By Becky Clemons and Rachelle Stoddard, Colorado Master Gardeners
The Clayton Community Garden was originally established in 2011 and is a partnership between Clayton Elementary School and Denver Urban Gardens (DUG). This is a new project for Master Gardener volunteers.
The primary goal is to build student excitement about gardening through education and hands-on activities. In turn, students can share the excitement of nurturing plants with their families and other community members. The school’s focus has always been helping their families and community by providing them with a relaxing place to connect with one another, learn new skills and grow their own fresh food.
The Community Garden is a unique blend of student grade-level plots and community member plots for vegetables and edible flowers. Additionally, common areas include a pollinator garden, herb garden, strawberry patch, blackberries and fruit trees. An amphitheater area serves as a gathering place that is perfect for garden lessons. A Little Free Library is on site with books for all ages. Sprinkled throughout the garden are benches and picnic tables for relaxing with family and friends.
This spring, Master Gardener volunteers taught the kindergarten classes about pollinators to watch for in the summer garden: bees, bats, butterflies, birds and beetles. Third grade classes learned about composting and created a mini compost bin in a soda bottle by adding several layers of compostable ingredients. Similar engaging hands-on classes are planned for the next school year.
Master Gardener volunteers helped with the annual Clayton Community Garden workday. They joined school staff and community members to clean up the garden, cut back perennials, pull weeds, and amend all the garden plots. The results of the joint effort were far-reaching as community connections were made and new teaching and learning opportunities presented themselves. Everyone enjoyed working together to beautify the community space.
In May, Master Gardener volunteers worked with each class (grades K-6) to plant their garden plots. Students learned how to prepare the soil and plant various seeds and seedlings. Master Gardener volunteers showed plant parts and their purpose, and also discussed handling small seedlings and plant needs during the growing season. Produce from the student plots is provided to families and community members in a take-what-you-need approach during the growing season.
Master Gardener volunteers work alongside school staff and community members each week as they tend their new demonstration garden plot. The fresh vegetables from the volunteer plot are donated to the Integrated Family Community Services food bank.
While working, Master Gardener volunteers often encounter other gardeners and guide them on best practices, answer questions, support their efforts and build confidence in their gardening knowledge. Several summer lessons featuring garden “hot topics” will be offered each month including common garden weeds, diagnosing tomato problems, garden pollinators and composting.
The community garden plots are tended by a diverse group of people. The common threads uniting these gardeners are a commitment to life-long learning while nurturing both plants and relationships. They share stories with each other, the students and the community every day. Smiles abound in the garden. It’s an amazing experience for all to be part of something good in Englewood.