|Central Public School|
We are marvelling at the wonders of the extensive woodland garden spread across the property, and it’s still the middle of winter! "Elke's Garden," as the school children call it.
Elke tells me that years ago, the school Board planned to sell the property and so they let it go wild. Homeless people regularly camped out in the pines (and sometimes still do--but she makes sure they don't trample the ferns).
Happily, Elke and other community members worked together to have this stately school designated as a historical building. Today, it continues to receive new Canadians from across the world.
She herself has a long history with the school; her own son attended Central in the 70s and she frequently volunteered as a reading buddy in the classroom.
Back then Elke was new to Canada, hailing from Germany, her husband from India. She was homesick. "But I had to raise a Canadian! It was only once I started working in the garden at my house that I became a true Canadian."
Years later, she decided to do the same for other children as well: "I want them to put their hands in a garden, to become Canadian too."
Sixteen year ago, with other like minded people, and the help of groups like Seniors for Seniors, she gathered plants from around farm houses for this down town school, "I wasn't alone!"
Being raised by a father who was the conservationist for the city’s forests, Elke understood the importance of habitat and natural heritage to an area. She read a lot and went to seminars (she continues to do so, and has even written a guide that has still to be published on planting a woodland garden).
Today, Elke describes the garden at Central Public as being “full of miracles.” With a core group of volunteers, she’s planted dogwood, crab apple, floribunda, eastern red cedar, red oak, linden, service berry, Washington hawthorn, white pine and many other native species like echinacea and black-eyed Susan, milkweed for the butterflies and a variety of plants attract a diversity of insects.
“I plan it in drifts like Mother Nature does, so insects don’t have to fly far. They have all they need there, and so can save their energy. Every year, I plant a little bit more.”
The garden has never seen a chemical, and the only fertilizer used comes from the garden compost heap.
Elke’s other passion is to share the wealth of knowledge about pollinators and native species she has gleaned over the years. “I want to give this love for nature to other children,” she says. She has pulled together a list of plants that children can to identify: “I wait for the kids to come out. They are so curious! They come with millions of questions.” She has planted a special garden, “the secret garden” especially for the kindergarten children: “They taste sage, parsley, chive; they smell they look.” Over the years, she has received heaps of letters from the children, expressing their appreciation: “It brightens my heart and gives her energy,” Elke says.
Naturally, she is a strong proponent of outdoor education being a priority in the school curriculum. Right now, that will depend on the enthusiasm of the teacher and of course, the principal! “The board wants grass, that’s why I can’t die,” she jokes.
She is also interested in extending this highway with us all across the neighbourhoods and is looking for partners in Durand, Beasley and Central. She has plants to share, so get in touch with her if you are keen.
This garden is an oasis not only for pollinators and children but also for seniors and veterans: “No dog wants to leave it,” Elke laughs, pointing out the well being one feels in close proximity to the natural world. “That’s the pit stop.”
- The garden has received a plaque from the Historical Society (“They loves it.”).
- A tree was planted and a memorial stone placed in the garden in honour of teacher Mr. Jay Keddy, who was killed riding his bicycle in late 2015. He was a teacher at the school for some years.
- Elke and the Friends of Central Public School took on another gardening endeavour called Project 2014. They built two vegetable beds for the youngest students at Central Public. Central’s population consists of mostly new Canadians who live predominantly in many high rises in the school area.
- In 2014, Elke received recognition from the Canadian Wildlife Federation for her "Backyard Habitat." Elke has been recognized by the Board of Education for her volunteer work and was nominated for a Seniors Volunteer Award by the City of Hamilton.