So Much to Learn
JACKSONTOWN – Brent Pickering, with some help from fellow staff members, transformed a formerly unnoticed area of Dawes Arboretum into a unique “Learning Garden,” which is an outdoor extension of Dawes’ indoor education facility. “It’s like an outdoor classroom,” said Pickering, Dawes’ curator of grounds. The new Learning Garden, which opened July 26, is adjacent to the Education Center. “It’s amazing, the transformation we’ve done,” said Pickering, who completed much of the design work and most of the construction himself.
Currently, the Learning Garden caters to adult developmentally challenged tour groups and school classes of younger children. It features many plant boxes at various heights so anyone, seated or standing, can observe and interact with the plants within the boxes. There are no steps or steep grades to access them. “Making everything truly one grade is the biggest feature,” said Pickering. He said construction began in April, which included literally terra-forming some of the land around the garden. Even run-off rainwater is filtered through a bio-swale of gravel before it’s released into a pond.
“This is truly a one-of-a kind project,” said Pickering, who added that last winter he began to toss the idea for the Learning Garden around with arboretum director Luke Messinger. “It’s functional and sustainable,” said Pickering. He said the Licking County Foundation and Boeing funded the project.
Pickering said the Learning Garden’s current main purpose is to serve as “horticultural therapy” for adult developmentally challenged individuals, although it’s really open to everyone. “The plants are there to show what they can grow,” he said. “All the (Dawes) departments were really helpful on this,” he said. “It really took everyone.”
Volunteer Coordinator Jennilyn Haer said groups of school children and developmentally challenged adults are regularly visiting the garden. “This really becomes their garden,” she said. “It’s stocked with plants they can touch and smell. It’s very hands on.” Haer predicted the Learning Garden would give rise to similar gardens in the future.
Photos by Scott Rawdon