Month: June 2019

Go Navy!

We are so fortunate to have not only the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in our community but also the U.S. Naval Submarine Base. Both of these organizations have a strong belief in volunteerism and are willing to help with community projects. In fact, they are really busy volunteering most weekends so I was delighted when they were able to help us on a Saturday. Unfortunately, that was the weekend I was committed to the New London Family Festival but Mary rearranged her schedule and Shannon Aiello came to help. 

We had received a donation of TruGrid Eco Pavers to make our pathways handicap accessible and to help with drainage and migration of stone. These are honeycomb-shaped 4’x4’ plastic grids that Mary’s son Jacob, our fabulous foreman, was able to install. This was a little tricky because of the many curves in the pathway and the cutting involved, but he completed the whole thing the day before the sailors came. The company TrueGrid is so great not only for the donation but also for the support in figuring out the linear footage with all the curves and advising on other questions. The founder sent me a personal message telling me that he loved this project’s mission to get kids in nature, saying that he has young children of his own so he “gets it.” Yay!

The sailors who helped (and will be pitching in again to help us get concrete into the crab labyrinth’s claws and legs) are students at the submarine school. I was able to meet them at the garden before the festival, giving them a tour and showing them the things we needed to get done. They were super hard workers and immediately got to work filling in the main pathway with beautiful brown half-inch stone donated by McClure Construction. A sincere thanks to Gene McClure as well for his generosity of spirit. I am always humbled when I request a donation and companies give so freely. I know they are mostly small businesses and this takes from their bottom line, so my admiration for their generosity is heartfelt.

The sailors did quick work of the projects. They worked so hard and fast! They also helped us problem-solve with their myriad of expertise. They brought ingenuity to the table in helping us stabilize the sailboat and put in steps at the top of the labyrinth. Their strength will be an asset this week as they haul heavy concrete. It just amazes me that we have these local assets to help. Help from groups of volunteers like the Coast Guard and Navy, as well as Pfizer and the Boy Scouts, make such quick work of huge, overwhelming projects. Tasks that would have taken us weeks to accomplish are finished in three hours. That absolutely blows me away.

I really think the universe smiles at things like this. It knows the power of people working together for the common good and the fulfillment we all get from it. It shouldn’t come as a shock to me, but it does, mostly because I don’t take the time to consider such a thing. But people helping people benefits everyone involved. Knowing you are doing something good for the world, the community, or even a single person, and doing it with others as a team is such a feel-good thing! As the recipient of that good, I feel great! And for that, I shout out a resounding, “Go Navy!”

  • Navy work crew busy at work
    Navy work crew busy at work

Field Trip Fun

We had our first field trip at the garden with sixty 4th and 5th grader students from Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School in New London. They came to see how the mosaics they made contributed to the garden design. From a classroom, it’s hard to see how an individual’s tiny piece of artwork will fit into the whole, but it makes sense when they are all together in the garden. While we weren’t able to install the mosaics in the amphitheater in time for their visit, we were able to grout their works of art and shine them up for the kids to see. They found their mosaics on the table and “oohhhed” and “ahhhhed” over them. We took them on a tour of the garden and showed them the amphitheater space. We had even carved their school name of a piece of granite and named the space the Arts Amphitheater in their honor.

Despite forgetting their picnic lunch back at the school (oops!) the kids had a blast running around the site and getting a couple different tours of the Avery Point sculpture walk and the art gallery in the Branford House. We had great weather, too, so it was a perfect day to be out of school and in nature! I went with the group that did the sculpture walk and loved seeing the joy of freedom as they ran up the boulders, touched the different sculptures to figure out what they were made of (one of the questions on the scavenger hunt created by my psychology mentor, Jamie Kleinman, and Christopher Platts, Curator and Director of the Alexey von Schlepp Gallery at Avery Point), and viewed the grounds and setting of the Art Walk. They were amazed to learn that the Branford House was once a private residence and the grounds were once someone’s yard.

The other group saw some of the artwork in the gallery and then took an expedited walk back along the water, passing the sculptures on their way back to the bus. Alas, there wasn’t enough time with so much to see and do that day but hopefully they will come back on their own later, perhaps bringing their families to share the experience. Most didn’t know that the Avery Point campus even existed or that it is open to the public. Hopefully this was an opportunity to see something beautiful and extravagant and to spread the word that this is a community space.

Fast forward to last Friday at the Connecticut Family Festival in New London where many of these same children performed on the stage, singing a cappella and dancing. I was there as a featured author, reading a children’s book that I wrote, “How Nature Makes My Brain Grow.” When I went up to read, several of the kids from the Art Everywhere class recognized me and filled the seats to listen to my reading. They were such a great group of supporters, with many of them waving at me from the audience. It made me so incredibly happy to see their smiling faces.

Designing the garden, building the garden with volunteers and donations, and publicizing the garden is a lot of work. Going into the schools with the kids to create the artwork for the space is also a lot of work but comes with these extra special experiences that make all of it worthwhile. In the end, we will have created not only a fabulous garden and a stronger community but, at least for me, cherished memories that will last a lifetime.

  • Students greeting Luci in the garden
    Students greeting Luci in the garden

A “Hole” Lot of Dirt

The last few weeks we have been super busy digging, hauling (dirt, sand, aggregate, and mulch), and planting. Thanks to my son for starting the hole where the rowboat will be installed, Jamie’s son and husband for expanding the hole, and Mary’s son for (almost) finishing the hole. There was a whole lot of dirt in that hole!

I believe I’ve already consumed enough dirt this past month to cover the next couple of years. I know, I know, as a horticulturist I should say “soil” not “dirt” but my clothes are full of dirt, even my nostrils and ears are full of dirt from the constant wind at Avery Point and all the digging we’ve been doing. There is a saying that we all eat a peck of dirt before we die. Farmers say we should eat a pound of dirt a year for good health. In some cultures, people eat dirt for its mineral nutrients (clay soils) and for self-vaccination against some disease. Lord knows there are a lot of bacterial strains in soil. Some say that’s why kids instinctively eat dirt but it’s still rather alarming to see your toddler put a handful of the stuff in their mouth.

I’m not too keen on ingesting soil these days, especially with all of the contaminants we put on and around our plants in most urban areas . . . pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, etc. We spray so much toxic stuff that it is “literally” sickening. I’ll try and stay off my soap-box about bioaccumulation and pervasiveness in the environment but let’s just stop this practice please, especially since I’m one of the ones eating it.

Playspaces for children should be pesticide-free so our children don’t have to worry about ingesting chemicals. I’ve always told my son that dirt isn’t dirty, it’s the germs he brings home from school that cause sickness. I think washing your hands after being in public spaces is a higher priority than washing them after a bout of nature, but then again, I use organic growing practices. Children love to get dirty not “soil-y” and that is their right as children—let them be filthy little nature urchins!

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had children visit the garden and they love it! Tiffany, a dedicated Coast Guard volunteer, and mother, brought her children for a day of gardening. She and her girls helped me plant and mulch sedum around the waterfall. Tiffany had brought little gardening gloves for each of them. They even did some planting, hauling hoses and helping give the tour to the Grasso Tech students that showed up to check on the progress. Those gloves were off “lickety-split” though, once it was play-time. They ran, they rolled, they splashed, and they delighted in dirty hands and feet. Success!

  • Christian preps a load of sand to haul uphill to the site of the rowboat
    Christian preps a load of sand to haul uphill to the site of the rowboat