Fescue comes to the rescue at the Governor’s Residence
By Kim Colavito Markesich
Several years ago, Extension Educator Karen Filchak was working on an outreach education program on residential water quality. When the program expanded to include turf and landscape issues, Karl Guillard, professor of agronomy in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, joined the effort.
“I wanted to increase awareness of alternative lawn grasses that require less supplemental water and less fertilizer,” Guillard says. Fescue grasses fit the bill perfectly, and with that in mind, Master Gardener volunteer Jean Chicone coined the phrase “Fescue to the Rescue.”
Guillard received funding from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to start fescue demonstration sites and education programs. With support from DEP and the Oregon Fescue Commission, Guillard hired Richard Fitzpatrick to coordinate the Fescue to the Rescue Coastal Connecticut project. Fitzpatrick, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander, received his undergraduate degree in agronomy from UConn, then studied with Guillard for his MS degree in turf science. Fescue to the Rescue gained momentum.
During the summer of 2009, when a lawn needed to be replaced at the Governor’s Residence on Prospect Street in Hartford, Executive Director Carol O’Shea got in touch with Jerry Silbart, a retired physician who had worked to promote legislation restricting the use of pesticides on school grounds. Silbart, who is involved with the Northeast Organic Farming Association and the non-profit environmental organization Watershed Partnership, Inc., had collaborated with Fitzpatrick on shoreline projects. He asked Guillard and Fitzpatrick to assist with the Governor’s Residence project. Approximately 2,000 square foot of lawn had been destroyed by heavy equipment during a renovation project. Guillard and Fitzpatrick connected Governor’s Residence head groundskeeper, Darren Cugno, with Fescue to the Rescue and provided technical expertise during the project. Savage Farms of South Deerfield, Massachusetts, donated rhizomatous tall fescue (RTF) sod. RTF is a blend of different turf-type tall fescues.
“We visited the governor's mansion on September 23 to examine the results of
the RTF sod installed behind the mansion,” Fitzpatrick says. “We met with Governor Rell, and she couldn't have been more accommodating. She was extremely happy with the results.”
Silbart agrees. “Governor Rell was so pleased with the result of transitioning the Governor's Residence lawns to natural care, and the appearance of the fescue sod that was installed, that she held a reception.”
The thank-you reception held at the Governor’s Residence on October 8, 2009, was attended by all involved in the project. Governor Rell said of the project, “The organic approach has been wonderfully effective for the lawn at the Residence. What better way to take care of these grounds than the way nature had intended?”
“This was a great opportunity for us to work with Governor Rell and to provide a “real-world” demonstration of the benefits that can be obtained from our Fescue to the Rescue program,” says Guillard. “The chance to interact with our elected officials and policy makers, and have them understand what we do in fulfilling our mission goals, is so important for the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resource, and the University of Connecticut. My hope is that this project at the Governor’s residence will encourage more people to select these grasses for their lawns.”
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