Beth Mort has been around gardening for as long as she can remember. Not only does she enjoy growing bountiful gardens, but teaching others how to do this as well.
“My mom and dad always kept a good-sized garden,” she recalled. “I caught my love for gardening from them and have never turned back because eating fresh food changes your whole perspective.”
When she headed off to Evergreen State College, she majored in botany.
“I probably would have gone down that track if I’d been able to find a full-time job,” she admitted.
She later earned a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Eastern Washington University. But the turning point in Mort’s life occurred when two instructors from Bullock’s Permaculture Homestead on Orcas Island gave a daylong workshop on permaculture, which is the development of sustainable agricultural ecosystems. That led her to complete an intensive Permaculture Design Certificate course at the homestead.
In 2015, she founded Zinnia Designs, with the goal of helping people produce a yield on their property.
“I’m more focused on edible landscaping but can also teach them how to set up and grow a dye garden or raise fiber-producing animals,” she said. “I want to show them how to be productive on their land in a way that is sustainable.”
She begins by having clients answer a short questionnaire.
“It’s a great way to get people thinking about the big picture: their vision of what their yard could be, what they perceive as obstacles, and what they want to get out of it,” Mort said.
If they decide to proceed, she does a site assessment to look at every aspect of their yard, including the factors they can control and ones they cannot. This includes itemizing which enhancements the yard will need, such as mulching, soil improvement, where to locate animals, the use of water, and choosing the best places to plant.
Once Mort has gathered the information she needs, she works on a conceptual design plan.
“I create a base map that includes a sector analysis of how sun, wind, water, animals and people move through the space, and zones denoting how the areas of the property are used and accessed,” she said.
Another service she offers is two-hour training sessions on skills such as growing edible crops, flowers, beekeeping, raising chickens or making compost.
“Building their confidence is No. 1,” she said. “Giving them the basic foundation and vernacular so they can start asking the right questions – and find what they’re looking for – is really important.
“Working with people and gardening together is an extension of that,” she said. “I want them to be comfortable working in the soil, getting used to working with plants, and to address problems rather than just reacting to them.”
Mort also grows and sells cut flowers at the Thursday Market in the South Perry district, located at 924 S. Perry St. In addition, she has established a “bouquet CSA” (community-supported agriculture) program through her companion venture, Snapdragon Flower Farm.
She believes strongly in the principles of permaculture and practices what she preaches.
“Permaculture includes us in nature, and nature in us,” she said. “It is a very logical, thoughtful and observant way of living in your space. It is a joy knowing that people want to grow things and interact with their landscapes.”
Susan Mulvihill is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Pat Munts. Contact her at Susan@susansinthegarden.com and follow her at facebook.com/susansinthegarden. View this week’s “Everyone Can Grow A Garden” video at youtube.com/c/susansinthegarden.