By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
What was once an unmanaged jungle of 8-foot tall weeds in the center of Washington Middle School is now a shining example of what can be accomplished with green thumbs and collaboration.
The courtyard of WMS has been through a rollercoaster of dedicated upkeep and lackadaisical tending.
The square, roofless plot surrounded by school walls now holds several different types of gardens, an organized greenhouse and an escape into cultivated bliss.
Brenda Council, of Fulton, Ill., worked in the garden on and off for seven years since 2005. She was pulled back into the garden in fall 2011 when her son, Corey Council, the head groundskeeper for the Clinton School District, asked her to help solve a growing problem in the garden. Weeds had taken over, and Corey was near spraying the entire garden to get rid of them.
“It was a mess,” Council said. “I said ‘I have to come back. I have to make it right.’ It’s a very special garden to me.”
Brenda is the second of four generations of her family to work in the Washington courtyard garden. Her mother, Marjorie Bielema, also worked in the garden. Council’s son Corey and granddaughter, Ashley, also have added their input to the garden.
After spraying, raking and cutting the overgrown plant life in the garden, the work to make it a beautiful centerpiece of Washington Middle School started.
Brenda worked with the WMS Environmental Action Club, a group of 15 to 20 students advised by Cynthia Wolf, to develop a plan for the garden.
The students and Brenda put in marigolds, roses, zinnias, leaves with different textures, snap dragons, coneflowers and a plethora of other greenery. Students and faculty arrived in fall to see a garden bursting with color, texture and life.
WMS Principal Brian Kenney said the improvement that’s been made in the garden is inspiring.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s beautiful,” Kenney said. “It’s been a really cool partnership and it’s a source of pride for the building.”
For Brenda, part of the joy of gardening the courtyard is being able to share it with the students and staff.
“It was nice for me,” Brenda said. “A lot of them were so programmed not to look at the courtyard.”
One of the new additions suggested by the students was vegetables. Peas, cucumbers, sunflowers and mini-pumpkins were planted. Brenda said more than the same she pulled a number of cucumbers from the garden and this fall the students harvested 117 mini-pumpkins.
In the groomed garden, the fountain near the center, the mulch path and wooden benches are visible. With plants being rearranged over the years, flowers are able to get the proper amount of sunlight they need from open sky above the garden.
“I feel like the girl in the ‘Secret Garden.’ It’s so neat,” Brenda said.
Brenda said she plans to continue working on the garden until WMS is no longer used due to the proposed new middle school opening.
“This is my garden,” she said. “I knew it was a garden that needed help. The warmest part for me was just being able to do it.”