Board of Directors and Staff

Here at Unity Gardens, we are so proud of (and grateful for) our history of having truly amazing, dedicated board members volunteering their time and talents to help us accomplish our mission of improving and strengthening communities across Anne Arundel County through the support of sustainable greening projects.  Our board members bring a variety of personal passions and professional backgrounds to the table, and we invite you to take a few moments to learn more about them below. If you are interested in offering your services as a board member or volunteer, please contact us!

2021 Board of Directors

Jim Crafton is a member of the Magothy River Association and on the board of the Magothy River Land Trust. He is a Watershed Steward and a 2019 recipient of a Unity Gardens Grant for a conservation landscaping project in his community. Jim spent most weekends and summers of his youth at his grandparents’ cottage on the Magothy River. Now he lives there and wants to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same experiences by helping to restore the health of the Chesapeake and its tributaries. He is interested in exploring opportunities to develop additional stormwater mitigation and restoration projects. Jim graduated from the College of William & Mary and had a varied career before retiring, which ranged from water quality chemistry to appraising for conservation easements. He enjoys traveling, hiking, biking and gardening with his wife, Lise, as well as cooking for friends and family.

Katie Foster (she/her) has called Maryland home for most of her life and developed her love for native plants and engaging communities in recent years. She hopes to empower community members of all ages to embrace the beauty and benefits of native plants in their local landscapes. Katie holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Communication from Stevenson University, and her work experience ranges from retail management to nonprofit communications and fundraising. Her passion for learning and knack for adding “one more thing” to her life led her to become a Master Gardener Intern in fall 2021. Katie lives in Crofton with her husband, toddler, pit bull, and many unfinished craft and furniture projects. In her spare time, you can find her roaming the local library, exploring local parks with her family, or trying to incorporate more native plants into her postage-stamp-sized yard.

Brian Fellner practices law at Fellner Legal Services in Severna Park, where he advises community and homeowners associations on their legal rights and responsibilities, including stormwater management and preservation of their green spaces.  He and his wife Tina live in Berrywood, where he has served as president of the Swim and Tennis Club board and enjoys the many outdoor aspects of the neighborhood, including access to Cattail Creek.  His interest in native plants and gardens has grown exponentially in recent years, thanks mostly to exposure through these two interests.  Brian also spends his time volunteering at St. John the Evangelist School, where he serves on the school board and athletic board, and helps coach his three children and their sports teams.  As a small business owner and someone experienced with communities, he views serving the Board of the Unity Gardens as an opportunity to both learn about and contribute to the use of native plants in local gardens.  

Meenal Harankhedkar I am very passionate about connecting people with plants and I have an innate desire to continue learning about the diversity of plants and their interactions within native habitats. My expertise in horticulture and botany comes from working at Public Gardens like, Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden (CA), Quarryhill Botanical Garden (CA) and, my current position as the Director of Horticulture at Historic London Town and Gardens (MD). I have two Masters Degrees one in Botany from University of Mumbai and one in Horticulture from Kansas State University. At Kansas State University, my research focused on weed ecology and Turf grass management, but the classes I took in designing of parks and recreational areas and landscape design, drew me to Public gardens and they have been one of the best platforms for me to connect people with plants. Most importantly, I like teaching young adults and children to draw their attention to the diversity of the plant world. I have thoroughly enjoyed designing education programs and garden workshop for children K-5 at Montessori schools and University of Akron. Plant diversity, sustainable landscape design, weed ecology and, ex-situ conservation are few of the subjects I am extremely passionate about, and I absolutely enjoy utilizing all mediums of outreach to connect these subjects with people of all ages . On my spare time, I enjoy going on nature walks with my family and exploring different habitats. The Mid-Atlantic continues to fascinate me, and I am always eager to explore new landscapes inland or by the bay.

