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School garden brings a community together
“The creation of a thousand forests began with one acorn,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said.
You can also say that the creation of a xeriscape garden at Mohawk Valley School began with one person, Sandy Kerr. Last year, Kerr was looking for a gardening project she could complete as part of her master gardener's course which she was taking from Stacey Bealmear, urban horticulturist with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Office.
“I was inspired by the beauty of the Robert J. Moody Garden, across the street from where I was taking my master gardener classes,” Kerr explained. “I visited the Moody Garden several times and came up with the idea that such a garden could be created at Mohawk Valley School, in Roll, Ariz.”
When Kerr presented the idea for a school xeriscape to Dr. Doug Rutan, superintendent, and the Mohawk Valley School governing board, everyone was eager to get started.
A year later, Kerr's idea has been completed, and the Mohawk Valley School Demonstration Garden was dedicated Monday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. What was once a dusty patch of ground on the school's campus has been transformed into a xeriscape filled with drought-resistant plants and trees.
When Kerr described the process of completing the garden, she explained that things just fell into place as people throughout the Roll, Wellton and Yuma communities volunteered to help make it happen.
“Melissa Wilson, from Lowe's Home Improvement, had been helping the school repaint the hallways,” Kerr said. “When I mentioned our planned xeriscape, she recommended we apply for a Lowe's School Improvement Grant. We did and were given $5,000 toward building the garden. Melissa Mebus, from Lowe's, was instrumental in helping us apply for the grant and move forward with our project.”
Stormi Carlson, science teacher at Mohawk Valley School, had her students help design the garden using information from the Arizona Game and Fish Department brochure, “Landscaping for Desert Wildlife.”
“Each student in grades 6-8 researched native plants from the brochure, chose 25 plants to use in the garden and drew their own garden design to scale,” Carlson said. “We chose the 25 most popular plants and placed them in the garden. Paper chains were laid out by students to help establish final placement of the garden's paths.
“Designing the garden was a wonderful way to incorporate math and science into a real-life situation. The kids loved this hands-on activity and learned so much. Measuring accurately became a big deal when it came time to lay out the final garden.”
“News of the project spread throughout the community, and Jerry Cullison offered to donate gravel for groundcover between the plants,” Rutan said. “Bonnie and Ryan Stuhr offered to haul the gravel to the school, and employees from Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District offered to move the gravel by wheelbarrows to the actual garden site. We couldn't have done the groundcover project without the help of so many generous people from our community.”
Community involvement did not stop there. When news of the garden made its way to Antelope High School, just down the road a bit, Rick St. Clair, construction skills teacher, offered to have his students construct benches and picnic tables for a patio area under a newly built solar panel array that now provides 30-40 percent of the school's electricity.
“Mr. St. Clair's students did a superb job building the benches and tables,” Dr. Rutan said. “They will be used by students every day and add so much to the garden area.”
Arizona's centennial was celebrated at the school with a penny drive to obtain trees for the garden. Funds from the penny drive were matched by Lowe's, allowing the school to purchase two palo verde trees.
Friends of the Library, associated with the Mohawk Branch of the Yuma County Library located in the school's old gym, donated a jacaranda tree as part of their summer reading program; Frank Saldana, owner of Arbor Tech, volunteered to help with the tree plantings; and the school maintenance staff laid the drip system.
“Next on our agenda is purchase of plaques naming each plant and giving its scientific name,” Rutan said.
“We are excited to have Fort Yuma Rotary Club adopt our school as their project for this year. With their help, exciting plans are on the horizon for more school projects. Persons wishing to help maintain the garden or donate funds can contact the school at 928-785-4942.
“During our tight economy, everyone is learning to live on less. Schools are struggling, as well, to cover their expenses with fewer funds,” Rutan said. “However, with the help of everyone who volunteered time, money and materials, we have enriched our school campus with a beautiful garden and picnic area that is a lasting legacy for our students and community to enjoy. I wish to extend a big thank-you to everyone who helped make our garden a success.”
Karen Bowen is a master gardener and member of Yuma Garden Club. This column is sponsored by the Federated Garden Clubs of Yuma.