Art in Bloom! The Magic and Science of Gardening

By Jordan Wallace

Gardening can be many things.  Most people find puttering around in their gardens therapeutic, others do it for the aesthetic beauty. Some do it to be self-sustained or even to just grow produce to save money at the grocery store.  Why do you want to garden?  There is a complex plant world out there and we are a part of it.  By being observant and paying attention to our plants we can be guided by them in innumerable ways.

“Location, Location, Location!”

I always start my plants in pots so they can tell me if they are happy where I have placed them in the yard.  It takes time.  Occasionally, a plant looks happy only to be fried to a crisp in the bright afternoon sun a few hours later.  At this point the plant can be “rescued and relocated” as I like to say.  That is when having it in some form of container becomes invaluable.  There are many signs a plant will display if they are receiving too much/too little sun.  Blackened edges and wilting point towards too much sunshine while pale leaves and lack of growth depict not enough.  Each plant is different so careful research on individual species is important.


“Timing is everything!”  Luckily, we live in Texas and our growing seasons are among the longest in the nation.  Due to our semi-equator-like climate in Central Texas you can almost plant year-round!  In fact, with a greenhouse you can indeed plant whatever you want, whenever you want.  Never limit yourself; it is always worth a shot!  I had fresh mustard greens, cabbage, spinach, beets, radishes and every kind of herb you can think of growing this past December.  With the spring rains fast approaching this is actually the ideal time to plant.  Go get dirty!


It is also important to look to your plant’s future.  Is it a vine?  Does it need space to climb or does it prefer to cover the ground?  How big will it get?  Will it create shade for other plants?  I will never forget when I planted my Passion Vine in the ground beneath my favorite tree.  It shot up, climbing and covering the 30 foot tree in less than a month!  Beautiful blossoms and a pleasant surprise for me but some would consider that invasive and undesirable.  It really depends on your own preferences and the amount of space you have to utilize.  Many variations of climbing flowers and vegetables exist for those with limited space.  You may consider lattice, trellises and strategically planting near railings or other structures to maximize space and give your plants room to flourish.  This is called Vertical planting and deserves an article all unto itself.

Stagger Planting

At this point, stagger planting is worth mentioning for the serious gardener.  Stagger planting is essentially just separating sowing sessions by a few weeks so you can harvest for an extended period and always have fresh produce at your fingertips.  For instance, I planted 1 row of corn, tomatoes and beans each (among other veggies but these are what my family eats the most of).  I carefully left room for additional rows to be added at later dates.  In a few weeks I will plant another row of each and a few weeks after that I will plant another row of each.  Thus, successfully ensuring continued harvest through the season for my small family, some for preserves and salsa, some for the “critters” as they take their due and also, enough to share with friends and occasionally, to sell.


When planting vegetables and herbs it is good to note that some plants have preferences about who their neighbors are, just as people do.  Beans and tomatoes grow well together because the nutrients they claim from the ground are opposite of one another.  This means they complement one another rather than competing. (Just be sure your bean vines do not wrap their hands around your tomato stalks, give them a pole to climb instead and guide them up that).

Plant Care

A lot of people think gardening takes a lot of effort, but that all depends on how you define “effort”.  I have a zealous determination for growing every kind of plant I can get my hands on.  Therefore, daily watering and a little weeding here and there are nothing to me, but may be tedious, monotonous work to others.  Now is a great time to ask “what kind of gardener am I?”  Please consult my chart:


My roses haven’t been watered in years!

