DescriptionWoodend Sanctuary is a 40 acre property in Chevy Chase, Maryland, bequeathed to and now headquarters of the Audubon Naturalist Society of the Mid-Atlantic States. The mission of the Audubon Naturalist Society is to inspire residents of the greater Washington, DC, region to appreciate, understand, and protect their natural environment through outdoor experiences, education, and advocacy.
In 2012 I started the Children's Learning Garden in two abandoned three by 14 foot raised beds on the property. The camp director at the time thought maybe we could have a vegetable plot for the summer campers to explore food plants.
A year later, a young woman came to me to ask if she could help with the garden as a volunteer. Susanna proved to be an enduring friend and partner in this endeavor. I don't think I would have been so bold or resolute with out her quiet, steadfast support. And her knowledge of edible weeds and native plants!
Each February or March we would look forward to getting together to start our seeds under lights and taking turns raising them if one had to be out of town. We have gotten better at labeling and watering and our starts have flourished. When planting time comes each year, we debate what to put where and recall our results from the previous season. I know I have learned a lot.
The third summer, we launched the first "Camp Cuisine" for 3rd-4th graders and it was a huge hit. Demand for cooking related camps has grown each year since and this past summer (2017), we had four camps devoted to harvesting and cooking from the garden and from a nearby farmer's market. In these camps, the campers also take field trips to larger farm operations further out of town.
Each year, I like to challenge myself by trying to grow new food plants and Susanna has always been game. We have tried cardoon, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, and different heirloom tomatoes, to name a few. This year, we grew Native American plants such as Indian corn that we popped right on the cob! Hopi red dye amaranth flowers were used to make a magenta pink dye by the Ethnobotany Camp.
The Children's Garden has become a favorite place for the campers to share what they know from gardening at home, to try tasting new fruit and vegetables, and to make their own discoveries. I love hearing a twelve year old mutter under her breath, "I love this place," or another camper say, "I wish we could do this all day," about separating lettuce seedlings and planting them further apart. The sorrel and fennel plants have become a familiar grazing spot and it is exciting to see what the return campers remember and share with the new kids.
The garden has tripled in size since 2012, and now includes areas for a pizza garden, a three sisters garden, an herb garden, and a native pollinator garden. In the summer of 2016, we expanded into a new area, a steep slope on the far side of the remains of the property's historic greenhouse. With help from Job Corps students, we created hugelkultur beds -- a Swiss farming technique for their mountainous land -- from tree branches, compost and topsoil. There we planted an "orchard" with blueberries, blackberries, currants, elderberries, bush cherries, paw paws, persimmons, and hazelnut trees. In addition to providing food -- probably mostly for the birds -- the trees will help with Audubon's mission to reduce storm water runoff from the property. With our spring break campers, we filled in the spaces around the trees with a potato bed, a cucumber hut, beds of zinnias and plenty of surplus perennials from our native pollinator garden. A path now winds through the orchard. The shrubs and trees in this part of the garden will take a few years to start producing, but in the meantime it has already become a great place to spot butterflies, bees and dragonflies.
In June we held our first ever Children's Garden Open House. Over a hundred parents and young children came to discover the garden for the first time. We also had a Bug Zoo from the University of Maryland to entertain them.
This summer, Susanna could not be at the garden as often, so I would send her photos of what was happening. She and her family were packing up to move out of state and she wanted to donate a portion of her native plant collection to Audubon. We organized a group of volunteers to come dig up the plants from her enchanting back yard and plant them at Woodend.
The gardens are all thriving and bring wildlife. We were thrilled to see a zebra swallowtail making visits over several days to the four-foot high pawpaw trees to lay her eggs. We also saw Eastern Box turtles, a black rat snake, several tiny brown snakes, goldfinches, wrens, cardinals, a barn owl, and a red shouldered hawk, and, of course, plenty of insects.
The Children's Garden has become a beloved place to explore, pick vegetables, make recipes and enjoy sharing food together. We love to hear the contented chatter of the campers as they 'work.' We like to tell people that what we're really growing in the Children's Learning Garden is ... gardeners!
Susanna and I love this garden and I will really miss her presence in it. This beautiful, peaceful spot, is now filled with native perennial plants, fruit and nut trees and shrubs, and the seeds of annuals that will be planted every year in a place where children can explore.
Children's Learning Garden Manager
Audubon Naturalist Society