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The Kitchen Gardener
Local gardening project nurtures children

Saturday, July 06, 2002

Laura Winter and I were trapped by a summer thunderstorm on the stoop of a North Side beer distributor. As the storm increased in ferocity, we talked about Winter's passion for gardening with kids.
"I learn from them when they ask questions," she said. "I love their spontaneity. Their fascination is just so refreshing."

Billy Trena, 6, of Penn Hills takes care of his tomato plant at Green Millennium Children's Garden on the North Side as part of a gardening project for children called Cultivating Success. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette)

For seven years, Winter has worked to teach children the joys of gardening. That's why she is the perfect host for a new project, Cultivating Success.

I pitched the idea of a garden where children in adoptive and foster care could learn to garden to officials with Project Star, a local adoption and child welfare program run by the Children's Institute. I hoped that these children could learn that gardening is fun and a great family activity.

Project Star liked the idea and suggested I find a location. When I started calling around, I discovered Winter, who for the past three years has worked to convert a vacant lot near the corner of Sherman and North Taylor avenues on the North Side into the Green Millennium Children's Garden.

After the summer rain abated, the two of us headed there to prepare a plot for the Cultivating Success garden. We turned over the soil so that when the kids arrived the next day, planting would be a little easier. Winter plants using the square foot method, an intensive planting technique that places plants close together in beds instead of in long rows.

After the bed was dug, we surrounded it with cinder blocks and filled them with soil. The next morning, kids from Project Star showed up to plant. There were foster children, adopted kids and friends and relatives. As Winter explained the basic parts of a tomato plant, it was obvious she had a way with children. They laughed, asked and answered questions, and got ready for the real fun -- planting.

First to go in were the tomato plants donated by Janoski's Farm and Greenhouse in Clinton. The people at Janoski's gave us extra large plants so the kids would have tomatoes early in summer. Everyone got his hands dirty, the big kids helping the little ones. Before they knew it, they had created a garden.

The kids loved Winter's idea to plant marigolds in the holes in the cinder blocks. We invited them to come back individually to visit the garden or harvest tomatoes. As a group, they'll visit in July to record the progess of the plants and then again in September to put the garden to bed.

The location of the Green Millennium Children's Garden is perfect, right across the street from what is arguably the best community garden in the city, the Old Allegheny Gardens. Winter, a Penn State master gardener who also tends a plot at Old Allegheny, said it led her to create the Green Millennium garden.

Angel Yarbough Pryor, 11, of Pittsburgh plants a marigold at the Green Millennium Children's Garden. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette)

"When I was walking up to the Old Allegheny Gardens, the kids would see me with my tools or watering can and say, 'Miss Laura, Miss Laura, can I help you?' I would take them into my plot to work. I didn't get nearly as much done, but I had more fun. They needed it and enjoyed it."

Every Wednesday during the summer, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Winter invites children to help in the Green Millennium Children's Garden. She welcomes everyone, not just kids from the North Side. She gets help from another master gardener, Robyn Macerelli, and, of course the children, but not much more.

"It's an arduous project to do without any money, but at the same time it's gratifying to make something out of so little," Winter said.

Last year, both the Central North Side Neighborhood Council and Mexican War Streets provided donations. This season, Winter has received a National Garden Association Youth Garden grant, which provided materials and supplies; a Three Rivers Community Grant; and 200 bulbs for fall planting from The Mailorder Gardening Association.

Winter spends countless hours in the garden, reaping much more than beautiful flowers and vegetables.

"It's my creative outlet. It's just so fulfilling."

Laura Winter can be reached by e-mail at laura .winter@att.net. To learn more about the Penn State Master Gardener Association, call 412-473-2540 or e-mail alleghenyext@psu.edu.

The Backyard Gardener appears periodically throughout the year. Oster can be reached by e-mail at doster@post-gazette.com or by phone at 412-263-1484.

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