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Meet Kate Kennen of Offshoots in Charlestown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kate Kennen.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up on a garden center in central Massachusetts (www.pvnpaxton.com), and in my college years became frustrated by how consumptive landscaping practices can be. Gardens in the US are typically driven by aesthetics, often consuming excessive amounts fossil fuels, chemicals, water and natural resources. I believe there is a different way. I founded Offshoots to create a company engaged in designing and installing landscapes that are sustainable, organic, and contribute to natural ecologies (and are potentially edible!). Offshoots is now a hybrid practice in Charlestown offering both landscape architecture and productive landscape installation services in and around the Boston area and North Shore. 

Has it been a smooth road?
It can be a challenge to educate clients that a ‘green lawn’ may not be the most appropriate addition to their landscapes if they are interested in sustainability. Lawns in the north east are typically not naturally green in the summer months when they are supposed to go dormant and turn brown. They have to be watered with irrigation to maintain the green color.

In addition, to turn a Client’s traditionally managed (fertilizer and pesticide laden) lawn organic, there can often be a 3 year wait time when the lawn doesn’t look perfect as it transitions off of its ‘lawn on drugs’ routine to an organic, less nitrogen intensive routine.

Alternative sustainable landscape maintenance practices can take time to explain to clients, and we find that we have to do a lot of education with potential clients to set clear expectations.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Offshoots story. Tell us more about the business.
We are a certified horticulturists, arborists, and permaculture experts, and also provide certified organic garden maintenance practices.

What do I mean by ‘productive landscape’?
Instead of using aesthetics and art as a starting point for landscape/or urban design, Offshoots instead considers what the landscape can DO, i.e.: what functions can landscape design best provide in any given context. This is used as the generative force for conceptual garden design.

We ask ourselves many questions, which vary from site-to site and are generated by the context of a place, to start to consider productive landscape strategies. Some examples:

Can an edible food source for humans be created? For birds? For other wildlife? Can the local economy be supported? Can we reach net Zero CO2 emissions? Can only plants grown locally be used? Could the landscape be low maintenance (use less water, less fertilizer and less fuel)? Could it recharge the local aquifer and cleanse or save water? Could it plant the seed for another offshoot business to grow?

We strive to create landscapes with the following benefits:

+Low Maintenance, Low Water Use: Low maintenance landscapes are not only less expensive in the future, but less mowing and fuel consumption results in less carbon dioxide generation and greater energy independence. Organic Installation Practices: We work with growers to source organically grown plant materials. We hope to create demand in the horticulture industry to grow organic, sustainably produced plants

+Reconnect Native Ecologies & Water Systems: We identify important bird, plant, and wildlife habitats, and consider reconnecting fragmented systems.

+Minimize Energy Inputs: We consider finding alternatives to high maintenance blue grass lawns, and use landscape structure to contribute to ecosystem services such as passive heating and cooling of buildings.

+Edible Landscapes: We integrate food sources and edible plants into the landscape when appropriate.
Utilize Phytotechnologies: If chosen properly, plants have the ability to clean contaminated water and land

+Locally Sourced Plant Materials: Plant materials are often grown on the west coast and southern US, and shipped thousands to miles to destination plantings. Offshoots is dedicated to sourcing our plants locally (within 300 miles.) This results in installations of strong hardy plants, while supporting our local economy and decreasing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from shipping materials long distances.

+Aesthetics: Our number one goal is for our clients to perceive our landscapes as beautiful; the sustainability practices may lie silently, but importantly, in the background.

We believe in the creation of productive landscapes, rather than traditional, consumptive landscapes.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
It is really nice to see DIY interest in gardening. I saw Martha Stewart speak at an Independent Garden Center Conference a few years ago, and she mentioned that she thought ornamental gardening was ‘dead’. Although gardening for pure aesthetics may be passé, gardening to produce food has created a huge interest in the field. We often now design entire foundation plantings at homes with edible qualities utilizing plants like Blueberry, Amelanchier (June Berry), Ostrich Ferns (fiddle heads) and Basswood (Called Salad tree cause many parts are edible). Sometime we install traditional vegetable gardens, but often we will integrate more creative concepts like a ‘Mint & Mojitos’ garden, or ‘Tea Thyme’ garden. Many of these landscape can be quite low maintenance while producing food and providing aesthetics at the same time.

Pricing:

  • Landscape Design Master Plans for residences start at $1,500
  • Landscape installation labor rate is $60 per hour

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Eric Roth, Beth Philips, Kate Kennen, Luis Brens

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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