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New This Week

August 10, 2023

West Asheville Elementary Garden's Bird Friendly Transformation

Thanks to the Audubon’s Native Plants for Birds Program

One of our favorite long-time customers, Jamie Harrelson, recently spearheaded a partnership with the local Audubon chapter to transform a garden to benefit birds and pollinators. Most of the plants came from Painters, and we were so excited to see what she did with them! What better way to encourage our youngest generations to learn about and appreciate native plants and wildlife? The birds and pollinators they will witness on these native plants will surely lead to budding gardeners and ecologists down the road; what a great teaching tool and garden therapy for the school and community!

Below is an article Jamie wrote about the transformation along with photos of the project, likely to be included in the upcoming Blue Ridge Audubon Newsletter.


In 2019, a garden bed at Lucy S. Herring Elementary School (formerly Vance Elementary School) in West Asheville caught my attention—the garden had, over the years, become a bit overgrown and was showing potential for a positive transformation. At that time, I was serving on the Board of Directors of the Blue Ridge Audubon Chapter (then known as the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society), and, as a passionate birder and budding gardener, I was eager to expand Audubon’s Native Plants for Birds program. A partnership between the chapter and Lucy S. Herring Elementary seemed like the perfect fit. I had graduated from the school many years prior, and I still lived just down the street in the house I had grown up in. Also, the school’s focus on “the study of people and their relationship with the natural environment” dovetailed wonderfully with Audubon’s work on native plants and bird conservation.

Faculty at the school were very interested when I reached out about this proposed partnership. The first step was prepping the garden bed, which involved a lot of digging and weeding. Kudos to two inspiring and dedicated Audubon volunteers—Tom Tribble and Nancy Casey—for their assistance with all of that digging. Those of you who garden know all too well that it’s hot and dirty work!

The next step—and perhaps the most satisfying—was putting plants in the ground. We selected plants that are native to the area, provide a benefit to birds and pollinators, and grow well in the garden’s soil and light conditions. With funding assistance from the Audubon chapter, we purchased plants and started planting! Most of the plants came from my favorite plant nursery: Painters Greenhouse, located in Old Fort. Students at the school assisted with planting, and it was a great opportunity to talk to them about the importance of native plants.

Fast-forward to summer 2023, and the garden is flourishing. On a typical summer day, you can find several species of native plants in bloom, and the garden is visited by various types of bees, butterflies, moths, and other pollinators. Monarch caterpillars munch on the milkweed leaves. Birds keep a watchful eye on the insect comings and goings, hoping to snag a tasty meal. A newly-installed sign educates passersby about the importance of native plants and provides suggestions for bird-friendly gardening.

This project has involved the dedicated efforts of many folks over the years, and we continue to maintain the garden with the help of volunteers. Thanks to Jordan Diamond and Jenny Perry for their early interest in the partnership, and many thanks to Jordan for her work to establish and maintain gardens elsewhere on the school campus for the benefit of students, faculty and staff, visitors, and wildlife. Randy Richardson provided guidance on choosing plants for the garden. Tom Tribble and Nancy Casey have put in many hours of work to help improve the garden, and Tom was instrumental in sign installation. Last but certainly not least, Claudia Harrelson and Amber Harrelson-Williams have been an integral part of the project from the very beginning; their enthusiastic efforts and unwavering support have helped maintain the project’s momentum.

If you are ever in the area, take a moment to stop and see what you can spot in the garden—and perhaps feel heartened by the fact that a group of dedicated people *can* make a positive difference!

Jamie Harrelson

Jamie (second from right) with her mother, Claudia, and sister, Amber - all three are dedicated bird watchers and native plant enthusiasts. We hope this story will encourage home gardeners as well as schools and community spaces to consider similar bird and pollinator-friendly installations/transformations!

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