Curiosity plants seed for school garden club
By Denise Baran-UNLAND For The Herald-News June 15, 2012 3:52PM
Brooks Middle School Garden Club members at Hidden Lakes Park: Lovely-Pearl Renfro (back, from left), Kate Dorick at the Nature Center of Hidden Lakes, Stefany Arista, Piper Smith, Natalie Oliver (front, from left) and Sheccid Klein | Submitted photo
Updated: July 18, 2012 6:06AM
BOLINGBROOK — Three years ago, when Virginia Ireland, music teacher at Brooks Middle School, couldn’t identify the beautiful white flower in her back yard, although she had seen it along the highway, she took a class on prairie gardens and accepted its challenge to begin a garden in her community.
So Ireland approached school officials with her idea and received space toward the back parking lot. The result is an active garden club of five devoted students and a small sanctuary of native plants, such as purple coneflower, little bluestem, columbine and violets, both purple and white.
The students recently attended a field trip at Hidden Lakes Park in Bolingbrook, where they saw the rooftop garden, learned about bees and their hives, pumped water from an old-fashioned pump and admired garden plots that community members rent. They also walked a small nature trail, where they identified milkweed and tasted wild onion.
“The garden club is a nice outdoor activity for the students,” Ireland said. “It gets them away from gaming systems. Instead, they look for spiders and worms. We’ve had a rabbit living in the garden and visits from butterflies. The students have also learned social skills and how not to be afraid of bugs or getting dirt on their hands.”
Brandy Moore of Westmont, who has chaperoned garden club field trips, said curiosity about the identity of her grandmother’s plants spurred her daughter, Lovely-Pearl Renfro, 12, also of Westmont, to join the club. However, the experience has been educational for Moore, too.
“Before, the only flowers I recognized were roses, tulips and honeysuckle, but because of my daughter, I now know the names of many other flowers,” Moore said. “I’ve also learned about the different types of birds that hang around the different flowers.”
Initial work on the garden in the fall of 2009 consisted of treating the area to kill the grass. Ireland and a team of other teachers interested in the project then laid down newspaper, followed by mulch which, Ireland said, the Bolingbrook Park District provided.
In the spring, with donations from student government and other classes that had some remaining funds, Ireland purchased $350 worth of plants, which she and her team planted. Last year, they collected seeds from the park district, but this year, with the garden in full bloom, the club is simply maintaining its beauty.
Although the students’ involvement in the club lies dormant until the fall semester, the garden’s vegetation is hardly abandoned. Ireland lives just several blocks away, so she’s available if the garden needs tending.
“This year, we might not need any extra water,” Ireland said. “Plants in prairie gardens have roots about three times longer than you see on the tips. That’s why it’s so hard to get rid of dandelions.”
And the mysterious flower in Ireland’s yard?
“It’s Queen Anne’s lace,” Ireland said. “Some people call it an invasive weed, but I think it’s pretty. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”