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Hendrix Professor, Students Create New Native Plant Garden

Stellar Joy Garden honors retired faculty members and sustainability champions

Students work on the Stellar Joy Garden projectCONWAY, Ark. (March 17, 2023) — Hendrix College Professor of Art Maxine Payne and student volunteers have transformed a small space within the College’s Art Complex into a pollinating garden of native plants, creating a healthy ecosystem and a beautiful, natural space for the Hendrix community to learn, rest, and reflect.

The garden, supported by the Hendrix Odyssey Program, will provide educational opportunities for future generations of Hendrix students. Payne named the project the Stellar Joy Garden in honor of two retired faculty colleagues, Dr. Stella Čapek and Dr. Joyce Hardin, both longtime campus sustainability champions.

Students work on the Stellar Joy Garden project.In designing the project for students, Payne wanted the garden to “foster a sense of community with the natural environment on campus, raise public awareness of native plants and the benefits of pollinators, address the issue of climate change on a small, local, and feasible scale, and relieve Facilities of the burden of maintaining the space.”

Payne, who teaches photography, is also an avid gardener.

“I have been gardening my whole life. Growing up on a farm in rural Arkansas with my grandparents taught me how to garden for sustenance because we raised most of the food we ate. I have had my own garden, no matter where I have lived, since I was 19,” she said. “While I do not have to raise my own food to survive now, my desire to experience the world physically, with my hands in the soil, has grown and is a significant part of how I live.”

She has been planting native or heirloom trees, grasses, and flowers that are focused on supporting pollinators on her own land for 13 years. Her property is Audubon Gold Certified, a certified Wildlife Habitat and is currently in two long term environmental quality initiative programs through Arkansas Game & Fish and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Center.

“I adhere to a ‘no mow, no tilling’ policy to encourage the restoration of the land, which was terraced in the 1930s to grow cotton,” said Payne, who joined the Hendrix faculty in 2002. Two years ago, she started a cut flower business, Maude & Payne, and last winter finished coursework and volunteer hours to become a Faulkner County Master Gardener.

The Odyssey-sponsored campus project began with preparing the existing plot (removing evergreen shrubs, day lilies, non-native trees, river rock, and landscape fiber, as well as soil testing) before constructing the new garden, which integrates an existing koi pond, wrought iron fencing with a gate, and pathways made from faux stone and bricks, which were part of the senior gift from the Class of 2003. 

A sculpture in the Stellar Joy Garden provides nesting material.The Stellar Joy Garden also includes new and repurposed structures, such as sculptures and seating, created by students and Payne’s Art Department colleagues, that benefit pollinators, including water and nesting sources, and a place for visitors to sit and enjoy the environment. It also includes plant and other educational signage for visitors.

Native plants for the garden were selected based on their ability to support a variety of pollinators and suitability for the site. Some of the plants came from Payne’s own garden, the gardens of other Faulkner County Master Gardeners, and from Pine Ridge Gardens in London, Arkansas, owned by MaryAnn King, a highly respected native plant expert who has been inducted into the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame for her work growing and selling native pollinating plants, which she has been doing for 29 years.

Because of the nature of native perennial plants, ongoing garden maintenance will be minimal.

“Ultimately, I hope it can serve as a model for restoring more of the grounds on campus to native planting, which is much more sustainable and environmentally beneficial,” she said, adding that there is already a sprinkler system installed in the new garden space, which further minimizes maintenance costs. “There are so many places on campus to be naturalized, and there is a lot of potential for changing the landscape on campus to be more sustainable with minimal maintenance. I would really like to do more projects like this.”

In addition to inspiring future campus sustainability projects, Payne hopes her colleagues across campus will use the garden in a variety of disciplines, including courses in art, biology, creative writing, environmental studies, and psychology.

A view of the Stellar Joy Garden entrance near the Art Buildings.The garden will be at its best in late summer and early fall, Payne said.

Student participants included project volunteers and those completing 30 hours of work, reading, research, and reflection to earn Service to the World credit through the Hendrix Odyssey Program. (See the full list of participants below).

Hendrix student members of the Volunteer Action Committee who volunteered for the Stellar Joy Garden include:

  • Annemarie Bennett ’22
  • Andy Bootz ’22
  • Landry Dosher ’23
  • Kayla Grabinski ’23
  • Gillian Henneberry ’23
  • Victoria Horan ’23
  • Danielle Kuntz ’22
  • Madeline Leicht ’21
  • Emerson Lejong ’23
  • Christian Maddox ’22
  • Gabby Naples ’23
  • Ashley Nguyen ’23
  • Allie Rogers ’25
  • Oli Steven-Assheuer ’22
  • Tristam Williams Thompson ’22
  • Vivian Waldron ’23
  • Jovaun Williams ’22

The following Hendrix students received Odyssey credit for their participation: Elijah Dilday ’23 (for the pollinator habitat), Emerson Lejong ’23, Jessica Rickerby ’21, and Ellery Seymour ’24.

A plaque installed in the Stellar Joy GardenAndy Huss, Assistant Professor of Visual Arts at Hendrix, provided substantial help. His ceramics class built the insect habitat. Home Energy RX of Little Rock provided additional project support, including a truck, trailer, and additional volunteer labor. Hendrix Provost Dr. Terri Bonebright provided additional support for the garden’s plants, and Nate Cowden, Director of Operations in the College’s Facilities Management office, was very supportive of Payne throughout the project. Hendrix alumna Mary Nail Farris ’20 designed graphics for the garden’s signage.