"Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he or she is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world."
— Kentucky writer Wendell Berry, as quoted on the website for Home Organic Gardening Service of Northport, N.Y.
VERSAILLES — Carol McLeod has built her English-style garden — a shade-lover's paradise of hostas and their ilk, a bit of ramble and stonework — from scratch since she moved to her rural Woodford County home 17 years ago.
Her next project is an homage to the garden at Sissinghurst in England, inspired by the principles of the famous English gardener Gertrude Jekyll — a green-and-white garden with a dry stone border to honor the white moon garden.
But McLeod, a veterinarian, sometimes needs a bit of help, someone who can tell a noxious weed from a plant she can tolerate, and who shares her largely organic gardening values. Kentucky Custom Gardens and Kentucky Organics, a firm run by Brian Storz and Brooke Hamilton, fits her bill.
While McLeod was recently working alongside Storz and Hamilton in her garden, she tuned up her garden spaces for the next wave of seasonal color: echinachea, liatris and daylilies, punched up with some to-be-planted annuals for what she termed "instant gratification of color."
Even so, McLeod said the variety of annuals is not keeping up with the need for continued novelty. After all, she said, you can plant impatiens just so many times.
McLeod shares most of Storz and Hamilton's organic gardening philosophy, but she parts with them in that she occasionally will use Roundup, the king of commercial weed-killing chemicals.
Because Storz and Hamilton have surveyed McLeod on which plants she hates — Virginia creeper and winter creeper — and which she can tolerate — creeping Jenny — they know where to concentrate their efforts.
For now, organic lawn care is the biggest part of what Storz and Hamilton do. In organic lawns, the soil is nourished in the hopes of crowding out weeds by natural means rather than blasting them with weed-killing chemicals.
Storz told the story of a husband and wife who were in conflict over how to tend their lawn. The husband wanted to spray the crabgrass, while the wife was tired of using chemicals that drained into the city sewers.
"Roundup is like McDonald's," Storz said of the ubiquitous weed fix. "It's super-quick. It's an easy fix."
Twenty pounds of crabgrass-plucking later, the couple had a lawn on its way to better health, with no Roundup runoff.
"We're persistent on the weeds," Storz said. "We use a lot of manual labor and overseed the lawns twice a year."
McLeod won't become a lawn purist. A few broadleaf weeds are OK by her.
"It requires a culture shift for people to learn that a lawn with a variety of plants in it is attractive," McLeod said.
In addition to lawn care, some clients opt for full-service gardens maintained by the company, allowing for a sort of personal produce aisle, Storz said. "They just go out and pick the tomatoes." The company's raised-bed gardens start at $350.
Some of the weed solutions suggested by Storz and Hamilton are remarkably simple and low-tech. For example, they use wedding veil-style netting to block squash vine borers, a hardy garden pest.
Last year they pulled out 2,000 bulbs from a garden in Danville and then overwintered them. Replanted in the spring, most came back, Storz said.
Kentucky Organics also maintains the organic winery at Silver Springs Farm on Leestown Road, where a large raised-bed garden will be built.
Storz moved to Kentucky from Florida, where he saw an abundance of raised-bed organic gardens like the ones he wants to build all over Central Kentucky. Storz and Hamilton work in Boyle, Madison, Jessamine and Woodford counties in addition to Fayette, and they even have what Hamilton called a "small pocket" of service in Clark County. They hope to continue to expand into Madison County.
The raised gardens work well for a number of reasons, including their ability to prevent soil compaction and provide good drainage. Storz has built some high enough to be easily accessible to residents of a Danville nursing home who are in wheelchairs.
The company also offers a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum to schools that want to show students how to garden, and they are available to speak to homeowners associations.
Natural landscaping is another area of interest.
The company just finished a native wildflower meadow, with 18 varieties of flowers, for a customer in Danville who wanted to get away from his grass-only lawn. It's a way to restore a native habitat that had been given over to the monoculture of the lawn, Storz said.
Hamilton studies entomology at the University of Kentucky: "Brooke's kind of the bug guru," Storz said.
"We're trying to position ourselves as the organic outside clearinghouse," Hamilton said.
Storz isn't just handy with a rake and weed extractor. To build his business, he has given up his full-time job teaching at Danville's Centre College, and he will work as an adjunct.
Kentucky Custom Gardens offers additional services, depending on how much a customer wants to be involved in the garden. The company can simply install the garden, or install it, irrigate it and do everything but deliver the produce to the dinner table, should the customer desire.
Some people just want good local produce that's not chemically tainted, Storz said. His company can provide that.