DUNWOODY, Ga. — Over a sunny April weekend, the Dunwoody Community Garden and Orchard at Brook Run sold thousands of plants from pollinators to peppers —and it’s all going back into the garden.
Community Garden Chairwoman Cyndi McGill said the annual spring plant sale, held from April 28-30, is the garden’s largest fundraiser, financing most of its operations for the next year.
Founded in 2009, the Dunwoody Community Garden and Orchard at Brook Run Park has 92 member-leased garden beds. It owns and operates more than 30 raised garden beds and a small fruit tree orchard dedicated to growing produce for local food bank Malachi’s Storehouse.
The spring plant sale allows the garden to grow between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds of produce through the year, all donated to the food bank. The garden is staffed entirely by volunteers. McGill said every garden member agrees to give back volunteer hours to the garden when they start leasing a bed.
“We have people here almost every day working in the greenhouse,” McGill said.
Putting together the spring plant sale is a major undertaking for the volunteer team. McGill said the work “starts early,” and the work on ornamental plants lasts year-round.
The garden’s master plant propagator, Art Simon, takes cuttings to grow many of the flowering plants. Other plants are donated from members of the community. For the vegetables, the garden team starts planning for the sale in December.
They start by poring over seed catalogs and choosing the “best of the best” varieties to plant.
“There’s a zillion different kinds of pepper seeds and we’re going to plant maybe 10, so which ones do we do?” McGill said.
After choosing seeds, the volunteers place them in the greenhouse. The seedlings start off on heated mats to sprout, and when they germinate, volunteers put the plants in soil. McGill said the team follows a “master schedule” to plant the thousands of seedlings.
The community garden uses the City of Dunwoody’s greenhouses and volunteer labor to keep the garden running. That way, money raised from the plant sale can help fund projects like the food pantry beds.
“It allows us to do more,” McGill said. “For instance, one of the things we’re able to do is make sure that over at the garden, the soil in all of our plants in the pantry beds is high quality.”
She said the plant sale is ultimately a chance to give back to the community, both through pantry beds and sharing knowledge. In the garden barn, volunteers host free gardener talks on topics from mushrooms to fertilization basics.
“The sale gave us a chance to share our knowledge about plants,” McGill said.
Many of the garden’s volunteers and leasing members are Master Gardeners, a national designation that Dunwoody gardeners can earn through the University of Georgia’s Master Gardener Extension Volunteer program.
To become a Master Gardener, one must apply for the program, take 42 hours of horticulture training and pass two exams. The training lasts a little over three months, and McGill said the gardeners typically spend one full day a week on lectures and lessons.
“It covers the whole gamut of gardening,” McGill said.
Once they earn the national title, Master Gardeners must do 50 volunteer hours of gardening work in their first year after the training. After that, Master Gardeners must volunteer at least 25 hours a year.
At the plant sale, many of the community garden’s 15 Master Gardeners milled about and answered customer questions. One customer stumbled onto the sale during a morning walk with her friend through Brook Run Park. Jodi Dybowski, a Dunwoody resident, said she was thrilled to discover the plant sale.
“The volunteers are knowledgeable, so helpful and so friendly,” Dybowski said. “They’re so friendly that I’m going to come volunteer.”
With the help of volunteer Ann Bonne, Dybowski packed a cart full of plants to redo her garden at home. She was particularly excited about the papyrus plant, which she struggled to find in many big-box plant stores.
“This is such a happy place,” Dybowski said.
McGill said the event was successful, but she didn’t know exactly how many plants were sold. She said the garden’s “needs are covered as far as the pantry beds are concerned.”
The leftover plants, McGill said, will be donated to other community gardens in the area to help support their work.
“It all goes back to why we do this, to support not only our garden members, but the work we do in growing, harvesting and donating produce,” McGill said.