Redefining Curb Appeal

It all started with the desire to sell a house back in 2012. Looking to downsize now that his children were grown, landscaper Jay Archer spoke with realtors to determine how he could enhance his property’s value before putting it on the market.

jay archer
Published October 25, 2013 8:07 PM
4 min read


By Bill Lawyer  

jay archerIt all started with the desire to sell a house back in 2012. Looking to downsize now that his children were grown, landscaper Jay Archer spoke with realtors to determine how he could enhance his property’s value before putting it on the market.

It’s a split-level ranch house on an .18-acre plot — right next to Beaver Swamp Creek and wetlands on Park Avenue. Prospective buyers would not believe that the house has never flooded.

Realtors suggested a nice grassy lawn with typical perennial plants and shrubs. This, they said, would improve its curb appeal. But due to the serious flooding of the Creek over the past few years, potential buyers were still scared away, and the bids came in much lower than Archer thought were acceptable.

He decided not to sell, and, instead, set out to convert the front and rear grounds, and even the patio and deck area, into a proto-type of green landscape that potential clients – homeowners, office parks, shopping malls and the like – could come and see.  A new kind of curb appeal!

The result – still a work-in-progress according to Archer – is what he calls a “Celestial Garden.” The process can be seen in photographs, by visiting his company website,

Archer started a lawn-care business after high school back in the 1970s.  Even then he knew that he wanted something more. He got a job working for the Lawn Doctor franchise in the 1980s. But he felt that this company put most of its focus on the stereotypical suburban grass and shrubs formula, kept “green” by heavy infusions of chemicals.

He wanted a family business that would create ecological, organic habitats for healthy living in sustainable settings. He also wanted to provide education as well as landscaping advice. He worked for several years on environmental projects with the Nature Conservancy, at the Mianus River Gorge preserve.

After taking “nearly every landscaping course offered” at the New York Botanical Garden, he started John Jay Landscaping Company in 1993, based in Katonah.

Over the years Archer became closely associated with the environmental approach to landscaping. He worked with a variety of nature centers, Westchester County Parks, and the New York State Turf and Landscape Association (NSTLA).

His many projects include a large-scale rainscape, which also serves as an outdoor classroom and a public garden at the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College in Valhalla. The project employed bioengineering methods. It meets the standards and guidelines for LID (Low Impact Development) SSI (Sustainable Site Initiative), as well as all local and federal stormwater requirements.

Archer’s landscape projects utilize native plants and natural earth products to produce a beautiful composition of flowering perennials, trees, and shrubs. The gardens are also organic by design and maintenance practices, requiring no watering, fertilizing, or pesticides.

In the past year, Archer sold off his interest in John Jay Landscaping and started a new company, with more of a lower Westchester focus. He continues to work collaboratively with a variety of environmental organizations, including Grassroots Environmental Education.

Archer’s “Celestial Garden” project has been coming right along.  A recent visit revealed that the entire rear and side yards of the property have been converted from grass to a more naturalized habitat, complete with mini- streams, a waterfall, bridges, and mostly native plantings to encourage biodiversity. The hard surfaces – flagstone deck and paths – have been shrunk.

One unusual choice is the planting of two weeping gingko trees that will provide understory shade and unusual leaf shape.

Beyond that, Archer has installed several types of bird feeders. And the streams have been stocked with fish. Frogs have come in without any invitation.

So far, he’s had few problems with unwanted predators, although he does admit that now and then he gets a hawk perching in the surrounding trees to feed on the birds.

He has generated water for his plants, streams, and waterfall by directing the stormwater runoff from the solid copper gutters installation to the infiltration trenches – a form of passive irrigation. By having a copper gutter installation, you will not only enhance your home’s curb appeal, you’ll also be able to collect rainwater that you can use in your garden. If you plan to replace your gutters, you may also take this time to have your roof inspected and/or repaired by a roofing contractor.

Perhaps his most ambitious project has been converting the raised deck off his kitchen from a place for lounging to an herb and vegetable garden. He is using a variety of simple but high-tech devices – a tower garden, a wooly pockets garden, and window farms. These are patented products that can be purchased through various on-line venues.

Each device provides the ability to raise plants in vertical beds. They utilize watering pumps that deliver water from reservoirs to the plants above through pumps operating on timers.

Archer says that the tower garden is the most efficient – and in mid-October his was thick with various types of lettuce, herbs, and cherry tomatoes. The plants grow in a medium called rock wool, which absorbs moisture and nutrients.

In addition to potential clients, Archer is reaching out to garden clubs, environmental organizations, schools, and other non-profits to visit his Celestial Garden.  He also developed a program, “Landscapes For Better Living, A Holistic Approach to Landscape Management,” to present to interested groups.

Archer wants to show people how they can go from a house with curb appeal to one with “sustainability appeal.”

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