Bren Haas: The Social Gardener

BHchardparsleydome-1Lots of people read recipes and then go search through the supermarket for ingredients. But about a month ago, Bren Haas talked about a very different kind of search.

“There’s a pepper that’s in a salsa that my son wants, and I’m hunting down that seed, just so we can make that salsa recipe,” she said to her co-hosts on an online livestreaming network called BLAB.

This discussion of growing plants specifically for recipes was part of the #gardenchat weekly online discussion that takes place every Monday at 9 p.m. ET on Twitter. Discussion is led by the host @TheGardenChat Twitter account, but all participants can be seen by following the #gardenchat hashtag.

The social gardener

Screen_Shot_2016-03-14_at_12.12.25_PMHaas is a social butterfly in the online gardening world. Talking to her, you can sense her excitement about all of the various projects she manages, from her website to #gardenchat and its recent move into livestreaming events.

It’s a busy network of activity, but it all stems from one of the most basic reasons people garden: To create beauty that can be enjoyed and shared with others.

Until 2003, Haas and her family lived in a small city in Ohio, the kind of place where people take walks every evening, know their neighbors and admire each others’ gardens.

When the family picked up and moved to an 18-acre property in the country, Haas found that she loved the extra room to grow things, but she missed the social aspects of living in town.

Her solution was to start a blog, Creative Living & Growing with Bren, to share recipes, growing tips and to connect with others.

“It’s really nice to have people look at your plants online and just be encouraged, show it off a little. I kind of missed that from being in town, when people would actually change their walking routes to go by my garden,” she said. “Putting my garden online was kind of the same experience.”

Learning by connecting

Her work online has brought her in contact with a much wider world of gardeners. As she chats with people from different hardiness zones and different areas of the world, she gets excited about trying new things—even when that might mean breaking the rules a little bit.

“I grow things here that I would have never imagined I’d ever grow,” she said.

DomeBrenHaasThis year, she embarked on a new adventure that has expanded her horizons for year-round gardening in Ohio. With encouragement and help from two fellow gardeners she met online—plus hardware-store equipment she and her husband found to be surprisingly affordable—Haas constructed a 20-foot geodesic bio-dome on her property.

Scot Poirier of and Clint Ellsworth of Harvest Pathway, both gardeners from New Hampshire, came to Haas’s home to help build the biodome, a process Haas documented on her blog.

She emphasized that while she had thought a biodome would always be out of her reach for budget reasons, Poirier and Ellsworth helped her see that it’s “a structure that anyone with a backyard and sunshine can build.”

Learning a new way to grow

BHboragegeraniumHaas already had some experience with year-round growing. She and her husband had purchased a 10×12-foot used greenhouse a few years before. She learned a lot from greenhouse growing, but was soon ready for more room and a new challenge.

One of the things she loves about the dome is the ability to grow things in raised beds in the ground.

“That in itself is so much better than in the greenhouse,” she said.

She also loves the way the dome holds heat. Outdoor temperatures that would require daily watering in her greenhouse yielded much more pleasant conditions in the dome. So nice, in fact that Haas has moved a table and chairs and her citrus plants into the structure, making it a pleasant winter escape.

“I remember that first day we had that heat, I had watered in the greenhouse, I walked back to the dome…and I walked in and it was beautiful, the heat was so different,” she said. “It was like a perfect spring day. I did the finger test [in the soil]. I hadn’t watered in three or four days, but it was perfect.”

Plants Map provides a simple way to connect

The plants in Haas’s dome have their own collection on her Plants Map profile. She first learned about Plants Map when co-founders Bill and Tracy Blevins started participating in #gardenchat.

She likes that Plants Map makes it easy for all kinds of people to share their gardens online.

“What I really like about it is you don’t have to blog. You don’t have to have a website,” she said. “You could basically build your own web presence on Plants Map by simply documenting your beautiful garden.”

The social features of Plants Map make it easy to establish some of the connections that Haas has found so rewarding in the years she has spent sharing her gardens online.

garden-chat-graphicPlants Map users can “Follow” other individuals and organizations to customizes their Home news feed. This provides an opportunity to watch and learn from others growing experiences.

Users can request to “Connect” with organizations such as#gardenchat on Plants Map as well. Organizations can set their own criteria on accepting Connections and this feature allows organizations to build a network of their members, visitors and supporters.

When you start making social connections you may find yourself gardening in new ways you never imagined, just as Haas is in her 20-foot bio-dome.

Follow Bren Haas and Connect with #gardenchat and Creative Living and Growing with Bren on Plants Map.

Learn more about how to Follow and Connect with others on Plants Map.