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Sept. 12, 2017
This story appears in the fall 2017 edition of the Northwest Alumni Magazine. To view the magazine in its entirety, click here.
When Laurie Skinner developed an infection in her lower spine in 2009 that prohibited her from bending over for long periods of time, the 1971 Northwest Missouri State University graduate set out to develop a product that is helping her and others enjoy the fruits of gardening while standing.
Gardening was a hobby Skinner enjoyed, and she was a master gardener through the University of Illinois extension. She lives with her husband, Jim, outside of St. Louis in Maryville, Illinois, on 7 1/2 acres of land and grew a majority of the food and herbs they consumed. She was devastated by the idea that she could not physically continue gardening.
“I did not want the infection to prohibit my ability to do something I enjoyed,” Skinner said. “I was determined to develop a product that would allow me to continue my hobby.”
Skinner visited the company that installed the gutters on her home and received permission to take scrap pieces for projects. Her husband, who is an engineer, provided guidance on assembling and maintaining the gutter gardens.
Today, Skinner’s idea has evolved into a product that caters largely to residents of high-rise independent living facilities where living spaces often include a small balcony where gardening is more challenging.
“The gutter gardens hang on the railing and do not take any real estate on the balcony,” Skinner said. “Typically, these clients just grow flowers, not herbs.”
Skinner began Gutter Gardens because she wanted to continue growing the food she and her husband consumed, including herbs like basil, rosemary and chives.
In recent years, Skinner even helped educators develop curriculum by installing Gutter Gardens on chain link fences at elementary schools.
“Children can learn how their food comes to them,” she said. “They start planting in February, so by the time it gets warm outside they are able to transplant their product and eat it before school is done for the summer.”
More recently, she expanded her business to include window boxes, arguing that other window boxes on the market are not durable or sturdy enough to withstand proper potting techniques and weather wear.
“People are often frustrated because wooden window boxes fall apart and the plastic ones are subject to ultra violet rays,” she said. “Mine are made out of aluminum, so they will never rust, fade, break or fall off the window.”
Skinner was determined to find a way to continue gardening in her retirement, and her Gutter Gardens have enabled her to do that.
“When you are trying to solve a problem, I think it is important to think outside the box,” she said. “If you get an idea, don’t give up on it.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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