Community volunteers, students and staff have transformed H.H. Garnet Elementary School while learning about gardening and nature. Starting around four years ago, the school began collaborating with community members to launch the Good Seeds Garden.
The effort sought to enhance the elementary school in Chestertown by creating curb appeal through additional landscaping.Members of the Chestertown Garden Club and parents worked together to map out the garden project.
South Fork Studio Landscape Architecture formally prepared a garden plan, with the Garden Club initially looking at a phased construction timeline.
The community raised money through grants and donations and received support from the Kent County Board of Education, the municipal and county government and local businesses.
Garden Club member Carolyn Grotsky said the fundraising and grant writing went so well they were able to plant the Good Seeds Garden around the entire school in one year.
“It’s beautiful,” Grotsky said of the garden. “I love seeing this here.”
And the community engagement continues to grow.
Grotsky spoke about donations of mulch and labor and how local business owners have given their time and expertise to the project on aspects like the garden’s irrigation system.
“It shows the community involvement in the project,” Grotsky said.
Garnet Elementary School is a state-designated Community School, providing families in need with access to resources.
Garnet Community School Coordinator Florence Terrill said that the partnerships formed through the Good Seeds Garden project fall in line with the Community School program and grant funding.
The Good Seeds Garden provides more than curb appeal to the historic school building.
It also features an outdoor learning space for students. The outdoor classroom annex includes tables and raised gardens in the back of the building.
“Many of the projects the Garden Club has done with our students are enrichment and extension activities to provide more hands-on learning for our children,” Terrill said. “Our partnership with the Garden Club has grown over the last couple years and the kids enjoy their time with the ‘Garden Ladies’ and the new outdoor classroom.”
Garden Club member Susan Flanigan spearheaded the outdoor classroom project in remembrance of her son Conor McDowell, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corp who died in a training accident in 2019.
Flanigan said the outdoor classroom space and raised gardens, in which students can plant their own seeds, adds a sense of ownership for the children.
“We want the students to feel this is their garden,” Flanigan said. “The students have just responded beautifully. They’re so excited any time they get an opportunity to be outdoors.”
And last spring, a metal sculpture of a butterfly by Ghanian artist Constance Swaniker was installed last spring in the garden from the collection of Eastern Shore residents Peter and Hanna Woike.
That outdoor classroom annex now features a mural of the school’s namesake, famed abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet.
The garden has served as the host for Community School events, such as the annual Arts in Garden showcase in each spring.
“We look forward to another successful Arts in the Garden in May, celebrating community partnerships and all the artwork of our kids and our wonderful art teacher, Mrs. Aimee Boumiea, and our amazing music teacher, Mrs. Jodi Bortz, who has worked so hard with our students,” Terrill said.
Flanigan credited Terrill with getting the grant that made the outdoor classroom space possible.
“She literally opened all the doors for us,” Flanigan said.
As club members continue meeting every Wednesday to prune, plant and rake, the garden has helped strengthen the connection between the school and the community.
The volunteers are also continuing to raise money to maintain the garden. They need help every year with larger projects like mulching.
“More and more Garden Club members are getting involved,” Grotsky said. “Our main goal is to continue supporting the space and the project through possibly more grants and in-kind donations.”
Garnet Principal Brenda Rose said having good partners, like the Garden Club, is an integral part of the success of a Community School.
“This has been a good experience for our students. They have enjoyed working with the Garden Club volunteers,” Rose said of the garden project.
Lead photo: Joanne Coveney, a retired H.H. Garnet Elementary Schools teacher, talks to students about pumpkins in Garnet’s outdoor classroom space.
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Learn more about H.H. Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown at www.kent.k12.md.us/Garnet.aspx.