Unless you are leaving the responsibility of watering up to the forces of Mother Nature, you are going to be required to water your plants occasionally.  Each plant is different, just as humans are.  It is easy to set a timer or turn on a sprinkler and just soak ‘em all if you have that luxury.  I have seen beautiful gardens thrive this way, but it is worth taking the time to meet your plants individual needs.  I prefer rain water which contains more natural minerals and much fewer harsh chemicals.  My plants seem to respond better to this.  Long periods with only the water hose for sustenance has shown poor growth and malnourishment in my personal assessment. We collect rain water in large containers and I take the time each morning to personally water each plant, bucket by bucket, plant by plant.  While this can be time consuming it allows me to monitor my plant babies closely.  I notice pests, deterioration and general unhappiness amongst the vegetation almost immediately and can then remedy it as I see fit.  Sometimes certain plants need more water, others need less and root rot is a real concern.  A good rule-of-thumb is the “knuckle trick”.  Simply push your finger about an inch into the soil.  If it comes back wet/muddy/dirty then let the plant dry out for another day and try again, but if your finger comes back spotless or with minimal/dry dirt then it is probably a good time to water.  Most often, you will not water every plant every day.  Some require more, some less!


Depending on your location, it may be beneficial to add compost to your garden prior to planting and in between crops.  Your plants draw nutrients from the soil and can deplete it over time so replenishing the earth is not only logical; it is balance, give and take. Plus, plants can grow much bigger and heartier with this added step!  An often unnoticed difference in soil: topsoil is NOT COMPOST, nor is it valuable in this consideration.  Topsoil is only a waste of money in my opinion, no different than the dirt you are already working with in your yard.  In fact, it is sometimes less nutritious than your common garden soil.  Plain Jane Organic Compost or Humus is the best way to go.

Jordan Wallace lives off the grid and is currently starting his own self-sustainable farm.  “I have a long way to go but the journey is often more fun than the destination,” he says.  “I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a family of gardeners and plants my whole life.  I never give up on my plant babies and am known for bringing them back from the dead!  I always feel there is much more to learn and yet I could fill a book with what I know.”  If you have any questions please feel free to contact Jordan at!

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.






P-20: Promoting College and Career Readiness in Central Texas

By Fred Hills

Preparing local students for successful journey through school and college to careers is critical to the well-being and growth of our community. Started 8 years ago, the HOT P-20 works to promote streamlined, transparent degree pathways for students to move quickly and successfully through their education and onto college and/or a career.  The Heart of Texas (HOT) P-20 brings together representatives from the independent school districts (ISD), institutions of higher education (IHE), Region 12 Education Service Center, industry and government across six counties: Bosque, Hill, Falls, Limestone, Freestone and McLennan to work towards this goal.  Among the higher education representatives are McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College, and Hill County with representation from both Tarleton State University, Texas Tech through MCC’s University Center.

The HOT P-20 mission can best be summarized as follows:

  • Collaborating by building cross-community team to address education and career possibilities for all students.
  • Informing our diverse communities about ongoing initiatives, best practices and available resources.
  • Advocating for educational best practices with at the state and local levels.

Some of our ongoing projects include:

  • Academic Vertical Alignment Training and Renewal (AVATAR) program that brings together faculty from the high schools and post-secondary institutions who teach Math, English, College and Technical education, and STEM to discuss differences in instructional techniques and ways to better prepare students for college-level work while in high school.  AVATAR also include high school and college counselors to address ways to better advise students in preparation for their transfer to college and/or a career.
  • Building closer ties between education and industry under our Groundhog Job Shadowing initiative celebrated on February 2 each year promoting job shadowing, internships, externships, career fairs and industry visits.
  • Partnering to support local educational initiatives and programs such on Region 12 ESC’s Connect 3, Teacher’s Gone Tech, Girls in STEM, career fairs, etc.
  • Building collaborative agreements among secondary, post-secondary and industry to offer degree pathways and college preparation courses for students while still in high school.
  • Providing an annual forum on “State of Education in Central Texas” in the Spring to share ongoing educational initiatives and career preparation opportunities.  This year’s event is scheduled for April 20 from 11:30 to 1:30 PM at MCC’s conference center.  All are welcome.
  • Working with Prosper Waco and the Waco Chamber to inform them on ongoing educational initiatives and promote education to career programs.
  • Surveying the community for ways to better serve all partners in this effort.

