October 26, 2010

The Secret Garden

Leslie Pugmire Hole/Spokesman staff

There’s a secret garden tucked away in a corner of Redmond High School’s 63-acre campus. It’s gone mostly unnoticed, its gate locked and its grounds overgrown, for years now.

But after a very busy summer, the garden is emerging from the weeds and gaining some notice, nearly 15 years after it was created.

“It’s much larger than most people think, a half-acre,” says Redmond High School science teacher Becky Barrett. “I didn’t realize how big it was myself until we started pulling weeds.”

For years now Barrett has been using the garden – which was constructed in 1996 as a learning environment for science students and those interested in careers in the outdoors – for her science classes. And for years she’s seen its shortcoming overwhelm the site, which was installed with the best intentions.

“Nothing was working by the time we started on it this summer,” said Barrett. Cattails had taken over the pond, which suffered from liner holes and pump problems. Weeds and overgrown trees had created a bramble of the landscape and a colony of rockchucks had taken up residence in a pile of rocks, digging themselves a warren of rockchuck highways under the site.

“It got to the point where it was so hard to maintain and no group was specifically in charge of it,” says Barrett. She and other science teachers had frequently used the site for biology classes, outdoor survival and history and archeology classes but as it grew unmanageable, use declined.

Determined to see the garden utilized to its full extent and with full support of her principal, Jon Bullock, Barrett started to plan. A student, who was also a Boy Scout in search of an Eagle project, provided the jump start.

Stuart Shaw and his fellow Redmond Troop 27 members drained the pond and cleared the site of its excess vegetation. Years of pond muck proved to be too much to remove by hand and the city of Redmond got in on the action by bringing in its VACTOR truck to siphon off the water and majority of silt buildup. The rest had to be removed by hand.

“We began with the simple idea get muck and cattails out, fill pond back up, and plant a few more plants. But as we got into it I realized we were way over our head,” says Barrett.

By then summer was approaching and she was able to get the project approved for a Youth Conservation Corps program. Numerous Redmond High School students were hired for the team, including senior Nick Hormel, who is considering a career in fish and wildlife.

“It was exciting to see it look better; our crew really wanted to hurry and put fish in the pond but we knew we had to do other things first,” he says.

“Other things” included removing invasive cattails, digging out the old, battered liner, leveling the pond, installing new irrigation and sensors, hauling out giant planter boxes that had become mired in the mud and constructing waterfalls to aid with aeration.

The big vision for the garden, Barrett says, is to make it a resource for all teachers and useful for teaching topics as diverse as creative writing, engineering and child development. She also envisions an “outdoor school” daycamp run by Redmond Area Park and Recreation District and staffed by Redmond High students, as well as other community-based programs.

Phase One of the project, the aquatics, is just wrapping up, thanks to donations of supplies and labor by numerous local business. This phase alone yielded more than $6,000 in donated materials and labor and used 72 community members to complete. Next on the slate is irrigation to make a more maintenance-free landscape and infrastructure such as ADA paths, a shed for storage and a covered pavilion with tables for work areas.

Barrett’s newest mission is to recruit an irrigation specialist and landscape architect for the work that will have to wait until after winter has passed.

Meanwhile, she’s already jumped back into using the site for her classes. On a recent afternoon, the Freshwater Biology students head out to the garden to put into action what they’ve been learning about aquatic macroinvertebrates (the tiny bugs that live in freshwater). The mission is to survey the pond and identify as many types as possible.

Barrett is nervous; with the pond so recently drained and refilled, she’s concerned there won’t be enough critters in the water to make it interesting for the students.

“Got one! Oh, he’s so cute; I’m going to call the little guy Marcello,” says one boy with shaggy hair and an impish smile. “Oh, we got another one.”

Barrett circulates among the students, giving occasional hints to assist the students with identification. The kids are finding “bugs” right and left and begin a friendly competition to find the most unusual specimen.

“This is amazing,” says Barrett, “This is the most variety we’ve ever found.” She cites the increased aeration of the water, the decomposing leaf litter in the pond and consistent water levels as the probable cause of the bonanza.

Hormel, for one, loves the new outdoor classroom.

“It’s great to get outside and see some sunlight,” he says. “I’m not a books and notes kind of guy anyway. I learn more outside.”

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RHS Outdoor Classroom partners

Thompson Pump & Irrigation

Hershey Cattle Company

High Desert Farms

Cent-wise

City of Redmond

Bend Tarp & Liner

Cement Products Mfg Co.

Knife River

Redmond Greenhouse

Greenscapes and

Watergardens

H.D. Fowler Co.

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