AN OASIS of shade-loving flowers and shrubs was planted this spring as an addition to the nature-study area at Spring Garden Elementary School in Hampstead.
The shade garden was designed and planted through the efforts of Sandy Bollinger's third grade, faculty members and parent and pupil volunteers.
Last fall, Bollinger sized up the area of mature trees overgrown with multiflora rose and honeysuckle.
She decided her pupils could assess a creative use for the area, which links the school's butterfly garden to the nearby woodland path. In May, the pupils went outdoors to begin in earnest.
"They surveyed the land, seeing what it had or didn't have," Bollinger said.
Steve Heacock, director of the Carroll County Outdoor School, sent survey forms to the children so they would know what to observe.
For example, they were to "find birds," Bollinger said. "Were there a lot of birds, a few, or none at all? Among other things, we also looked for shrubs for small-animal cover, if water was nearby, if the area was shady or sunny, and if there were houses nearby."
They also researched the animal population.
"We had to count nests, footprints and animal tracks in the mud," Bollinger said.
The pupils compiled what they'd seen. On school computers, each wrote a letter to Heacock describing the project and telling him why they felt it was a good idea. "And then we waited," Bollinger said.
Apparently her third-graders were persuasive: They netted a $500 grant from the outdoor school to purchase plants for the wild shade garden they'd planned.
On May 19, a team of about 30 pupils, parents and teachers ventured with saws and pruners into the trees to cut through the overgrowth of honeysuckle and rose and through dead viburnum and spicebush.
Some children helped design a path through the trees, winding through the red maple and cherry trees and a thicket of viburnum.
Pupils who brought their families included: Eric Garvey, Caitlin and Kelly Grice, Brianna Gallagher, Laura and Kelly Nevin, Devin Pritchett, Tyler and Brooke Massicot, Vanessa and Taylor Shipman, Emily and Adam Brodowski, Daisy Kron, Tim and Steven Daniels, and Michael and Christine Buck, whose grandparents also worked in the woods.
Besides pulling on work gloves and cutting and stacking branches and vines, teachers Peggy Gaver, Mary Linker and Kathryn Berling guided the family groups pulling thistles and weeds from the adjacent butterfly, hummingbird and herb gardens.
The next week, the pupils and parents again turned out to plant perennials and rhododendrons purchased with the support of Stan Dabkowski, owner of Spring Meadow Farms in Upperco.
Another dozen distinctive perennial plants were donated by Lisa Spence of the Master Gardener program.
More plants were donated by Hampstead resident Jennifer Sines, who was reducing the size of her garden. Joan Marsh, Sean Shipman and I dug them up for transplanting.
Several families provided help in watering the new garden. Hoses were donated by Maureen Laderer, Cheryl Wahl, Margie Van Horn and Dawn Ros to hook to a fire hydrant adapter lent by the town of Hampstead. As if on cue, firefighter Joe Armentrout arrived and volunteered to hook up the hoses.
The best part of the garden, children have told me, is that it's almost a secret. You can't see the entrance from Boxwood Drive. You have to walk by to find the opening in the wild hedges. It's an oasis waiting for discovery.
Several programs at Bear Branch invite children and adults to spend a day outdoors this month.
Registration is required for all nature center programs.
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, children ages 8 to 13 will be challenged during Outdoor Recreation Day. Activities include hiking, swimming, a ropes course, archery and canoeing. Bring a bag lunch and beverage. Cost is $15 for members and $20 for nonmembers.
Tomorrow, get cool with a stream cleanup when the Earthkids Club for ages 8 to 12 meets from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $1 for members, $2 for nonmembers.
On Friday, test your nature IQ with an outdoor treasure hunt. A map will be available to follow and clues to find the hidden treasure. Children who can't read must be accompanied by an adult. Treasure hunts begin at 4 p.m., 4: 30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Any age may participate. Cost is $2 a member, or $3 for nonmembers.
Anyone who's wanted to learn fly-fishing can join Robert Sollott of Angler's Hollow in Westminster from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Sollott will teach casting techniques and how to tie flies. Participants can practice on Lake Hashawha. Any age may participate. Cost is $3 for adult members, $5 for nonmembers, and $1 per child.
On July 14, talk about the skies and beyond with members of the Westminster Astronomical Society. Their monthly meeting takes place at 7: 30 p.m. The public is welcome, and registration is not required.
On July 16, ages 8 through adult can learn pool safety at the Hashawha pool, even if you can't swim. Learn how to inflate your clothing in an emergency, the survival float and how to use a life jacket. The program will be held from 3 p.m. to 4: 30 p.m. Cost is $6 for members, or $8 nonmembers.
On July 17, a program from Assateague Island National Seashore brings the wildlife of the beach to Bear Branch. Learn about plants and animals of the island, and how the weather affects them.
The program is for ages 5 to 10 and runs 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Cost is $2 for members, and $3 for nonmembers.
Pat Brodowski's North neighborhood column appears each Wednesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.