Building Community through a Garden by Kelly Morphy



My grandfather had an amazing garden. I spent hours at his house and would eat all his cucumbers and sugar snap peas almost before they were ripe on the vine. I must have been munching on a fresh veggie one day when I came to realize how downright cool it is to garden. I decided I wanted to have a garden like my grandfather’s someday.

Working at Dix.Hite, I finally got my opportunity. Through a mentorship program here at the firm, I shared my dream for a garden; a firm principal who owns property right across from our office volunteered his yard for the project. Thus was born an endeavor that has now become an employee-supported community garden.

The thing I like most is that we are building community through this garden. We all help plant, nurture, watch it grow, and eventually harvest. The garden serves as an impromptu gathering space; while out there, we catch up with each other and connect on topics we might not otherwise. More than one happy hour has been planned while watering the cabbage.

More important than happy hours (maybe), gardening feels good. It may sound strange to someone who doesn’t grow produce, but when I harvest vegetables that I grew myself, I get a little feeling of euphoria. And now, all the stuff I used to get from a grocery store I pluck directly from the earth.

The community garden has been a lot of work, but completely worth it. I hope you’ll give one a shot.

You Can Do It: Tips for a Successful Work-Place Community Garden

I’ve learned a lot about building a community garden, and I want to share some of those lessons here, so others can take inspiration and create gardens of their own.

  • The garden needs at least one champion who takes on the majority of the responsibility for organizing events, planning the plots, cultivating involvement, maintaining enthusiasm and encouraging consumption of the goods. Plants won’t wait for the care they need, so someone has to be available when nobody else is.
  • Building a new garden is a burst of intense effort and then a continuous string of maintenance. Preparing and sowing the garden, building the planters, and actually planting are all time-intensive and laborious. Be prepared to work! If you’re lucky like me, your entire team will be fully vested and will
    show up to pitch in.
  • In Florida, where our headquarters are located, gardening seasons are unique and hopeful gardeners should use information specific to the region. The Institute of Food and Agricultural Services at Univ. of Florida is a great resource.
  • Get good soil. A 50/50 mixture of mushroom compost and topsoil worked wonders for our garden. Be prepared to amend and fertilize soils between crops.
  • Pests are a constant, especially in Florida. Research pest-control options and be prepared to apply. Some species—like kale, peppers, and lettuce—seem to have few problems, while others—like squash, cucumber, and tomatoes—seem to attract the pests.
  • Be careful, though: don’t go too crazy with pest control because you don’t want to wipe out your beneficial bugs. Wasps, bees, and flies are ok if you see them in your garden. Don’t kill them! They are pollinating or eating pests. Maintain a pollinator garden nearby with lots of native plants so that you can attract beneficial bugs.
  • Regular watering is extremely important. However, it is possible to overwater so make sure you are applying the right amount. We currently hand-water our garden and I’ve found this is a good way to get people involved. People take turns watering the garden – it gets them outside looking at the plants and noticing things they might not have noticed before. Just make sure your champion is checking on things. Irrigation like drip tubing makes life a lot easier, but takes some planning. Create a conceptual irrigation plan before starting to identify your water source, connections, and watering method (drip tubing, sprinklers, etc.
  • Use digital media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to promote your garden and gather interest. My wife Hillary has taken on this aspect of the garden. She is constantly taking photos and documenting the work sessions, the veggie growth, the pollinators, the pest problems, the harvests, etc. These posts are invaluable, as they generate a lot of support from the community and also provide great learning opportunities. Upon finding an unfamiliar pollinator, a great veggie, or a pesky pest Hillary will take a picture, do some research, and then create a post which has beautiful imagery and is informative for others too. Hillary does an amazing job and her posts allow many more people than just the Dix.Hite team to enjoy and watch and learn from the garden.
  • Lastly, here is something interesting: while my colleagues have been fully engaged in building and maintaining the garden, it’s actually somewhat hard to get them to go pick and eat the veggies. So now I designate harvest days. When we have company lunches, I’m sure to harvest first and put the veggies out with the meal. And I send emails and colorful photos of the harvested produce sitting in the kitchen, to entice people to take it home.
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"Building a new garden is a burst of intense effort and then a continuous string of maintenance."

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“People take turns watering the garden – it gets them outside looking at the plants and noticing things they might not have noticed before.”

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“We’ve produced yummy bok choy, green beans and sweet peas, beets, turnips, lettuce, kale, tomatoes and potatoes, strawberries, jalapenos, and much more.”

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“Wasps, bees, and flies are ok if you see them in your garden. Don’t kill them! They are pollinating or eating pests.”


