The Green Towson Alliance concluded its inaugural 2021 Native Garden Contest by announcing winners on July 26.
The contest included 23 participants with entries consisting of a single garden bed, an entire yard, or a community plot. Anyone who lives in Towson was eligible to be in the contest, according to GTA’s website.
Voting for the competition was open to the Towson community, with 12 finalists in the categories of community garden, emerging garden, small yard garden and large yard garden. A “special recognition” category for excellence was also announced with the winners.
The winner of the community garden award is Burkleigh Square, a community garden featuring an area for barbecues and picnics, a walking path, play area and vegetable garden. Last year, the park added a rain garden which addressed one area with flooding issues, according to GTA’s website. The improvements were organized by Melanie Hotham and Tracey Marcantoni, with help from the community.
Karen Williams of Lock Raven Village is the winner of the emerging garden category.
“I was surprised because I thought that the other contestants did a really good job showing off their garden and the competition seemed pretty stiff,” she said.
Williams’ created a sloping garden with native plants while she was stuck at home during the start of the pandemic.
“It’s only been about a year and a half or two years of work specifically trying to grow plants that are native and it’s been a really cool experience and I’ve enjoyed participating in the contest,” she said.
The emerging garden category was for participants who just started a native garden, she said. Williams’ garden also has two bird baths, and a fountain that she made last summer.
“I was spending so much more time in my backyard just like everyone and after noticing the bugs and the bees — I wanted to learn how to attract more of them,” she said. “The best way to do that is to plant the things that they like to eat so it just kind of snowballed from there.”
Craig Lammes and Kara Silber Lammes of the Rodgers Forge community are winners of the small garden category.
Their submission was a hillside native garden loaded with flowering plants and the rest of the property uniquely has no grass, according to Craig Lammes.
“When we moved into our house, it had a few traditional plants — so we had a blank canvas to work with. Kara had a strong imperative, no grass!” he said. “After about eight years, we have something growing out of nearly every square foot of our [yard]— front to back. It’s been all native species for years now.”
The couple originally heard about the contest through one of their neighbors and was “excited” to hear of the victory.
“Over the last few years, we’ve become interested in participating with the larger community of native plant gardeners,” he said. “So this was perfect — winning is just sort of a nice cherry on top.”'
Ashley Reinhart of the Greenbier neighborhood is the winner of the large garden category.
For six years Reinhart has worked on her native garden, primarily in the growing season. She defined gardening as a “labor of love.”
“I’m a schoolteacher, so I don’t get much time in it during the school year but during the summer is usually when I’m outside every day in it,” she said.
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Reinhart’s garden is designed to absorb water in her hilly community by utilizing terrace levels, a rain garden, yard swells, rain barrels, and permeable walkways.
“We have water from uphill that we get so we had to design our yard to absorb runoff, prevent erosion, and half of our property has a downward slope, so we try to prevent runoff for our neighbors as well,” she said.
A special recognition for excellence was awarded to Judith Fulton of Ruxton, who gardens in and outside of her woodland neighborhood.
“We are astonished and excited to see how many people in Towson are creating beautiful native gardens,” said Patty Mochel of GTA.
GTA was created in 2015 by residents from neighborhoods in and around Towson who wanted to create a greener, healthier and more beautiful community. The goal of the contest is educating and encouraging the public to take the initiative to grow native plants and trees in their yards in an effort to support the environment.
“I think it’s awesome just for bringing attention to native plants and just creating public awareness, so I’m totally excited about it for that reason and I hope they continue it in future years,” Reinhart said.
According to GTA’s website, the Native Garden Contest will continue next year with plans to expand the competition to include a business category. The idea was inspired by Carl Gold, an owner of a downtown Towson business, who planted a variety of native plants outside his office.