Oaks & Spokes Urban Agriculture Tour

Thank you to all who participated in the Oaks & Spokes urban agriculture tour today. The tour highlighted some of our community’s leading voices on creating more sustainable food systems–starting with you. The group was guided on a curated 9 mile bike ride, with stops including:

  • Raleigh City Farm
  • Community Food Lab with Erin White
  • Garden Set Up with Anne Spafford
  • Seed Starting + Greenhouses with Kreth Johnson
  • Raised Beds with Molly Stewart
  • Black Farmer’s Hub with Bahr Jarvay
  • The Women’s Center Microform with Brace Boone

It was a pleasure to host a portion of this event!

Pollinator Gardening for the South: Creating Sustainable Habitats

Pollinator Gardening for the South: Creating Sustainable Habitats

This step-by-step guide will answer all of your questions about how to create beautiful gardens designed to welcome beneficial pollinators across the South. Combining up-to-date scientific information with artful design strategies, Danesha Seth Carley and Anne M. Spafford teach gardeners of all levels to plan, plant, and maintain successful pollinator gardens at home and in shared community sites. Everyday gardeners, along with farmers, scientists, and policy makers, share serious concerns about ongoing declines in bee and other pollinator populations, and here Spafford and Carley deliver great news: every thoughtfully designed garden, no matter how small, can play a huge role in providing the habitat, nourishment, and nesting places so needed by pollinators. This book explains all you need to be a pollinator champion.

  • Covers USDA hardiness zones 6, 7, 8, and 9, including twelve southern states
  • Explains what makes pollinators happy—bees, for sure, and many others, great and small
  • Brings science and art together in gardens of all types, including urban, food, container, community, school, and large-scale gardens
  • Provides step-by-step instructions for choosing locations, preparing soil and garden beds, selecting the best plants, considering seasonality in your garden design, managing your garden throughout the year, and much more
  • Richly illustrated with photographs, design plans, and handy charts and lists


“A delightful, easy to understand guidebook. . . . Not only is the science impeccable, this outdoor lover’s manual is full of wisdom, history and wonderful observations about nature, even human nature.” —Lloyd Brinson, Briar Patch Books

“Pollinator Gardening for the South offers a unique approach to creating pollinator gardens and habitats—no other book like it exists. With this gardening guide in hand, anyone can learn to create gardens to support pollinators at all scales, large and small—even as small as a container garden! The authors will be alongside you every step of the way. Truly a book for everyone, from beginners to seasoned landscape professionals.” —Patricia R. Drackett, director of the Crosby Arboretum at Mississippi State University

Publisher information

The University of North Carolina Press
168 pages, 8 x 9, 134 color plates, 19 drawings, 8 tables, index
ISBN: 978-1469659411

Order your copy today!

Designing to Mitigate Stormwater Issues

A beautiful, functional backyard AND mitigating stormwater issues are not mutually exclusive concepts. In fact, there are multiple landscape design strategies that can help solve stormwater issues. In the Raleigh area, we receive about 50″ of rain per year. For a 1000 square foot roof, that equates to 31,000 gallons of rainwater coming off that roof per year. We have our fair share of droughts though as well. So the smart approach is to landscape in a way that is harmonious in how we receive our rain.

Pair wants to create therapeutic garden for kids in detention centers

Posted on WRAL.com 7:15 p.m. Friday, April 20, 2018

Natasha Donnelly, the State Assistant Manager of Health Services for Juvenile Justice

Raleigh, N.C. — A professor at North Carolina State University says spaces, like gardens, that help a person step out of their daily life and think are needed in juvenile justice facilities.

“It’s a lot more than that, it’s a good way to figure out your place in the world,” said Anne Spafford.

Spafford, an associate professor of horticulture, is helping to design therapeutic gardens. She has enlisting her landscape design students to build places of peace at two state-run youth detention facilities.

“Being in a garden setting is just relaxing. It can lower blood pressure, it can calm you, it can de-stress you, so these gardens are very powerful,” she said.

Natasha Donnelly, the state assistant manager of health services for juvenile justice, is the force behind the project.