HOT Regional P-20 operates as a voluntary organization.  For more information on the HOT P-20 and its programs, check out our webpage at

Dr. Fred Hills is the current president of the HOT P-20 and Dean of Arts, Science and Business at McLennan Community College.  He has worked and lived in the Waco community for over 20 years and has served on the HOT P20 for the last four years.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.

Earth Month Part 3: Celebrating Earth Day in Wacotown

April is Earth Month!  To help us get in the spirit of sustainability, Anna Dunbar, Recycling and Public Outreach Administrator for the City of Waco Solid Waste Services, shares some tips, expertise and hopes for our community in a series of four blog posts.  For all the posts so far, click hereThanks for writing, Anna! – ABT)

By Anna Dunbar

In 1962 a marine biologist named Rachel Carson wrote a book called Silent Spring. The title referred to a world without birds due to toxic pesticides then commonly used in America (primarily DDT). I first read the book in college in the mid late 70’s. It was a time of great change – by 1972, a phase-out of DDT use in the United States had begun and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was in its infancy.

Origin of Earth Day

Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, a longtime conservationist, was the one who decided to have an environmental celebration in the spring of 1970. After his announcement, the energy started spreading across the US (without social media!) and ten thousand grade schools and high schools, two thousand colleges, and one thousand communities were involved in that thing that became “Earth Day.”

Over the decades, the spirit of Earth Day has risen, fallen, and risen again. There was an effort to raise public awareness about falling whale populations and dangerous nuclear power. In the US, we began to separate our household trash from recyclables in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Many companies like Coca Cola, M&M Mars, and Allergan in Waco have adopted zero waste or waste reduction goal and green business practices. Schools and churches have jumped in with efforts to send less waste to the landfill.

Earth Day Today

Earth Day this year is April 22. Today, Earth Day around the US is about learning experiences and activities  to make the natural world around us better.  Some cities have clean-up events, nature hikes, environmental awareness celebrations and even entertainment.

Here is what you can do to celebrate Earth Day in Waco :

April 20 – Mayborn Museum Science Thursdays – Smoke, Smog and City Life presentation by Dr. Rebecca Sheesley of the Environmental Science Department at Baylor University. The presentation is on Thursday, April 20 from 7 PM until 8 PM at the Mayborn Museum Complex, 1300 S. University Parks Drive; Coffee and cookies at 6:30 the museum.  Everyone is invited and admission is free; does not include admission to the museum.

April 22 – Cameron Park Zoo Party for the Planet and Bear Awareness Day – Keeper Talks, Bear Activities, and activities throughout the Zoo on Saturday, April 22.

April 22 – National Jr. Ranger Day at the Waco Mammoth National Monument  – There will be fun activities with Park Rangers at this awesome park.  Come learn about Waco summer camps, recycling, litter prevention, and more. Children 12 and under tour for free this day only.

April 22 – BUZZ OFF 2017 at the Downtown Waco Farmer’s Market on Saturday, April 22, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. The farmer’s market will be at the new location 510 Washington Ave. (across from McLennan Co. Courthouse) Stop by and learn how you can avoid mosquitoes. FOR MORE INFO: 254-744-4156,

April 23 – Cameron Park Zoo “Join the Pride”  – This is an event hosted by the Mayor’s Committee for people with disabilities celebrating differences. There will be Keeper talks and a resource fair.

April 29 – National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day  – On Saturday, April 29, take this great opportunity to get rid of unwanted and expired drugs in a safe and secure manner.

If you cannot attend an Earth Day event in Waco, never fear! Remember, you can make every day Earth Day!

