How to Garden Green

Blooming Tulips in Garden

Spring is here, and another season of rebirth and growth is upon us. We have a new opportunity, as gardeners, as homeowners, and as earth’s citizens, to make choices that support life, down to the tiniest creatures. Although you may not see evidence of it every day, your garden is teeming with life: bees lazily buzzing from flower to flower, birds flitting through trees brimming with nests and berries, and rivers, streams and ponds in wetlands throughout the region you call home

To really see just how many creatures are part of your micro ecosystem, try this: Sink a clean glass jar, without its lid, into a hole in the ground, and leave it overnight. The next morning, walk outside and enjoy your coffee with the beetles and other little visitors who came to your garden while you slept. Each one is part of a delicate balance that exists in every square foot of your property.

praying mantis

Make Your Garden a Sanctuary

Lawn and garden chemicals are poisons to things that live, including humans and pets. They pollute our water, harm wildlife, and interrupt the delicate balance of our ecosystem. They may also be endocrine disruptors, interfering with the body’s hormonal system in both humans and wildlife. If you’re not part of the suburban quest for the perfect lawn, then your neighbors might be. Killing weeds and encouraging rapid growth of thick green grass may seem the natural thing to do, but nothing could be further from nature.

One hundred million pounds of lawn care chemicals are used by homeowners every year. These include chemicals that kill weeds, insects, and a variety of plant diseases.  A study from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested. The average person carried 12 of the 23 pesticides they searched for. Many of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and liver or kidney damage.

This Year, Garden Green 

It’s possible to have a beautiful lawn and garden without resorting to dangerous and toxic chemicals. Make this year your “Garden Green” year.

Boy lies on a grass

Here’s how for the lawn:

  • Healthy soil promotes healthy plants. This is your foundation for every other thing you do in the garden. How do you get healthy soil? Add organic compost. You can make your own, or buy it.
  • Corn gluten is increasingly used as a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer. Organic fertilizers feed your lawn slowly; quick release chemical fertilizers encourage rapid growth that weakens the grass, promotes disease and leaches into nearby surface waters.
  • Tolerate a few weeds. You can dig them out by hand if they bother you, or you can adopt the philosophy of “live and let live.” A few weeds can also provide a home for beneficial insects, which keep the overall landscape in good health.
  • For the first and last mowing, mow down to two inches, which prevents fungus growth. For the rest of the year, keep our grass higher, at three inches, to shade out weeds and foster deep roots. Short grass promotes weeds, shallow roots and thatch.


Here’s how for the garden:

  • Just like in your lawn, add organic material to your garden soil to make it healthier, and less likely to be a host to disease.
  • Spread mulch (chopped leaves, shredded bark, compost) to smother weeds and keep soil moist.
  • Put up birdhouses and bird feeders to encourage nature’s pest patrol to help with insect problems.
  • Carefully choose plants that are suited to your year round temperatures, rainfall and amount of sun required. Look for disease resistant varieties of ornamental trees and roses.
  • A diverse biosphere in the garden best mimics nature, and makes a stable ecosystem. Plant a mix of trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs.
  • Remember that even organic chemicals and pesticides can cause damage if overused, so apply with care, and be sparing in their use!

A few other ideas to make your garden a home for wildlife and a pleasure for everyone:


  • Instead of putting up fences, plant hedges.  A hedge can provide food, shelter and a nursery for wildlife, including birds and butterflies. If you want a fool-proof way to bring butterflies to your garden, plant a butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)! Monarch butterflies love the purple variety. 
  • Set up a wormery. If you have a compost system, add worms! You can buy a full kit, and they’ll eat virtually any organic kitchen waste. You’ll be making the best compost in the world. You might try Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.
  • Encourage other beneficial insects. Lady bugs that eat aphids can be purchased online (Gardens Alive offers lady beetles by mail) or, if you live in Connecticut, at Gilberties Herb Garden in Westport.
  • If you have the space, you can even add a few chickens to provide your family with eggs. They enjoy foraging for garden insects, so they’re a benefit in two ways. Check out Backyard Chickens for more information!

Enjoy nature, and feel good about keeping your little piece of the earth safe and clean. Happy Spring!