“I love to see people thrive. I love to support people on their journey,” Donnelly said.

Throughout her career, Donnelly said she has seen a lot.

“I have seen people in states of despair. They’re not horrible people, they are people who have lived through life, that have had experiences that have had a negative impact on them,” she said.

Donnelly and Spafford started the project by asking the kids in the system what they would want in a garden.

“We want to get these two gardens in this year. We need to show them something is happening. We want to get them installed, so they know we care. We don’t want to let them down. This is a population that has been let down countless times before,” Spafford said.

The only thing stopping the project right now is money. The two need to raise about $200,000 to get the project underway. They are applying for grants and are asking for help.

“It’s so worthwhile. I think it’s essential and I think we have enough knowledge now to really see that this works,” Donnelly said.

The first two gardens are being designed for the Cumberland Youth Detention Facility and the Chatham Youth Development Center.

Richard Adkins
Web Editor
Natalie Matthews

Tar Heel of the Week – Anne Spafford

Therapeutic gardens planned for NC juvenile detention centers

Posted on The News & Observer April 12, 2018 08:25 PM

Anne Spafford, Associate Professor of Horticultural Science at N.C. State University

Anne Spafford, an associate professor of horticultural science at N.C. State University, believes gardens can help at-risk kids gain self-confidence and improve behavior. Spafford is joining forces with the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to create the state’s first two “therapeutic” gardens. Here she talks about the gardens that are planned for youth detention centers in Fayetteville and Siler City.

Q: How did you get involved with juvenile justice to help kids involved in or traumatized by criminal activity?

A: When I was getting my master’s in landscape architecture, my project was looking at the landscape of prisons. Cut to many years later, and Natasha Donnelly, the assistant manager of health services (for juvenile justice), called our department, and my boss connected her to me. We ended up talking for hours.

I brought the project into my planting design class in the fall, and I had students take on individual designs that involved us going to the sites, researching what the parameters were and involving the students and staff at the centers in the design process.

Q: On any given day in North Carolina, 442 children are committed to the juvenile justice system. Research has shown that many have been exposed to traumatic events. How will these gardens help them?

A: The gardens can help with internalized behavior modification, helping them to relax, de-stress, regain composure, release pent-up frustrations, increase self-esteem, increase sense of accomplishment, promote feelings of hope and also teach patience, which goes along with impulse control.

Mental health experts say that spending time in a therapeutic garden can help a youth learn to live with emotional trauma, assist with neurological development and emotional literacy.

Q: What will the gardens look like?

A: There are counseling spaces, sensory gardens, pollinator habitats, art expression walls, outdoor classrooms and small amphitheaters. It’s probably the lowest-cost way of expanding the facilities, and it’s the only place where personal expression is allowed. They would have veggie gardens and other edible plants as a way of connecting back to nature and food.

Q: How are the youth in the detention centers in Fayetteville and Siler City participating in the planning process?

A: We sat down with some students and had others do designs of what they would want, and then my students analyzed the drawings and incorporated the best ideas. They’re interested to know that other people care about them.

They were involved in our presentations to the directors (at juvenile justice). They couldn’t come, but they were able to see the presentations through WebEx. We couldn’t see them but apparently they were cheering.

Q: Money is needed for the projects. You planned “Art Expression in the Garden,” a fundraiser on April 21 at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. What’s at stake here?

A: Time is of the essence, because this population is critical. The youth are so excited and full of hope, and we don’t want to let them down. A lot of them have been let down so many times that it’s important for us to get these first two gardens built to show people that it can be done.

Q: Could the gardens make a lasting impact?

A: If we can create a spark — an interest in nature, an interest in growing food — that spark could change someone’s life. Maybe they end up going to a two-year or four-year program, and there are mechanisms to help them do that. We could have youth that started out in a really bad place, and they could have a better outlook on life, a paying job that’s rewarding and helps others.

One of the youth said the garden project meant so much to him because he could actually leave a legacy of hope — to know that things can get better, there is a different path.

