiful house, which has been given a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating. This is very unusual for a residence.

LEED designations require that materials be as local as possible and that recycled materials be used when possible. For example, at Beaver Lodge, floors are made with wood from trees removed from the site. Stella touched on many other examples as we walked.

Since her house has been designed with energy efficiency and environmental concerns in mind, it is no surprise that the limited domestic landscape shares these design constraints. The garden is designed on permaculture principles with a large emphasis on edibles.

Beaver Lodge will be among some 37 sites within 30 miles of Greenfield that will be open to visitors during the Green Buildings Open House Tour on Saturday, Oct. 5,

The first notable aspect of the Beaver Lodge garden that stretches to the south, in front of the house, is the absence of lawn. In the center are large raised vegetable beds, with perennial crops like asparagus, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries and dwarf fruit trees along the eastern border. A small, new collection of shitake mushroom logs rests in the shade of the woods.

The western border includes a grapevine-covered arbor furnished with a rustic table and benches to provide a shady resting space. Closer to the house, a wild garden filled with native pollinator plants nestles against the broad Ashfield stone terrace that is the transition between the garden and the house. Instead of grass, woodchips carpet the ground. This relatively small cultivated space is held in the embrace of a mixed woodland.

To the north of the house is an old beaver pond, which gives its name to Stella’s model house and landscape. In addition to being a designer, Stella is a teacher and she has designed Beaver Lodge as a teaching tool. She gives classes at the Landscape Institute at Boston Architecture College and online.

She did not begin her career as a teacher and gardening was only an avocation. However, 25 years or so ago, when her children were young, she took a couple of Elsa Bakalar’s garden classes at her house here in Heath. She found those so inspiring she was led to a course in plant materials at the Radcliff Institute in Boston. That was so engaging that she went on to complete the certification program, and then another one.

During those Radcliff classes, she realized a new future was waiting for her. She could combine her earlier background as a historian with her interest in the landscape. She liked writing. Soon she was writing and lecturing about landscape history. She organized and led garden tours to Japan and Italy.

As fascinated as she has been with the history of the landscape, she began to look toward the future and so came about the construction of Beaver Lodge, which will be part of the free NESEA Green Buildings Open House Tour.

Of course, Stella realizes that if you have a vegetable garden it must be watered. I was very impressed with the systems she has in place to supply adequate water to the edible gardens. At one end of the house, the rain gutters bring water to a large stone retention pond that serves an important function, but is also beautiful since it is constructed of stone blasted from construction of the house. A pump brings water up to the vegetable garden when it is needed. She has added a bit of whimsy, as well. She has created a small fountain that uses water from the retention pond and then brings it back to the pond down a created stream bed.

Since I visited last in 2009, Stella has added a small greenhouse that incorporates a cold frame and makes use of recycled windows. The greenhouse will give her a chance to get seedlings started early. Inside the greenhouse is a 550-gallon, food-grade plastic cistern that collects rain from the gutters and then pipes it into the garden.

She also has a root cellar where she can overwinter bulbs and tubers. The constraint for other uses is that snow build-up often prevents access during the winter.

Shakespeare once penned the line “Sermons in stones and good in everything ...” Those who study and visit Beaver Lodge will find encyclopedias of good knowledge in this living lesson book.

Open House Tour Oct. 5

For information on visiting Beaver Lodge and all the sites on a Green Buildings Open House Tour on Saturday, Oct. 5, you can go to the NESEA (Northeast Sustainable Energy Association) website,, and click on the “Green Buildings Open House” button. There you will be able to put in your own ZIP code and the distance you are willing to drive. Over 200 houses are on the tour in the whole Northeast, from Maine to Pennsylvania. Several are in Greenfield itself with others in Montague, Colrain, Northfield and South Deerfield, in addition to Beaver Lodge. The website will give you information about each house and its green elements, along with cost, benefits and suppliers. The tour is free, but you should sign up.

Just browsing the Open House website will give you a lot of information and ideas. The owner of a historic house in Montague will be giving a talk from 10 a.m. to noon “about how we successfully survived a Deep Energy Retrofit with our marriage AND our historic windows intact!e_SDRq

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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