Butterflies danced around the pink coneflowers, much to Kathryn Feldmann's delight.
"Look at the pretty butterfly," she said, pointing as she admired blooms in the garden in Quiet Waters Park outside Annapolis.
The garden, named Garrett's Light, opened last year and is starting to take off, with young trees extending leafy limbs, shrubs filling out, and flowers and grasses showing off their colors.
"It's beautiful," Feldmann said, watching yellow coreopsis blooms sway in the breeze and listening to the rustle of a redbud tree's leaves.
That scene is what she and her family had in mind when they decided to help create a garden to memorialize their 20-month-old son, Garrett, who died inexplicably in his crib on a December 2008 morning.
"We felt a need, as part of our healing process, to develop something we could watch grow," Feldmann said.
Feldmann said that when Garrett was a baby, she thought as all parents do — about the great things he would grow up to do and what his world would be like. She recalled that as Garrett grew, he seemed thrilled by the outdoors and loved having his parents read to him.
But suddenly Kathryn and Lee Feldmann, and their then-6-year-old twins, Shane and Carter, were grieving.
"Friends came to us and said, 'Whenever you are ready to do something in his memory, we are here for you,' " she recalled.
The idea emerged for a reading and educational garden. "We wanted a place where families could read and enjoy the outdoors and nature," she said.
Quiet Waters seemed the perfect spot. The family previously lived near the park and were frequent visitors. They moved to Millersville in 2008 but continued visiting the park.
Working since 2009 with friends as well as the nonprofit Friends of Quiet Waters and the Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks Department, they set about receiving approval for the garden, spearheading fundraisers and seeking grants. More than $100,000 was raised, some in donations, some through the Friends organization, but also through grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the smaller Annapolis-based Unity Gardens organization.
Then came the work of turning the grassy area and drainage ditch into rain gardens, paths and an outdoor classroom. More than 2,000 perennials, shrubs and trees have been installed, mostly by volunteers.
"As the trees and the shrubs and the plants grow out a little bit more, that will provide more nooks for reading, and shade," said Anne Guillette, owner of Low Impact Design Studio of Annapolis, who designed the landscape.
Using native plants, she sought to showcase two features that help the land handle stormwater runoff: rain gardens and permeable concrete, which allows water to seep through.
Boulders for seating and a blue-green permeable concrete "floor" mark the outdoor classroom area, which has a symbolic light embedded in the concrete. Chaney Enterprises donated the permeable concrete for that area and for paths that wind through the site.
Now, when the Feldmanns bring their children to Quiet Waters, the trip includes Garrett's Light, where they sit, talk and read with their children, Feldmann said.
Bradley Hunt, the park's superintendent, said the library has done readings for children there. The Feldmann family — which now includes Emily, 3 — has been involved in many events at the park.
The work's not done, Feldmann said. Plans call for developing information for teachers, community groups and individuals about the garden's environmental benefits, in hopes of generating ideas for neighborhood and backyard gardens.
"Our goal is to have a library here," Feldmann said, describing a place where parents can borrow a book to read to a child and return before leaving Quiet Waters.
A nature center in the Visitors Center is also in the planning, Feldmann and Hunt said.
"You follow the light, and I feel like we are following Garrett. And he is looking down on everything we are doing," Feldmann said.