Compass Garden:

Compass rose

CANDLER, NC -- Hominy Valley Elementary School's new all-edible garden improves food security for Candler schoolchildren -- while teaching them about the cardinal directions and the seasonal cycles of the sun's light. On Friday, May 25, 2012, at 1:15 pm, the unique compass garden, which Asheville landscaping contractor Ambrose Landscapes designed and built with donated labor and materials, was formally dedicated at Hominy Valley Elementary School, 450 Enka Lake Rd., Candler, North Carolina. (For map or directions, see below.)

Compass rose from 1914 map of Malvern Hills, Asheville

The garden's four triangular raised beds are oriented north, east, south, and west around an existing windvane-topped gazebo in the center of the school's courtyard. Their 21"-high dry-stack stone retaining walls were crafted from 16 tons of rock donated by nearby Vulcan Materials.

Ambrose Landscapes owner Steve Ambrose says the purpose of the beds' striking design is practical as well as educational for the young children who are planting and tending the garden.

Compass rose from 1914 map of Malvern Hills, Asheville

"I made the walls low and triangular to provide more means of access to the littler students, who would have trouble reaching across a conventional rectangular bed," Ambrose notes. The north and south beds are 12 feet long on each interior side, the east and west beds 9 feet. The compass design also allows room to expand the garden by installing more beds later on at the intercardinal points (NE, SE, SW, and NW). Ambrose chose stone because it will not rot over time like conventional wood or leach chemicals like some treated wood.

"The cardinal directions are how mariners adjusted their routes and how farmers and humble landscapers align the plants," Ambrose adds. "The sun gets lower in the southern sky in winter; thus you will notice in the school's front gardens, I have shade plants in the SW corner." The beds are oriented to true north, not magnetic north, which varies from true north by several degrees.

Compass rose from 1914 map of Malvern Hills, Asheville

Students are planting edible plants such as green beans and potatoes in the beds, says Hominy Valley Elementary School parents' association president Denise Richards. "The kindergartners are raising earthworms," she says, "and we're working to get a composter at the school to compost cafeteria scraps." Richards has also been working to bring to Hominy Valley the Chefs Move to Schools program, which partners professional chefs with schools to educate kids about food and healthy eating.

A plaque honoring the garden's donors also uses the Internet to link this place to its story. It includes a QR code directed to a Web tour of the Compass Garden so that teachers, students, and visitors can learn about it simply by swiping the plaque with a smartphone or similar device.

Hominy Valley Compass Garden dedication plaque

Click on any Compass Garden photo to open a high-resolution version in a new tab or window.

Other local businesses that donated to the garden include:

  • Riverside Stump Dump, Inc. (topsoil)
  • Fifth Season Gardening Co. (soil amendments)
  • Moreno Landscaping (labor)

Compass rose from 1914 map of Malvern Hills, Asheville