Do you think that an emotional connection to land or nature should play more of a role in climate change mitigation and policy-making?
Part of our role at Shades of Green is to help foster a connection with the living world, especially for people in an urban center where you’re separated from that in the day to day activities of our lives. One of our big goals is to just get people outside, get them into their yard. We offer caretaking where we work alongside clients – an open invitation to work with us, learn about what we’re seeing, how to move plants around, how to harvest different things, and what kind of pests we’re noticing. We have so many clients that are aching for that and they end up opting to come out and learn alongside our team, which is amazing.
I definitely think there needs to be space for connection to nature for everybody. It brings a lot of meaning and sanity and health and vibrance. There are endless benefits to being connected to nature.
The whole notion of policy-making is kind of absurd to me. I’m on city council for our tiny town here in Atlanta. During the pandemic, we’re charged as the council and mayor to make policy to guide the city to respond to this thing. I’m a landscaper, the mayor is a musician, and we have an advertising person and a statistician – we’re not qualified to make policy about public health. We did a great job and navigated with the information we had, but it highlighted how, especially in government, you’re thrown into and building your wings on the way down.
There are people that get involved in politics and policy-making that have no experience in the thing that they’re making policy about. That’s why it’s really hopeful and amazing that there are so many indigenous leaders starting to take positions in government. The thinking of the colonizer is not going to get us out of a colonizer’s mess, especially when it comes to land.
Talk about traditional ecological knowledge and incorporating that into a landscape through permaculture.
I’d love to share a quote by Martín Prechtel on the idea of “invasiveness” as it relates to more than just plants.
“Everyone’s trying to get rid of the invasive species, but the major people pushing for that are the descendants of the invaders who are themselves the invasive species. So, when are they planning to leave? Maybe it’s better if you’re an invasive weed to try to just be a lovely invasive weed. Or better yet, stop being invasive.” Martín Prechtel, Bolad’s Kitchen
Plants are demonized in such a way, but they’re just doing their work. Here, everybody is always complaining about English Ivy – it kills the trees, it chokes everything out. It’s aggressive and can definitely take over but if you see the work it’s doing within the ecosystem, it’s taking these depleted, degraded, disturbed soils on the cleared edges of land and completely rebuilding top soil. What incredible work! There is an intelligence to plants – the voids that they’re filling, the work they’re doing and they ways they interact – that’s not captured when we’re so simplistic in our terms.
Are you seeing tangible results when it comes to pollinators in the spaces you’ve transformed or restored?
Totally! We get emails from clients all the time about the pollinators returning to their gardens, bunting they’ve never seen, hummingbirds sipping from their bee balm, so many things! Bees too – a client recently texted a photo of some mountain mint covered in like 15 different types of pollinators and said this was the most diversity I’ve ever seen on a single plant.
What roles do environmental justice and equity play in your company?
Just like in an ecosystem, it’s important to have diversity, we feel the same with human systems. We’re constantly working within our company to keep diversity at the forefront, thinking about our whiteness and the way that infuses work culture, and we do study groups as part of that. My husband is the Chief Values Holder and he leads our community giveback program where we identify lots of different community partners usually in underserved communities. We help to bring gardens to life for them leveraging our cohort of volunteers and serving the community through our experience, knowledge and connections.
What is your ideal version of a large city to meet the demands of a changing climate?
Lazy lawns! Transition monoculture lawn species to diversified species that have other functions like soil building or pollinator habitat. On a broad pattern level, having cities function within the greater ecosystem – thinking about how we design spaces, landscape designs that embrace the ecosystems we’re a part of. In Georgia, here in Atlanta, we’re in the piedmont. We’re in a pine, oak forest with acidic soils and heavy clay. There is an inherent beauty that we can pull into our landscapes and our yards that is not constantly trying to fight against where we are. We have the rainfall that we have, we have the climate we have, we have the dominant vegetation that we have… let’s embrace that! Infuse our space with that versus constantly carving out and fighting back the wilderness.