Digging Deep

Amber Stafford of Black Girls Gardening aims to cultivate an inclusive gardening community

Bgg Amber0004 Story

When he winds up his adventure-filled international travels, Voltaire’s character Candide reflects that it’s best to settle down and “cultivate one’s garden” for prosperity and peace of mind.

AMBER STAFFORD seems to be following his advice. Founder of Black Girls Gardening, Stafford is digging deep in the garden of her Wilmington home to learn all she can about cultivation. And she’s spreading her knowledge to others.

“I like spending the majority of my time outside,” says Stafford, who welcomes her horticultural pursuits as a change from her desk job at an insurance firm. “I’ve been gardening for about three years: it sparked all these ideas – growing food, designing a space I’d want to be in.”

Stafford grew up in upstate New York, where her grandfather had a large vegetable garden he tended with care. She remembers walking through his extensive corn patch and sinking her toes into the fertile earth.

“Ever since, I’ve really wanted to be outside and grow stuff,” she explains. “I didn’t have a chance when I lived in New York, and I couldn’t garden in our apartment in South Carolina.”

So when Stafford and her husband moved to a home in Wilmington with a yard, she began transforming the barren lot with some shrubs. Next, she built raised beds and ventured into vegetable gardening. Raised beds, she explains, allow her to build good soil inside the borders instead of trying to plant in the rocky, sandy soil on her property.

Her efforts didn’t create an instant paradise. When Stafford found herself struggling in the summer of 2019, needing ideas and advice, she turned to social media sites for help.

“I was seeing a lot of pages but not seeing a lot of people of color, or small gardens,” she says. “It looks amazing but also seems impossible when you’re just starting out.”

Stafford decided she couldn’t just cultivate her own garden, like Candide.

“I thought, ‘What if I create a page where girls can come and bounce ideas off each other; see what others are doing about issues like pests, dead plants, light?’ It would be a place to connect,” Stafford says.

So, specifically targeting other aspiring as well as experienced Black gardeners, she launched Black Girls Gardening about 15 months ago. She now has 85,000 followers on Instagram, garden enthusiasts from all over the world. About 80% are women; most are Black.

“It’s a support system for women in their garden and can help encourage positive behaviors,” she says. “[Black women] all want a little representation. There are some ladies who have been doing this for twenty, thirty, forty years and nobody knows about them. Black Girls Gardening has become a place for people to be able to showcase their gardens. I am happy I can highlight that for them.”

Three months ago, she launched her website, where she offers t-shirts, decals, hats, and tote bags for sale, shares her experiences, and provides guidance.

“I get questions all day long,” Stafford says. “Occasionally I’ll put up an ‘ask me anything’ post. If I don’t know (the answer), I do a little bit of research; figure out my best answer for them, guide them in that direction. This happens all day, every day: answering questions and helping people out.”

Stafford’s most recent foray is into the realm of houseplants. She now consults and advises people who would like to enhance their interiors with the right plants.

“When people bring a couple of plants into their home, it can brighten up the space and inspire them,” she says.

Next up: cultivating flowering plants outside.

“I would like to turn this into a living,” Stafford says. “Once I become fully sustainable, I’d like to be able to teach and show people what they can do. I’d like to help them to learn through my experience, to show them simpler living off the land, and to have gardening become a source of income. That’s the goal.”

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.

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