Cultivating Connections Between Nature, Education and Community

By Brenlee Brothers

Joni Wright headshot


BugHouse Jan2023Joni Wright vividly recalls feeling a sudden surge of humidity when she walked into a Toronto bank many years ago. Inside, there was a mesmerizing wall garden that transformed the environment of the building. “Just by walking into that space, the air that you were breathing and the atmosphere, led to a whole holistic reaction,” she said. At the time, Wright was unaware there was a term for this. It wasn’t until many years later, during her enrolment in the Living Green Infrastructure course at Gaia College, that she discovered the concept of biophilic design.

Biophilic design is a concept used in the building industry to connect people to a natural environment while indoors, by quite literally bringing nature inside. This concept is just one aspect of the wealth of knowledge Wright acquired through her coursework at Gaia College, which ultimately inspired her new landscape design and organic gardening company, Grass Roots Contessa.

Although Wright would like to incorporate biophilic design into her business, she’s not quite sure how to integrate it yet. For now, she specializes in creating drought tolerant gardens while ensuring soil health and enhanced biodiversity, as well as general maintenance for those who need an extra pair of hands in their soil. Through consultation, she helps clients create action plans for garden improvement, with plant suggestions and landscape recommendations specific to each property. Her clients are often people who are receptive and open to change - like incorporating more native plants in their garden, and learning to appreciate the vital role insects play in soil and ecosystem health.

 Wright is passionate about education. “For me, it's always about education,” she said. She ensures that her clients learn from her services - whether it’s just a matter of introducing them to the native species she’s planting, what pollinator plants are, or how to install a compost system. “I'm always trying to incorporate everything I've learned - and continue to learn - onto my clients. And they teach me things too, so we all win,” she said.

20230617 112928 LargeAs a lifelong learner, Wright has always had a passion for teaching and an interest in gardening. She has a degree in Human Services Management, and has taken many courses through the provincial instructor program at BCC. It was her diverse range of interests that led her to Gaia College in 2020, where she embarked on a new educational journey.

Through Westcoast Child Care Resource Centre, Wright offers nature-based workshops to Early Childhood Educators. She employs what she learned through her studies at Gaia College and shares it with EcEs in the hopes they transfer the knowledge to children through educational activities, such as explaining how a leaf works or how seeds travel. The goal is to encourage children to explore and connect with their natural surroundings, fostering outdoor engagement and environmental awareness. She also facilitates edible and ornamental gardening workshops for residents of the non-profit Metro Vancouver Housing organization, where she teaches people how to start seeds and establish a garden.

As someone who has worked in the nonprofit sector for a decade, Wright is heavily involved in her community. She volunteers for the city of Delta’s Adopt a Rain Garden Program, where she stewards one of one of the city’s many gardens, thanks to a partnership with Cougar Creek StreamKeepers. “We’re harvesting rain water, and we’re creating a beautiful environment as well,” she said. Participating in this project has shifted the way Wright looks at her surroundings - everytime she sees a puddle at the end of a driveway she sees the potential for a new rain garden. 

Wright’s diverse interests and education from Gaia College have empowered her to make a significant impact in her community while bridging her passion for nature and education. “What I've taken from the program and what I’ve learned are expansive. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have those courses available, and to satisfy all of my interests as well.”


     before landscape photo        after landscape photo









To learn more about Joni Wright and keep tabs on her business, Grassroots Contessa, visit her website and follow her on Instagram!

Photo Credits

Joni Wright is an Organic Master Gardener, Landscape Designer and Educator. Joni Wright photo

A bug hotel Wright made using a deconstructed pallet, foraged material, and items from her garden tickle trunk. Joni Wright photo

Removing Himalayan Balsam at an invasive species removal event. Joni Wright photo

Before and after photos of a new garden. The homeowner had removed a large patch of Buttercup, which was turned into a garden. Joni Wright photo



About the Author

Brenlee Brothers lives in Prince Edward Island. She has an Applied Journalism Degree from UPEI and currently works in the native plant nursery at Macphail Woods Forestry Project. Writing articles for Gaia College helps bridge her interests of organic farming, ecological landscape restoration, and nature education.