Know someone who would make a good Tar Heel of the Week? Send nominations to [email protected].

Tar Heel of the Week — Anne Spafford

Born: 1969, in Urbana, Illinois

Residence: She moved to Raleigh in 2001.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in horticulture, master’s in landscape architecture from University of Illinois

Occupation: Associate professor, horticultural science, N.C. State

Fundraiser: “Art Expression in the Garden” will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 21. Tickets are $75; kids 12 and under can attend for free. To buy tickets or donate, go to therapeuticgardensncjj.org.

Rain Gardening in the South (Kindle Edition)

Rain Gardening in the South by [Helen  Kraus, Anne Spafford]Eno Publshers has released the popular book, “Rain Gardening in the South: Ecologically Designed Gardens for Drought, Deluge & Everything in Between” as an E-book on Amazon.com.

Rain Gardening in the South has won numerous awards, including the Gold and Silver awards from the Garden Writers Association, the Silver award from the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards and Honorable Mention from the Hoffer Awards.

Order your copy today!

Dragon Brings Landscape to Life

Anne Spafford’s work at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC was featured in the May 23, 2013 issue of the NC State University Bulletin.

Each semester in Will Hooker’s small-scale landscape design studio, students build a sculpture made primarily of bamboo. The increasingly ambitious projects give students hands-on experience with construction and help them learn how to turn design ideas into reality. The studio is a required course in the Department of Horticultural Science’s Landscape Design Option.

This spring, the JC Raulston Arboretum commissioned Hooker’s class, co-taught this semester with Anne Spafford, to build a sculpture to commemorate the opening of the new walk in its Asian Valley during this year’s Gala in the Garden.

[Read more]

The Native vs. Introduced Battle: Let the Wild Rumpus Begin!

This past April, I headed to Auburn University to give a rain gardening seminar, a brown bag lunch talk, a radio interview, and a workshop where we (participants, AU Horticulture faculty, and I) built a rain garden in the campus arboretum.  This is the first of at least 2 gardens I am doing this year that will be made up entirely of native plant species.   It’s unprecedented of me to design so purely in this plant palette, as I am fond of both natives and well-behaved, polite introduced species.   “WHAT?  You’re not a native plant purist?!?” you ask. Hardly. Far from it, in fact. Before you set me aflame on a post or hoist me on your shoulders in celebration, read on to understand where I stand.

“What, exactly, IS your definition of  a native plant?” Excellent question, as the answer depends on with whom you’re speaking.  I’ve known some people who felt that if a plant was native to the United States, that was good enough for them (never mind the fact that California USDA Hardiness Zone 7 is completely different than North Carolina Piedmont’s Zone 7…but don’t get me started).  It is far better to at least set your definition of native to a region (southeastern U.S., for example).  There are enough commonalities of different states in an area that some generalizations can be made.

Other gardeners feel that a plant that is native to a state is good enough.  The problem with that logic is this: Here in North Carolina we have mountains, the Piedmont, the Sandhills, and the coast. A plant that grows naturally in the mountains may not fair well when grown in the Piedmont. And a plant that grows without care on the coast would be hard-pressed to do well in the mountains.  There are too many variables that are different–soils, light, moisture, habitat, temperatures, for example–that make each region unique.

Well known plant gurus Dr. Allan Armitage and Dr. Michael Dirr both succinctly define a native plant as one that is “inherent or original to an area”.  This goes even smaller than county lines. Here we’re talking such specific environmental conditions as: “North-facing wooded slope”and “stream bank with constant moisture”. Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) and Fraser Magnolia (M. fraseri) are two natives that have incredibly specific habitat requirements (shaded, woodland slope, constant moisture, humus-rich soil).  Even though they are native, they are very tricky to keep happy. Authors Sally and Andy Wasowski state that native plants are best suited to an area because they have adapted to their conditions over thousands of years.  That is all well and good, if environmental conditions are the same as they were thousands, heck–even 100–years ago.  The problem is that the urban environment has changed.

