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Volunteers plant wildlife habitat at local elementary school

2010 Day of Caring at Hominy Valley Elementary School, Thursday, Sept. 2

Butterfly bushes at Hominy Valley Elementary SchoolFinished bed — planted, mulched, and lined with cobblestones to help contain soil and water. View larger.

Hominy Valley Elementary School in Candler is now a Certified Wildlife Habitat thanks to the efforts of Landscape Contractor Steve Ambrose, who coordinated a team of volunteers in turning little-used, high-maintenance lawn areas on the school grounds into sustainable, water-conserving wildlife habitat and filling in the existing beds. For the school's 2010 "Day of Caring," bankers donned work gloves and planted trees side-by-side with schoolteachers and kids.

The annual United Way/PTA-sponsored event was the fourth in a row for which Ambrose, president of Asheville-based Ambrose Landscapes, has donated tools, labor and expertise in "green" landscape design. The sustainable landscaping he's been installing beautifies the school's campus while cutting its overhead expenses for maintenance, water and energy use — and it provides homes for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife of Western North Carolina that the school's children and teachers can study and enjoy.

"Mowing is loud and wasteful of a school's precious resources of money and manpower," Ambrose observes. "Besides, how much wildlife do you enjoy on a lawn?"

Butterfly bushes at Hominy Valley Elementary SchoolButterfly bushes planted last year at the school are flourishing. View larger.

"Our campus is the most beautiful one around," wrote Hominy Valley Principal Dr. Angie Jackson after last year's event. "We constantly receive compliments about how beautiful our entrance is."

The school recently qualified for certification as wildlife-friendly habitat by the National and North Carolina Wildlife Federation (familiar to many eco-conscious homeowners through the "Backyard Wildlife Habitat" program) because it provides the four key elements endangered species need to survive: food, water, cover, and a place to raise their young. And what's good for wildlife conservation is also good for Buncombe County School District's budget: For example, the drought-tolerant butterfly bushes and other flowering shrubs Ambrose and volunteers planted along exposed walls last year now not only provide food for butterflies and hummingbirds, but also cut air-conditioning costs by sheltering the brick walls from direct sun during the summer months.

Other regional businesses generously provided labor and materials to beautify Hominy Valley Elementary. Carolina Mulch Plus donated a dumptruck-full of mulch — over 20 cubic yards — and Tennessee Stone contributed $350 worth of cobblestone pavers, the equivalent of 3,000 lbs. of stone. Employees of Wells Fargo Advisors and PTA members worked hard all morning with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows to dig holes and plant a variety of mostly native shrubs and trees, which were donated by Lynn's Nursery of Leicester. Vulcan Materials — which owns a 389-acre stone quarry next to the school that is also a certified wildlife habitat — donated an impressive heap of stone boulders.

Next: Rain Gardens

The donated stones will provide raw materials for the next project in sustainable landscape design Ambrose plans: sunken rain gardens to harvest the rain water that currently drains wastefully away down several large storm drains near the school's landscaped beds.

Volunteers are needed to help (and learn the secrets of low-maintenance rainwater harvesting!): Please contact the United Way at handsonasheville.org, or email info@handsonasheville.org.

Hominy Valley Elementary School is at 450 Enka Lake Rd., Candler.

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