Thanks to the Chestertown Garden Club and local parents and teachers, Henry Highland Garnet Elementary school is about to get “a beautiful native landscape and education space,” the Good Seeds Garden. The project is designed to enhance the school’s curb appeal, visually connect the school to nearby downtown Chestertown, and foster pride of place among students, teachers, and residents.
Members of the Good Seeds Garden team attended the Chestertown Mayor and Council and the Kent County Commissioners’ meetings on Jan. 22 to announce their project. Speaking at the town council meeting were Carolyne Grotsky of Downtown Chestertown Association’s Curb Appeal team, Connie Schroth of the Garden Club, and Garnet parents Krista Lamoreaux and Darran Tilghman.
Grotsky said the project began about a year ago when some Garnet parents asked Curb Appeal to help plant some flowers and landscaping at the school, which they did with some parents and volunteers. The town donated some soil and mulch. But she and the parents decided they could do something better, and so Grotsky went to the Garden Club, who she said “are always looking for good educational projects here in town.” Together they formed a committee to launch the new project.
Tilghman told the council the name of the Good Seeds garden comes from a quote from Henry Highland Garnet, for whom the school is named. Garnet, a Kent County native who went on to national renown in his fight against slavery, said, “In every man’s mind, the good seeds of liberty are planted.” She said that when her family moved to Chestertown about a year and a half ago, they learned that the schools “don’t have a great reputation.” She said the barren appearance of the school as you drive past it on Calvert Street reinforces that image, in contrast to the “vibrant” community she felt when she went inside and engaged with the staff. The garden is a conscious attempt to change the image.
The garden will be coordinated with the schools’ environmental literacy curriculum in order to involve the children in the project. Lamoreaux credited Miles Barnard of South Fork Studio with creating the plans, which feature “edible plants, playful pathways, tree stump seating, and professional murals.” She listed some of the species to be included, such as persimmon, oak and magnolia trees, shrubs such chokeberry, blueberries, native grasses, plus culinary and medicinal herbs. “It’s a bird habitat, it’s a pollinator habitat, it’s a kid habitat,” she said. And the use of native species reduces the need for maintenance once the plants are established. The University of Maryland Extension helped with the selection of plants.
The Garden Club’s Susen Fund, a trust left by the late Shirley Susen for educational projects, has pledged $5,000 as seed money for the garden project. Moreover, Garden Club members will undertake the long-term maintenance of the garden, including additional funding as needed. The Good Seeds team has also submitted a “Clean Up Green Up” grant proposal and is exploring additional grant sources.
The Kent County Board of Education has given its approval for the project. Other supporters include South Fork Studio, which created a design for the garden, drawing on suggestions by Garnet teachers and students. Local artist Robbi Behr has created a logo for the project and will also create signage for the completed garden. Shore Rivers will install a rain garden along the Kent Street side of the school to capture runoff and “engage young environmental stewards.” And many of the school’s neighbors have volunteered to help with the project.
For its part, the town of Chestertown will contribute bricks recovered during the renovation of the town-owned marina and install them as part of a brick entrance way leading to a compass rose, making a “visual connection” to the town’s brick-lined streets and maritime history. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he was happy to donate the bricks – “they’re all in perfect shape, so I’m really pleased to see them being recycled.” And the county commissioners agreed to remove some large bushes currently in the area that will be used for the garden plot and to donate some receptacles for trash and recycling.
Donations from the general public are also welcome. Donors should send checks payable “CGC/Garnet project” to Carolyne Grotsky, P.O. Box 415, Chestertown, MD 21620.
A community launch event is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 30 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the yellow building on Calvert Street behind the Chestertown library. Groundbreaking and a major segment of the planting is tentatively scheduled to begin on or around Earth Day, April 22. Stay tuned for more details.