Washington College’s Campus Garden, which began six years ago on a small plot of nondescript, unused land off a parking lot, this spring earned one of the highest scores possible from the Bay-Wise program.
“The Washington College Campus Garden is a perfect example of a well-thought-out garden that continues to evolve,” says Rachel Rhodes, Horticulture Associate Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator for University of Maryland Extension. “Following permaculture principles, each plant has a purpose and follows a self-maintained habitat modeled by our natural ecosystem.”
To help position the Campus Garden as an outdoor learning space and model for conservation efforts, the Garden Club looked to the Bay-Wise program to help prioritize projects. Properties that earn 36 inches, or points, on the Bay-Wise yardstick tool are eligible to be certified as a conservation landscape. After examining the Campus Garden in May, Rhodes and a team of Master Gardeners awarded the students 48 points — one of the highest scores possible.
“Most Maryland residents live within a half-mile of a drainage ditch, storm drain, stream or river that directly flows to the Chesapeake Bay,” says Rhodes. “The Bay-Wise program addresses how we maintain our landscape to reduce harmful impacts to the Chesapeake Bay and our backyard environment. By changing a few simple landscaping practices we can each do our part to take care of our environment.”
The students follow the permaculture design technique of stacking functions for ecological resilience, which allows plants to support each other biologically. “Plant life possesses a range of fascinating functions,” notes environmental studies major Emily Castle ’18. “Plants are habitat-supporting, nitrogen fixers, mulch-producers, healing/medicinal, edible, while also beautiful.”
Castle, the Campus Garden intern, is determined to challenge the way we see and think about our landscapes, looking to nature as the guide to cultivate beneficial relationships between people, plants, and wildlife. She coordinates the activities of the Garden Club and collaborations with the Student Environmental Alliance, SGA, and Habitat for Humanity. Their combined efforts this year led to the creation of a pond, herb spiral, rain gardens, fruit tree guilds, hugelkultur (a type of raised bed built from composted materials), keyhole beds, trellises, and the expansion of the composting program.
“Ecological gardening requires us to be both radical and humble in our relationships with nature,” Castle explains. “The practices ask one to go beyond human-centric thinking to consider how we can fundamentally understand and harness the productivity of natural processes for the benefit of not only us, but wildlife.”
German studies major Melia Greene ’20 appreciates the interactive nature of the garden, from planning a new site to building structures and bringing in new species. “We have a responsibility to educate the community about sustainability, nature, and the way we impact our environment,” she says.
The student gardeners anticipate that the Bay-Wise certification will increase community involvement in the garden. “It presents an opportunity for bringing people together and teaching them about sustainable practices,” says biology and environmental science major Julia Portmann ’19. “Hopefully we will be able to share our garden with more and more people, and show how important it is to garden in a way that promotes the Earth’s health, even in this small patch of land.”
Working in the Campus Garden helped Castle to land a competitive ecological gardening summer internship at Mt. Cuba Center, a botanical garden and research center. Upon returning to campus this fall, she plans to develop more community collaborations and experiential learning opportunities.
“Gardening for ecology is imaginative and inspiring,” she says. “Our Bay-Wise certification makes our ecological importance official!”
Get a Bay-Wise Consultation
To get more information about a Bay-Wise consultation, call or email the University of Maryland Extension Queen Anne’s County Master Gardener Coordinator, Rachel Rhodes, at 410-758-0166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.