As we reach National Volunteer Week 2022, we wanted to take the time to thank all of our dedicated volunteers who help keep CNC afloat. Our volunteers make it possible for us to have wonderful exhibits, care for our animals, give back to the community, and provide camp support, programs, and learning opportunities for all ages. Throughout the week, we will be recognizing different volunteer groups at CNC.
The first volunteer group we wanted to recognize is our Master Gardeners, who are an amazing team led by Cheryle Kerr and Mike Sumpter.
The opportunity for social interactions, to meet and make new friends with an element of surprise and delight as familiar plants come back up in springtime as well as the ones we forgot we planted. This is the driving force that brings a team of Master Gardeners to CNC weekly to maintain the Butterfly Gardens.
They say the constant flow of opportunities to learn more about “all things nature” as they work together at CNC can’t be beaten and they’ve been busy here since 2002! One member of this energetic group was the first-ever recruit to volunteer with Horticulture at CNC back 26 years ago – Go Sally Griffith!
There’s always something to work on and someone to work with in the Butterfly Garden. The nature center is thankful for their help with the hardscape too. You can also find the Master Gardener team at our Spring and Fall native plant sales too after working tirelessly in the days prior to set us all up for success.
Collectively this group is fulfilling a mission statement that includes continuing education and they’re simultaneously satisfying personal ambition as they go beyond garden maintenance. “This is more than gardening,” says one volunteer and the others agree while pulling weeds. Everyone agrees that seeing how the native Georgia plants we are growing fit in with the bugs and birds around us is a highlight. Creating a beautiful garden to inspire and delight CNC visitors is a side benefit!
In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Week, we have been recognizing our volunteers and all of the great work that they do at CNC. Today we wanted to highlight the Unity Garden volunteers.
The Unity Garden provides a necessary service in its production and donation of fresh, healthy produce to members of our surrounding community through North Fulton Community Charities. The Unity Garden has supplied over 10 tons of produce since it began! In this article, Jacqueline McRae, Grounds Manager and Horticulturalist provide some insight into what being a Unity Garden volunteer is all about and how it benefits our community.
Big smiles as a longtime volunteer exclaimed “I just harvested my first ever cabbages!”.
This group of volunteers treasures their time working in the Unity Garden. They unanimously agree that nobody should go hungry and they are more than happy to give up a couple of hours a week to help with weeding, planting, and harvesting.
When asked why they volunteer with us they gave a million good reasons, including but not limited to:
“This is where I get my gardening fix”
“I needed to get out”
“I can’t wait to see the phenomenal summer harvest”
“The celebrity status when I arrive at the Foodbank with the produce we grew”.
One volunteer who was a former teacher shared that it is rewarding to see the visiting children get excited about the vegetable garden and to see their faces when they learn where the food is going. Opportunity abounds for learning and teaching as well as for getting dirt under your fingernails, which may not be possible at home.
These volunteers are proud of the super fresh food that is picked in the morning and on a dinner table by evening. Camaraderie is high on the list of reasons to be cheerful about volunteering, even in the hot summers and cold winter months.
We would like to thank the Unity Garden volunteers including those new to gardening and the seasoned gardeners for keeping the Unity Garden productive, tidy, educational, fun, and weed-free. The volunteers share a true sense of purpose and for some in retirement, a renewed sense of belonging to a meaningful and dedicated group.
Naturally, there is a lot happening on the grounds here at CNC as the seasons move from summer to fall. The Horticulture team has been working hard in the native plant gardens and in the Unity Garden. Plants are still providing food for birds and other wildlife and the Unity Garden is continues producing produce for North Fulton Community Charities.
Berries of all colors are in abundance creating a visual display for us to enjoy and of course, providing much-needed food for hungry birds and small mammals stocking up for winter.
American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is quite common in Georgia and when out and about you’ve likely seen the eye-catching wands with clusters of shiny purple berries. Here on the grounds, you can also see this beautiful shrub sporting berries that are white and even pink!
In addition to our collections of native plants, we also showcase some ‘nativars’ here on the grounds, meaning cultivars of plants that are native to Georgia. A great example that you can see right now on the grounds is Saratoga Gold Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria ‘Saratoga Gold’. The birds enjoy the golden yellow to orange berries on the mature specimens as much as they enjoy the red berries on the parent native Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria you will see around the grounds.
Up in the Unity Garden okra is surely the star of the show – these amazing plants, both red and green varieties, have been producing since early June! Okra grows really fast, has really pretty flowers, and grows really, really tall! Tasty even when raw, the 2021 okra has truly been the gift that keeps on giving. It is ready to harvest within 4 or 5 days from when the plant flowered and we have to harvest frequently. Often beautiful when large the okra does become tough and are no longer tasty.
The Unity Garden volunteers have needed to get creative as the weeks have gone by because the okra is now growing at a height of eight feet! Why not come volunteer with us and see how this harvest is accomplished?
Every day we tend to the amazing collections of native plants that provide shelter and will produce the seeds and berries for our Georgia birds and wildlife in the fall. With our visitors in mind, we want the beds of plants native to Georgia to look the best they can so when you visit there is always something new to see in bloom.
Volunteers helping on the CNC grounds
A newly forming group of CNC grounds volunteers has begun to pitch in with the Horticulture Team and beginning to appreciate the satisfaction of bigger projects such as rescuing trees inundated with vines as well as smaller projects such as weeding very carefully between the native Georgia plants we want to see thrive.
Down in the weeds we are literally as close to nature as anyone can be!
