Right down the hall from the press box at Auto Zone Park-- the home of the Memphis Redbirds-- is of all things, a garden. It's not just a few pretty flowering planters placed there for aesthetic beauty, there are actually vegetables growing in planter boxes high above the city of Memphis. Auto Zone Park is in the heart of downtown Memphis just right down the street from Beale Street so one would not expect to find a vegetable garden there.

The  Miracle-Gro® Rooftop Garden came from the idea of two people: the Redbirds owner and General Manager; and was accomplished largely through the know-how of a groundskeeper. 

"One of the reasons this idea took flight is to encourage people even though they may live in the city, they can still grow plants," said Michael Schroeder, Director of Media and Public Relations

The Memphis Redbirds announced the Miracle-Gro® Rooftop Garden, a one-of-a-kind addition to AutoZone Park that has wide-reaching benefits for community health, education, and environmental sustainability in March. It was built on the third floor landing, which overlooks the plaza inside the front gates at the corner of B.B. King and Union.

"Brian Bowe, who is the assistant grounds keeper built it," said Melissa Reynolds, the Press Box Manager who works in the Press Dining room just down the hall from the garden. When asked if the stadium chef will use the tomatoes and other home-grown veggies in the food, she said "that's the plan."

The whole thing is new, but the vegetables are growing like-- well-- what you would expect from a Miracle-Gro garden.

The Memphis Redbirds approached Miracle-Gro with a plan to repurpose the third level deck at AutoZone Park. General Manager Craig Unger along with Peter Freund, the Redbirds Principal Owner have had this plan in the works for a while.

"Peter and I had been kicking around the idea for a long time," said Unger Friday night during the game at Auto Zone Park.  "The area where the garden is was intended to be used as a patio and there are concession stands built out there but the way the sun sets it is just too hot to do anything like that-- but it is perfect for a garden."

"Craig asked me to come up with a design we could show Miracle-Gro," said Bowe. 

Little did anyone know that Bowe would end up being the perfect person for the job because of his unique background. Well actually, when Unger thought about it he remembered a conversation and it all became clear.

"A few years ago when Brian started with us I had talked to him about his background and I remembered it," Unger said as he gave a tour of the garden.

"I once worked in the construction field," said Bowe, shown left surrounded by the plants and the planters he made. He used that experience when he actually designed and built the boxes.

"I was also an intern for Urban Farms."

Urban Farms was a unique farming operation in Memphis, run through a partnership with the Memphis Center for Food and Faith and the Binghampton Development Corporation. It was a non-profit that promoted healthy sustainable foods.  With his educational credentials being a degree in Plant Sciences with an emphasis in Turfgrass Management from the University of Missouri and he was already working on the grounds crew, his knowledge and creativity were perfect for the task and he utilized that experience to create a proposal that Miracle-Gro would like.

Bowe made several different versions at first and working with the Redbirds execs they decided on the one they wanted.

The Rooftop Garden was constructed with over 3,200 linear feet of Cypress lumber. Bowe researched the wood and figured out how to do it. The footprint of all raised beds is about 1,200 square feet, which is one-quarter of the entire landing area, and the beds hold 80 cubic yards of soil. Bowe constructed the various boxes that house the garden, starting in February of this year.

"It was basically a month from when he started building the planting boxes to when we actually had a garden," said Unger.

"We were thrilled to partner with them (the Redbirds) and bring this project to life,” said John Sass, Vice President and General Manager of Miracle-Gro. “The soil and plant food we provided will help create a space that educates and inspires all who visit this iconic urban space."

Bowe is sold on the Miracle-Gro plant food and fertilizer.

"We put some Miracle-Gro Fertilizer on it last week and it was amazing how much the plants grew," he said.

It was surprising for a reporter to see a thriving garden on the third floor of a baseball stadium and as a matter of fact they are truly "ground breakers" with the idea. Unger said he and Freund had seen a couple of gardens at the major league level.

"Boston has a garden in their bullpen and so does Seattle," said Unger, "But to my knowledge we are the first in the minor leagues to have an urban rooftop garden. When we decided we wanted to go forward with it, we went to Brian and said, 'can you do this?' and he said 'yes.'"

