Imagine being a third grader, bursting out of school after a long day of work. If you pick the right exit, you're greeted by a path leading into a small wildflower meadow, with long grasses and multi-colored flowers swaying in the breeze. Walking a bit further, you enter a quiet memorial nook, with a birdbath and a bench. Slowing down, you pad along further into the shade and seclusion of a small forest area, surrounded by trees and shrubs that make you feel like you've found a secret place.
That's the vision of Sheila Srere, a Brayton School parent who is spearheading the Brayton Centennial Learning Garden Project. Designed to be an outdoor learning center, the project was conceived as a way to celebrate Brayton's 100-year history, to teach students about the intricacies and marvels of the natural world, and to be a vibrant memorial to one of the Brayton family's favorite people, Joe Torre, a custodian there for more than twenty years.
In addition to the area described above, the project will include a vegetable garden planted with crops such as beets, spinach and salad greens, which will ripen in the spring, and gourds and pumpkins ripening in the fall, to coincide with the school year. Students will be involved in the planting and reaping ... and eating as well.
A patio close to the school will feature a sundial positioned perfectly so that, at any time of year, students can stand in certain positions to have their shadows on the sundial mark the time. An outdoor amphitheater with benches made from trees that have been removed due to disease or weakness will provide a structured space for outdoor classroom lessons and performances.
Environmentally sound practices and sustainability will be hallmarks of the garden. For example, by planting and maintaining a rain garden, right on site, students will learn how rain gardens help manage storm water runoff and provide a home for beautiful native plants. In fact, all the plantings in the project will be easy-to-care-for native plants, which will thrive in the setting and require only a modest amount of upkeep. Already in place are a variety of shrubs including blueberry bushes, New Jersey Tea bushes (which attract butterflies), viburnum, choke cherry, and winterberry holly, among others.
Srere is quick to point out that the project has benefitted from the help of many people. "Tricia Macgill [another Brayton parent] has managed much of the project, including everything from grant writing and budgeting to mulching, and the fund-raising wizardry of the PTO board has made the dream a reality. I’ve also really enjoyed working with Brayton principal Dr. Cheryl Moretz. She’s very direct and practical, and at the same time, open-minded, enthusiastic and endlessly curious. The men who work for the Board of Education, guys like Angelo Palumbo and Lou Pepe, have bent over backwards to help us achieve our goals. Their commitment to the quality of our schools runs deep, and I’m really grateful to them. Finally, Mitch, Ty, and Eric of Back to Nature a landscape design company in Basking Ridge, have been extremely generous with their time and expertise. I don’t think there is a better landscape design firm in the state, and they also have a retail store that is a gardener’s dream!"
Phase One of the project is scheduled to be dedicated on October 15th, with the entire project being completed in phases over the next year or so. So be sure to keep an eye on the space on the Myrtle Avenue side of Brayton School, where children will begin learning under the sun in the Centennial Garden.
By Beth Lovejoy on behalf of the Summit Environmental Commission