The landscape that existed originally is, let’s face it, Gone (yes, gone with a capital “G”).  Forest-covered rolling topography has been replaced by clear cut subdivisions that have been leveled, paved, and built up.  Through this process of urbanizing the land, we have destroyed naturally occurring soil profiles, drastically reduced moisture availability and altered drainage patterns.  In metropolitan areas, because of the amount of impervious surfaces (hardscapes such as roofs, roads, parking lots), temperatures are hotter and there is little available water or nutrients in the soil.  There are particulate and gaseous pollutants in the air from our automobiles, construction practices, and industry, which some natives cannot tolerate.

Let’s look at the other side of this battle: Natives aren’t always tougher or the better choice for our built landscapes.  The Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), for example, is extremely susceptible to Dogwood Anthracnose, caused by a widely-spreading fungus. So far, none of the introduced species of dogwoods are affected (Kousa Dogwood, anyone?  It’s a magnificent substitute, AND it flowers later than C. florida).  Some of our native plants can be downright invasive too!  Just take a look at American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), and several of our sumacs (Rhus sp.).  Their natural growing habit is to form thickets, or colonize, by sending out many runners and continually spreading.  This is excellent when slope stabilization is necessary along highways or other large tracts of land, but it can be too much for a residential garden!

For native plant purists, you might be devastated to learn that cultivars of native plants are technically NOT native.  Yes, they may share numerous genes with the straight species, but they are not naturally occurring, and have been cultivated by humans for those traits that we love. One graduate student in our program is studying performance of native plants vs. non-native plants in rain gardens.  She’s selected a series of native plants and cultivars of those plants as her sample.  While technically she is correct, I think the results will be lost on a great number of people who consider cultivars of natives to be native.  In their eyes, she is studying all natives.  If her intended message is non-natives work [insert “just as well/better than/worse than” here] natives, I think it will be lost.  She would be better off comparing a native iris and an obvious non-native iris (such as the Japanese Iris).  But that’s just my non-PhD opinion.

Introduced plant species aren’t all evil.  Some are very well behaved (which makes me think that there is another parallel Universe–another southeastern U.S.– on the other side of the globe).  We have a very similar climate to parts of Japan and China, so it makes sense that plants that do well there, would do well here for the most part. (Of course, this makes me think of that little USDA disaster we like to call Kudzu-gate, or Kudzu-ageddon).  But regarding those plants that are well behaved, can you imagine the southeastern U.S. without Crape Myrtles or Indian Azaleas?  I think not.  They are staples of the south, yet they did not exist here originally.  A big joke around here in the Piedmont is that in the spring, our Japanese Maples look better even than the ones in Japan.   They are so incredible, we can’t possibly imagine that they would look better anywhere else! Sometimes cultivars of our natives (again, not true natives) are better behaved than the straight species.  You might have an aggressively spreading native, but a cultivar of that species may not spread as much.  So introduced doesn’t automatically mean ‘bad’–just choose those species wisely.

Probably the single best arguments FOR using natives are these:
1. Native plants support native insects which are the food for our larger wildlife. Ergo, native plants support native wildlife. Except for the bunnies in my yard that have determined that my most expensive plants are the tastiest ones,  I love wildlife.  Most people do too and want to keep it flourishing.

2. Native plants help to recreate/maintain a sense of place. Instead of lining streets with Bradford Pears (that rounded pyramidal tree with white flowers in the spring that smell like dirty socks) that planners love so much, a collection of native trees tolerant of urban street conditions would be a subtle visual cue as to what makes a region special. The North Carolina Piedmont should look and feel different than central Illinois or east Texas.  Carefully selected native plants can help in this effort.

I believe in very careful plant selection, based on the site, a client’s wishes, and the function of a garden. This usually means using a combination of natives and introduced plants for optimal effect.  It’s my job as a designer to explore options and to tackle projects from different angles, so to be a purist in any one plant palette seems to be a bit short-sighted in my opinion.  Plus, I’m a plant fanatic so I like to keep my options open.  Waaay open.

So the next time a fellow gardener wants to step into the ring to debate native vs. introduced species with you, weigh in on the facts and give them a run for their money. It’s not as important where you stand on this issue, but how your defend your position.

