Living Edibly with Grace of Graceful Gardens

This post comes from our PR Intern, Kait!

If I have one bad vice, it is my nasty habit of getting lost in my own day to day life – what with work and school and family and friends – it often feels like there is just not enough time in life to do everything and see everyone and be the best you.

When the clock rolls around to 11:11, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I always wish for some overlord of the universe to grant us all 30 hour days. No matter how hard I work or how perfectly aligned I feel my priorities are, I always end up feeling as though I need more time. Then you meet people like Grace of Graceful Gardens, a sustainable gardener here in my hometown of Philadelphia. Grace seems to have it down pat. What’s different between Grace and myself (outside of sheer wisdom, direction and knowledge) is that she is living each day with a solid, pure purpose. Right now I’m 22, about to graduate college, on the job prowl and feeling so incredibly vulnerable. I do not yet have a solid purpose driving my every move. Instead, as with most young adults, I seem to have fleeting intentions that take me in one direction until I discover a new purpose which takes me in a completely different direction. This is okay! Meeting strong, independent women like Grace reminds me that purpose is not something that comes overnight, but rather over time. I’m super excited to be sharing Grace’s story and mission with you and hope that she too can inspire you as she has inspired me! Enjoy :)

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Tell us a little bit about your business…

I founded Graceful Gardens in 2008 with the purpose of creating beautiful and edible landscapes in the urban niches of Philadelphia.  I started the company with $1,500 and spent most of that on a bike with a trailer hitch which became the first company vehicle. Initially my focus was primarily edible landscaping, but my goal with edible landscapes is to provide the support required for my clients to become self-reliant so that they no longer need my help. So, I worked myself out of those jobs pretty quickly and demand was higher for seasonal container arrangements and care for the many secret backyard gardens of Philadelphia. It’s interesting to get to know the city I grew up in in a whole new way from gardening on rooftops and backyard areas that are not visible from the street.

We are organic gardeners. Most of our gardens have edible aspects, but are a mixed-use of edible, ornamental and wildlife habitat gardens.  In Center City space is at a premium, so design is not only about aesthetics, but always incorporates the challenge of demanding a lot of function in a small amount of space while looking awesome year-round!

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Where did the idea for Graceful Gardens stem from?

* Love of life.

* Passion for integrating the cycles of nature with the reality of urban living to create a more harmonious, beautiful and healthy urban habitat.

* Combining my interests in design, service, food, nature, urban living, and commitment to Philadelphia being a healthy and beautiful city to live in.

*Faith that there is a way to do it all.

*Tenacity to make it happen.

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Why and when did you first become interested in sustainable gardening?

My father and both of my grandmothers were avid hobby gardeners.  I grew up assisting them in their gardens and that was a highlight of my childhood. As an adult I continued gardening as a hobby.  I realized that gardening is a requirement for my health and happiness.  My plan for retirement was to garden all of the time.  Then one day I thought, “Why wait my whole life to do what I really want to do?” That is when I got serious about defining what was to become Graceful Gardens.

Sustainability is common sense, though difficult to achieve in the current socio-economic system.

Graceful Gardens focuses on sustainable business practices:

Practicing organic gardening techniques –all good stuff, no harmful chemicals.

Sourcing 100% renewable electricity from regionally generated wind and solar.

Purchasing from local suppliers rather than big chain stores.

Composting and recycling most of our “waste.”

Donating plant material to non-profits and low income communities.

Paying entry level employees a living wage, which is above the minimum wage.

When available, using biodiesel rather than regular diesel fuel for trucks. Our goal is to get back to bike powered transportation, but there is an engineering challenge to meet our hauling needs at this point.

Reducing waste and using reclaimed materials.

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Do you have any tips or tricks for beginning city gardeners?

Dream big, but start small. Set yourself up for success by starting with a manageable “phase 1” of your garden. Good first steps include:

Assess your needs. Why do you want a garden? What will be the function of the space?

Assess your site: light, water, wind and other environmental factors.

Pick plants appropriate to your environment and lifestyle goals.

Pick planters that are appropriate for the plants you select

Get the biggest planters you can find that work with the scale and functionality of your space and suit your aesthetic.

Make sure there is proper drainage in your planters

Consider the size of the plant you are planting in relation to the pot: Allow for at least a 1” gap to fill with soil around the root ball so the roots have space to grow.

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Do you have a favorite plant?

No. I could not possibly pick one favorite plant. I love scented flowers like brugmansia, gardenia, hyacinth and jasmine. I love making herbal teas all summer from lemon verbena and chocolate mint; making meals that do not require cooking like tomato, basil and mozzarella salad. Culinary herbs are practical to grow because they require small amounts of plant matter to make the big impact of flavor and quality of nutrition. Getting to pick fresh fruit like strawberries, raspberries and blueberries is a special treat.

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Why Philadelphia?

As with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, I am West Philadelphia born and raised! I believe that when people find their place in the world and dig into it, they can make an authentic impact on the quality of life there. Philadelphia is my place. I love this city and it is inspiring to see its immense potential actualizing.  Fairmount Park is one on the largest inner city parks in the world.  It’s an incredible gift to Philadelphians and a resource that needs stewardship.  Philadelphia also has a strong grassroots urban farming and gardening culture that addresses issues of food justice and economic development, while creating beautiful and safe places for people of all ages and economic spectrums to live, work and eat well.  Philly is where it’s at!

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Anything else you want to share?

Let yourself dream your most beautiful dream. Then be strategic about how to begin implementing it in phases. If you fail, learn from your mistakes and try again. Don’t get discouraged, just get smarter and keep at it!

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Thank you, Grace!

Be sure to check out the Graceful Garden’s website here!

Kait is wearing the Dynasty Romper. 

More inspiring posts from our #FPEarthMonth series!

 Follow Kait on Instagram and FP Me

Photos by FP Jana

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A dream business and great advice!

Just a note, I know this is a fashion blog, it belongs to free people, but do you really need to post models and clothes along a lovely interview like this one? As a customer I woud still appreciate (actually more) free people and associate it with natural living without a model around the garden. It’s like that one time you made a video with a model doing exactly what the textile artist does and in her environment. Your readers appreciate authenticity, or at least…I do.

What a beautiful story! And a woman with so much to share. This is great :)

Rita Tocta – Thank you so much for the feedback, Rita, we’ll absolutely take it to heart. In this case the model is actually Kait, our wonderful PR Intern and the writer of this piece! She had the opportunity to visit Grace in her garden and we snagged some shots of her experiencing the beauty of it :)

Great article! Definitely going to check out her website!

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Shawn

Great article!

Beautiful garden and lovely puppy!!!

http://www.safran-bolu.com

I came across your website about 2 months ago and love it. I have been missing out for a while now. What a great article this was. Thank-you.