The Barlow Mountain Bobcats are blooming this year. With a growing sensory garden and the efforts behind several families, teachers and staff members, students have been able to dive right into the new curriculum. Friday evening, thewas a popular topic at the beginning-of-the-year picnic.
“The most rewarding part of [the garden] is seeing the kids,” Anne Ueker, a BMES parent said. “They will eat the tomato right off of the vine—they won’t just eat a tomato when you put it on a salad,” she said.
Uecker is the co-owner of GrowYourVeggies.com, a Ridgefield based site created to assist people in the development of their personal gardens. She teamed up with Emily Mills, another BMES parent to create the structure of the garden, which students have affectionately named, Blooming Bobcats. Ueker assisted with fence building and Mills has created a guide for families that will be caring for the garden in the coming weeks.
“It’s very much a sensory garden,” Mills stated. “I tell the kids to touch the herbs and then smell their hands—they are always surprised.”
The students have come across plants that smell like spaghetti and peppermint and seem particularly excited, according to Mills. She enjoys seeing their enthusiastic reactions when they are in the outdoor classroom. Something she is particularly proud of is the garden that she refers to as the three sisters garden. Squash, corn and string beans can be found in this planting box.
“The three sisters garden is how to Native Americans would have done it,” Mills said. “It’s part of the first-grade curriculum.”
“I’m really enjoying working on it,” Mills’ eight-year-old son, Ethan said. “I love [gardening] everyday after school—I’m really glad that now the rest of Barlow gets to see how it turned out.”
Ethan and his fellow third-grader, Ryan Barrett, proudly pointed out their blueberry bush to several friends during the picnic. As they were growing their garden, they learned that blueberry bushes pollinate each other, according to Uecker.
has been responsible for the overall installation of the sensory gardens, at each of Ridgefield’s elementary schools, according to Barlow Mountain Principal, Rebecca Pembrook.
“I believe the GVI has helped all along,” Pembrook said. “It took two weekends for the full installation.”
“GVI’s mother ship is out of Westport, so I was surprised to see them make Ridgefield’s schools a top priority,” Mills stated. “They’ve been very helpful.”
Two days before the process began, a rainstorm had shed light on the issues that the GVI would have to face, that they may not have otherwise thought about, according to Mills.
“Our biggest issue was the drainage,” Mills said. “We dug a moat and installed a French drain.”
Installing the French drain was an unexpected, last-minute expense that BMES students were happy to help out with.
“The student council raised the money for the French drain with a penny drive,” Mills explained. “They were so great.”
Glen Smith of the Zoning Board of Appeals attended the picnic on Friday evening, and was happy to see the garden that his first-grader will be digging into.
“I think they have a really good opportunity to teach kids to grow locally, which is becoming a really popular process—it’s teaching the kids to become locavores.”
The GVI wanted the adults involved in the project to see the potential they could reach with the Blooming Bobcats. Mills, Pembrook and Uecker and joined the GVI on a tour of Miller-Driscoll School’s sensory garden in Wilton.
“It really helped us dream big,” Mills stated. “We started thinking about this in terms of curriculum, and this is really just the beginning.”
The GVI has created a garden curriculum for teachers in order to best instruct students through outdoor learning, according to Pembrook. Other people who have been helpful in the process are families who have donated their time and items needed for a complete garden, as well as teachers.
“We’ve already had one family order one picnic table for the garden,” Mills said. “Other families can still donate.”
Kendra Gordillo, a seventh-grader at BMES helped out at the tattoo table during Friday’s picnic.
“Today has been really fun,” Gordillo said. “I think the garden is very impressive—I was amazed when I saw it.”
Ridgefield is the first district in Connecticut to have a sensory garden at every school, according to Pembrook. Second-grade teacher, Lisa Whelan plans to improve the BMES garden with worm composting. She hopes to get this started next month.