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25 May 2021

Down to Earth: Christina Chrobokowa

Post-Storm Sandy restoration: a native lawn of standing ovation little blue stem grass.

When designing outdoor spaces, Christina Chrobokowa (crow-bow-cove-ah) takes her cues from one of the strongest and wisest voices of all: Mother Nature. What are gardens but simply nature lent to landowners for a period of time. “Mother Nature is not bound by property lines nor are the elements,” she says. At her firm 360 Earth Works, the homeowner’s needs are balanced with the natural order of water, earth, air and plants. Restoring and conserving is the leading component of her work, so designing in alignment with nature then becomes the natural result. The history of humanity has shown that we take more than we need, she says. And the cost of that is apparent. Her land care projects reflect the full circle of Mothers Natures complexity ranging from creation, maintenance or restoration.

Q&A

Janet Mavec: What were your biggest lessons during shelter-in-place?

Christina Chrobokowa: There is even more appreciation of nature as a source of calm in a storm especially with regards to forests, fields and streams. And New Jersey has thankfully is returning to our agrarian heritage as the Garden State with regards to growing food. Also because of Covid, new creative methods in communication and cooperation has improved between the clients, consultants, and contractors we work with.

JM: What’s your favorite season?

CC: I look forward to each Winter and Summer Solstice because of the inherent patterns of the sun that guide us all.

A contemplative space under a cathedral of tulips, poplars, with native woodland grass. Carex Pennsylvania framed by redbuds.

JM: What’s the your aesthetic of your garden style?

CC: Organized Chaos. But it really depends on the land. Nature already provides a beautiful canvas in which I add a few brushstrokes to help draw the eye to what is already there

JM: What’s your top two plants and why?

CC: Sambucus canandensis (American elder) for its ability to grow in a variety of conditions and provide fruit that boosts immunity. Andropogon virginicus (a species of grass) for its wonderful resistance to gravity in winter. It has an explosion of fluffy seed heads in the fall that remain upright until the heaviest of snows, a perfect balance of strong and soft in one plant. It’s something each of us could learn from regarding resilience.

JM: What plant gets no love and why should we pay more attention to it?

CC: All of the above, plus a frenemy of the garden Chasmanthium latifolium (woodoats). It’s despised by horticulturists for running rampant in a garden. But woodoats is a first line of defense to the invasive stilt grass in the transition from landscape to woods’ and waters’ edge where deer are rampant.

JM: What’s the one garden/outdoors tool you can’t live without?

CC: A camera. For no matter how much planning, planting, and caring, it reminds me of the impermanence of it all. It’s a simple way to relax within the dynamic tango of the element so I get to freeze a moment in time. Native Planting to stabilize a slope.

A formal garden meets the ecosystem services of a diverse blend of native ground covers and shrubs.

JM: When is the last time you hugged a tree?

CC: Three days ago.

JM: What’s a sign of respect that you give to nature’s green beings.

CC: Observation, conservation, and, with regards to Ash trees and the Borer beetle, a 1:10 Ratio of Removal : Replanting

JM: What’s one of your favorite resources that is focused on nature?

CC: The Savanna Institute, (the nonprofit deals with scalable agroforestry in the Midwest). It’s high time conservation and agriculture join forces. The leadership coming from permaculture, regenerative agriculture and agroforestry is a way forward.

JM: What new things are happening for you in 2021?

CC: Agricultural Consulting, which encourages collaboration between agriculture, forestry and conservation. With so many Ash coming down and monoculture crops that have depleted the soil, we have an opportunity to revisit and replant with an aim towards diversity and sustainability relying on the expertise of pioneers in permaculture and regenerative agriculture.

Christina wearing Janet Mavec's new Millefleurs earrings.