In praise of volunteers

This morning I scrolled back through the blog in search of pictures for a project.  Remembering all of the things we have accomplished over the last ten years is overwhelming and encouraging. NONE of it would have happened without the generous help of volunteers.

This year I am working on building up our group of core volunteers, and we have had some amazing people step up.  Danielle is a mother of four children in our district and a recent addition to our school board.  She checked in with me at one of our new “Watering, Weeding, and Working Wednesdays.”  I was showing her some of the deferred maintenance projects, and she lit up at the mention of our cedar legacy table.  If you don’t know the background of our AMAZING table, please click here.  It’s one of our best stories.

The Legacy Table:  A Little Tale of Reinvesting, Rebuilding and Reinvesting

The table was in need of a little TLC.  It has been a long time since we have cleaned it and treated it with rosewood oil.  Danielle, along with all of her kids, brought out a sander and tools, and they restored it beautifully!  She said teachers were coming out to thank her for her work on it, and when I profusely thanked her, she said she was happy to do it because her family loves our school so much.  And we love them.  ALL THE GOOD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN SCHOOL GARDENS!

Sculpture from the water’s edge

A solar fountain—on the wish list from the beginning of the project and now a charming, bubbling reality in the garden.

I’ve mentioned that I am now part of a network of Master Gardeners in San Diego County (I’ve written about it here and here.)  We have a listserv on which I posted a question about solar fountains.  The garden club decided to buy one, and I was looking for recommendations to help me sort through all of the on-line options.  Running water in the garden is one of the few things we don’t have, and I knew kids would love seeing it pumped by the sun.  I figured—not everything in the garden has to be unique—a nice, standard, store-bought fountain will be just fine.  But then….

My classmate, Deirdre Allen, wrote to me to let me know she was currently making fountains.  We had been seat mates during a MG fieldtrip, and I remembered seeing iphone photos of the beautiful pottery she does at home. A great price, a few e-mailed pictures, and next thing you know, she’s in Julian installing a gorgeous handcrafted piece.

(Meanwhile) the 2012 Master Gardener class has been self-organizing trips to see each other’s gardens.  On Monday I had the pleasure of hosting my classmates at the school garden, including Deirdre, and I cloaked the fountain so that we could officially welcome it to its new garden home.

Thank you Stan Miller for all of the photos above!

Isn’t it beautiful?  It’s nestled next to our dry riverbed, to which it lends the lovely spilling sound of water.  The river stones in the basin and the tree stump make it look as though it was always meant to be in that exact spot.  Deirdre’s business is called “Sculpture from the Water’s Edge” (she lives in a San Diego beach city), and you can call her with questions and/or orders at 713-857-5637.

Snip! goes one more ribbon

On Wednesday, October 17th we officially welcomed the James Hubbell Gate into our garden.  Back-to-back with this celebration was a garden tour given to a group of people attending the No Excuses University conference in San Diego.  Garden Ambassadors gave tours for a half an hour, and then we kicked off the ceremony.

Here’s me reviewing last minute tour details with the ambassadors:

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

The gate is tied up with a ribbon.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Holt

Just a taste of Rita’s always-remarkable catering:

Photo courtesy of Jeff Holt

Show time!  Garden Ambassadors do their thing, informing the guests about the section of the garden at which they are stationed.

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

This ambassador is standing behind a display of student photography detailing the creation of the gate.

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

The entomology club talks to guests!

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

A student plays fiddle for guests who are being seated, just as he promised in his application:

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Sixth grade students read poetry written about the gate:

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

I greet the crowd and give a speech, explaining “… this is a story of many things: of dreams turned into reality, the making of new friendships, the power of imagination to reshape reality, the generosity of our community to the benefit of children and the doorway to new chapters.”

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

James speaks!

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

L to R: Susi Jones (Executive Director of Pathways), Kevin Ogden (Julian Elementary Principal and Superintendent), Ann and James Hubbell, me, John Wheelock (artistic colleague of James who worked on gate), Mike Gallo (who established the Pamela Gallo fund at the United Methodist Church which funded the gate) and Dawn King (pastor at Julian Community United Methodist Church.)

Photo courtesy of Lay Lay

Snip! goes the ribbon.

Photo courtesy of Lay Lay

The children walk through, as they will be doing for decades to come!

Photo courtesy of Lay Lay

The Table: A little tale of reinvesting, rebuilding and reimagining

 Once upon a time there was a school nestled high up in pines and oaks of the San Diego mountains.  It was a small, rural, public elementary school, and the children and parents of this little school loved it very much.

Every year the children and parents of the school did fundraisers.  They sold wrapping paper.  They held spelling bees.  They hosted a used book sale.  The money they raised went to everything from scholarships to assemblies.

