An all-girl gardening crew ventures into the wilds of West Asheville.
by Kelly Drake and Jess McCuan . photo by Hannah Combs
They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty. Nor are they afraid to raise a few eyebrows. Lauri Newman, owner of the landscaping company Farm Girl in West Asheville, has been beautifying West Asheville since 2004. She does plenty of traditional plantings—often for hip businesses like Sunny Point and The Admiral. Wherever she can, Newman and three female employees use edible plants, herbs and flowers like zinnias and snapdragons.
But Newman has also been going out on a limb lately, venturing into ugly and unruly urban spaces—planting trees in Haywood Road’s traffic medians, for example, and cleaning up vacant lots near the Gas-Up and Harvest Records. She calls it “girlilla” gardening, mainly because she and a handful of female volunteers green up spaces in hopes that others will do the same. “The whole point is to make it catching,” she says. “The more people see it, the more things will get planted.”
But not everyone approves of Newman’s radical approach to horticulture. Organizers of the West Asheville Garden Stroll, coming up Saturday, September 11, considered honoring Newman for her beautification work around West Asheville. But at the last minute, they decided not to give Newman an award because guerilla gardening is often illegal. Famous guerilla gardeners in New York City and London have been known to transform derelict lots into gardens without permission, sneaking in to dig late at night. Garden stroll organizer Annie Higgins, who also runs a landscaping company, says she personally doesn’t have any problem with Newman’s tactics, but sponsors of the stroll don’t want to encourage trespassing—even if the end result is green. “It’s the opposite of graffiti,” Higgins says.
Newman says nothing she does is illegal. “I’ve always gotten permission and lots of thank yous,” she says, noting that the only thing that could be questionable is the fact that she’s nailed sunflowers to a telephone pole near her shop on Haywood Road. Newman, who spent 13 years in the biopharmaceutical industry, says most people, especially the volunteers, love her girlilla projects. She doesn’t plan to stop giving them time and cash anytime soon. “There’s no reason street trees can’t be fruit trees and our shrubs can’t be blueberry bushes,” she says.