Families celebrate new garden space – at Gilbert Park Elementary

Take a look at this “secret garden”, which provides more benefits than just offering a place to grow plants …

It’s a “garden party”, in the truest sense of the term, as students, family, and friends return to celebrate the Gilbert Park School Garden.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Throughout the last school year, students, teachers, parents, and friends helped create a garden – secreted between buildings at Gilbert Park School, in the Powellhurst Gilbert neighborhood of outer East Portland.

Gilbert Park Garden Education Coordinator Mara Reynolds invited folks back to the garden on June 9, to celebrate the results of their effort.

Gilbert Park Garden Education Coordinator Mara Reynolds waters plants, making sure they’ll survive the hot summer.

“This is our end-of the-year garden celebration,” smiled Reynolds, as she welcomed East Portland News to the growing patch.

“We’re celebrating the work that we did this year, building this garden. When we started in September, all of the area between these buildings was bare dirt. We had some empty raised beds, and a tree – that’s it.”

Hayden Schaffer, Johnny Barkle, and Carson Shaffer check their crop of green peas.

Now, Reynolds pointed out, they have almost 10,000 square feet of garden. “We put in more than 1,000 native plants.  And, we planted a bunch of native flowers and wildflowers and herbs.”

This big project is important, Reynolds explained, “Because it gives kids a hands-on opportunity to keep learning, outside the classroom.  It shows them that not all learning utilizes paper, pen, and books. Sometimes you need to get outside, and get your hands dirty – smell plants and taste things.”

In the end, she added, “The goal of our garden here is to make kids feel comfortable in the natural environment, so it becomes something that they are drawn to when they are older.”

Heather, Kailee, and Madison Waters spend a moment on the garden bench, placed there in memory of Morgan Maynard-Cook — Madison’s “kindergarten buddy”.

The project wasn’t just a “massive amount of work over a couple weekends – it’s been a year-long project,” remarked Gilbert Park Principal Stacie Moncrief, as she gazed at the garden. “Kids have been able to be part of it during recess, and after school, and with their families on the weekends.”

This project helped bring the community together, Moncrief commented. “And, we’ve found another benefit of having the garden. Just the other day, one of our students is having a hard time in the classroom and needed the peace the garden provides. So, it also serves as a sanctuary for some of our students – as well as recreation.”

Several families promise they’ll help take care of the garden until school starts again in September.

Several adult volunteers came to help at different times during the project through Hands On Portland, Reynolds said.

Others were families with students at the school. “We are a SUN School here, and many of the kids in the SUN program have been involved in building the garden” Reynolds revealed. “We look forward to building partnerships – and the garden – as time goes on.”

> On our front page, student Deanna Barkle
shows off garlic from the Gilbert Park Garden

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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