Small spaces, large benefits



While working at Oneonta City School, Darnell Whited developed an “almost English Garden” at her Oneonta home. She used gardening as a type of therapy for herself.

As Whited had meticulously planned, she retired after 25 years, set new goals of becoming a Master Gardener, designing and building her retirement home, and writing a book.

Soon her retirement goals began to evolve.

According to Whited, “My footprint on the hill would be a 1,200-square-foot home with views from every room, extra high ceilings, and curved openings instead of doors.”

Her yard and garden area consists of a very limited space encircling her 30-x-40 home. She cuts “her lawn” with a weed eater.

Attending Master Gardener classes and meeting “like-minded women with a love for nature” only fueled her desire to develop a small space with large benefits.



“Day by day, I began moving plants from Oneonta to their new home on any soil I could find on my little hill. I moved an English garden, one plant at a time.”

Soon Whited had a garden “with lots of hand-me-down plants from my grandparent’s yard in Cleveland, my parent’s home in Cleveland, and donations from friends. What little grass I have in my token yard came from sprigs from my dad, Odell Grigsby, to my yard in Oneonta, and then was sprigged again for my yard here.”

Believing she inherited her “green thumb” from her grandfather, Albert Johnson, Whited has been able to maintain an almost pesticide-free garden where she raises annuals, perennials, herbs, and few vegetables in the summer in a very limited space.

According to Whited, “The plants I raise are there to encourage hummingbirds, regular birds, butterflies, and bees. I don’t have the clover mowed, hoping to help the honeybees.

“The most wonderful thing I do grow is milkweed for the endangered Monarch butterflies. Monarchs are dependent on milkweed plants, which larvae (caterpillars) eat almost exclusively. The adult Monarch butterflies will nectar on many different plants.

“Last year I had over 20 caterpillars and photographed a chrysalis on the old tricycle (left). I guarded the tricycle and followed the process until the day the butterfly came out and flew away.”

While the life of a Monarch butterfly begins as an egg, they hatch as larvae that eat their eggshells and, subsequently the milkweed on which they were placed.

As mentioned in “Butterflies of Alabama,” Mother Nature is helping the butterfly. The milkweed plant contains cardenolides and cardiac glycosides, which are chemicals that cause congestive heart failure in vertebrates. Birds will vomit when they ingest the chemical-filled larvae.

Not only does Whited have transplanted foliage at her home, many native plants to Blount County can be found around her house and on the banks nearby including the bigleaf magnolia, bottlebrush buckeye, oakleaf hydrangea, sassafras, witch hazel, Carolina lily, and rabbit tobacco.

Whited believes that setting goals keeps us mentally and physically healthy. Gardening continues to be therapy for her. She is working on her book but has added new goals to her retired life.

“I am working on creating more real soil and adding more milkweed each year. The annuals are beginning to self-seed. I will add more plants for the pollinators. We can help the pollinators that we need for growing our food with little or no expense to us. A small space for the plants, bees, birds, and butterflies has large benefits for all of us.”