Kneeling on the fertile ground, their shovels easily sinking into the rain soaked soil, earth science students planted a rain garden May 21.
After gardener Heidi Ferris shared a brief lesson about how a rain garden’s plants help “clean up” snowmelt and rainfall, the Anoka Middle School for the Arts students dug in and planted sedum and dogwood trees in the space at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Adams Street in Anoka.
Their teacher, Heather Birklid, said it likely won’t be the last lesson her students will learn in that space, which lies just across Fourth Avenue from the middle school.
The outdoor classroom is part of Zion Community Green Space, dedicated May 21. Seeds planted there will produce education and play, color and life and growth.
In addition to the outdoor classroom, the green space, planned and designed by Ferris on property owned by Zion Lutheran Church, offers a community garden with four raised beds, a playground, and picnic area.
The idea for the space sprouted more than a year ago when Ferris, a science education consultant, former teacher and owner of Growing Green Hearts, approached Zion’s Rev. Peter Nycklemoe and brought up the idea for a green space that Zion’s pre-kindergarten students could use.
Pretty soon, that idea took root and branched out and Zion Community Green Space was born.
“When you think of a green space, many people don’t understand the extensive nature of this project. It will be a place for people to take wedding photos, picnic, relax, but more importantly it will serve as an outdoor classroom and playground for kids of all ages,” Ferris said.
She said she imagines the green space as a natural classroom, the perfect setting for technical writing, science lessons, journaling, conducting field studies and more.
With plots like the Butterfly Garden, the Garden of Eatin’, the Rainbow Colors Flower Garden and the Pizza Garden, the space is sure to appeal to youngsters as well as more mature gardeners.
This summer, the space will burst to life as the native Minnesota vegetation planted there sprouts and blooms, butterflies and hummingbirds dance around the flowering plants, and the roots of the rain garden sink deeply into the ground.
Once the hill slide is in place, children will be able to climb the gentle incline and slip and slide to their heart’s delight.
Not only that, when the project is finished, the littlest children will be able to climb under tunnels of cucumber, pea, and bean vines.
Green space lovers of all ages will be able to study indigenous plants, tend to the rain garden, or learn how to reduce their carbon footprint by composting.
The green space is truly a community affair. A $5,000 Healthy Activity Grant from Allina served as fertilizer for the project and Zion also received funds from the Anoka Conservation District. It was also made possible by benefactors, Frank and Janice Jensen.
Not only that, as an Eagle Scout project, two local Boy Scouts, Thomas Leonard and Bobby Lundborgh, will also contribute to the space by building picnic tables and benches, an arbor, and sandboxes.
Hope Luedtke, director of Zion Preschool said: “The opportunity for Zion and Zion Pre-K to have access to an area for children, members of Zion and the community is so exciting. Not only will the space offer a fun and open area to play, but an area of science, wonder and awe.”
Even when school’s not in session, the green space provides fertile ground for natural wonders.
Green space managers invite neighbors, church members, families, teachers, and student groups to “adopt a spot” in the green space. With that adoption, people sign up to care for and watch over one spot for one year.
With each visit, adopters can explore the green space, look for new plants, animals, birds and other changes, water the spot, add mulch if necessary, pull weeds, and add seeds, plants or bird food if they so desire.
Folks interested in adopting a spot in Zion Community Green Space should stop by the church (located at 1601 Fourth Ave., Anoka), call the church (763-421-4656) or visit ZionAnoka.org.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]