Learning Garden a delight for all ages

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Special to the News-Herald

Cheryl Pisani, Suffolk park ranger and Master Gardener, tells children to &uot;please touch&uot; at the hands on children’s learning garden at Sleepy Hole Park. Although many communities across the country have children’s gardens, Suffolk’s is one of the few to encourage children to do more than look.

Pisani encourages them to not only look, but plant, weed, water and just have fun learning about gardening. Of course, the results can be unexpected, such as a tomato sprouting in the middle of the butterfly garden, Pisani laughs.


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&uot;That garden simply becomes a surprise garden,&uot; she said. &uot;That is just part of the joy.&uot;

The children’s learning garden, only a few months old, is a project completed by the Suffolk Master Gardeners Association, in conjunction with the Suffolk Department of Parks and Recreation, Wal-Mart and Suffolk’s Clean Community Commission.

It is already a popular place for children and adults.

Pisani, coordinator of the project, recalls, &uot;It seemed a natural to combine children and gardening and Sleepy Hole Park.

Suffolk’s Clean Community Commission provided the start up funding to make the garden a reality. A grant from Wal-Mart helped provide seeds as well as a toolbox, complete with kid-sized garden gloves, hand tools, watering cans, seeds, peat pots and other gardening supplies.

First, there were site considerations. Pisani explains, &uot;We had to choose the site carefully. Because we needed lots of sun, we couldn’t build it around the trees. Hurricane Isabel played havoc with our first site, and then we realized the area around the children’s playground was the perfect spot. Children just naturally come over to the garden from there.&uot;

Along with Pisani,

Master Gardeners Frank and Rita LaRocco and others helped plan and prepare the site, and Charles Sledge built the raised beds. Local Eagle Scouts are building an information kiosk.

The Suffolk Department of Parks and Recreation provides the compost as well as the bleachers used by program attendees, and the sign shop of the Department of Public Works made the sign that greets visitors as they approach the garden. A big yellow tractor tire serves as the compost bin, and a mosquito-proof rain barrel has a child-friendly spigot so children can water plants.

Pisani coordinates the monthly children’s programs held at the garden. The first program &uot;Dirt&uot; helped children learn about litter control. At the end of one flower bed, children buried trash. With the help of Plexiglas covers, children can see how quickly (or not) trash decomposes.

In June, children learned about worms. They had fun releasing hundreds of donated worms into the compost pile. The July program featured a beekeeper who provided samples of locally produced honey.

Park patrons as well as children from the YMCA, Suffolk Day School, the Learning Center, Tiny Tykes, and many other daycare and local groups attend the programs, which are open to the public.

Programs are held from 10-11 a.m. at the Children’s Learning Garden. The next program will be Thursday, Aug. 19 on good bugs. Pisani plans to showcase helpful bugs like ladybugs and praying mantises. Other programs will feature bats on Sept. 15 and scarecrows on Oct. 14. Pisani is busy making plans for 2005.

For more information and to make reservations to attend the Aug. 19 program, call 538-4102. In the event of bad weather, the program will be held one week later.

Thanks to the Suffolk Department of Parks and Recreation, the Suffolk Clean Community Commission, the Suffolk Master Gardeners Association, Wal-Mart and dedicated individuals like Cheryl Pisani, children have a real opportunity to learn about gardening and the environment.

The Children’s Learning Garden at Sleepy Hole Park is guaranteed to produce smiles all around.