CHESHIRE — Elizabeth Pawlak, 11, pointed with one hand, while holding a small tree in her other hand, indicating where Kayla Dwyer, 10, should dig.
At Pawlak’s direction, Dwyer pushed her shovel into the mulch and soil of a garden located in the center courtyard of Norton Elementary School.
Pawlak, Dwyer and four other girls, all members of the Girl Scout Juniors Troop 60238 and fifth graders at Norton, worked after school during a sunny afternoon Wednesday to add new plants to the garden. They were also scouring the ground for weeds to remove. It is a project they had started late in May with the hopes of earning a Bronze award — which troop leader, and mom, Hilary Guilford described as the highest honor a Girl Scout Junior could receive.
The project came to a halt over the summer. Although the troop had received permission from Norton’s principal, Kelly Grillo, to clean up the courtyard, they were not aware of the school district’s plans to re-landscape the area, including removing several bushes they had pruned.
Troop members made that discovery during a visit to the garden in early August when they found most of the tallest bushes — the ones they had pruned — had been cut down, with the branches in piles on top of the small perennials they had planted.
School district grounds crews, in a project already planned by the district, cleared out most of the bushes adding sod and mulch to the courtyard. Some boxwood bushes remained, as did a hydrangea bush and another small pine tree.
Cheshire Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Vincent Masciana acknowledged that a mix-up had occurred and had been resolved.
“We want to maintain relationships with volunteer groups and we want to encourage that participation,” he said.
The original garden in Norton’s courtyard was planted more than a decade ago. Many of those original plants, including tall bushes that were growing near the building, had become long overgrown. Some became obscured by weeds that had grown next to them.
Guilford said that is why the troop sought to clean up and restore the garden. It is also the perfect candidate project for a Bronze award.
“It has to be something that is ongoing...” Guilford said. “And they could sustain it and then pass it along to a younger troop who would then follow in their footsteps and take care of it.”
Grillo said she encouraged the troop to develop a new plan for a garden that could be maintained long-term.
“We do want to support them as best as we can,” Grillo said, adding troop members’ “came up with a beautiful sketch” for a re-imagined courtyard garden.
When the grounds crew carried out its clean up, they didn’t remove the flowers the girls had originally planted.
So on Wednesday afternoon, after a half-day of school, troop members continued on with the project, adding new plants, pulling out some old weeds near the snapdragons and begonias they had planted. They identified some other areas in the courtyard they could touch up, including a wooden bench, with peeling blue paint.
They hope to sand it down, re-stain it, and add some personal touches — their own hand prints and a plaque with their troop number. They mulled adding a birdfeeder or two, near an existing birdhouse with peeling paint. The girls also discussed possibly putting new plants in the blue ceramic pots that line the courtyard’s brick walkway.
Troop members had hoped the garden would include flowery bushes that would attract butterflies and hummingbirds. And they still hope that might be a possibility.
Pawlak explained how those plants would benefit Norton’s second grade students. “In second grade you get to do this project where you have a caterpillar. After a while it grows into a butterfly, and you let it out (in the courtyard),” Pawlak said.