The Vindication of Vincent Van Gogh


Self Portrait

Just mention the words “Sunflowers” or “Starry Night,” and the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh effortlessly float into mind.  They are the result of the mastery of one of the most prolific and accomplished painters of all time.   Although his distinctive painting style has made him one of the most celebrated—and most easily recognizable—artists in the world, he sold only one painting during his life, and it wasn’t until after his death that he became famous.


Starry Night

Sadly, his name also conjures the image of the “tortured artist,” a man who suffered from hallucinations and grappled with demons.  His short life was marred by hospital stays for mental illness and physical decline.  After just ten years of painting and producing 900 paintings, Van Gogh took his own life in 1890, at the age of 37.

Self Portrait

 In the 122 years since his death, attempts have been made to understand the underlying causes of his feverish work style, his exhaustion and his suffering.  Diagnoses range from bipolar disorder to epilepsy to sunstroke from spending long hours out of doors while painting.



One of America’s top Environmental Medicine physicians and a fan of Van Gogh since her teens,  Adrienne Sprouse M.D. has spent years studying the life of Vincent, and believes the answer lies in a different direction:  repeated daily exposure to dangerous chemicals.



The son of a pastor, Vincent didn’t decide to pursue art until 1880, when he was 27.  He studied in Belgium, then lived briefly in Paris with his brother, Theo. He met Pissarro, Monet and Gaugin.  After moving to the South of France in 1888, Vincent re-charged his original somber-toned palette with bright yellows, greens, and blues, deliberately creating contrasts and using light in new ways. Eventually he moved into his Yellow House, using the ground floor as his studio and his second floor bedroom as a private “gallery,” hanging freshly-painted tableaux around his bed to dry.


Yellow House

Even as Vincent was creating his masterpieces, his health was declining.  He was known among his friends for having a nervous temperament, and he could be a difficult companion.  But near the end of 1888 came his famous breakdown.  In December of that year, in an incident involving Gaugin, Vincent cut off part of his ear.  His closest friends feared the worse, as his mental state deteriorated into madness.


Hospital Ward

What happened next is the subject of the Docu-Drama feature film Passion and Poison-The Vindication of Vincent Van Gogh, based on Dr. Sprouse’s extensive research into Vincent’s work and the cause of his mental and physical decline.

Dr. Sprouse has researched Vincent’s medical condition for more than 30 years, traveling to France, Belgium, England and The Netherlands dozens of times, searching through hundreds of documents and medical records.  She has gained unprecedented access to the asylum where Vincent stayed, has taken thousands of photographs, interviewed countless people, including leading experts, meticulously read all of Vincent’s (more than 800!) letters to his brother Theo and others, combed through ancient texts in French (she is fluent) and even followed the trail to a 19th century physician’s belongings stored in a warehouse in a secluded area of southern France.

After years of exhaustive research, Dr. Sprouse is able to make the provocative statement “I know why Vincent Van Gogh died. He wasn’t crazy.” And she can prove it.  The heroic efforts of this dedicated 21st century physician finally sets the record straight on the illness of one of the most celebrated 19th century artists.

“Passion and Poison: The Vindication of Vincent Van Gogh” not only describes Van Gogh’s illness, but also demonstrates how, today, people are becoming sick from products they never suspected would make them ill.  The public health message…exposure to small levels of common chemicals can cause big health problems.

Join director Frank Zagottis, producer Mario Sprouse, and researcher Adrienne Sprouse for a special fundraising event.  For the first time, a 20 minute preview of the documentary film will be shown on the big screen of The Newtown Road Backyard Cinema. 

Wine, soft drinks and food will be served.  A $25 minimum donation toward the production of the film is suggested.  A fireside discussion with the film makers will follow.

See you there!

Sunday, September 23, 2012 6:30 p.m. at the Newtown Road Backyard Film Festival Cinema.   45-19 Newtown Road, Astoria, Queens NY.

For more information: 718-204-2498 or 917-941-3130

Or please visit the website for more information and to contribute to this ground-breaking movie.

You can read an earlier post by Dr. Sprouse about ADD here.