Freund is excited that their idea actually happened.

“We are proud to build the first urban rooftop garden in all of Minor League Baseball,” said Peter Freund. “And to have an opportunity to partner with Miracle-Gro on this project, one of the most innovative corporations in America, will ensure its long-term success and opens the door for an exciting evolution of how the garden can grow.”

"There are so many neat things that can happen with this garden," said Schroeder, "And a lot of it is educational. We'll be able to bring school children out to see it and give tours."

Bowe said he has gotten a lot of help from a local horticulturist and educator.

"Ben Townsend has been a big help to me. He is the Farm Manager Educator at Shelby County Schools."

During the Redbirds’ annual Education Days, school children in attendance could tour the garden, learn about nutrition, and see how they could grow a garden of their own in whatever space they have at their home. Additional garden tours on game days and during special events are being planned as well.

A sports reporter seeing the garden and learning one of the groundskeepers is partly responsible for maintaining it reflects that the same person who is helping maintain the field for the players is also helping produce the garden with some of the food they may end up eating. 

 "I had not thought of the players eating the vegetables, but I'm sure that could happen" said Bowe, who is shown right, with some of the squash that is growing gangbusters. "I am more excited about people learning about community wellness and having the school kids come to see where their foods come from."

This year's crop includes tomatoes, squash, okra, watermelon, cucumbers, two kinds of basil, oregano, and thyme. They are making tweaks on the garden because some plants do better in full sun, some need shade, and while they tried to keep that in mind when planting the garden, there are some plants doing better than others. 

"It's still a learning process," said Bowe.

Unger pointed out that they use a special soil that is lighter than regular soil.

"It's a special soil that is for raised beds," he said. "It helps alleviate the moisture so it won't be so heavy."

The soil is something that is sold in the stores by Miracle-Gro who has entered into multi-year agreement with the Rebirds. They also work with Bonnie Plants

The applications of the ballpark’s Rooftop Garden are numerous and cross multiple segments of the community. The Redbirds are planning to use a portion of the food and herbs grown in the garden in food served at the concession stands during games, and also in the recipes the stadium chef prepares for the suites, press box, and even meals for the players. 

 Local and sustainable food is a major push in Memphis’ culinary culture, and the Redbirds have recognized the movement with the ability to use some of the most local and sustainable food seen anywhere.

The photo, left, shows just how much in the city the garden is. 

While urban gardening is a new way of thinking, they still have to use the old fashioned way of planting.

While there was a threat of rain all evening and even some lightning at the ballpark, Bowe did not get the night off from tending to his garden.

"I saw Brian out there watering his plants this afternoon," said Unger.

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Right now the general public does not have the opportunity to see it in person-- unless you buy a ticket to one of the suites or are a member of the media-- because it is on the third floor near those venues. 

But they have many things in the works for the future as they continue working on their new garden.

The community will be able to access information about the garden, watch videos, and get gardening tips through the Miracle-Gro® Rooftop Garden webpage located at www.memphisredbirds.com/miraclegrogarden. T

Fans traveling to Memphis to see a Redbirds game can buy their tickets online by going to : http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t235.

There is a Drury Hotel in the Memphis vicinity-- located in the suburb of Horn Lake Mississippi. For the STLSportsPage.com discount at the Drury: https://www.druryhotels.com/Reservations.aspx?promocode=SPORTS


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About Scotts Miracle-Gro
The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company is the world's largest marketer of branded consumer products for lawn and garden care. The Company's brands are the most recognized in the industry. In the U.S., the Company's Scotts®, Miracle-Gro® and Ortho® brands are market-leading in their categories, as is the consumer Roundup® brand, which is marketed near worldwide by Scotts and owned by Monsanto. In the U.S., we maintain a minority interest in a joint venture with TruGreen®, the largest residential lawn care service business, and in Bonnie Plants®, the largest marketer of edible gardening plants in retail channels. In Europe, the Company's brands include Weedol®, Pathclear®, Evergreen®, Levington®, Miracle-Gro®, KB®, Fertiligène® and Substral®. For additional information, visit us at www.scottsmiraclegro.com.