Saturday, August 11, 2007

Smiley Park Children's Garden - Van Wert, OH

When my mom enrolled in Master Gardener training three years ago, she did it so she could learn more about something she loved - gardening. Mom had always had gardens and beautiful ones, too. She already knew more about flowers and plants than most people I knew and I wondered why she would want to put herself through the classes, but little did I know (nor did she) where it would lead.

Master Gardeners are required to give 50 hours of service in the form of a project as part of earning their designation as a Master Gardener. In Mom's class, each member submitted an idea, then the group voted on the ideas to choose how they would give their time back to the community in which they lived.

Mom had a vision of a community children's garden where area kids could learn about the growing process and all that was involved in caring for a garden. She saw it as a happy, fun place for them to be, while learning in the process. She had seen children's gardens in other parts of the country and wanted this for her own hometown. The group voted and Mom's idea was chosen.

Only those involved in this mammoth project could have any idea of the degree of cooperation, volunteerism, and philanthropy it took to bring this garden to fruition. Yesterday, though the gardens are not yet completed, it was presented to the community and there was an official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

L-R: Andy Kleinschmidt, Austin & Stephanie Adams,
Ollie Adams, Louise Hartwig

The star of the show is the Butterfly House, designed by Twyla Hayes and funded by KAM Manufacturing, which produces products for
Vera Bradley, maker of the colorful, stylish fabric accessories such as handbags and luggage. The child-proportioned house is pink with a green roof and has a netted garden behind it, where butterflies will live.

The house is trimmed in Vera Bradley's Bermuda Pink pattern, and is the first time the company has allowed their copyrighted prints to be used outside the company. One of Vera Bradley's two founders, Pat Miller, was on hand for the ribbon cutting and addressed the crowd of about 300 children and parents.

Ollie Adams, co-owner of KAM, also spoke, as did Van Wert mayor Don Farmer, City Parks Director Sue Heppeard, OSU County Extension Agent Andy Kleinschmidt, and my mom, Louise Hartwig. The mayor presented keys to the city to Ms. Miller, Adams, and Kleinschmidt.

The highlight of the opening was the release of 200 Painted Lady butterflies by the children in attendance. Fifty of them were released inside the butterfly house, while the rest were let go outside.

It was thrilling to see all those butterflies rising from the crowd and immediately many of them landed on the flowers planted in the gardens. The looks on the faces of the children as they opened their little packets and saw the butterflies flutter out was just the beginning of what these children will experience here in the time to come.

There is a red-roofed gazebo situated in the center of the gardens, surrounded by a low wall lined with ceramic tiles made by third-, fourth- and fifth- grade children of the county. Nearby is a granite rhinoceros for climbing.

The Secret Garden is a touching tribute to Melody Mohr Hicks, given by her family. There is a small table and chairs made of cement in the shape of mushrooms, surrounded by mulberry trees which will eventually grow to give this garden a secluded feel.

A garden of this magnitude has required thousands of dollars in donations since Master Gardeners has no money of their own. They have a plant sale in the spring and host a garden walk, which helps fund their projects, but they rely on volunteers for work and the generosity of individuals and corporate donations to make projects such as this a reality.

One way that individuals and groups can help contribute to the Children's Garden is through the purchase of a personalized brick. There are two sizes for purchase, with the smaller one at $100 and the larger one costing $200.

There will be ongoing maintenance costs, so even when the gardens are completed, there will be a need for donations, which can be made through the OSU Extension Office in Van Wert.

Future gardens planned are a "Healthy Me" Garden, Rainbow Garden , Sundial Garden, Enabling Garden for the handicapped, 100 Acre Wood, Discovery Garden, Pollination Garden, and "Petals and Feathers" Garden.

The Children's Garden is located in Smiley Park, across from the Van Wert Airport on Leeson Avenue on the west side of town.

I can't end this post without saying a few words about my mom to those of you who don't know her or who have never met her. Those of you who have, know I don't need to say any more. You have seen her in action.

My mom was just a farm girl who grew up and stayed in our rural community, but her zest for life and the ideas that come out of that pretty head of hers know no bounds. She's an incredibly positive person who knows how to get things done, whether it be for herself or for others. "Can't" just isn't in her vocabulary.

To be sure, she's had a supporting cast - mainly my dad - but the creativity and motivation for what she does pours forth from her like the fountain of youth, which surely she drinks from daily. How one person can have so much drive, ambition, and energy - and still have it at 73 - is beyond me. I didn't inherit it. But I'm proud that she is the woman, along with my dad, who raised me. As a family, we are surely blessed.

EDIT: The Van Wert Times-Bulletin has posted a video of the ribbon-cutting ceremony on their website.

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