Search the Howard County Library's website for books on gardening, and you'll come up with hundreds of titles. But soon the shelves won't be the only place at the library to learn about gardening and healthful lifestyles.
The Friends of Howard County Library, a nonprofit organization that supports the library system, has received a $25,000 grant to develop a community-based teaching garden at the soon-to-open Charles E. Miller Branch and Historical Center in Ellicott City.
The new branch is slated to open in December 2011 adjacent to the current structure that bears the same name. The teaching garden, which is scheduled to open in early 2012, will feature educational resources as well as classes to promote community health and wellness.
Called the Enchanted Garden, the venue is to be one of the main components of the Miller Branch, which opened in 1962 as the county's first constructed library. The branch will be 63,000 square feet, almost three times the size of the existing one.
The Enchanted Garden is expected to promote the library system's goal to be a resource in the county on healthful living, and it will focus particularly on youngsters. It will offer classes that will be developed by, among others, the Howard County public schools and Howard County General Hospital.
Library development specialist Rita Hamlet said that the Enchanted Garden is unusual among local libraries in that it will be a teaching facility.
"Classes at the library will incorporate hands-on, outdoor classroom activities in the garden for all ages," Hamlet said. "The garden will also include activities … outside classes, such as community gardening areas to grow vegetables and demonstrate sustainable techniques such as rain gardens and composting."
Library officials say it will also showcase schoolyard habitat restorations and show adults how to use gardening to help children make smart food choices.
Much of the focus on the garden's health component will be about childhood obesity.
"Obesity in children is a pressing issue. … Many families with school-age children use the library, and we saw an opportunity to reach those customers in a unique way that provides a benefit to their long-term health," Hamlet said. "We introduced healthy eating and lifestyle topics and activities to our Teen Time students in October this year, and we continue to offer educational classes for all our customers."
The organization received the grant from the Horizon Foundation, a Columbia-based nonprofit group that promotes health and wellness in Howard County.
Howard County's library system consistently ranks among the top in the nation. Currently, Hennen's American Public Library Ratings lists it as fourth nationally among libraries in venues with about a quarter-million people (also on the list is Baltimore County's library system, ranking ninth nationally among venues with about a half-million people).
Howard County's libraries ranked first in the Hennen's ratings in 2008 and second in 2009.
Hamlet said the Enchanted Garden will enhance the library system's aim to provide health, nutrition and wellness education. She said that the library system is establishing a partnership with Howard County General Hospital, focusing on health education. The garden will be the centerpiece, offering classes and activities that promote healthy habits.
The garden also will offer classes with projects geared toward children. Classes will focus on such topics as nutrition, environmental education, local history and gardening. Library staff and others from groups that partner with the library will conduct the classes.