Horticulture Background of Megan Riley, M R Gardens

Megan Riley is the owner of a sustainable plant nursery and two-acre educational farm in the Oakley community of Asheville, N.C. In addition to offering edible/native landscape design and garden coaching services, she grows native perennials, other beneficial flowers and medicinal herbs. In the past, she offered vegetable starts well-known for their high quality, although she has had to taper down her vegetable selection for the time being as she grows other parts of the business.

Photo of Megan by Lisa Kruss
Megan designed a unique 800-square-foot passive solar greenhouse, which produces plants with no supplemental heat or powered exhaust ventilation. She strives to grow plants with nearly all renewable resources while reusing any non-renewables.

Since 2009, Megan has been transforming her property into a native and edible landscape that is a demonstration site for her customers and students. The ecological design is not only beneficial for wildlife, but also aesthetically pleasing, as the layers of color unfold on the sloping property throughout the season. Megan practices a no-till "Microbe Rich" gardening style and makes use of natural systems to manage the landscape. She coaches others how to set up these relatively weed-free, low-maintenance beds, offers other garden management advice, and draws landscape designs for her customers. 

Culver's Root, Photo by Lisa Kruss
While Megan's extended family are farmers, her inherited love of gardening and fascination with ecology and the soil didn't emerge until graduate school. As part of her M.S. in Environmental Education from Lesley University and during complementary employment, she lived outdoors for two years, getting to know the ecosystem of each region she traveled to alongside fellow students and faculty. The natural world became her first landscape design teacher, and to this day, Megan aims to mimic the way that nature puts plants together.

Knowing that creating sustainable human systems was the best way to encourage healthy ecosystems, Megan decided to focus on sustainable agriculture as part of her graduate studies. From 2001 to 2003, she visited influential farms such as Eliot Coleman's Four Season Farm in Maine and volunteered during brief stays at several permaculture farms across the nation. She also learned from growers trained in John Jeavons' Grow Biointensive farming method, and put theory into practice at a 7-month apprenticeship at a Community Supported Agriculture venture at Fulton Sustainability Center in Pennsylvania.

Megan's training in experiential education through her graduate program enhances her customer's coaching experience. Megan remembers what it was like to be a beginning gardener 20+ years ago so she doesn't overload her clients with too much information or tasks at once.

Megan continually adds to her education to broaden her services and regularly attends conferences that are ahead of their time, such as the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference. In 2012, Megan completed a Horticulture Certificate at Haywood Community College, and her curriculum included landscape design. She also completed courses at the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism 2014-2016. As she gains a greater understanding of the Southern Appalachian ecology, she attempts to imitate these natural communities in her landscape designs. She also develops an intuitive feel of plant essences so she can pick out the best plants for each of her clients, as they each have unique needs.

Megan also learns from the diverse, unique growers in Western North Carolina, especially while she provided communications work for WNC Agricultural Options from 2008 to 2018. Meanwhile, her upbringing in a conventional farming community helps her to understand different perspectives and appreciate the struggles of all types of growers.