Children's Garden at Colchester StoryWalk

Ruby and Elizabeth Cohen Woodlands

In Colchester, How a Children’s Garden Grows (Bigger and Better!)

The Colchester Garden Club understands the importance of encouraging children to get out in nature, as they will be the next generation of gardeners and stewards. Through the years, the club has worked to encourage children to garden – creating a butterfly pollinator garden to visit, giving away plants and seeds, supporting gardening/wildlife badges and conservation project hours with the Scouts, hosting family nature activities to earn points for Community Wildlife Habitat ongoing certification through the National Wildlife Federation, teaching some basic gardening skills to children volunteering in the town’s Spring Clean-up Day, and more.

The club’s most recent effort is the renovation of a small children’s garden the club originally installed as a project of opportunity for the ribbon cutting ceremony of an Eagle Scout’s StoryWalk installation. An unmowed turnaround circle was a perfect location for this garden to have children view flowers and their insect visitors close up. The original 12-ft circle garden was roughed out in November 2017 and planted the next year. (CF News Dec 2017-Jan 2018)

Over time, garden edging increased the size to 16-ft making it difficult for visitors to experience the garden, and more difficult for maintenance. A major redesign was needed to better fulfill the original vision of bringing children into the garden to experience some of what nature offers. The plan was to add 4 paver paths radiating from a center circle, and a paver pad for the donated granite StoryWalk bench.

In April 2020, a former CGC member brought his tractor to clear the area and dig out a large boulder moving it to the woods’ edge for children to climb on, while members did other tasks. Later a member laid out the garden and installed all the pavers acquired, however more material was needed to widen the paths for safety and aesthetics. With the COVID pandemic and increased home improvement projects, there were no pavers to be found. The garden was covered with cardboard and tarps to protect the work done and keep the weeds from emerging until more materials could be secured.

Calls were made to the store regularly throughout the summer; finally in September backorders were being filled and more material became available. However, the member volunteer who did the original paver work was not. No other club member had this experience to contribute, and help was needed. A request was shared with three local Boy Scouts troops, and one quickly responded that they would assist with finishing the paver installation and garden preparation. Club members with their children came to remove the coverings and rake the area, rewarded with creatures hiding beneath – frogs, snakes and a salamander. Later, the Boy Scouts laid the pavers, added topsoil, amendments and mulched the area, resulting in beautiful hardscape and much needed garden preparation for the now 23-ft round garden.

The decision was made to plant in Spring 2021 when there would be a better selection of plants. A Master Gardener club member secured a Connecticut Master Gardener Association Grant (CMGA) to fund these plants. Club members and Master Gardener interns needing community service hours worked together for the initial planting. A club member and master gardener intern created a Parents’ brochure for the garden, and another CMGA grant award funded its printing along with additional perennials and bulbs later that year.

In 2022, plans are being developed to add more host plants and natives to further enhance the nature experience, as well as revise the brochure to add in-garden activities parents can do to encourage early childhood learning of colors, numbers/counting, shapes, sizes and more.

The club is grateful for the many businesses and individuals that helped make this project a success: Lowes, Baldi Stone and Gravel, Coast of Maine, Connecticut Master Gardener Association, Boy Scout Troop 72, UConn Master Gardener Interns, other community volunteers, and the many Colchester Garden Club members and their children who supported and were involved in the project.