Month: July 2019

Reflection on the IDEA Grant…Significance and Outcomes

As I’ve stated before, young children learn primarily through their senses and a multitude of studies have demonstrated a correlation between sensory stimulation and brain development. The goals of this project were to create a garden that encourages cognitive development and experiential learning through sensory stimulation and self-directed play as well as to establish a garden that draws people outside and creates a lasting connection to nature and their community.

While the garden is in the final stages of the first phase of development, it has already garnered much support from the community. The parents and caregivers who have brought their children thus far have been incredibly gracious. For the past year, I have been the one asking for donations and volunteers, thanking everyone profusely. It is only now that the tables have turned and community members are thanking me. It is humbling. Every time I am there working in the garden, people approach me to ask what the garden is, tell me how beautiful it is, and express their gratitude. It is the children, and their gratitude both real and implied through their actions that touch me so deeply.

I want to give our children a path to explore nature in a safe and beautiful environment. I want them to “get off the path,” “smell the flowers,” go into the waterfall and get soaking wet to really feel the essence of water on their skin. Life is about joy, childhood is about exploration and learning. I want our children to love being outdoors, to feel like they are a part of this biome, to find peace and tranquility in nature but also excitement and a sense of adventure for the possibilities it holds. Every educator I spoke with along this journey has given me resounding praise for tackling this issue. But again, it is the children, with their simple words and actions that make me realize how great of an impact this garden can have.

One little boy looked at me so sincerely the other day and asked with awe, “This was your idea?” Yes!!!!! That’s why they call this program the IDEA Grant! The opportunity to take an idea from a thought to an action is such a powerful prospect. The fact that this kind of program exists and is available to so many students each semester is incredible. The sky’s the limit and the benefits to our students and the global community are endless. Having the ability to participate at all is significant and I believe the outcomes will speak for themselves as people discover this jewel of a garden and children experience its many benefits.

  • The pollinator garden in late spring
    The pollinator garden in late spring


It looks like a crab!

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity trying to get the labyrinth finished. The Navy came through again for us and sent more strong young men to help move materials. They hauled dirt out of the bio-stream and then filled it back in with rocks; they moved pea stone from the pile to fill in the sailboat surround; and they lugged sand from what remained of that pile to the rowboat site near the waterfall, staging it for use in the amphitheater. All that activity also cleared the stockpiled material from the front of the site so we could finish planting that part of the garden with even more donated plants from Judges. People continue to be so generous!

The most laborious thing the sailors moved, however, was concrete. Using wheelbarrows, they moved brutally heavy concrete from a Tilcon concrete mixing truck UPHILL to fill the claws and legs of the crab labyrinth. Knowing my own core strength is not what it could be, I would have split like a seam up the middle had I attempted this feat. Just balancing a wheelbarrow full of heavy material is hard enough. These guys did it again and again, lining up side by side to fill up, dumping the cement, then lining up to fill them again. It was a sight to see with the huge truck and concrete coming down the chute filling up each load as they worked. At the steepest grade, sailors were running up the hill to gain momentum. WOW! Not easy work, but the men worked hard, they were super nice, and they seemed to take it all in stride. They were wonderful.

Tilcon had donated a truck full of concrete and the driver looked at me cross-eyed when I initially explained the plan. He asked me if I had any idea how heavy a wheelbarrow full of concrete was. I brightly chirped “No”, smiling widely and knowing full well that I can’t even lift a seemingly small (but very compact) 80 lb. bag of concrete myself.  (At one point later, when Mary and I loaded a few bags into hubby Jeff’s truck, we just about dropped the bags each time and practically dissolved into fits of giggles. Concrete is so heavy!) But in truth, I couldn’t even imagine how heavy a whole wheelbarrow would be. I just figured they would only fill it half-way. Plus, I reasoned, those young men are so much stronger than I am!

It’s occurred to me in the past that there are perhaps various reasons why landscape designers don’t build structures like this on a diagonal going uphill but I really wanted people to see a huge crab, this big shiny jewel made of tile, climbing up the hill in all its mosaic glory! Being a novice, getting concrete up that kind of slope actually didn’t cross my mind until well past the design stage. I was more concerned with the concrete pouring out of the claws than actually getting it into the claws. I naïvely thought a concrete company could just run a hose over the stone wall and down the hill or something simple like that.

Adam Bechta, the Regional Sales Manager, did pay a site visit to work out the details before the Navy was scheduled to arrive. He immediately set me straight and let me know that we would need sturdy metal wheelbarrows, 8-10 strong and willing workers, and at least one experienced concrete handler for the finishing work. I was still in my little “can-do” bubble so I didn’t consider the immensity of this project until after it was finished. My mantra has been “hakuna matata,” no worries, it will all work out in the end. My lack of experience was particularly obvious when the driver asked me, prior to the pour, where he should wash out his truck and chute. I suggested he take it back to his shop to wash it. Needless to say, I learned a lot that day.

With all of our incredible Navy volunteers (who actually didn’t even know what they were volunteering for, by the way) and our wonderful friends, Dean and Charlie on concrete finishing duty, we succeeded in our mission. The crab’s claws and legs were now visible and useful as mowing strips! Adam came out to the site to check on our progress. I’m pleased to say that he gave Dean and Charlie high marks for their craftsmanship, despite being amateurs.

The next day Mary and I went back with my son Christian and removed all the edging. The crab looked great! After Butler Landscaping workers mowed the area, the claws and legs really popped from the hillside. We had also poured a half sphere with some of the excess concrete using a concrete mold.  Jeff has since poured a few more.  Two full spheres will soon be the crab’s eyeballs. Super exciting! I love the adventure and our jeweled crab, made possible, once again, thanks to our amazing community!

  • Jacob and Christian edge the claws and legs with The Beast edging.
    Jacob and Christian edge the claws and legs with The Beast edging.