Growing For the Future… Plant a Garden!

by Kathleen Johnson, Educator

There they stood in the heat of the summer with gloves, shovels, trowels, rakes and hoses. These Teen Safari kids
were ready to plant their gardens! Some of the teens had planted gardens before, and some had not. With a few instructions, we set them loose to beautify a couple of barren areas as part of the Louisville Zoo’s “Adopt–a–Garden” project. While the teens gently wiggled the plants loose from the plastic pots and placed them into the holes they dug, I thought back to how it all began. The camp counselors who were working with the Teen Safari campers this summer wanted the teens to have a project that they could create themselves and call their own – something that would benefit the teens, the Zoo, and the environment. That’s when the idea was hatched. They could plant some gardens!

Of course with any creative effort, it’s helpful to ask the experts for their knowledge and assistance. So I first sought out the advice of our volunteer coordinator who explained the Adopt–a–Garden program to me. Individuals or groups can volunteer to design, plant and maintain small sites around the Zoo for the growing season (spring, summer and early fall.) A special recognition sign is even created to mark each adopted site. This sounded perfect for our Teen Safari camps! So I asked her for the necessary forms to fill out for the project, and I was on my way. I then visited our wonderful staff in the Zoo’s Horticulture Department who helped us choose a couple of good plots close to the Meta-zoo Education Center. They also gave us some suggestions for plot designs and plants and offered us the use of their tools, watering cans and mulch deliveries.

The camp counselors and I next travelled down the road to see our friends at Frank Otte Nursery. The staff helped us to make final choices on the plants with considerations for amount of sunlight, spacing, and water needs. They made suggestions that would really highlight plant textures, colors, and sizes for an array of plants that would be attractive to both people and pollinators alike. They recommended plants that would come back each year, called “perennials.” At the last moment, I grabbed a tiny, lone fern that caught my eye, hidden among a huge number of plants on display. The nursery staff even gave us a wonderful discount that allowed us to get many more plants than we had hoped for.

We loaded up our beautiful botanicals and drove back to the Zoo where we couldn’t wait to show everybody what we had for our gardens. When the teens began their planting, you could just see the excitement (and sweat and dirt) on their faces! One group planted a sun garden and one group a shade garden.

The kids carefully packed soil around the plant roots and watered and mulched the areas for a good start to the plants’ new homes. Then we all stepped back to admire their effort. What a transformation! These areas went from drab, empty spaces, to gorgeous spaces that brought instant beauty to the Zoo and pride to the teens. Many of the plants attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and my little “love fern” even got a place of honor in the shade garden! The teens have great memories of a job well done, recognition on the plaques, and they also received a couple hours of volunteer credit for community service. The gardens are filling out, and they are pretty reminders of a really fun summer.