Turning a landfill into a wilderness garden in Shenandoah County

A local campaign to plant native pollinator meadows on landfills marked a milestone on Thursday, April 21 – the eve of Earth Day. Reports by Randi B. Hagi of the WMRA.

Hannah Bement (right) with her environmental students.

PARTICIPANT SONGS: push, push, push!

At the Shenandoah County landfill in Edinburgh on Thursday, around three dozen people gathered at lunchtime, munching on wraps and fruit. They saw a truck in the distance spraying a mixture of water, mulch and wildflower seeds onto a mountain of trash covered in clay and topsoil.


The hydroseeder sprays a mixture of water, mulch and wildflower seeds onto the slope.

SARI CARP: This is actually the first time we’ve planted directly on a trash can, so it’s a big milestone for the project.

Sari Carp is the founder and executive director of the organization Sustainability Matters. This project, called “Making Trash Bloom”, took four years to prepare.

CARP: So it’s hydroseeded by this giant machine. It’s actually, they’re at the top of the really steep hill that’s full of trash, and they’re spraying down in this kind of green slime – we have a native seed mix.

Two years ago, they planted wildflower seeds on a smaller, flatter test plot at the landfill.


An active trash cell at the landfill. The black plastic acts as a raincoat over a gravel base that slowly fills with trash.

CARP: I think the Shenandoah County landfill, which of course is where this was piloted, where it all started, thought we were crazy when I first came up with the idea.

Landfill operations manager Brad Dellinger said he was interested in the idea because –

BRAD DELLINGER: We were looking for something that would stop us from mowing.

Typically, when a trash can – which Dellinger described as a big bowl of soup – is full –

DELLINGER: We’re going into post-closure – that’s when we’re all done, and basically there’s three feet of clay on top of the trash can, and then there’s a sheet that get on it – it’s like a burrito. We just packed it.


Then it would be covered with topsoil and grass seeds. This was done for the other three closed cells of the landfill. Dellinger participated in the creation of each.

DELLINGER: My life is trash!

Its relationship with the place goes back five decades. At the age of nine, he took part in the family business of hauling other people’s waste to the landfill. Eventually the county asked him if he was “keeping” the landfill, as he puts it.


Dellinger gives the go-ahead to start spraying.

For this project, he said they were able to take the same equipment they normally use to hydroseed grass and fill it with the wildflower mix.

DELLINGER: That’s about $400 worth of seeds, so hopefully they’ll pop up and bloom!

There are about two dozen different types of seeds in the mix.

HANNAH BEMENT: Some of our common native prairie plants are in there, like bergamot, which is wild bergamot or lemon balm. It’s this amazing Dr. Seuss-looking flower that’s just an absolute favorite of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds and a great source of nectar for our native pollinators.


Volunteers and supporters have lunch prepared by the Friendly City Food Co-op.

Hannah Bement teaches biology at Mountain Vista Governor’s School, which has offices in Middletown and Warrenton. Some of his high school students will monitor the pollinator meadow as it grows.

BEMENT: They’re going to act as environmentalists for this project. They will come and investigate to see what seeds germinate, how long does it take for them to flower, what pollinators come in and use them, and other environmental characteristics relevant to landfill managers when deciding if this program is suitable. well to their landfills. For example, how do these native plants change the way water moves through the landfill cell? Or how much water seeps into the waste leachate?

This pile of trash is just the beginning – Sustainability Matters has made deals with landfills in Rappahannock and Fairfax counties to plant there as well. Sonia Zamborsky is the group’s communications director.

SONIA ZAMBORSKY: We have a grant that we got from the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia, and we have several more that we’re vying for. And so we’re going to plant on the closed landfill of the I-66 transfer station which is in Fairfax… The idea is that this becomes a national project – maybe even a global one!

To learn more, visit their website at sustainability matters.the earth.

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