Mt. Pleasant Library garden helps educate next generation
Amaris Geer is wearing a pair of sky blue wings adorned with an intricate sparkle design as she explores the fairy garden at Mt. Pleasant Library.
"It's just beautiful," the 4-year-old says in a soft voice.
Holding hands with her 2-year-old brother, Greyson, the pair are transfixed by the tiny fairies, gates and a multicolored whirligig she can't quite find the words for.
"Sometimes I really, really, really like that thing over there," the little girl says, pointing to the garden ornament.
GETTING KIDS IN THE GARDEN
"I'm a firm believer for early education that children need to smell, taste and touch," she says. "We wanted to get the children outside to experience nature. We wanted them to smell the herbs, taste the sugar snap peas, to see what grows over time."
Eckman's combined experience working with children totals almost 50 years. When asked what she gets out of working with them in the garden, she simply says, "joy."
The expansion of the garden has been accelerated by a substantial annual grant from the Michael J. & Aimee Rusinko Kakos Fund. The first garden included a few flowers, tomatoes, lettuce and herbs.
Now there's the fairy garden, pollinator garden, herb garden, three sisters garden and much more. Honeybees visit white coneflowers looking for pollen and nectar. The cherry tomatoes are red and ready for picking, and airy yellow dill flowers are covered with flying insects.
The kids have planted daffodils, gladiolus, garlic and lots of other plants. Phyllis Shumar, the grandmother of Amaris and Greyson, is thrilled with the garden.
"This library uses auditory, tactile learning methods. You get all the senses of learning," she says, as her grandkids continue to play in the fairy garden.
The library also has an innovative seed library. Anyone can get a packet of seeds in the spring while they last, says director Mary Kaufman.
"One gardener brought in basil plants to share," she says. They were started with the donated seed the library receives. They are always looking for a source for seeds, too. This year American Architectural Salvage provided pots for gardeners when getting their seeds.
She patiently works with preschoolers and some older kids to create the garden and is dwarfed by 20-foot tall sunflowers that have volunteered for the past three seasons. As the sunflowers drop seeds, they sprout again the next year. On a wall next to the giant flowers hangs her mother's gardening hat.
"She was a gardener all her life," Eckman says of her mom. "She is smiling down from heaven that this garden is out here with children because she was a 4-H leader."
Eckman, a Penn State master gardener for Westmoreland County, combines gardening with age-appropriate books that are also purchased with the Kakos Fund. It's a way to make learning fun and give the kids an appreciation of gardening. "I hope it gets them into gardening," she says of the kids at the library.
The pea pods in the vegetable garden are swelling as the tender peas make the transformation to hard seeds. "I tend to just let stuff go to seed, so they can see the whole process," Eckman says.
"I'm trying to tie in gardening to science, to reading and to pull it all together so in the summer the kids do not lose their skills," she says. "I hope they understand nature, that our resources are precious, and they are beautiful."
She reflects on spending a lifetime helping children.
"For 38 years as a teacher that's what I did," she says. "As a kid in 4-H, that's what I did. It's what I do."