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Southgate blooms from Tree Trust

Third-graders Rufina Aguilar, Juliana Jorgenson and Cassie Nack spent a sunny afternoon weeding a butterfly garden Friday.

“It’s hard work, but it really is fun,” said Nack, sitting in the dirt, patting away the glow on her face.

The Southgate Elementary students were taking part in the school-wide Tree Trust, an annual springtime activity where students, teachers and parents spend a day sprucing up the school grounds.

The tradition began in 1995 when the school created a partnership with the organization Tree Trust, a non-profit group that works to establish natural habitats in school settings.

Tree Trust helped the school plan to plant trees and shrubs and set up bird feeders and nesting boxes.

About 15 years later, the effort is funded by the parent-teacher council and organized by a committee of teachers called the “Green Team,” said the group’s chair Nancy Dolphin.

The landscaping has also expanded to include several flowering gardens, a prairie restoration project, a tree nursery, and two memorials to Southgate educators who have passed away.

Friday, students added a third memorial, a flowering crabapple tree for Southgate student Isaiah Charles Klingfus who died this March.

There is also a red, white and blue flowering garden to honor those in the service, Dolphin said.

“It’s nothing short of amazing — what can get done in one day,” she added.

All of the weeding, planting and mulching is completed in one day — with time for an afternoon Popsicle break — and the gardens are pretty much left to maintain themselves throughout the summer.

But, at least one parent will stop by from time to time with her green thumb this season.

Jodie Marsh, who has a fourth-grade daughter and first-grade son at Southgate, said she likes to stop by and fix up the butterfly garden during the summer.

“I do a lot of gardening at home, and I don’t live very far away,” she said. “It needs to be refreshed, and the kids can’t come out here by themselves to do it.”

Dolphin and fellow Green Team member Ann Sundal said they would like to see more parents volunteer during Tree Trust day, and throughout the summer.

Many of the children, Sundal said, would help out everyday if they could.

“Some of the kids who struggle in class, they really shine out here,” she said. “They feel good about themselves and have a sense of accomplishment out here.”

Marsh, who gardens at home, said she especially likes to work with kids whose parents live in apartments or don’t have gardens at their homes.

“I haven’t gardened at home yet,” Aguilar said. “So, this is really, really fun for me.”

Jorgenson said that she has planted cabbage this year at her home. “This might be more fun though, being outside to plant things with all your classmates.”