Thursday, July 19, 2018

So much new-ness, so much to digest

It’s mid-July, and I’m just now taking a moment to reflect on all the new-ness that popped up at M R Gardens this past spring. Thank goodness for photos to remind me of all that happened. Believe it or not, this post (which has grown quite lengthy) summarizes just the highlights!

Biggest Change
M R Gardens now has a tiny home!

It’s currently listed on Airbnb, and we plan to eventually post on additional vacation websites that specifically reach out to people who want to be involved with or learn from the farm. When the house is not booked for guests, we can use the space for a temporary office that’s a closer walk to the greenhouse than the home office (which is helpful when tabulating plant inventory). The tiny home may be our first big step in eventually creating a learning/healing retreat-type experience, as well as expanding the types of audiences that gain from the farm. Funny that such a little building (8-foot by 24-foot) can inspire such a significant component to the farm.

Most Delightful Moment
Roots and Wings School of Art and Design brought about 15 of their preschoolers to M R Gardens end of May. 

We spent an hour together, first walking through the greenhouses and gardens, learning tidbits along the way, and then seeding winter squash and scallions together. They saw what the seed will turn into when I showed them a full-grown scallion, passing it around so they could get a whiff of the onion. The students and chaperones then sat in the shade and enjoyed a picnic lunch.

The following Saturdays, parents returned with the students to buy plants for their own garden, and one bright little one repeated to me something she had learned (how one of the yellow Roma heirloom tomatoes looks like a lemon). I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them, and I hope this first preschool tour at M R Gardens is not the last!

Most Amazing Moment
I had not been to Emily’s property in Five Points (near UNCA) since fall of 2016 when I helped her create a landscape design. Her property has some gardening challenges because it is surrounded by black walnuts, which produces a poison that can deter some plants’ growth.

Emily's backyard - Fall 2016

Emily's main goal is to attract wildlife, but we needed to stick to nectar plants rather than ones that produce a lot of pollen for allergy concerns. After completing her design, I gave her a list of local nurseries where she could purchase the shade plants that my nursery doesn’t currently produce, and introduced her to my helper Brooke. The two were almost entirely self-sufficient from that point on.
It's nearly always breath-taking to walk into a natives garden after not visiting it for two or three years. The plants are so small when we plant them, and in the first year or two, their growth above ground is often slow because they put most their energy into their roots. I think my experience at Emily’s was particularly amazing because I saw all of Emily’s “insides”—her plant knowledge, love for wildlife, and commitment to healthy ecosystems—blossom on the outside into this beautiful landscape. I also knew that she and Brooke had formed a special professional bond to create this little urban oasis together.

Mid-May 2018

Most Fun Moment
When there’s so much fun on a daily basis with my work, it’s hard to pick the “most fun” but that’s what comes to mind when I think back to mid-April, planting with Lin and Tim, M R Gardens clients who live in Southeast Asheville, along with their helper Flint, who is also a student of M R Gardens’ Emergence program. Lin and Tim like to joke about their age, and didn’t want to waste any time creating a landscape so that they have “plenty of time to enjoy it.” (By the way, they’re about two of the most hip, youthful acting people I know!)

I don’t think they had a full picture in their minds of the transformation we were making to their backyard until we placed out all the pots to be planted, and Tim said good-naturedly “Holy Sh*t!” 

Mid-April planting day
Flint and Lin watering

Don't worry - Tim is just taking a break. He helped plenty
One unique piece about this project is that Lin wanted to incorporate some of her favorite ornamentals that aren’t necessarily natives. So we ended up adding a few plants that I don’t typically work with—and I loved seeing how they enhanced the aesthetics of the natives. Great teamwork in creating this design!

Mid-June, Lilies are popping, next to the Catmint.

Heuchera, Columbine, and Foamflower

Late June, a wood chip pathway was added

M R Gardens doesn’t usually promote boxed gardens (because it’s easiest and less expensive to build rich beneficial microbe populations innative soil) but it was needed in this location due to a slope. Flint dove into the project!

Lin reminds me repeatedly how thrilled she is with a yard full of colors. Meanwhile, gardening has helped Tim, who has also participated in M R Gardens’ on-site Grow program, settle into the city, to which they moved last year. “I very much appreciate all the ways you have contributed to my life here in Asheville,” he said.

For more information about this design, see this newsletter.

Most Promise
Evelyn’s landscape installation in the Enka-Candler area is in its early stages, but we took the first steps in April by planting Great Blue Lobelia, White Turtlehead, Wild Geranium and Dwarf Fothergilla. The 13-year-old Honda Civic can really pack in the plants!

Trunk of the Honda Civic - M R Gardens' delivery vehicle

The backseat of the delivery car.

Blue Lobelia and White Turtlehead next to an existing Rose.

Here’s the full landscape design, which we’ll install in stages year by year.

Since Evelyn has researched invasive species as part of your graduate work, as well as worked on projects in the national forests in the past, she has a great understanding of how plants grow naturally, and now we're weaving that knowledge into landscaping.

