I arrived outside the gates at twelve fifty five, and I was not the only one waiting. Children were playing in the nearby play area, giving side glances every so often. “I have had to keep children from trying to climb over” said Dr. Hannah Geffert, Gateway Garden Club member, sitting at the information table near the entrance of the park.
The excitement is understandable. The Gateway Children’s Garden has had development plans in place for the last three years. The project is a joint venture between the Gateway Garden Club and the Martinsburg- Berkeley Parks and Recreation Board. Today is a sneak preview of the efforts before the official opening in April of 2016. Many Gateway Garden Club Members were on hand to help with the open house and stationed at different areas to help during the preview.
Sue Ann Palmer, the Children’s Garden Chairperson, gave the first tour of the garden, a winding corkscrew of imagination and education. The garden includes eleven different educational spots, each focused for different age and learning levels. The first feature will include a five foot nest frame where children can learn about nest building. A horticulture and water feature is next, teaching children about growing food and obtaining water in rural and impoverished areas. Chris Palmer, son of Sue Ann, was busy working on a water installation during the preview tour. “We put this together in about 24 hours. This is all charity work for me. This is a pretty cool vision that doesn’t exist anywhere. I want to see how it’s [the garden] used.” Chris went on to describe other features of the garden, including a wall where fruits and vegetables will grow, an installation that showcases a water pump used in Africa, and an area designated for a classroom pavilion.
Another element of the Gateway Children’s Garden is the ABC Garden which includes a wide range of plants representing each letter of the alphabet. Diana Carpenter, a member of the Gateway Garden Club, was stationed by this niche. Ms. Carpenter emphasized the importance of the environment in relation to the garden: “Almost all of the materials used are natural, including wood and stone. The parts that are not [made of natural materials] are all recycled.” While speaking with Diana, Patty Arndt, former president of the Gateway Garden Club, strolled by and joined the conversation. Ms. Arndt discussed the general work of garden clubs, stating: “There are local, State, and National Garden Clubs. People don’t realize that we [the Gateway Garden Club] are the largest service organization in the world. The Club works behind the scenes, [donating] thousands of hours [to community projects]. We focus on ecology, conservation, youth involvement, and garden therapy. Our organization has around sixteen to eighteen members, but some groups have over three to one hundred members.”
As we followed the tour, we came to an area displaying cross sections of various tree trunks. This exhibit is a tree ring educational area for visitors to learn about the age and health of local trees through visual and tactile means. Eventually this space may also include an outdoor musical Instrument.
A toddler sized play house is also featured in the garden, with future plans for caterpillar shaped play equipment to bolster balancing and climbing skills in younger visitors. Judy Heck, current Garden Club President, was stationed by the play area and shared some of the challenges the project has endured over the last few years, stating: ”The hardest part so far has been people climbing the fence and vandalizing the garden. Cleaning up spray paint and [other] damage costs money.” Ms. Heck is optimistic though, noting: “We are prepared. We have the bulbs planted and ready for the spring. All we need is the funding.”
As we walked around the hill, we came upon a butterfly garden which also displays information on the life cycle of butterflies. Down the path from the Butterfly Garden is a “”hobbit house” that will educate visitors on insulation, green roofs and water runoff. Near the top of the hill is a “fossil pit” that will be filled with sand where children will be encouraged to dig for “fossils” while surrounded by “dinosaur ribs.” The last element of the garden is a lookout tower at the top of the hill where visitors can survey the entire garden “We placed this here so it would be the highest point of the park” Ms. Palmer said, guiding the children back down the hill over a rocky area that was designed to stimulate a child’s desire to climb.
Upon leaving the lookout tower, I had the opportunity to talk with Vicki Steadman, 2nd Vice President of the West Virginia Garden Club, about the many ways garden clubs help the community: “At the state convention we provide youth awards and award projects throughout the state. Last year we provided bird houses and books to the local elementary schools. Many people don’t know this, but we provide landscaping for the schools, the libraries, the parks, and the humane society.”
Steve Catelett, Executive Director of the Martinsburg Berkeley County Parks and Recreation Board, was on hand for the preview and discussed the opening of the Park, stating: “We will open around April 2016, with the park open to the public on the weekends with supervision. During the weekday, we will be open for school field trips and tours.”
The brochure for the Gateway Children’s Garden notes over ten thousand dollars is still needed for items such as the classroom pavilion, caterpillar playground equipment and outdoor musical instruments, as well as a telescope for the top of the lookout tower.
Sue Ann Palmer notes that members of the Community can assist with the completion of the Gateway Children’s Garden via tax deductible monetary donations.
Donor Cards and Donations can be sent to:
Gateway Garden Club
Attn: Sue Ann Palmer
1425 West King Street
Martinsburg, WV 25401