Five Questions With: Jayne Merner Senecal

HORTICULTURALIST Jayne Merner Senecal operates Golden Root Gardening, a Wakefield-based garden installation and maintenance business that incorporates native plantings. / COURTESY JAYNE SENECAL
HORTICULTURALIST Jayne Merner Senecal operates Golden Root Gardening, a Wakefield-based garden installation and maintenance business that incorporates native plantings. / COURTESY JAYNE SENECAL

Horticulturalist Jayne Merner Senecal grew up on the organic Earth Care Farm in Charlestown, and now operates a garden installation and maintenance business that incorporates native plantings. Golden Root Gardening, based in Wakefield, recently was awarded first place in the commercial and public landscape design category in the annual Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association Excellence Awards. Senecal spoke with the Providence Business News about her business and approach.

PBN: Your company recently won state recognition for a rooftop garden at the Matunuck Oyster Bar. What are some of the design challenges involved in creating a rooftop garden?

SENECAL: When designing a rooftop garden, you need to consider the harshness of the elevated environment and choose equally tough plants. I found that with this rooftop, plants suited to our coastline meet that criteria (they can handle wind, glaring sun, drought). Our company designed, installed and regularly maintains the garden. Our objective for the project was threefold: to help beautify a glaring white rubber roof, to create a native wildlife habitat, and to slow down and cleanse rainwater coming off the roof before it enters the salt pond below. We maintain the rooftop garden on a monthly basis. Maintenance includes weeding, occasional watering during drought conditions and visually monitoring rain percolation. We leave the vegetation standing through the winter months for visual interest, seed for wildlife and habitat for pollinators.

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PBN: What kinds of plantings did you include?

SENECAL: Much attention was given to the planting design, choosing an inner circle of edible herbs flanked by plants that are native to our shoreline and laying them out in an organized aesthetic. Plants known to have nutrient-dense seeds such as black-eyed Susan and purple love grass were featured, as well as pollen and nectar-heavy flowers such as native asters, seaside goldenrod and mountain mint. We included some larger driftwood and tall native grasses for bird habitat, as well as a bird bath and supplemental seed area. We then featured eight of the plants and wrote up descriptions to accompany paintings that are hung in the dining room for the curious public. The installation proved to be challenging, as the site was too tight for a crane to bring the materials up to the second story. When it came time to bring up the 5 tons of soil blend, we had to lug it in buckets up a ladder. Our crew turned it into an exhilarating game and finished spreading our own rooftop soil blend in just a couple hours. After installing the roofing and soil in November, we then waited until late April to plant the design.

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PBN: What are some of the emerging trends in garden design?

SENECAL: The landscaping trends are turning toward sustainable designs. Although our company has only turned a couple of lawns into native wildflower meadows, my clients are excited about planting groupings of native milkweed to attract monarch butterflies and seeing a hummingbird moth on liatris for this first time. What once appeared messy suddenly looks beautiful when you see the goldfinches perched on your frost-covered black-eyed Susan heads thriving off your backyard. It is our own backyards that can sustain wildlife, and that is beautiful.

PBN: What advice do you give homeowners who have just bought a property? Should they wait a year and see what comes up in the yard?

SENECAL: It’s always a good idea to give a new yard a full season to see what is really there. You may think an area is bare that is actually full of spring bloom bulbs or assume a tree is dead when it is just a new dawn redwood that hasn’t leafed out yet. You also get a feel for the microclimates in the yard, where it’s warmest, which spot is sheltered from the wind, where the soil is wet, etc.

PBN: How did you enter this profession?

SENECAL: My background is in organic farming. I was raised on my parents’ Earth Care Farm, where I also work now. I studied Environmental Economics at the University of Rhode Island and took many classes through the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association and the Northeast Organic Farming Association. Gardening is what I love and it naturally turned into what I do for a living. I am fortunate to have a hardworking, environmentally committed crew of gals that work with me and have helped me grow the business.

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