A retired lawyer, Sally Iliff was educated at Duke University, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Maryland School of Law. She and her husband are longtime Annapolis residents who raised their son and daughter in Annapolis.  After becoming a Master Gardener, Sally’s interest in native plants increased, spurred in part by an interest in attracting more birds, butterflies, insects, and wildlife to her home property and an attempt to control an ongoing assault by invasive plants.  Travel is a strong interest along with a variety of outdoor activities—hiking, kayaking, biking. She and her husband are long time competitive Masters Swimmers who regularly participate in the Chesapeake Bay swim and other open water swims. Sally currently serves as Treasurer.

Stuart Lehman, a local Marylander, grew up in Calvert County along the shores of the Bay before moving to the Annapolis area.  He studied biology and environmental sciences at McDaniel College and George Washington University.  Most of his career has been obtaining, managing, and overseeing watershed  grants for environmental agencies – most recently with the US EPA. Stu moved with his family to work for 5 years on river pollution problems in Montana.  The whole family, he says, was “enchanted by the state and the friends we made there” but he and his spouse Martha were ultimately drawn back to be with family, to life in Annapolis, and to the beauty of the Bay.  Since returning to his career in Maryland, Stu has also played on a local baseball team, monitored water quality with the Spa Creek Conservancy, and taken up oil painting.  Stu is interested in nature’s sacred places and how to maintain and create them.

Tara Mairs is a Landscape Designer, Watershed Steward, Certified Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional, Level 2, and lover of all native plants. After many years as a technical editor, she decided to break free of the confines of a cubicle to start her own design business. Once in the industry, she saw, first hand, the need to embrace native plants as the backbone of any good design. In addition, she experienced the benefits of having not just one homeowner embrace this philosophy, but a whole community. She believes strongly in the Unity Gardens mission to cultivate communities through hands-on native plant projects. In rare spare moments, she also enjoys hiking, running, sailing, and adventures with her family.

Pat Mitchell, who currently serves as President of the Board, is a midwestern transplant, but a long time Annapolitan and Bay-Wise gardener. She  is a retired law librarian who enjoys  Master Gardener projects, crafts, reading, travel and  learning about our local ecology and sustainable agriculture.  Pat especially enjoys kayaking and boating on the Bay with her husband, Geoff.  She believes that the Unity Gardens mission of empowering communities to improve their environment with native plants is a positive force in the community.  Each individual really can make a difference by landscaping wisely and working together, and can achieve deep and visible results for our Chesapeake Bay environment.

Karen Royer has lived in Maryland all her life, graduating from Severna Park High School, Goucher College and Johns Hopkins University, and working as a systems engineer at Westinghouse and GE Space Division.  Despite being “locally sourced,” Karen wasn’t aware of the importance of native plants until volunteering with the gardening committee at Woods Church and helping them to become Bay-wise Certified in 2017.  Her interest in native plants grew exponentially when she worked with Master Gardener Alison Milligan to help Woods Church secure a Unity Gardens grant to introduce native plants into the church campus for pollinator support and for stormwater control.  Karen loves the work of Unity Gardens and looks forward to spreading the joy of restoring nature through their many community-based projects involving native plants.

Lisa Walsh is a commercial solar developer for local installers Solar Energy Services, Inc whose recent ground-mounted solar project included a 5-Acre pollinator meadow; the largest to date in Washington DC.  Lisa has been a long-time native plant enthusiast, designer and implementer from her work with the City of Annapolis in the early 2000s, to volunteering at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s native meadow and Chesapeake Natives Nursery.    Lisa is also a beekeeper and host to a 1st year half-acre pollinator meadow at her property in Pasadena, MD. Lisa serves as Secretary of Unity Gardens.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Joni Sralla Miller is a former Unity Gardens Board Member who didn’t want to leave. She is a Maryland Master Gardener and is passionate about backyard habitat and preserving nature in the face of rapid land development, especially in Anne Arundel County. She is working to create a native sanctuary on her own 3.5 acres in Arnold, where she lives in a 1800’s farmhouse with her husband, two children, and a bevvy of pets. Joni previously worked at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water, both in Annapolis, and served as Chair of the Anne Arundel County Master Gardeners Executive Advisory Board. Joni grew up in Houston, attended Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, and earned her Masters degree at University of Baltimore.