The hallways were empty, the classrooms were bare and the courtyard was lifeless, with nothing but black mulch and weeds back in March at Springdale Preparatory School in New Windsor.
It looked like “10 days after Chernobyl,” Lorraine Fulton, the deputy head of school, said.
She wanted to bring some life back into the building while the school was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and put her focus in the courtyard.
As students filled the hallways again in September, bright pink vincas, red begonias, pink roses, oregano, parsley and thyme filled the courtyard. It inspired a garden club, and later, a flower sale.
During the spring, Fulton dedicated her weekends to pulling weeds, buying flowers and herbs and planting them in the 2,500 square foot garden.
“By the time the children came back Sept. 1, the garden was flourishing,” she said.
It flourished in the summer and fall, she said. Fulton formed a garden club for sixth and seventh graders. Along with “administrative interns,” or sophomores and juniors, who volunteered to help.
An announcement on the PA system advertised the sale on the morning of Oct. 22.
Students were snipping flowers and herbs from the garden at 7:30 a.m. and creating medleys and bouquets for the 11:30 sale. Students had a spread of the options on a table in the back of the dining hall.
The 13-member club created posters for advertising and set prices for bouquets at $1 each, unless it had lavender in it. The rare plant hiked the price to $2. The money raised would be put toward the garden and new t-shirts for club members.
“We’re just happy to do this. Just to do something new,” Marlee Hill, a seventh grader, said.
She explained that after making the bouquet arrangements, they place them in wet paper towels, wrap them around the stems and bind them in a plastic with a rubber band.
Before the sale started, students were already pulling in cash. A few donations and early sales brought them to $40 and just before the start of the sale, they pulled in more than $200.
“The school is going to match whatever we make,” Fulton told the students.
The school’s chef bought a few herbs he could possibly cook with. Janetta Jayman, an English teacher, bought three bouquets to place on her desk in a vase she bought from home. And Tim Gifford, the director of facilities, bought some flowers for his wife. He also helped plant some of flowers and is “reaping the benefits.”
Aiden Datcher said he joined the club last week at Fulton’s request. But it wasn’t his first time dealing with plants. He did a project on orchards last year that required research on the soil needed.
“We also had to find out what windowsill to put it on … so it can absorb the perfect amount of sunlight,” he said.
Still, he wanted to learn more.
Ashley Yuan, the school’s president, said she is happy the garden club allows kids to learn science, community service and how to reinvest. She added it’s educational and a safe hobby during the pandemic.
“It’s a way to team up and not just stay in the classroom,” she said.
JoJo Hargrove, an administrative intern, said she has volunteered on campus before and doesn’t mind doing it again.
“Also, my nana loves floral gardening,” she added. “I thought I’d give her some flowers while I’m at it.”
She said she didn’t know much about flowers before, but now she’s learning something. Oregano is her favorite and she doesn’t care for thyme because there’s “too much of a harsh after taste.”
The courtyard also serves as a learning space for students. Fulton said the school community has been taking advantage of the area since the garden.
An Alberta spruce was in a pot in the center of the outdoor classroom surrounded by petunias.
A stone pathway led to the flowery center of the courtyard. After the picking and snipping, bright orange pumpkins remained next to yellow mums. Pots of blue plants were off to the right side and a twig tree, with branches that turn bright red in the winter, was in the center.
“They had so much fun today and did such good work,” Fulton said.
Students are attending Springdale five days a week in hybrid mode with some students in-person and some students learning virtually.
The school is in its fourth year and Fulton said she is still working on its accreditation. The international school is working toward enrolling 400 students from around the state, country and other continents once the pandemic calms down.