Though “secret” is in the name, it is no mystery what kind of positive influence the Secret Garden program, developed by The Delaware Center for Horticulture (TheDCH), has had on Wilmington’s Hilltop neighborhood. The garden has so successfully transformed an abandoned urban space into an enchanting outdoor classroom that it recently received a Blue Ribbon Award in the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society Gardening and Greening Contest.
Sandy Poppiti, a Secret Garden volunteer storyteller, was the mastermind behind this 18-year-old program; she ignored the drug paraphernalia and filth that originally filled the lot, and saw an opportunity for growth and education.
Now, the garden is a place for preschool children who participate in a bi-weekly, year-round Ministry of Caring program. Eight volunteers, some seasoned teachers, provide the children with seasonally appropriate lessons that incorporate hands-on experience in addition to education in a classroom setting.
The program allows children to plant flowers, harvest vegetables, and explore the garden. In the classroom setting, they learn about the care of the earth, identify different plants, and create crafts that are inspired by the garden. Activities are designed to help children from less-privileged areas enhance their self-esteem, gain a sense of ownership and responsibility, become inspired, and simply interact with nature.
“Watching these preschoolers pull fresh carrots, pick cherry tomatoes, and dig for worms is priceless,” said TheDCH Volunteer Coordinator Marcia Stephenson. “But more than that, the impact this program has on children at a very young age is tremendous. Many of these children don’t have access to yards, let alone gardens, and aren’t in touch with where their food comes from. This program bridges that experiential gap in a fun, interactive, educational way.”
The Secret Garden won the Blue Ribbon Award in the “Children’s Garden” category. This contest recognizes programs whose greening efforts greatly enhance neighborhoods in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
For more information on TheDCH or the Secret Garden, visit theDCH.org.