June 4, 2009
Student-built gardens take shape at Walden III
Once it was Franklin Street, running through the plot of land now occupied by Walden III School. Then it was a city tennis court adjacent to the Civil War-era school building. Today, it was transformed into an outdoor classroom, meditation space and rain garden.
Scores of students, wielding shovels, rakes and other garden implements, planted dozens of plants, bushes and trees (bought wholesale from Cassity's Tree Service), and moved tons of boulders (with the help of a front-end loader from Kat Construction. The kids -- Walden sixth through 12th graders -- worked under the watchful eyes of the students who planned the garden over the past two years.
Becky Wadleigh, 17, a Walden junior, was one of the original planners. She remembered the idea's genesis at a Green School committee meeting two years ago. "There were just five students, and we decided we wanted an outdoor classroom." That evolved into the present meditation garden, rain garden and outdoor classroom. "We don't have the greenest building," she admitted, so the environmentally friendly components help correct that.
"We're a science-based school," she said -- adding that science is her favorite subject -- "and we wanted a place we could study native plants, read poetry outdoors."
Wadleigh recalled some of the "hoops" and "roadblocks" the students had to go through to get to yesterday's earth and rock-moving, and tree-planting: Getting the city Parks and Recreation Dept. to give up the tennis court, then the discovery of the street below it, and gave credit to Alderman Jeff Coe, who hovered nearby like an expectant father as the garden took place, for helping them through the bureaucracy. The three-part garden was designed by a class at Gateway Technical College, and assisted by a grant from the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network for a 300-sq. ft. rain garden; the students purchased enough plants to double that in size. No taxpayer funds were used.
The hardest part, Wadleigh said, while directing the placement of boulders that would become benches for the outdoor classroom, was deciding what plants were wanted for gardens: "Everyone has his own favorites."
The gardens are adjacent to the Parks and Rec storage building that students decorated two weeks ago with wall-sized mosaic murals.