This week’s Act Locally Waco blog post is by Anna Dunbar. Anna is the Operations Administrator for the City of Waco Public Works. She is responsible for informing Waco residents and businesses about recycling and waste reduction opportunities as well as solid waste services in Waco. Her husband is a Baylor professor and her daughter is a graduate student at Baylor University. She is president of the board of Keep Waco Beautiful and is a member of The Central Texas Audubon Society and Northwest Waco Rotary. If you would be interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco blog, please email .  

Share your Special Stories in Waco’s Community Traveling Museum

by Matt Doyen

I love Harry Potter. My friends love Harry Potter. We watch the movies, listen to the audiobooks, and read the tattered paperbacks. We are so magically spellbound by the series not only because of our (continued-into-adulthood) desire to attend Hogwarts, but also because of the way that Rowling shares her story. She is a magnificent storyteller and believes that “there’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” We are transported when we hear her story, but also when we grasp our wand replicas, flick them in the air, and pronounce “Wingardium Leviosa.”

Certain objects, like a wand, or a medal, or a toy, are so powerful that they can tell a story in a few sentences that can be just as emotional as a seven book saga. They can make us make us laugh, make us cry, and make us think. The best part is that while not everyone has a wizarding world in their mind, everyone does have a treasured object in their possession. Susan Mullaly, former assistant professor of art at Baylor, emphasized this point in her book What I Keep. In it, members of the Church Under the Bridge are photographed with an item that they have kept safe against all odds. It is overtly simple, but extremely moving. For the past couple of months, the Museum Association of Waco has been attempting to temporarily collect and display more of our cherished objects and to share the stories that are connected to them. The concept is called a pop-up museum and its success is up to us.

Our first pop-up museum was in the Local History Room at the Waco-McLennan Central Library on Austin Avenue. The library’s theme for the month was You Are Where You Live so we asked participants to answer a simple question with an object: What does Waco mean to you? We received eleven extraordinary objects that were displayed for two weeks. Unassuming things like a wedding invitation and a medal told the adventurous stories of meeting new friends and conquering new endeavors. The proud owner of a Bearathon medal wrote, “During my time in grad school, my friends have bonded over our journey to running the Bearathon. We have trained hard, run many miles, and have consumed many carbs! This medal represents our accomplishments and our great experiences together.” Another participant who brought a wedding invitation shared a similar story. “When I came to Texas, I didn’t know a single person. It was scary. But then some amazing people invited me into their lives. This wedding invitation represents one of the many memories I have made with them.”

Our second pop-up museum was at the Ball Performing Arts Center for McLennan Community College’s Hansel and Gretel opera performance. To relate to the theme of the opera, we asked participants to bring an item that reminded them of a childhood memory. We received seven very special objects and their stories. Many of the objects referenced some of the most important people that we have in our lives: our grandparents. One participant wrote about a dog fence topper that “was mounted on the fence in my grandparent’s backyard. We spent so much time playing in their backyard growing up. When they died and we sold their house, each grandkid kept one of these dogs.” The owner of a Rubik’s Cube mimicked that common sentiment. “I got my first Rubik’s Cube from my grandmother and ‘solved’ it by taking off the stickers and putting them in the right spots. Later, I learned how to solve one. Today, I still love doing puzzles!”

Our next pop-up museum will be held on Saturday, April 22 at the Farmer’s Market. Theme will be PLAY! We are inviting everyone to bring an item that can be played with and enjoyed by others. In the end, objects can make it easier to share personal stories and to connect with foreign strangers (and, if you’re Lord Voldemort, to live forever). We used to proudly share them during kindergarten show-and-tells, but have since had fewer opportunities to do so. The Museum Association of Waco is trying to change that through the hosting of its pop-up museums. We hope to see you at one soon with your precious object and your amazing story!

Matthew Doyen is the coordinator of the Museum Association of Waco’s Traveling Community Museum. He will (hopefully) graduate from Baylor University in May with an MA in Museum Studies. When not looking for his next paying adventure, he enjoys exploring Waco’s food scene and hanging with his majestic dog, Tex.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.