Rain Gardening in the Home Landscape

NC State University – Distance Education

HS 432-590 Introduction to Permaculture – lecture 015: Rain Gardening in the Home Landscape

Professor Will Hooker
Professor Anne Spafford
Length:  01:22:40

Permaculture means “permanent culture,” (or “permanent agriculture”) and … “is the conscious design and maintenance of cultivated ecosystems that have the diversity, stability, and resilience of a natural ecosystem.” (Bill Mollison)

This course explores, through lectures, discussions, field trips, and required projects, a design/thinking methodology that seeks to provide for our physical needs, food, water, shelter, energy, etc., while doing so in an environmentally friendly, sustainable manner.

In this episode, Anne Spafford explains the concept and importance of rain gardens, discusses construction methodologies, shows examples of stellar rain gardens, and (because she is a plant aficionado and can’t help herself) shares some of her favorite rain garden plants.

Rain Gardening in the South: Ecologically Designed Gardens for Drought, Deluge & Everything in Between

Rain Gardening in the South by [Helen  Kraus, Anne Spafford]

The first book for the consumer/home gardener on this important new environmental movement, Rain Gardening in the South is a readable how-to guide on creating beautiful gardens that capture, filter, and use water that runs off roofs, driveways, and other hardscapes. Written by NCSU horticulturalists Helen Kraus and Anne Spafford, Rain Gardening in the South helps gardeners wisely use our most precious resource—water. Rain gardens maximize rainwater, enhance the landscape, and promote good environmental stewardship.

Runoff contributes significantly to polluting our waterways. The rain garden, which functions as a miniature reservoir and filtration system, offers an effective, visually pleasing solution that dramatically reduces toxic runoff, resulting in cleaner rivers, lakes, and oceans.

The authors define the rain garden as “a garden slightly sunken below grade designed to capture rainfall, store that water to nurture the garden plants, and cleanse runoff, thus removing pollution.”

Ironically, rain gardens are more drought-tolerant than conventional gardens. Because of their plant selection and ability to store water, rain gardens flourish during dry spells, as well as rainy seasons, making them particularly conducive to the South.

“Water-wise gardeners are conscious of both the need to limit their water use and the need to minimize runoff, thereby dramatically reducing water pollution,” write Kraus and Spafford. “Not only are rain gardens extremely effective in addressing water and pollution issues, they are gorgeous.”

Rain Gardening in the South addresses the specific environmental circumstances of southern gardens, such as climate issues, plant selection, and soil types. It includes step-by-step instruction on constructing a garden, from the design stage to post-planting maintenance.

Rain Gardening in the South has won numerous awards, including the Gold and Silver awards from the Garden Writers Association, the Silver award from the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards and Honorable Mention from the Hoffer Awards.


“With on-going urban growth and regional climate changes, Rain Gardening in the South provides timely lessons and much-needed factual information, reminding us along the way that we are better stewards of the environment with water-wise gardening.” –Bobby J. Ward, author of The Plant Hunters Garden

“Homeowners and landscapers have needed a concise guide into the uncharted waters of rain gardeningin the South… This book is filled with easy-to-understand principles we can apply to any landscape.” –Pam Beck, columnist, Raleigh News & Observer and author of Best Garden Plants for North Carolina

“…a great addition to the home library. it’s informative, but also presents rain gardens in a way that gets you excited to build one. That’s a victory for any author.” –Revolutionary Gardens

“Homeowners and landscapers have needed a concise guide into the uncharted waters of rain gardening in the South… This book is filled with easy-to-understand principles we can apply to any landscape.” –Pam Beck, columnist, Raleigh News & Observer and author of Best Garden Plants for North Carolina

“…a great addition to the home library. it’s informative, but also presents rain gardens in a way that gets you excited to build one. That’s a victory for any author.” –Revolutionary Gardens

Publisher information

Eno Publishers
Illustrated, four-color, soft-cover
143 pages
ISBN: 978-0982077108

Order your copy today!