One evening Amanda Montgomery sat overlooking her front yard. Like every gardener with a wandering eye, she began to reimagine the grass-filled space located on Richmond’s Southside. Now more than two years later, her half acre lot is home to Hummingbird Gardens, a neighborhood market garden that sells herbs and fresh flowers to local businesses and consumers.
“I was working at the Weinstein Jewish Community Center preschool as an assistant teacher and doing garden education but I felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” said Montgomery. “I wanted to grow stuff fulltime. I didn’t see myself renting land or anything like that. I wanted to work for myself and decided I would figure out what to do. And I wanted my house to be where I grew.”
With a master’s degree in food studies from Chatham University and experience working on a farm, Montgomery began planning what Hummingbird Gardens would become. She looked for opportunities to complement Richmond’s robust farming community and found her niche in exotic, hard-to-find herbs.
PERK! Coffee and Lunchbox in Bon Air, the company’s first business customer, purchased Hummingbird Gardens’ tarragon for a popular cherry tarragon relish that is part of restaurant’s house greek yogurt.
“I was trying to get restaurants to sign on with me,” remembered Montgomery. “I had no pictures and nothing to show them.”
But Montgomery persevered. Soon, Savory Grain signed on and then Jessica Bufford with Toast, Hutch and Talley’s also enrolled in Hummingbird Garden’s Garden Share. Through the program, Hummingbird Gardens drops off fresh herbs for 20 weeks for restaurants to use in food and cocktail programs. Montgomery also provides flower arrangements and buckets for some businesses as well.
“When Jessica said, ‘Yeah, we’ll sign on all three restaurants,’ I got that email and cried because I thought, ‘Ok, I can do this,” said Montgomery.
Today, Hummingbird Gardens is awash in a sea of yellows, reds and purples thanks to a wide array of pollinator plants that accompany many herbs. Mexican sunflowers, strawflowers and globe amaranth populate beds, along with French tarragon, oregano and Vietnamese coriander (similar to cilantro, but spicier.)
Leslie Knope, Trudy and Sergeant Pepper hangout at back – Montgomery’s Barred Plymouth Rock chickens – producing about one egg each, per day. Across the yard, a beehive brims with honey bees. Honey bees can travel two miles or more in search of pollen but at Hummingbird Gardens it’s a short trip.
“I just want them to have an all you can eat buffet here in the front yard,” joked Montgomery. “I don’t want them to think they need to go anywhere.”
Montgomery’s 2016 Christmas present sits in the backyard too: a greenhouse that allows her to start seeds well before the last frost date.
Last year, Hummingbird Garden began selling flavored salts, which turned out to be a natural progression for the business.
“I really hate wasting things. With the salt, I noticed I had a lot of lemon basil leftover. I had a market coming up, and thought about making some salt,” said Montgomery. “People really liked it. That signaled to me it was something I could explore and it turned into a pretty big part of my business.”
Six salt flavors are currently available through Hummingbird Gardens’ website and at local stores like the Olive Oil Taproom and the Little House Green Grocery, including rose chile, lemon basil, rosemary thyme, thai basil, garlic chive and the newest, “Forever Summer” which features dehydrated ripe tomatoes and sweet basil.
Montgomery loves collaborating with other growers and small businesses. Her consumer-facing version of Garden Share includes weekly flower arrangements and herbs, along with items from other local makers such as Nightengale ice cream sandwiches or Mavenmade all-natural wellness products.
Soon she’ll begin offering dried flowers too – arrangements currently hang inside her house, next to marigold and sunflower seeds she’ll sell to gardeners in the spring. Nearby, a stack of eccentric vases sit, a gift from Montgomery’s late grandmother.
“She loved hummingbirds, butterflies and flowers. Flowers were her jam,” said Montgomery. “She was our family gardener. Even towards the end of her life, she would go out in sit with her walker and weed her garden. She just wanted to be out there. She’s in all of this.”
Montgomery credits Hummingbird Gardens for pushing her to get out in the front yard and meet new neighbors. Runners, walkers and cyclists often stop to admire the plants, something Montgomery encourages. A yard overflowing with flowers is a great conversation starter, after all. She hopes the garden inspires others too.
“I want people to think of their yards differently. They don’t have to necessarily rip their entire yard up and make a business out of it. But it doesn’t just have to be grass. I want to people think of their home as an ecosystem,” said Montgomery. “I didn’t know there was as many bees as there are, until I did this, and they started showing up. If you build it, they will come. I’ve seen the amount of life in this space explode.”