Native Plant Sale
It is important to our local Georgia food web that we especially look after the plants native to Georgia and include them in our landscapes. We grow wildflowers here at CNC and you can too in your home gardens and community spaces. These native plants are adapted to our weather and our soils. They provide vital sources of food and shelter for birds, caterpillars, and many other species of wildlife that call Georgia home.
With this in mind, you can imagine how happy the Horticulture Team was to discover the first orange and black caterpillars of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly chowing down on newly emerged Passionflower vines growing in the gardens.
You too can look forward to feeding many other butterflies and hosting their caterpillars with our Georgia plants in the months to come by checking out the native plant sale located next to the Butterfly Encounter until August 8.
Unity Garden Update
CNC has a group of volunteers that loves to pull weeds and who readily join the Horticulture team each week in the Unity Garden to pitch in and help. “Weeding is meditative”, they say, even in the Georgia summer heat and humidity as they happily get in between rows of vegetables and beds of herbs to pull out any offending weeds. No worries, there are plenty of weeds left for any of you who would like to join us!
The Unity Garden was fully planted for summer by mid-June using plants grown from the seeds sown with the help of volunteers earlier in the spring. With all of us working together Horticulture successfully raised extra tomato and pepper seedlings and was very happy to be able to donate these plants for distribution by the Atlanta Food Well Alliance.
Volunteering at CNC
Last month we greeted large groups of volunteers with open arms for the first time since what felt like forever. In addition to the usual harvesting, weeding, and planting in June we also embarked on a project to build a second set of raised beds in the Unity Garden. The raised beds will help to provide good drainage for our plants and keep out some of the weeds from the pathways through the garden.
Christopher Horacek shares information on gardening and his teaching experiences
We asked Christopher Horacek, our Unity Garden and Schools Horticulturist, a few questions about the vegetable garden, teaching and his experiences with that. Read on to hear his interesting answers!
What pleasant surprise have you discovered in your work at the Unity Garden?
The best surprise that I’ve discovered during my time in the Unity Garden is the commitment and drive of our volunteers at the CNC! We have an amazing group of dedicated volunteers that assist with our weekly harvests and other garden tasks. Rain or shine, 45 degrees or 95 degrees, we can count on our volunteers to be ready to go with a smile on their faces.
What have been the most challenging vegetables to grow and why?
Tomatoes and carrots both pose unique challenges for us in the Unity Garden. While both these crops will grow voraciously once established, they can be rather labor-intensive to get started. Carrots directly seeded into a bed or field need to stay consistently moist in order to maximize germination, thus regular monitoring and watering over a period of 7-10 days is a must to ensure a healthy stand. Once the small seedlings emerge, they must be thinned to allow space for each carrot to thicken. After the plants are thinned and have gained some height, they typically require infrequent maintenance– it is only the first few weeks that pose a challenge!
Tomatoes, unlike carrots, require regular maintenance throughout their growing season to maximize production. From pruning suckers on young plants to continuously trellising and controlling pests on mature plants, tomatoes take up a lot of attention. This necessity of attention partnered with the management of the many plant diseases and pests that attack tomatoes secures tomatoes in the top spot of the most challenging (and most fun!) crops we grow.
What are the easiest vegetables to grow and why?
Turnips and radishes are great beginner crops that are quick and relatively low maintenance. With a growing period of only 3-5 weeks you can reap what you’ve sown in a hurry! Both these vegetables can tolerate a wide variety of growing conditions making them suitable for most home gardens. Lettuces and other cutting greens (arugula, ect.) are some additional candidates for easiest vegetables to grow!
Thanks to a grant from Fulton County, CNC was able to work with students from Creekview High School and Cogburn Woods Elementary School. Share with us some of the highlights of working with both of these age groups.
The partnership between Creekview, Cogburn Woods and the CNC provided a unique opportunity for us in the Horticulture department to share our knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm of the botanical world with a wide array of students, ranging from 1st grade all the way to high school seniors. At Cogburn Woods Elementary, we aided in the construction and planting of a brand new school garden (a total of 20-raised beds) and participated in the inaugural year of an elementary agricultural pilot program. At Creekside High School, we assisted in the expansion of the pre-existing school garden in addition to working hands-on with students to grow transplants and prepare the growing spaces. However, the main highlight of participating in this partnership was working hands-on with the students and dedicated staff. Being able to work alongside the students as they transplanted vegetables or weeded raised beds facilitated some great learning experiences and established a real connection between the information learned in the classroom and how things actually work in the outside world.
Describe in some detail the hard work of Unity Garden.
Much of the work in the Unity Garden will vary between seasons, but there are some tasks that always need to be done! Weeding and bed-prepping. As those with gardens know, the battle with weeds never ends. We tackle weeds in many ways, from a wide array of hand tools to using straw and wood-mulches. Another big task is preparing raised beds and fields for planting. We build our “beds” in our field section by hand, using a roto-tiller, a hoe, a rake, and a whole lot of compost!
Tell us why you think the Unity Garden is important and why it should go on. Has this inspired you in your work there and how?
The Unity Garden provides a necessary service in its production and donation of fresh, healthy produce to members of our surrounding community through North Fulton Community Charities. Many individuals and families struggle with food access and often fresh vegetables and produce are unattainable. Our work in the Unity Garden provides fresh food to those who need it most. The Unity Garden is also unique in that we are able to donate 100% of the produce grown in our garden, all-year round. This focus on donation by the Unity Garden, as well as the impact our donations have on those in our local community, provided me with an increased motivation to grow as much food as possible during my time at the CNC!