"a home is a very special place and, as we both have come to learn, how to nurture it - to literally build it and then feed the children in it - is a labor of love that only you can do. It can be hard to have somebody else to come in and do all that work for you, so we’re trying to find this medium to create a bridge with our work, making it humble, yet fun, and
helping to demystify the whole process.”
Sandra Nam Cioffi, Co-founder with Meg Herndon of Plant Me A Rainbow
For this our third week of a multi-episode series looking at the work of native plant organizations and gardeners on the ground and around the country, we’re joined by two landscape architects, mothers, and gardeners - whose belief in good design, and sustainably sourced plants, tools and advice, propelled them to co-found an endeavor known as Plant Me A Rainbow. Meg Herndon and Sandra Nam Cioffi, co-founders, join us today from their respective places in New Hampshire and New York to share more about their journeys and their hopes.
Starting from a business model based on offering pre-designed ornamental gardens - complete with design, sustainably grown perennials, and tools, one of their greatest hopes is to be a source of support, of solid advice and resources to help homeowners who are longing for functional and beautiful gardens that are also healthy for their families and for the environment.
Both women see some direct analogies between being parents, and being gardeners, and much of their design work is based on a concept they call the Garden Pyramid, which is a combination of design approaches including that of aspects of classic perfumery and matrix planting. We’ve talked about this concept many times on the program – with Rick Darke discussing the gardens of the Highline, with Thomas Rainer and his work with Claudia West, Phyto Studio and Planting in a Post Wild World among others. The matrix planting concept may have been codified and promulgated in post World War II Germany, but it is of course biomimetic - exactly how Mother Nature often wants to grow in successions and layers. Other cultures have used the concept across time and space – one example being the Indigenous cultures of North America and their three sisters plantings of Corn, Squash, and Beans.
Through their work, Sandra and Meg are working to address some of the challenges in the horticultural industry right now - from work place culture, family-friendly work schedules/expectations, sustainability, and thoughtfully, responsibly, and sustainably grown plants and access to them on some very personal levels.
My greatest hope and objective with this compelling conversation is not to supporting this one however wonderful business, rather it is to raise the bar on what we as gardeners and garden consumers look for, expect, and insist on in this horticultural industry.
How are our plants being grown? What are ALL the costs involved in the plants or seeds we buy? What are the tenets of a well-designed garden, and from whose perspective? What is wasteful or even harmful and how can we all creatively and intelligently rededicate ourselves to ensuring we’re part of solutions – for watersheds, habitats, economies, communities and families? We’re all in this together and the more we know, the more positive impacts we can have.
THINKING OUT LOUD this week..
This whole conversation with Meg and Sandra at its heart gets to some deep cultural struggles many people come up against - universal hurdles as they are manifested in the specifics of the horticultural world – things like how we balance making a living with making a life of meaning for our places, our families, ourselves, our world.
It comes up against how hard it can sometimes be to hold firm to an ideal of community over competition, of being effective and saving time and resources quite quickly becoming a thoughtless buying into convenience over pernicious long term effects to ourselves, our communities, and our world at large.
I’m well aware of how hard it can be to see and grasp ALL the costs involved in every decision we make in the garden just as in every other aspect of our life.
And I keep coming back to this: it’s up to us to talk, to share, to question, to challenge. To not be sold on the idea of blooming 1 gallon plastic pots of spring flowers in August and July in our big box stores without asking what exactly that took - is that normal? Should it be? why? Why not?
And what are the alternatives? Why are small independent nurseries that supply innovative interesting plant diversity in small efficient sizes that grow well, businesses that support families, the water, soil, and air health of their communities to say nothing of the physical health and wellbeing of their staff – struggling? Is it really more expensive for us? What are the hidden costs of not asking about pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones? Why and what are the alternatives?
We can do better – we are far more imaginative, intelligent, creative, innovative and powerful as gardeners than we give ourselves credit or time for. And together we make a difference. What are the standards we want for this garden life of all of ours?
What we contribute – how we contribute – what we conserve and why? That’s what we take on this month in our Gardenlifeloveletter audio bonus. If you’re a donor of $10 every month, or more than $100 a year contributing to the sustainability of our work here at Cultivating Place – Your monthly #Gardenlifeloveletter is in your email inbox today.
In it, Sandra Nam Cioffi and Meg Herndon dive just a little deeper on the values they hold dear and conserve, Sandra sharing as a Korean American Woman striving to conserve her cultural heritage and Meg poignantly sharing her experience of gardening as an important bipartisan bridge to common ground fostering dialogue across all kinds of differences….
These two women embody thoughtful and intelligent design working to mind the gaps in our world today starting from right where they are with what they love – their own valuable garden lives.
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