Each year the PTO gave a special, year-end gift to the school from the money they had raised.  One year they decided that the gift would be a table for the beautiful school garden.  But not just any table.

Not long ago, a wildfire had torn through their community.  One out of every four families in their school had lost a home in this terrible tragedy—the worst fire in California history. And there were many other fires that had turned their community upside down.

They thought about how their town had slowly and bravely rebuilt.  The big losses and small recoveries became part of their story as a community.   Then they thought about Don Madison, a local craftsman.

Don had a special gift.  He liked to take wood from trees killed in wildfires, mill it by hand and then make beautiful pieces of furniture.

Families from the school met Don and forged a friendship.  The children went to see the trees on the mountain and watch Don mill.  Don began to make the table.  Anticipation grew for its arrival at the school.

One day Don called the school and said the table was ready.  “It’s beautiful!” “It’s unique!”  “It’s HEAVY!” he said.  “It’s going to be a huge job to transport this table to the school and place it in the middle of the garden.  BUT I have an idea….”

Two weeks later a group of local firefighters slowly and carefully carried the table piece by piece on to the school campus with Don.

A celebration took place. The story was told.  Speeches were made. A ribbon was cut.  Cookies and lemonade were served.  And there were many “ooohs” and “aaahs” and very few dry eyes.

The table sits there today.  Sometimes it is ringed with students eating lunch.  Or reading.  Or learning science or art.

It is a gathering place.  A thing of beauty. A reminder of renewal.  A legacy table planted in a school garden in a small town, high up on a hill.

Whimsical touches: hand painted garden signs

There are certain things in a school garden that make it sing.  One thing, I believe, is hand painted signage.

Thanks to Marisa, Mrs. B and Mrs. Dawson for these beauties! (Also to Mr. Younce who made the custom redwood signs and holders for the whole garden.)

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Beautiful Gate, Big Heart

This post could also be titled “How a chance meeting at Rubio’s with a local friend turned into a gorgeous new entryway for the garden.”

Our three-year garden renovation has included taking down fences.  To begin we removed a major fence which immediately doubled the footprint of the garden. And then we lowered the fence that borders the student walkway to a waist-high level.  Next we took down the fence that borders the “outdoor lunch area” in order to move in our massive rainbarrels…. and then decided not to put it back up, but to create a “grand entrance” on that side of the garden.

Someone gave me a book of garden project blueprints. The garden club looked them over and settled on a cute gate.  I happened to have the book in my bag when I stopped for lunch one day and saw my friend Art. Throwing the book open to the design, I promised to purchase everything on the materials list and recruit a work team if he would agree to build it one weekend.

Art, you see, is a dedicated community member, a loving father to a student at our school, a multi-talented artist, an accomplished builder, a dynamic teacher…..and just plain crazy.  That’s why he was possessed by an urge to tell me the gate I had in mind was completely ordinary and unimpressive, and what we really wanted was…(at this point he grabbed a pile of napkins and passionately began to draw diagrams and arrows.)  And before my street tacos had even settled, the garden had yet another completely remarkable project in the queue.

After months of building the gate in his barn, Art and a crew of friends recently hoisted it into place on custom footings which had been poured before Christmas. Two weeks ago we celebrated its arrival at our monthly “Backcountry Collaborative” meeting where Art cut the ribbon, which was adorned with “garden wishes” the sixth grade students had written.  In the classroom earlier that day and later out in the garden, Art spoke to the students and assembled adults.  He covered everything from Pythagoras to the importance of quality work to the five steps of any project: Dream. Plan. Build. Smile. Rest.  I told the kids that this gate is the story of someone not just doing a good, or even a great job, but truly “going above and beyond.”

He named it the “Kandu! Gate,” giving it a Japanese-sounding name to match some of the styling and reminding us every time we pass through the gate:  if we can imagine something, we can do it.

Sixth grade students attaching wishes that began with the phrase: May all who pass through this gate...

.....follow their wide...appreciate the in peace...enter into another natural world...go at life with new vigor

Cutting the ribbon!

Introducing the Kandu! Gate

Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Marisa McFedries; Photos 3 and 4 courtesy of Chris Elisara

*Art would like to thank the following compatriots for their help in bringing this dream to fruition:  Bruce Benson (Ace Co-builder), Don Madison (Millwright), Chris Elisara (Co-excavator), and the ALL American Installation Team (Bill Porter, Dennis Cantor, Mike and Michael Hatch, Tom Skibinski, Tyson Flack, Larry Shriver and Brian Duffy) a well as the documentarians (Ann Reilly, Tricia and Chris Elisara)