BLOOMINGTON — As visitors wander the grounds of Ewing Manor Cultural Center, they might consider not only the gardens’ natural beauty but also their educational value.
For the past three springs, workers caring for the lush and elaborate Genevieve Green Gardens have had some unlikely help from Tri-Valley High School students.
The teens’ role bloomed from a partnership between two Tri-Valley horticulture teachers and the Illinois State University Foundation, which owns the center, located at the corner of Towanda Avenue and Emerson Street.
Part of the teachings of Josh Rund and Kristin Myers take upperclassmen through a two-year paper-to-plant process for about 10 major flower beds in the gardens.
“It’s great for them to see it come to life,” Myers said. Students learn to identify plant varieties, acquire landscape design skills, and actually plant most of the gardens’ 10,000 annuals.
Throughout the school year, Ewing gardener Heather Vozzella visits the Tri-Valley classes and nearly 60 students. She offers lectures on gardening basics and feedback on designs for the flower beds.
The capstone came this week, the smell of lilacs filling the air of a warm and sunny day, as students laughed and smiled while digging and planting a variety of annuals.
Dressed in T-shirts and shorts or jeans, they donned gardening gloves and arranged potted flowers in a pre-designed pattern. Then, students knelt and used metal trowels to bring the work of art, literally, to life.
“I like the layers and the tropical feel,” said senior Austin Schenkel of Downs, pointing to some tall elephant ears, and red leafy cordyline that hovered over red polka-dot plants and the silvermist variety of helichrysun.
“Most of these students don’t plan a career in horticulture, but they’ll have it as a lifelong hobby,” said Myers.
“These are called dragon-wing begonias,” said senior Brandon Able of Bloomington, as he took a rest and wiped his forehead. “There is a certain sense of accomplishment doing this.”
Able plans a future in construction management, and works at Prochnow Landscaping each summer.
Kneeling in the same flower bed, designed around two towering trees and a cement bench, senior Dylan Young stuck a trowel in the ground, dug a hole, placed a plant and patted dirt.
The partnership “has been really cool,” said Young. “First, we got to draw it out on paper. Now we’re kind of grading ourselves from paper to real life,” he added.
Young plans a career in firefighting, but he’s got a love for gardening. He’s planted the flowerbeds at his own home for about five years, he said.
Behind the 1982-built Moriyama Japanese Garden, five girls planted a bed of salvia and zinnias.
“Now I notice landscaping everywhere I go,” said senior Holly Hammer of Downs. “I appreciate the work that goes into it.”