Savvy gardener plants the seeds for a blooming business
Alex Little (B.S.’14/B) was working at the Neighborhood Resource Center in Richmond, Virginia, running their garden program and working with children on garden education, when a volunteer asked if she wanted to start a gardening business.
She took a leap of faith, and thanks to her VCU School of Business education that complements her passion for urban green spaces, that first business has morphed into a second larger operation, Geron Heron Garden Co.
“I wanted to be able to determine my own destiny. I love that I can drive my passions and priorities and make choices that directly affect me,” she says. “I can make a garden in the morning, have lunch with a client and do administrative work in the afternoon. I can drive the business in whatever direction I want.”
Little joins VCU Alumni on June 24 to present an Urban Container Gardening Workshop, offered in person and virtually.
“The workshop is a really great and accessible way to start growing plants,” she says. “We will direct sow seeds, likely lettuce or radishes. I love growing radishes. They’re so satisfying; you can plant the seed and get a radish in about a month. We’ll also plant some herbs, which will give us the opportunity to learn how to transplant any plant. We’ll also talk through some basic gardening concepts like watering methods and frequency, seed sowing styles, types of plants you can grow and harvesting methods.”
How did you get into gardening?
I grew up gardening with my mom and still talk to her all the time about different gardens or plants I’m working with. My senior year in high school, I went to a tech school for greenhouse operations. When I started at VCU in 2010, I was very interested in sustainability, environmentalism and climate change. I joined the student organization Green Unity, which was responsible for a lot of really special sustainability-related projects around campus. It was a great group of people, many of whom are still dear friends. During my sophomore year, we learned more about the issues around a lack of green space and food insecurity in the city, so we started a community garden near the Larrick Student Center. After that, I was hired by VCU to manage it for a few years, which was a great learning opportunity as a college student. During my time working there, we raised funds to start the learning garden at VCU. That time taught me a lot about food access and community relationships with both food and green space.
Can you share a little bit about your company, Green Heron Garden Co.?
My former business partner and I started as Marigold Garden Co. to help folks grow vegetables at home. It started with raised bed installations, coaching and consulting. When he left the business, I decided to start a new entity, Green Heron Garden Co., and I offer consultation, landscape and container design, maintenance, indoor plant styling and care. I work with both residential and commercial clients, including places like Starr Hill Brewery, Laura Lee’s, Blanchard’s and the Gather coworking spaces.
I place a heavy emphasis on environmental stewardship with my work. I want to create green spaces that benefit humans as well as our native fauna like bees, birds and butterflies. People get so much joy from green space; it is therapeutic. These principles have really guided me to continue to do this work.
I see my business as a tool for creating more green space, teaching others gardening and collaborating with and raising money for Mutual Aid and other community organizations to make Richmond a better, greener place for everyone to live.
How did VCU prepare you for this journey?
The network of people I worked with and engaged with during my time at VCU is the most precious and priceless thing to me. I was initially an environmental studies major and realized I didn’t want to be inside a lab or working for a large institution. I knew I needed a foundation before I could start my own business, and the VCU School of Business gave me that. When you’re running a business, you’re learning so much all the time; you’re constantly running into problems that need to be solved. Business school taught me that the answer to my question is out there even if I don’t know it right now. It taught me how to ask questions and how and where to find the answers.
What are your top three favorite flowers?
Peonies are probably my No. 1 favorite flower. I grew up in Loudoun County [Virginia], and the peonies bloom around my birthday at the end of May there. They are so stunning and smell so good. I love them! I also love yarrow. I use it way too much. I use it everywhere. There are so many varieties of it. It blooms most of the year. I have had it bloom in the winter when it was planted near a warm building. Another plant that has recently charmed me is Baptisia, also known as false indigo. It does gorgeous things all year. I have one client who has a massive specimen. It’s a perennial and comes back every year. It dies back completely to the ground in winter and gets up to 4-5 feet tall within a few weeks. It has this gorgeous silvery green foliage and purple blooms and just a stunning texture all summer and fall.
Where do you see Green Heron Garden Co. in five years?
For a long time, I’ve had this desire to create jobs for folks who might not have the opportunity to access work in this industry because of the need for specialized training or particularly people who are previously incarcerated. I would like to be a business that supports folks through job training and to be able to give them a well-paying position so they can support their families.
I also hope to increase the space that I have an impact on by working with more community organizations and mutual aid partners to make green space more accessible or create spaces to grow food. I like making beautiful spaces, so I would look for more opportunities to make Richmond beautiful or travel outside of Richmond to experience new plants, growing zones and spaces.