Master Gardeners Justin Wheeler and Lisa Duchene delivered a lively bit of performance art recently in the Bellefonte Community Children’s Garden. Most of the dozen or so kids listened intently to Wheeler’s explanation of how birds, bees and butterflies see colors.
“Hummingbirds are very sensitive to red, hot pink and purple, and they see something called ‘near ultraviolet.’ Ultraviolet is something that we can’t see,” Wheeler explained to the crowd. “Bees can’t see the color red at all. They see the rest of the rainbow, and they are very sensitive to ultraviolet. Then you move to butterflies. They see colors that we don’t even have names for. Everything is just a kaleidoscope to them, glowing and vivid. Some flowers have hidden lines, hidden pathways that we can’t see, but under ultraviolet light, they illuminate and look like little runway lights to the insects that we want to attract to the flowers.”
Duchene interrupted with a question.
“Why is it so important that all those insects and those flowers get along so well? Is that just to make a nice garden for us?”
“It’s because they come together and the bees visit the flowers and carry pollen from one flower to another flower in a process called pollination. And that makes more flowers. That makes more plants and the flowers then produce seeds and we get more flowers. So, the flowers need the bees and the bees need the flowers, so it works out.”
“What do the bees get out of the deal?” Duchene asked.
“They get pollen and they get nectar,” Wheeler said. “Nectar’s like Kool-Aid for bees and hummingbirds. They like that sugar.”
The kids could surely relate to that and nodded sympathetically.
The June 21 “Touch, Taste and Feel the Garden” workshop was a part of the Bellefonte Community Children’s Garden monthly series, delivered by Penn State Extension master gardeners. Through the growing season, an hourlong workshop for kids takes place at 11 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month in the multiple gardens installed and maintained by the master gardeners and funded by the Bellefonte Garden Club, part of Historic Bellefonte Inc. The garden behind the Centre County Library Historical Museum was created in 2007 and includes six raised beds for vegetables that the nearby elementary school uses for a salad growing lesson. At the end of the school year, the beds are used by community members who have trouble accessing fresh garden produce. The grounds also feature herb and fairy gardens, the butterfly garden and a shady storyteller’s area.
After the children walked through the butterfly garden wearing filters that allowed them to see the flowers the way bees and butterflies see them, Wheeler explained how Monarch butterflies “taste” with their feet.
Growing future gardeners
Engaging children in an appreciation of nature through gardening has been proven to have beneficial effects on their lifestyle. The “Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens” national initiative encourages institutions to “launch community efforts to create a healthier generation using interactive exhibits, outdoor spaces, gardens and programs that encourage families to eat healthy foods and increase physical activity.” The Bellefonte Art Museum of Centre County is a part of this initiative and is featured in the initiative’s latest newsletter with a blog post.
A section of the Bellefonte Community Children’s Garden, in the area labeled “Plants We Eat,” is tended by Bellefonte Art Museum’s dedicated gardener Mary Prendergast. Prendergast also is the green thumb behind the flowers in the “Garden of Eatin’ ” next to the museum, where there will be a free edible flower workshop between 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday. Prendergast has planted begonias, fuschias, violas and nasturtiums that will be used in the family program. She will be on hand to answer questions about growing edible flowers in your home garden.
Duchene passed around a basket of beautiful strawberries during the “Touch, Taste and Feel the Garden” workshop, encouraging the children and their accompanying adults to touch, smell and truly perceive the berry before tasting it. Wheeler led the kids around the yard and encouraged them to touch the silky leaves of the silvery lamb’s ears in the garden full of plants with animal names.
Near the conclusion, program developer and Master Gardener Beverly Harader gave a nod of gratitude to the volunteers that tend the beds and offered a standing invitation.
“The most important thing that I want to tell you is that you may come to this garden at any time. ... Don’t ever worry that you are going to break something, hurt something, trample a flower; this is a children’s garden and it will all come back. Please feel free to come here as often as possible. Come at all seasons of the year and experience how different it looks.”
Everyone can experience this magic. Just swing through the iron gate behind the old library and revel in the full wonder of the Bellefonte Community Children’s Garden, where there are no “keep out” signs and no restrictions, and wonders of pollination are happening.