Garden in the News

Henry PTA Leads Native-Plant Restoration of Helen’s Garden

by Jenny Aiello, for the Weavers Way Shuttle
The brick bed at the end of the Henry School kindergarten wing is about to get some much-needed renovation.

Back in the late 1990s, Helen Kimbleton was a much-loved grandparent volunteer at C.W. Henry School. She loved to garden and beautify her community, and volunteered daily in the kindergarten classroom of Maryann Pravdiuk, taking great pleasure in teaching the children about plants and flowers. Helen won numerous civic awards from community organizations and even the mayor’s office for her dedication to beautifying the neighborhood.

Sadly, Helen passed away in December 1999 due to injuries sustained in a hit-and-run accident. To honor her, the Henry School community planted and dedicated the raised brick bed at the end of the kindergarten wing in her memory. But as happens with time, over the years, the bed succumbed to benign neglect — chrysanthemum weed, daylilies and clematis vines took over much of this garden space.

Several years ago, a group of Henry parents and neighbors attempted to revive this bed. During the process of removing debris, it was discovered that the soil level within the bed was quite low. This presented a problem in that many of the existing plants ,such as hosta and vinca, would never grow tall enough to be visible to passersby. The volunteers did what they could and the bed benefited from a minor facelift, but more work was clearly called for.

New, this spring, with the help of a BirdSleuth grant from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Helen’s bed will undergo a full renovation. The grant, underwritten by the Lab of Ornithology and Alaska Fertilizer, will give the Henry School community the opportunity to create a beautiful planting with site-appropriate native plants that will provide food and habitat for pollinators and birds. The grant allows for adding more soil to the bed with amendments from Alaska Fertilizer, and will pay for native shrubs, perennials and mulch to retain moisture and reduce weeds. In addition, more habitat- and food-friendly plants for pollinators and birds will be added to the bed near the kindergarten playground.

The C.W. Henry PTA will provide support for this project by organizing parent and community volunteers during the Philly Spring Cleanup in April for the large tasks of clearing and removing weedy debris and adding soil and amendments.

As part of the grant, BirdSleuth has also provided classroom materials on the importance of pollinators and our role in providing a healthy environment for their benefit and subsequently our own. Second grade teacher Yvette Fisher will share the supplemental instruction with teachers and students in kindergarten and first and second grades.

Once the beds are prepared, the students will help plant and maintain the gardens.

Over the last nine years, the PTA and volunteers within the school and neighboring community have worked year-round to make the garden area a beautiful, welcoming and effective part of the curriculum for the students and staff of C.W. Henry. The BirdSleuth grant allows for continued focus on improving the food and habitat areas around the school garden while providing a greater understanding of our connection to the natural world.

We think that Helen would approve.

Please contact me at for more information or if you are interested in volunteering.

Jenny Aiello is the Henry PTA’s corresponding secretary.


This article was featured in the Weavers Way March Shuttle and can be found online here.

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