In this section of the Mustard Seed blog, we want to introduce you to the people who have a part in making the Mustard Seed a successful business. Our Marketing Manager sat down with Greenhouse Manager and Landscape Designer, Julia Bailey, to learn more about her and her time at the Mustard Seed!
Madeline: How long have you worked at the Mustard Seed and how did you end up running the greenhouse?
Julia: This is my fifth season at the garden center. When you start at the Mustard Seed, there's a lot to learn, and when you're new, you don't really know what to expect. I trained for a whole year in every zone initially. Robb and Danielle saw potential in me from my detail to attention and completion of tasks which works well in the greenhouse since there are so many moving parts and small plants requiring different care. Hence, a detail-oriented person like me was an excellent fit for that role. I also have a history in irrigation, so I offered to put in the drip system for the hanging baskets to save time with watering.
Madeline: Did you have plant knowledge before starting at the Mustard Seed?
Julia: Yes! I've always been into gardening, even when I was younger and in college. I had tomato plants and cucumbers growing in pots on my back deck. Then in Asheville, I worked at a hydroponics and organic gardening store where I was a manager there. In hydroponics, you learn a lot about fertilization and watering, which is where I got my irrigation knowledge. After that, I learned landscape and had a crew in Asheville as the lead supervisor for the landscaping department.
Madeline: It sounds like plants are your passion! Is this what field you chose to study?
Julia: I am an artist by trade! I went to UNCG for psychology and art, then when I got out of college, I moved to Boone and met my husband. We lived in Boone for a year and a half, then moved to Asheville to pursue my art more. I worked in a gallery there but had a unique draw towards gardening, so I transitioned into the plant world more.
Madeline: Tell us about your history in plant care- it sounds like you have had many different roles that has led you to where you are today.
Julia: I specialized in watering, fertilization, landscape management. Learning landscaping takes time because you have to know when to cut things back, when to fertilize, mulch, install, etc. We also did containers and annual beds at the houses. I did that until we decided to move back to Boone, and then I got the job at the Mustard Seed.
Madeline: How would you describe yourself in the workplace?
Julia: I've always had the attitude of being willing to help in any way possible. I don't care if it's trees and shrubs, pricing pottery, moving tables, or watering. Whichever area has a need, I try to fill that. I've also always had a genuine interest in collecting plant knowledge. I learned so much from watering for eight hours a day in a specific area by reading the tags and getting to know the plants.
I also always try to look at the bigger picture, which is interesting because I am super detail-oriented, but I've learned you cannot always spend a lot of time on the little tasks. Someone once told me, "Don't spend your time rearranging the chairs on the Titanic" or put all your energy into something that won't matter in the long run because it will end up at the bottom of the ocean! We are constantly pivoting and reworking to benefit the health and quality of our plants, so if we spend a lot of time on small tasks, we would never get anything accomplished.
Madeline: I know gardening is a big hobby of yours, do you have your own garden at home?
Julia: Oh yes, it's a mixed vegetable garden. I've always been interested in small gardens, similar to 'Market Gardens', as well as biodynamics and no-till organic gardening. That's always been my passion. For example, if someone asked me what my favorite plant was, I would say a tomato or a head of lettuce. Growing vegetables is my passion since it is fruitful and you experience the entire cycle. When I worked in the hydroponic store, I did their seed starts for one year, all indoors and under grow lights. It ended up being 5,000 plant starts that sold in the store. Starting seeds is miraculous and time-consuming, but I love it.
Madeline: Do you have any tips for someone who wants to start a vegetable garden?
Julia: Start small. You can get overwhelmed easily, and it's more satisfying to grow something healthy and thriving than it is to produce a bunch of stuff barely hanging on. If you don't have a lot of experience don't bite off more than you can chew because you'll end up getting frustrated and the process will not be enjoyable.
Madeline: If I was going to grow one or two things what would you suggest? Kind of like the best 'starter veggie' for those who are just getting started in vegetable gardening.
Julia: I would say plants that grow quickly, such as lettuce, radishes, spinach, and other greens. Try squash, zucchini, snap peas, or beans if you have more room. All these are vigorous and grow without much care and maintenance. For example, you can grow enough squash to feed an army with just a couple of plants! Tomatoes are good, too, but a little more technique is involved. I also lead on buying the seeds at the Mustard Seed to ensure we have a good selection of vegetables and flowers for all gardening experience levels.
Madeline: I know you have a lot of different roles at the Mustard Seed, tell us about what you do on a weekly basis?
Julia: I manage the greenhouse as well as landscape consultations and designs. The landscape design ties back to my training and time as an artist. At the Mustard Seed, we draw all of our landscape designs by hand, which are unique and personal, instead of using a computer program. Danielle and I have a connection in that way, she was trained in drafting, and I have a degree in art, so we see eye to eye when it comes to drawing by hand and the feeling it invokes instead of a computer rendering. There's a different personal touch and level of life to each design. When working on a design, you always start with a pencil to create these specific curves in beds and add shrubs here or there. In all honesty the eraser gets used just as much as the lead. It truly is a piece of artwork. The design is coming from my mind, and I have to visualize and translate it on paper to help the client visualize it. There's this trust that comes from the clients that is a huge responsibility for people in our field because most of the general public does not know about the thousands of varieties of plants and what would grow well in a specific space or light condition, so they come to us with a trust that we will make the right decisions and make it look beautiful and have it last. Landscape design is not a responsibility that I take lightly but I really do enjoy it.
Madeline: Not only are you an expert gardener, manager and artist, but you are also a mom! How has your life and career changed since having a baby boy?
Julia: I'm lucky enough to work at the Mustard Seed, where Robb and Danielle immediately asked where can we place you that will work with your new lifestyle? Finding an employer willing to give you the time and space you need to raise a family while having a career is rare. Where else are you going to get that level of care? From the beginning, Robb and Danielle have been very open to change and create a new position for me to help adapt to the life changes I'm facing.
Madeline: What's your favorite part about working at the Mustard Seed?
Julia: I love the constant changing. I don't do well in a monotonous or stagnant environment. It's completely different from March to December. You have to be adaptable and go with the flow.