Sewickley Academy students create garden to serve as all-natural refuge

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

It's a place where students and community members can learn about the environment, relax, study and get their hands dirty.

Although called the Secret Garden, Sewickley Academy officials don't plan to keep the large plot of land behind the school under wraps.

Originally planned as a parking lot on Hazel Lane in Edgeworth, the new garden already has been used by several classes as an educational tool.

During its growing process, it will be used even more, said Barbara Carrier, the kindergarten teacher who came up with the idea for the garden after realizing her students didn't understand where fruits and vegetables came from.

This was the second year the garden was used as part of the academy's annual Day of Service program, a full school day committed to service projects both on and off campus through the efforts of the academy's Students in Action, or SIA, team.

Last week, students worked in a number of different gardens set up within the Secret Garden, all connected by stone paths. The native garden is intended to educate students about indigenous flora and fauna. The sensory garden will help students to engage all five senses as they explore the garden and learn about unique plant life.

Plants in the butterfly garden will attract the insects, which students then will be able to track throughout their life stages.

The victory garden will grow vegetables to be harvested and used in the cafeteria and given to local food banks.

Heirloom seeds for the garden came from Robinson's Home and Garden in Sewickley. The seeds will be planted by middle school history classes.

Raised beds will feature a salsa garden, vegetable garden and herb garden. Carrier said prekindergarten and kindergarten students soon will plant potatoes there, and lower school students will plant the salsa garden in May.

A flower garden will be planted later along the fence at the front of the garden. Flowers will be used a bouquets for events at the school. A blueberry and blackberry garden also is planned.

Veronica Coleman, a seventh-grader who worked in the butterfly garden on the Day of Service last week, said she thinks the garden is a great idea, and “it's nice for the kids to get out here and do some work.”

A group of sixth-graders spent the day unloading and shoveling mulch into wheelbarrows to be taken to the various gardens.

Among them was Paul Hansen, who continued to shovel as he shouted, “It's good for the environment and a great way to help out the community.”

Another student, Saarang Mulukutla, agreed and said once the garden is finished, it will say good things about how the academy students feel about the environment and want to help the community.

Head of School Kolia O'Connor came up with the name Secret Garden, which, Carrier said, she thinks is appropriate.

“It's behind the school, and people will walk through an arch like a secret tunnel into the garden. It will be magical,” she said.

The memorial arch will be designed and created by Carrier's son, Colin Carrier, who works for London Pattern Metalworks in Pittsburgh.

It will feature flower designs and a bronze medallion with dancing shoes in remembrance of the late Kurt Cerny, song and dance teacher; a rose in memory of Susan Houghtaling, history teacher; and a Celtic knot in memory of Jerry Smith, an academy teacher for 44 years, who first taught French and then moved on to the technology department.

Also to be added are benches, a picnic table and a naturalized water feature.

Plans for the Secret Garden began in early spring in 2011 when a steering committee of academy faculty, administrators, parents, and community members, began to meet under O'Connor's direction.

The committee created a survey to determine how faculty would potentially use the garden. The results have helped shape the overall design, function, and layout of the garden, Carrier said.

Work began during last year's Day of Service. In the fall, a landscaper was contracted to assist with the addition of irrigation systems, grading and garden construction in preparation for the spring 2013 planting season.

Carrier said just about everything in the garden was donated or will be purchased with funds from an anonymous donor and $25,000 raised at the academy's annual auction last year.

Parents and students also have donated their time.

Parents, Edgeworth Garden Club and other local garden clubs will volunteer their time for summer maintenance.

More funds are expected to be raised at the academy's annual auction to be held from 5:30 to 9 p.m. April 20 at Allegheny Country Club.

Carrier said the committee also is hoping to receive several grants.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.


Show commenting policy