Learning from the Land
Floyd|Snider recently held a company retreat at the Whidbey Institute, which included a service component with our staff on the land. From the Whidbey Institute staff perspective, the day was an incredible example of volunteerism done well.
The friendship between our two organizations runs deep—Floyd|Snider has had a longstanding tradition of supporting employee participation in Powers of Leadership, and Kate Snider, founding principal, is the current Whidbey Institute Board President. I had the opportunity last week to talk with Jessi Massingale, a Floyd|Snider Principal with an oceanography and engineering background, about her team’s experience on the land. Here’s that conversation. —Marnie Jackson Read More →
Westgarden Steward Abigail Lazarowski is leaving Whidbey Island later this winter to pursue personal and professional goals in the Portland, Oregon area. While we’re sad to see her go, we’re excited about the potential for a new team member to join us, and we’re proud of the care with which Abigail is stewarding our garden through this transition. Yesterday, Communications Manager Marnie Jackson sat down with Abigail to talk about the transition, the garden, and what to expect in the months ahead. Here’s that conversation. Read More →
We are seeking a permanent three-quarter time employee to join our staff team as Westgarden Steward. The Westgarden Steward is responsible for caring for the Whidbey Institute’s Westgarden as a growing and community education space.
The Westgarden, established in 1979, is a half-acre vegetable and medicinal herb garden on the Whidbey Institute grounds. The scope of the Westgarden is broad, and has three main areas of focus: organic food and medicine production; community education and volunteer engagement; and healing experience.
by Marnie Jackson
On a recent late summer afternoon, Kumudini Shoba met with garden steward Abigail Lazarowski and me in the garden. I expected an interview, but what I got felt more like an introduction to old friends. We meandered slowly, meeting self-heal and angelica, apothecary rose and elecampane. We touched their leaves, knelt beside their roots, and studied the bees dancing among their petals. “What I do all day is help people restore balance within themselves, through getting to know the garden and its plants,” Kumudini told me. “Some people only know herbs as a capsule. Many people taking echinacea have never even seen an echinacea plant. I want people to meet these plants—these plants are teachers.”
I was excited to learn of the new program being offered at the Whidbey Institute this autumn by Christie Lynk and Kirk Webb, so I invited Kirk to discuss the program with me. Here’s that conversation. —Marnie Jackson
I recently had the opportunity to talk with our 2016 Community Gardening Leadership Training Program apprentice, Anna Strick. Anna has been a key member of our community since arriving this spring, and having her living and working on the land has enriched all of our experiences here at the Whidbey Institute. Personally, I’ve been especially touched by her warmth and friendliness, and the welcome that she shows to children in the Westgarden. My own daughters feel capable, wanted, and valued as members of the Westgarden volunteer team in part because of Anna’s mentorship. Here’s our conversation. —Marnie Jackson
by Abigail Lazarowski
Westgarden work party season has begun! We will have our first official garden work party of the season on Thursday, March 17, and they’ll continue to run every Thursday until October! We’ll work together on garden tasks from 9 am until noon and a simple lunch will be served midday.
Work parties are open to everyone, whether you would like to learn more about gardening, meet some great people, or simply spend a few hours in the sunshine! For any questions contact Abigail, Westgarden Steward, at email@example.com.
The spring robins have arrived in the garden and so have the Community Gardening Leadership Training apprentices! Four passionate people have just moved to Whidbey Island from all over the country to spend seven and a half months working in the community gardens of South Whidbey. Stoni Tomson will be the Good Cheer Food Bank Garden apprentice, Liza Elman will be the South Whidbey School District Farm and Gardens apprentices, Devin Mounts will split his time between those two gardens, and Anna Strick will be the Whidbey Institute Westgarden apprentice. Each apprentice will spend the season learning about our community food system here on South Whidbey, growing nutritious food for those individuals in our community that need it most, learning how to manage a growing space, and teaching students and volunteers about the joys of gardening.
Stay tuned throughout the season for more stories from our community garden apprentices! Here are two blogs to watch:
Those of you who have visited the Whidbey Institute recently may have noticed a mound of logs being laid around the parking lot at Thomas Berry Hall. What you are seeing is the construction of a hedgerow and restoration of the north-facing slope.
The completed hedgerow is intended to border the majority of the lot. It will create an ecologically rich boundary for the parking lot and aid in the restoration of the bramble-bothered north-facing slope. The slope is being cleared of brambles by digging them up by the roots, mulching the slope, and planting native plants.
There could have been many approaches to achieving the same thing, so I thought I would share how we came to the decision of a hedgerow. The truth is, we may not have if I had not lived in south west England for year.
After living in southwest England, this became my personal definition of a hedgerow:
Hedgerow: A snaking berm of exuberance that draws you into the symphony of the living world
Before living in England for a year, my understanding of a hedgerow was a dense line a shrubs, usually just one species, used mostly for privacy, where birds spend a lot of time. I think this is what comes to mind for most Americans.
In the southwest of England, hedgerows define thelandscape. They border most roads, sometimes so tall that you feel like you are in a tunnel. They border farmers’ fields, front yards, gardens, and just about everything needing a border.
