Espoma and the National Gardening Association Announce The Espoma Environmental Stewardship Home Gardener Award Winners

By Julie Parker-Dickerson

Do you remember when you planted your first pumpkin seed -- that almost magical transformation of a small seed into a large, sprawling plant that produced in turn large fruits for carving and pie making? From such a simple and satisfying experience comes a life-long love of gardening for many. William Kearns began his love affair with nature and growing things as a teenager with a handful of pumpkin seeds in an unkempt corner of his parent's yard. From that first small harvest, his gardens grew each year to ultimately become the catalyst for his strong belief in conservation and environmental stewardship.

At their home in rural Ritzville, Washington, William and his partner, Sheila, have turned a once forgotten orchard, sickly cottonwood trees, and an expansive lawn into a bountiful oasis. They have created a self-sustaining Eden by propagating cuttings from local shrubs and trees to create additional plantings and dramatically reduced their lawn space, bringing new life into the landscape and ultimately improving the overall health of their surrounding environment. After years of effort, William and Sheila are nearing their goal of creating ″a diverse multi-layered food forest that takes advantage of structures for shade, wind protection and water catchment.″

Sheila Grace & William Kearns

As we at NGA read William Kearns' application and those of nearly 200 other gardeners from 34 states across the country, we were impressed not only with the commitment and passion of these gardeners to the betterment of the environment, but to their inventiveness and resourcefulness in coming up with ways to conserve water, encourage wildlife and pollinators, protect the watershed, and so much more. In recognition of their efforts, the National Gardening Association and Espoma are proud to present the second annual Espoma Environmental Stewardship Awards for Home Gardeners.

First Place Award: $2,000
Sheila Grace & William Kearns...Ritzville, Washington

William Kearns and Shelia Grace, the first place winners of this year's Espoma Environmental Stewardship Award, remind us that gardening is a meditation, ″an immersion in the most basic and important aspects of life: the intertwined dance of air-water-soil with growing plants.″ Their garden oasis includes raised beds with hoop houses that produce a plentiful supply of fruits and vegetables. They have made bioswales to redirect runoff from the gravel driveway and erected various types of fencing, including stacked straw bales, for windbreaks and shade. The trees and grapes, already established but neglected on their property, not only survived but flourished and help to increase the kinds and numbers of songbirds, pheasant, and quail that visit. A majority of the lawn was replaced with wildflower mix and cover crops to attract bees and other native pollinators.

Sheila Grace & William Kearns

To increase the health and productivity of the soil, Sheila began collecting coffee grounds from the local Starbucks and was rewarded with nearly one and a half tons of ″black-gold″ in 2012. Mulching in wider areas has also helped to hasten the process of reconstructing the health of the soil. Adding to the overall sustainability of their yard and home, the couple installed gutters and downspouts connected to storage tanks to increase their water supply. During non-winter months, gray water is routed to the orchard as irrigation. Working with their neighbors, they have set up a system to compost yard waste and are jointly building wildlife habitat areas.

The couple uses no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, choosing instead to concentrate on building the soil and encouraging healthy plants and beneficial insects. They are careful to use all septic-safe cleaners and soap in the home. With the award money the couple plans to purchase tree and shrub stock and seeds to grow and offer to the neighborhood gardeners and to expand their contributions of plantings and their time to their neighborhood community garden.

William and Sheila have elected to receive gift certificates to Plants of the Wild in Tekoa, WA and Miller Nurseries in Canandaigua, NY.

Second Place Award: $1,000
Rachel Weigle...Cilo, California

Rachel Weigle

Located in a mountain area close to Lake Tahoe, Rachel Weigle's bountiful garden incorporates a no-till methodology along with seed gathering and animal use to create a symbiotic environment that benefits all of its inhabitants. The foundation of her garden lies with a focus on the soil and its constant care. After five years of trucking in horse manure and straw from surrounding farms, Rachel now considers her soil ″black gold.″

Instead of composting plant debris in the fall, Rachel lets her flock of fifteen laying hens out in the garden for several weeks, where they break down all the vegetation and scratch the surface of the soil and humus layer, all the while adding nutrients with their manure.

Rachel Weigle

Rachel grows as many heirloom varieties as possible, collecting and saving seeds each year. With a growing season of 70-90 days, she selects for plants best adapted to her challenging conditions by diligently collecting seed from the strongest, most vigorous plants. Now she has sunflowers that self-seed in the fall, germinate in April, and withstand snow until June, still growing into 10 foot mammoths. Dill and lettuces often self-seed and germinate every spring.

Rachel has elected to receive a gift certificate to Grey's Flower Garden in Quincy, California.

