The garden is intended to provide a multi-sensory experience for children who are disabled.
October 9, 2009
It all started because someone wanted tomatoes.
Patricia Klusewicz, a teaching assistant at First Children at Fanwood School for disabled children, said that she had an idea.
“The dream was to have a small tomato garden for the teachers, faculty and students. That was it. We wanted tomatoes,” Klusewicz said. “I must admit I enjoy a great tomato sandwich.”
Florence Gramignano, a parent of one of the students at First Children, heard the idea and approached Klusewicz. “I said, ‘You want to do a garden? We can do so much more than just a hole in the ground with tomatoes. Let me see what can happen.’”
“I did a lot of research just to make sure I had an understanding of what the process was going to be,” Gramignano said. “And that was the beginning.”
Over $37,000 in donated time, labor and resources later, the “Little Sprouts Garden” was dedicated Thursday in a ceremony held at the school site on 330 South Avenue in Fanwood.
More than 40 businesses made contributions for the garden, which holds far more than tomatoes.
The garden is separated into three sections so multiple classes can use the space at the same time. The first section contains three large wooden flowerbeds surrounded by pavers laid on top of stone.
Each bed is a different height, made to accommodate standing children as well as those in wheelchairs or with pediatric strollers.
Along the beds is a traditional garden featuring perennials, blueberries and plants that attract butterflies.
A tall, $450, hand-made cypress birdhouse marks the transition from the first section of the garden to the second, planting area. As with everything else in the garden, the birdhouse was donated for free.
The open space beyond the birdhouse will be used to grow vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, peas and cucumbers in the spring.
The final section of the park is a grassy lawn with a centered serviceberry tree, where students can have class outside in an open space.
“[The serviceberry tree has] a great branching structure, and as the tree gets bigger, the kids will be able to hang their work on it and personalize it,” Gramignano said.
The garden was designed to provide a multi-sensory experience through the expertise of three Master Gardeners: Westfield resident Florence Gramignano and Cranford residents T.J. Karns and Fred Taylor. The three gardeners met in an eight-month master gardening program offered by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension and worked together on the project.
Visually, the garden features brightly colored windsocks, whirligigs, and of course flowers. The sound of wind chimes fills the garden on windy days like the one on which the garden was dedicated.
Other plants were included because of their unique smells. Plants that mimicked the smell of lemons, roses and even chocolate were mixed throughout the first flowerbed.
The hands-on experience features a range from soft velvety leaves on one plant to another that withdraws from touch.
And of course, there is an open section dedicated to growing tasty tomatoes.
“The children are just wonderful here,” Gramignano said. “The sky is the limit, they want to feel, they want to cut the flowers, they want to touch and they love the dirt. … You should see their exuberance.”
A pre-school class from First Children did the honors of cutting the ribbon to officially open the park at the end of the two-hour dedication ceremony.
“Dreams can only come true when you have loving and caring people willing to invest hard work, time and resources. All I can say is I am totally blown away by this beautiful garden,” Klusewicz said. And as for the original idea, “I’m still looking forward to my tomato sandwich, but I think I’ll have to wait till next year for that.”