Church-Community Partnership Funded for Pollinator Garden at Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School

by Dick Williams, LEED AP BD+C, Memorial Episcopal Church

The idea grew out of fear.

The fear was that the Chesapeake Bay Trust would decline the Mt. Royal PTO’s 2017 Watershed Assistance Grant request for $75,000 for a major de-pave/greening of the Mount Royal Elementary/ Middle Schoolyard in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood. (More on that later.)

At stake was the momentum that began building last summer with stakeholder formation meetings—community members and organizations, institutions and other non-profits, parents, teachers and school principal—for big schoolyard changes.

One Saturday last October, my wife and I, Bolton Hill residents and Memorial Episcopal Church parishioners, visited with friends the beautiful Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton.

Inspired by the visit, and especially the Butterfly House, I put in a call for Ladew’s outreach coordinator—if and whoever that might be.  Happily, Rachelle Rogers called back.

Rachelle told me that Ladew had partnered with a Harford County Title One School in a pilot outreach program in 2016 that introduced native pollinator plants to its school entrance area and educates students about the plants’ and pollinators’ roles in a healthy biosphere.  She said Ladew would consider Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School as its second Title One School partner.

I immediately called Kimberly Canale, Mt. Royal PTO President, so we could flesh out a pollinator micro-habitat and garden classroom on the schoolyard with big help from talented Mahan Rykiel landscape architect JoAnn Trach Tongson.

In a meeting several weeks later with school Principal Job Grotsky and others, Rachelle spoke for Ladew’s President in formally offering to teach several classes this winter about pollinators and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to Mount Royal’s 2nd grade classes.  Included in the offer is an all-expenses paid visit by the entire 2nd grade class of more than 60 students to Ladew’s many gardens this fall when the pollinators are most aflutter. (Since then, Ladew has extended its offer to the incoming 2nd grade classes this fall.)

In late November, a MICA professor who led an architectural ceramics tour of historic Bolton Hill building stock last summer, agreed to convene with Kimberly and me to discuss our request that he and his students guide some Mount Royal 2nd graders in designing and kiln-firing ceramic stepping stones for the garden.  At that meeting, he told us of observing nature on his grandfather’s farm during his growing up years in Canada.  Yes, he said, he and his students would be willing to shepherd such a project for Mount Royal students.

Now a financial partner has at long last come into view.  Under its Environmental Education Mini-Grant program, the CBT just announced its award of $5,000 (the maximum amount) to the Mt. Royal PTO project.  Another grant request of $5,000 from a different funder to defray the remaining project costs will be decided in May.

Before the grant award notice was received, two actions were taken last month. First was the “Sheet Mulching Event” to suppress the regrowth of the grass monoculture at the site.  (That windy day frustrated our efforts, but we prevailed.)

A week later the site prep was completed by adding a 3 in. layer of tanbark mulch as the permanent garden surface.  These actions addressed “O ye, of little faith” that kept arising in my mind.

The construction phase of the pollinator micro-habitat/garden classroom will begin early this month when Mount Royal Middle School art students start painting a design of their choosing onto the nearly 130 pickets of a fence to be constructed on Saturdays in May, plus a Little Library, also to be installed in the garden with pollinator plants, shrubs and sub-canopy trees.

On-going is work with Mount Royal’s 2nd-graders in designing and making the ceramic stepping stones.

The educational objectives for Mount Royal students are geared to STEM learning about the support offered by a micro-habitat for pollinators and other wildlife in watershed restoration; and a healthier cityscape.

The partners of this Mt. Royal PTO pollinator/garden classroom project who have helped allay our fears are Ladew Topiary Gardens, Mahan Rykiel Landscape Architects, MICA, the Creation Care Team of Memorial Episcopal Church, DW-GREEN Associates, my green infrastructure consulting firm, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust which sells Bay license plates to support its programs.

The CBT WAG request was declined, but one of its grant administrators encouraged us to apply again this September after re-tuning the application to better suit the reviewing style of the judges.