Third Place Award: $1,000
Shannon Timmons….Menifee, California

Shannon Timmons

Shannon Timmons grows over 60 percent of the produce her family consumes -- all on a typical lot in a typical suburban neighborhood in Menifee, California. Nine years ago, Shannon and her family began by installing raised beds with a water-efficient drip system. When additional water is needed, Shannon relies on several rainwater barrels for hand watering the garden during the hottest part of the summer.

Mulching is done with whatever leftover alfalfa that two resident Nigerian Dwarf goats don't consume and pine chips recycled from the cut-off from a local lumber company. Fertilizers and compost are created in their own backyard with the help of hens that produce eggs whose shells go straight into the garden and compost bin and contribute to fertilizer.

Almost all of the vegetables she grows are heirloom varieties that have been started from seed. Shannon saves seeds each year from heirloom varieties, which she plants each spring and also shares with the larger community. Shannon also shares her knowledge of growing organically in small spaces and protecting the environment with her neighbors and community members.

Shannon Timmons

With a recent addition of a beehive, Shannon is hopeful that bees to pollinate flowering vegetable plants will be plentiful. Funding from this award will go toward the establishment of a cottage garden that focuses on medicinal herbs and flowers. She would like to include a water feature to attract frogs to aid her in pest control.

Shannon has elected to receive a $1,000 gift card to Armstrong Garden Center

Fourth Place Award: $500
Evelyn Alemanni...Escondido, California

On a 5,000 square foot city lot Evelyn has turned a landscape once ravaged by fire into a garden thriving enough to have been featured on Good Morning America. Today, the property features a one-acre macadamia grove, nearly 40 fruit trees of all kinds, more than 150 rose bushes, and a wide variety of succulents, cacti, and shrubs. Due to the low rainfall in the area, she chooses not have a lawn. Instead, in the spring, weeds grow, but are quickly mowed, giving the appearance of a lush lawn. Trailing nasturtiums have self-sown for the past 26 years, creating a springtime groundcover under her fruit and nut trees. Twice a year, several truckloads of composted stable shavings from horse-owning neighbors are used as mulch and fertilizer. Only organic fertilizers are applied, including fish emulsion, humate, and mycorrhizae.

Evelyn Alemanni

Water from clothes washing is saved and used in the garden. When it does rain, Evelyn places buckets under the eaves to catch rainwater and uses it on the garden. All the vegetables are grown in raised beds; the irrigation for each bed has its own shutoff valve, so the water can be turned off when the bed isn't in use. Evelyn grows 75 percent of the fruits and vegetables her family consumes and donates any extra produce to the local foodbank. Newly added beehives contribute to fruit and vegetable production, making a big difference in the yields. The garden is often open for tours to educate and inspire.

With her winnings Eveyln intends to replenish soil in the vegetable gardens, expand her composting operation, and purchase organic fertilizers.

Evelyn has requested gift certificates to Waterwise Botanicals in Escondido, California and Green Thumb Nursery in San Marcos.

Fifth Place Award: $500
Lisa Sheffield Guy...Seattle, Washington

Lisa Sheffield Guy

As a wildlife biologist, Lisa Sheffield Guy spent many spring and summer months on remote islands in Alaska studying seabirds. A dramatic change occurred in 2009 with a move to Seattle with her young child and husband. In the sprawling suburbs of northern Seattle, Lisa and her family have transformed a typical lot into a refuge for native wildlife. They have reduced areas of lawn and concrete, adding raised beds, garden plots, perennial vegetables, and many plants native to the Northwest. Ducks, chickens, quail, and mason bees share space with the plantings.

Lisa's primary focus is on building healthy soil and practicing good crop rotation. Compost and cover crops are used between seasons. Chickens and Indian Runner Ducks perform pest management. The former front lawn is now an orchard that helps to maintain a healthy colony of mason bees. The duck pond provides lots of nutrient-rich water for fruit trees and other plants.

Lisa Sheffield Guy

With her winnings Lisa plans to remove the ornamental non-native shrubs in her yard and replace them with native shrubs and trees. Lisa also would also like to remove more of the non permeable surfaces and replace those with ground cover and pavers.

Lisa is receiving gift certificates to Sky Nursery, Shoreline, WA and Swanson's Nursery, Seattle, WA

About the National Gardening Association

Founded in 1973, National Gardening Association (NGA) is a national nonprofit leader in plant-based education, respected for its award-winning, information-rich websites and newsletters; grants, curricula, and resources for youth gardens; and research for the lawn and garden industry. Our mission is to empower every generation to lead healthier lives, build stronger communities and encourage environmental stewardship through educational gardening programs. To learn more about gardening with children, please visit

About Espoma

After eight decades in business, almost everything that could change has changed. Our product line has expanded tremendously. Our distribution has grown enormously. And, of course, automation has significantly changed the way we manufacture our products. But through four generations of family ownership and management, the core mission and values that have guided us have remained steadfastly the same. To learn more, please visit

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