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Deep Roots Garden Center: A New Source for Local, Organic, and Native Plants on B-town's East Side

With the recent opening of the new Deep Roots Garden Center, blooms are back at Bloomingfoods East—and so are vegetable and herb starts; berry bushes; native perennials, trees and shrubs; and seeds, tools, and garden accessories.

As I chatted with founders Ramsay Harik and Andy Marrs, busily readying the garden center for its grand opening, a solitary bee poked around the “sales-shed” porch and soon-to-be-filled plant shelves. I fancied that she sought what we two-legged Bloomingtonians had been missing ever since the cooperative grocery bowed out of the gardening business, and that we would all be grateful to have locally-sourced organic and native plants available here once again.

Getting the garden center ready, with native oak saplings waiting for their forever home.

photo: Gillian Harris

The shelves at Deep Roots are now full and green with starter plants from local growers, many of whom are familiar to anyone who frequents our Community Farmer’s Market. Vegetables, herbs and annuals are supplied by Stranger’s Hill Organics and the permaculture nursery Bread and Roses; organic blueberries, raspberries and other edibles come from Brown County’s Backyard Berry Plants; and indoor plants are provided by Linnea Good’s greenhouse.

Organic edibles: veg and herbs

photo: Gillian Harris

In addition to organic edibles, Deep Roots provides a much-needed Eastside retail source for native landscaping plants. Ramsay and Andy named their garden center for the extensive root systems of plants indigenous to the Midwest--particularly prairie plants. These roots condition the soil, filter rainwater, carry plants through times of drought, and nourish the above-ground flowers that bring us such pleasure. The two gardeners would also emphasize that native plants are vital to a functioning ecosystem: not only do they provide food for our imperiled pollinators, but also for caterpillars, who efficiently convert the leaves they eat into fat- and protein-rich food (in the form of themselves) essential for migrating birds and nestlings. As the link between plants and animals, caterpillars are key to a healthy ecosystem, and they rely almost exclusively on leaves of the native plants with which they’ve co-evolved.

Inside the garden shop: Ramsay and Andy were both influenced by entomologist

Doug Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home:

How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.

photo: Gillian Harris

Luckily for the caterpillars, birds, and us, Deep Roots features a diverse array of native perennials--all from Bloomington’s Ecologic Native Plant Nursery. Native trees, shrubs and vines are sourced from Woody Warehouse near Indianapolis and from American Beauties of Ohio. Most of these woody plants are straight, wild-type species, well-adapted to our soils (clay!) and possessing greater genetic diversity and more natural habits than cultivars. What you won’t find here are the devastatingly invasive burning bush and Callery pears, still inexplicably sold by many nurseries.

While I talked with Ramsay and Andy in the shed, amongst just-open cartons of soil knives and stacks of tubtrugs, passers-by stopped in to seek advice from them on seeds and pruning. The two have a lot of guidance to offer: they are both Master Gardeners and Native Plant Stewards, and Andy is a Master Naturalist and Backyard Habitat Steward. He also works as a gardener and landscaper, and it was through this work that Andy became aware of the importance of native plants. His enthusiasm infected Ramsay, who proceeded to tear out all the invasives in his yard and replace them with plants that fit the local ecosystem and function well within it.

Both men now serve on the Bloomington Environmental Commission, and are working to create a habitat network plan for the city. The plan’s aim is to identify the green spaces in the city with the greatest biodiversity and to link these zones through corridors of native plantings, increasing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. Realizing that creating a continuous habitat out of our patchwork landscape involves not only public spaces, but also private gardens and landscapes, Ramsay and Andy saw the community’s need for a visible and accessible native plant garden center with regular retail hours.

Beyond the retail center--the plants, the soils, the garden towers; composting and cold-frame accessories, colorful children’s’ gardening gear, lustrous ceramic pots made in Ohio; and an exclusive line of high-quality hand tools that made this reporter downright giddy--Deep Roots is also committed to social responsibility. This underlying principle is expressed in their support of the local economy and fair wages, sustainable growing practices, and the unending process of education.

Ramsay Harik, Natalie Marinova of Eco Logic Native Plant Nursery, and Andy Marrs.

Photo by an unidentified passer-by with Andy's phone.

Ramsay and Andy both attended the recent Bloomington conference “Understanding Native Pollinators and Their Needs,” sponsored by Eco Logic and northern Indiana’s Spence Restoration Nursery. Our aforementioned reconnoitering bee, one of some 400+ native bee species in the state, will benefit from their desire to learn and to share their knowledge and experience with the community; and so shall we all—Deep Roots plans to host a series of onsite presentations that bring together local experts with those keen to know more about organic gardening, landscaping with natives, and tubtrugs full of other topics related to creating a healthy, sustainable and beautiful environment, in Bloomington and beyond.

For more information go to https://www.deeprootsgc.com/.