I'm Doodling, Not Distracted by Kelly Morphy



Some of my earliest memories are of sitting at the kitchen table and watching my dad draw pictures for me. He was not an artist or an architect, but a construction worker who liked to draw for his kids and make us laugh. He didn’t know it back then, but he was planting a seed.

My next memories of drawing weren’t quite as happy: I took to doodling in class and, unfortunately, this was typically met with punishment. During detention, I’d simply spend another hour drawing in my notebook.


Doodling during meetings is important to me.

I keep my notebooks not for the notes, but for the sketches in the margins and drawings across the pages.

I keep my notebooks not for the notes, but for the sketches in the margins and drawings across the pages.

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone, then, when I chose to study landscape architecture at Purdue. These days, I literally draw and sketch and dream for a living.

Yes, of course, there is a part of me that wants to find some of my childhood teachers and say, “How about me now?!” However, given that I’m supposed to be all grown up, I know I should focus on more mature and productive activities, such as asking this question: should we return to embracing drawing as a form of communication and creative outlet at the youngest of ages?

Drawing is a universal language that can convey ideas and emotions. It used to be taught as a main form of communication. For some people, it’s an important way to help process information they’re hearing; I have many colleagues who doodle during business meetings because it helps them organize their thoughts. In fact, studies suggest that doodlers retain more information than non-doodlers. But, somehow, we got to a place that doodling and drawing are perceived primarily as distractions. I wonder how many kids still get punished for doodling during class.

I’m not an educator and can’t imagine the pressures on teachers to meet other basics. So I won’t preach about re-incorporating drawing into the curriculum. But I know that as a professional, I never throw away my notebooks, and it’s not because of the notes; I only care about what I drew in the margins and doodled across the page.  There’s something to be said for that, isn’t there?

Perhaps the best I can do is to encourage youngsters who love to draw to keep it alive, keep sketching, keep doodling, keep drawing. Would it be going too far for me to tell them that the next time someone tells them to stop doodling and start paying attention, to share that doodlers are smarter? Or maybe the kid who loves to draw can just get back at disapproving grown-ups by going on to become a great landscape architect.


As a reminder to keep my passion for landscape architecture present...


... I keep old doodle “scripts” on my desk in a piece of cherry that came from a tree at my childhood home. My dad and I recently used the tree to make a dining table for my family.


Reflections: Favorite Projects by Kelly Morphy



Paige Ishmael, PLA, joined the Dix.Hite Birmingham, Ala. office in 2014 after earning a Master of Landscape Architecture from Auburn University. She recently became licensed as a Professional Landscape Architect. Paige is not only great at visioning and landscape design--as proven on projects ranging from corporate headquarters to residences--but she also has an eye for color that positioned her perfectly to lead the firm's color-studio practice. Here, she reflects on some of her favorite recent work.

My favorite color-design project is Creekside at Providence, a multi-family development in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., developed by the Dobbins Group. The architecture was complex and we were able to really bring the site to life with a dynamic color palette.

There is an undulating pattern of depth and light that changes as you look across the landscape. Also, the colors of the buildings were carried into other elements, such as the planters, the accent tile and fabric on the furnishings, which all worked together to create a cohesive aesthetic.


Creekside at Providence: The architecture was complex and we brought the site to life with color.

[Image courtesy of Fogelman Management Group]

Another of my favorite recent projects is The Henry at Fritz Farm, a multi-family component of the new Summit in Lexington, Ky.  I really enjoyed working on this site because it’s located in my hometown and a part of a larger development that is helping catalyze interest in a fairly underutilized part of town. 

I held this design close to my heart throughout the entire design process from concept to the built finished product.  I feel like our end result is a high-end product that offers the residents of Lexington a new way of living that wasn’t yet seen in the city. Residents can live in a place with resort-style amenities and are able to walk to high-end shops and fine dining.

The private residence on Greystone Crest here in Birmingham was a phenomenal project to work on.  It was truly a testament to the power of design, and the positive experience that landscape architecture can bring to a client’s daily life simply through utilizing the natural landscape in an artistic way.  I started working on this project during my first week at Dix.Hite and I came in at the end of the design process.  Seeing the careful thought that was put into the details of this site and the high-end result told me immediately I was at a firm that holds the craft of design at the highest of levels.    

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Private residence on Greystone Crest in Birmingham, Ala.: Truly a testament to the power of design.

Careful thought was put into the details.



The Henry at Fritz Farm: I held the design close to my heart.

A high-end product that offers residents  a new way of living that wasn’t yet seen in the city.