These hedgerows are made in many different ways, but all are given structure by woody plants like hawthorn, oak, and hazel. Sometimes the plants are “laid,” planted in a row and then bent over onto each other so that they form a sort of woven fence. Others are tall rock walls with massive oak roots binding it all together. Still others are gentle, low mounds of earth and rock that are covered in wildflowers and studded with coppiced hawthorn.
Because hedgerows act as borders, you often come into direct contact with them and can find yourself walking alongside of them for some distance. As a constant presence and one that is clearly manmade, hedgerows grab attention and begin to draw you into the world more than most landscape features.
Cacophonies of wildflowers coming in seasonal waves of erupting blossoms; quiet mosses collecting raindrops; the sound of critters skittering under the cover; the sound of birds quietly practicing their songs in the early spring and letting loose a month later; the thrum of bees . . .
I remember one night while walking home in the dark, I could hear rustling followed by a sharp crunch. The pattern kept repeating itself and I realized that just a few feet into the hedge was a badger poking around and crunching on snails.
So when I looked at the parking lot and thought about how to replace the brambles we constantly fight back with something else, I envisioned people arriving and stepping out of their vehicles into an area hugged by a beautiful hedgerow full of color, birdsong, and the rest.
The questions were, did it make sense, and how would we make it?
A hedgerow would help halt the blackberry before the lot and cast shade onto the north-facing slope that would discourage the blackberry from coming back after the slope was restored. It would provide a safer boundary than the existing fence, which cannot halt a car. It would create an extremely biodiverse border for the lot, providing cover, food, and nesting habitat for birds, small mammals, countless insects, pollinators, and so on. It would act as a suntrap, catching and storing the heat raining down from the southern sky onto the lot. This warmth would make a perfect microclimate if we wanted to plant fruit trees or berry shrubs along the top. Lastly, it would be beautiful, fragrant, and make the lot more welcoming and memorable while honoring the craft that went into building Thomas Berry Hall.
Next is the how. We do not have an abundance of earth or stone for mounding, but we do have an abundance of wood. Every year we remove far more more wood from trees fallen across paths and roads than we can store as firewood. Much of it goes to others who need firewood, but we still have a surplus.
Using the hugelkultur method to construct the foundation of the hedgerow would turn our surplus wood from a storage problem into a resource. Hugelkultur means “mound culture” in German and is a method of mounding woody material, covering it over with soil, and planting directly into it. Hugelkultur has become increasingly popular in the past few years, mainly through the permaculture community and its fascination with the curious (and brilliant) Austrian agrarian, Sepp Holzer, who has made extensive use of this method.
The method has many applications from garden beds to hedgerows. The basic idea is that the wood decomposes over time, creating a spongy, nutrient rich mass that is great for plants. In places with dry summers, this spongy mass holds a tremendous amount of moisture and can reduce or eliminate the need for watering, depending on what and where you are growing.
We used big rounds of wood. These create an immediate, sturdy replacement for the the split rail fence and made it easy to build the mound up quite high. As the wood decomposes over the next few years, the mound will sink substantially leaving a mound that will likely be a bit higher than the knee.
On the north side of the mound you can see that burlap has been used to hold the topsoil and mulch in place and that sword ferns have been planted directly into the mound. The roots of the ferns will stabilize the soil the north-facing side of the mound. On the slope itself we have planted swordfern, vine maple, salal, and salmonberry, and we will continue to add species to restore habitat, stabilize the slope, and suppress the resurgence of the blackberry.
On the south-facing side of the mound that faces the parking lot, we will begin planting flowering herbs this spring. The rest of the design is yet to be decided. Trellised fruit trees? Berry shrubs? Medicinal plants? Native species? All of the above?
Please let us know if you have any thoughts, questions, or suggestions.
photos by robert mellinger
by Abigail Lazarowski with Marnie Jones
The Westgarden is waking up and we’re excited about the upcoming growing season! From digging and mulching to interviewing apprentice candidates and placing seed orders, we’ve been busy preparing for the warm months ahead.
Five volunteers joined us for a full day of work on January 25 and we managed to flip 30 beds of cover crop—every single bed we sowed! This was an exciting and record-breaking accomplishment. We’re mulching these beds with straw and fallen leaves until it’s time for spring planting. In the meantime, we’re still enjoying overwintering carrots, arugula, and sunchokes. It’s always wonderful to be able to send fresh produce to the kitchen, but it seems like a special treat in February.
We’ve just completed our apprentice recruitment process, and we’re excited to announce that we’ll be introducing four new members of our gardening community in March! We had a very strong pool of applicants, from all over the country. The high volume and quality of applications we’ve received helps us see just how much strength and visibility this Community Gardening Leadership Training program has gained over the last several years.
With the new school semester comes a new set of garden experiences for our Waldorf neighbors. Kelly Corson’s 3rd grade class will return to the garden weekly beginning in late February or early March to continue a curriculum which began with the autumn harvest.
Our Westgarden work parties will begin again in late March, on Thursday mornings in the spring and Thursdays into the afternoon once summer arrives. We have a lot to look forward to. We’re excited about growing more annual flowers, replenishing our crop of echinacea, and especially welcoming another apprentice to Chinook for a full season of shared work and learning.