Beneath the canopy of an oak tree was a popular gathering spot for youth groups of Abundant Life Church in Blaine, and the fact that a church member had planted it almost 25 years ago offered a sense of pride for the congregation.
So when the church decided to tear down the tree last year because it looked like it was going to fall, there were a lot of sad people.
Kim Halberg decided to do something about it. Tired of looking at the barren circle in the parking lot close to the front entrance, she came up with the idea of a Habitat Stewardship Garden that would draw pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies whose populations have been on the decline.
“In my book, if you don’t like it, do something and don’t just complain about it,” Halberg said.
She did most of the planning herself over the winter, but did get advice from others, including a member of the church who is an Anoka County Master Gardener. After receiving approval from lead pastor Steve Finton, she enlisted the help of a group of more than a dozen girls ages 5 to 11 who meet every Wednesday night in what is called the 4G girls group.
“I was so happy,” said 10-year-old Lauren Estepp when she heard they would have a hand in this project. “I just want to make it look beautiful.”
Estepp has been a member of Abundant Life Church “since birth.” Working alongside her was Carly Heiges, 10, who has been at the church the past four years.
Heiges met a lot of friends during small group gatherings underneath the old oak tree.
The first thing Halberg planted in the center of the 39-foot-diamter circle was a red sunset maple tree. In the fall, the foliage of these trees turns a beautiful crimson orange. The stems and twigs have a red color so it will look great in the winter as well, Halberg said.
“It makes you feel like this tree will be another big tree where new friendships will be made,” Heiges said.
Halberg learned about gardening from her father. Around the age of 5, she pulled what she thought was a weed from a garden because she wanted to help. Her father informed her that she had just pulled out a perennial. Rather than keeping her out of his garden, he started teaching her about gardening and landscaping. Her father especially loved lilacs and apple trees.
Halberg and a few other parents became gardening mentors for these girls. Every Wednesday night in May, Halberg would talk about what they were planting before the girls did it. The plants in the garden include irises, chives, autumn joy sedum, dill, coreopsis, garden mums, rhizomes, Russian sage and milkweed. As a Habitat Stewardship Garden, it is free of pesticides or herbicides to not cause harm to bees, birds, butterflies and other animals.
The students also created a display board about Habitat Stewardship Gardens that is inside the church.
“You don’t just pick up a plant, take it out of a bucket and put it in the ground. We’re trying to teach them gardening concepts,” Halberg said.
Just a little over a month ago, this circle in front of the church was a “brown canvas.” Now it is painted in with specs of green with yellow and red colors starting to bloom and more to come throughout the summer and in the future.
“I just want this to be a place that welcomes people,” Halberg said. “It’s about taking care of God’s house and it gives people another way to share their talents. Not everyone can sing or play the piano.”