I am a self-taught naturalist and native plant enthusiast. I serve as the education committee chair on the board of directors at Ruffner Mountain Nature Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

I have spent the last two years spearheading the native plant restoration and rain garden projects at the newly constructed LEED built Center. These projects are part of the larger Integrated Environmental Education Garden plan to enhance Ruffner Mountain Nature Center's campus and its programming. I lead garden programs at the Center, Audubon Mountain Workshop, Birmingham area botanical gardens, and local garden clubs.

When I am not talking, working or thinking about gardening, I am designing and making slipcovers in a studio behind my house. Lately, my business (Coverings) has been taking a back seat to my more naturalist leanings. Writing a blog is a new adventure for me.



Volunteer! A Garden Needs You!
by Michelle Reynolds - posted 06/05/12


It was in the aftermath of constructing Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve's LEED Gold Nature Center and education pavilion I got involved with the landscape surrounding the buildings. I partnered with a couple of other board members and we went to the board of directors for approval and money to install a native plant landscape to utilize as an environmental education garden and to enhance and match the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) built buildings. We approached Arnie Rutkis (my co-blogger and the owner of Stoneshovel) about designing and building a creek bed system to take care of roof runoff and a rain garden to take care of the runoff from the parking lot. During the first two years and in two phases, Arnie designed and installed both of these features and then we called for and collected donated leaf mulch, soil, and native plants for the areas. We called on volunteers to site harvest and propagate plants, and to plant the plants. The conception, design, and implementation of the Integrated Environmental Education Garden has been an amazing journey and an intense education on geology, native plants, and the history of the mountain. Along the way I have met some of the most interesting and generous people so willing to share their knowledge, time, and resources for work towards a common goal. I have made connections with people in the community I might not have ever met if it wasn't for working in the garden. The garden has been my social network for the last few years and I am so grateful for the friends and connections I have made. The garden has inspired other projects in the community and I have enjoyed helping others with those projects as well. The garden is growing well and so are the relationships fostered by the garden.    

Volunteerism is a beautiful thing. It is a great way to teach children responsibility and other life lessons. It is a good way to spend time and feel more productive during hard economic times. It is a way for young people to build work experience before entering the work force. Volunteering is good way for older adults to spend their time and to share their expertise after retiring from the work force. Volunteerism provides cross-generational and cross-cultural experiences that are vital to a healthy society. It provides opportunities to get to know and understand one another, and feel connected to the community. 

Corporate volunteers from Vulcan Materials (VEDA) have adopted Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve as part of their Wildlife Habitat Certification Program. Here is a link to the VEDA volunteers at work at Ruffner. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjQ4i5lbYZc

I met Tom, right, while gardening up at Ruffner Mountain. He started helping me with the Ruffner gardens and I now help him at the PEER Step Up After School Program at the East Lake Methodist Church.

The Nature Crew from Samford University found out about Ruffner by volunteering at PEER. Now they help us in the garden, forging a stronger connection in the community. Here is a link to a video of the Nature Crew in action. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2L7fFbdVI8&feature=relmfu

Volunteering in gardens help to connect us to the land and our natural surroundings. There are so many gardens to volunteer in right here in Birmingham, so I am sure there are plenty around the rest of the state as well. If there are no gardens in your area, start one. Get some friends together, build some interest, line up some resources for donated materials, and just start digging.

The children were a big part of establishing their own garden. Here is a video of the garden prep day. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1-Pmd536NQ

The PEER insect garden garden is looking great. It is located in the children's vegetable garden at East Lake Methodist Church.

Gardens in and around Birmingham:  Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, Southern Environmental Center's EcoScapes, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Aldridge Gardens, Community Gardens (West End Urban, St. Clair, Jones Valley Urban Farm, East Avondale, Southside Cooperative, Friends of Crestwood Park, North 32nd. St., Jonesboro, People Helping People Urban Farm), Enrichment Programs of schools and churches (P.E.E.R- East Lake Methodist, Creative Montessori, Alabama School of Fine Art Agriscience, Girls, Inc.), and these are just the ones I have heard about. Look around for a garden near you.




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