This spring, we also took Doug's landscape in the Reynolds community to the next stage (read about it here) by planting Serviceberry and low growing native perennials in a mulched area we had prepped the previous fall. In the meantime, almost all the Bradbury’s Monarda we planted last spring have returned! (That’s not always a given with first-year herbaceous perennials).

Bradbury's Monarda
In part because of his involvement with the Audubon Society, Doug has been inspired by his love of birds to create a natives landscape, and had a list of the plants he wanted to incorporate in his landscape before even contacting me last year. He continues to have great ideas, drawn to up-in-coming landscaping philosophies like Claudia West and Thomas Rainer's ecological planting, which I too have been keeping an eye on. We'll continue to tweak his design as we learn more.

Most Growth
Susan, M R Gardens’ veteran client, keeps adding and learning and gaining from her garden. “I can’t tell you how much joy this garden gives me,” Susan said. “It just fills my heart,” especially as she’s walking around it in the mornings while the birds and other wildlife chirp and buzz.

Get a tour by watching this video, taken mid-June:

And also take a look at what the landscape looks like once the summer blooms appear...
Black Eyed Susans - mid-July
Echinacea and Butterfly Weed
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Joe Pye Weed with Cup Plant

Most Learning
We took on quite a few “firsts” this year, including revamping the landscape of a spa in Hendersonville.

"Before" - Fall 2017
"After" - Spring 2018

Typically our garden clients are involved with the project every step of the way, but extensive participation is nearly impossible for a business owner whose every moment is precious. Given that a spa fits so well with M R Gardens’ aim of healing through plants, we went ahead and took on this project even though the owner could only be minimally involved.

In the midst of the project, we realized that an integral part of any native, medicinal and edible landscape is the owner. The garden is not just for aesthetics, but for so many other values that the owner gains from. So to take the owner out of the equation is like taking out the heart of a being. A native, medicinal and edible garden requires a caretaker, and there’s so much to learn about how to care for it, that a typical landscape crew typically won’t do.

While M R Gardens will continue to train other gardeners to help clients maintain their gardens, we’ll likely be hesitant to take on a client who can't participate in the project. A unique piece of most all M R Gardens’ landscapes thus far is involvement of the clients, even if they are just researching and recommending the types of plants we use, and we’re in the midst of evolving our business model so we can continue to keep that theme.

That all said, the spa owner (who did by the way help us plant a few pots in between giving services to her clients) was very pleased to see the old bushes replaced with plants that she said the birds seemed to be singing a tune for. We appreciate her giving natives a try and look forward to hearing how the landscape evolves over time.

Needs the Most Help
We completed another stage of the Black Mountain Elementary School slope, which the Town of Black Mountain has been helping transform from a grassy and weedy mess to something more useful and educational for the school.
Late April - we planted into a slope that we had solarized with plastic so the existing grass became a mulch when it died off.

Late May - Coreopsis are blooming
Due to some recent changes at the school and town, the rest of the slope might not be completed unless the public decides to make it a priority. If you’re interested in donating funds or time so that the remaining landscape plan can be completed, which includes native pollinators and slope stabilizers, contact us and we’ll put you in touch with the Town. Right now, it's in most need of an experienced gardener familiar with naturalized landscaping to help keep it looking a bit tidier. Even a naturalized landscape needs some attention.

Mid-July - Lots of blooms, but needs a little TLC

Last But Not Least, the Most Rewarding-The Grow Program
This year we also hosted a year-long program for gardeners who want to learn sustainable practices as well as grow their food together.

When new gardeners spend their first year on a farm, there is so much to take in, that often all they can do is just experience it without actually retaining the details. As adults, fact retention is even more challenging because we are bringing so much from our rushed daily lives that all we can realistically do when with the plants and classmates is recuperate and socialize. So to expect a graduate from the Emergence program to actually have paid work after leaving the year-long program may have been ambitious.

But yet, that’s what I’m seeing. They’re becoming independent landscapers (if they’ve had years of prior experience), or they’re picking up some extra work by lending a hand to more experienced gardeners, or they’re writing articles for newspapers using the farming knowledge they gleaned in class. And most rewarding of all, positive changes have emerged in their families and home lives due to some of the reconnecting they did while at the farm.

My biggest realization from the Grow program is that, at times, allowing space for some deeper experience needs to take priority over learning in a traditional way or accomplishing a project. “In the garden, there are different spaces for new growth, weeds, diseased and healthy plants, wildlife, and just places to rest,” said Ali, a Grow student. “And that's a good metaphor for myself and the rest of the participants as we take up physical and mental space in your garden, and learn our own lessons.”

As I design programs for the future, I’m considering intentionally creating opportunities for people in the midst of a transitional time who need the therapeutic experience of gardening. In the meantime, I’d like to establish programs for budding professionals who have already gone through an extensive healing experience at a farm or in natural settings so that they can jump quickly into paid work and be a part of M R Gardens as it grows. Stay tuned – I’ll update the Learn at the Gardens page once I figure it out!