Former deputy school system superintendent Lee Lovett and his wife, retired teacher Kathy Lovett, spent the majority of their professional careers working for the Hall County School System, but even after retirement the couple has pursued education in a non-traditional space.
Following retirement, the Lovetts completed a 10-week course to obtain certifications in master gardening as a way to help contribute to the Gainesville-Hall County community. There are about 150 master gardeners in the Hall County area whose responsibility is to answer questions at the Master Gardener Center, assist in community projects and most of all, contribute to the group's main goal of education, Lee Lovett said.
The first project the Lovetts tackled was planted in 2007 when Kathy Lovett visited her husband at the Hall County School District offices on Green Street in Gainesville. An area of land on the property full of weeds and over-growth caught her eye.
“I said, ‘We could put a garden out there,’ and my sweet husband replied, ‘hmm,’ and I replied, ‘We could, the Master Gardeners could put a garden out there,” Kathy Lovett said.
The idea of the garden was brought before school district officials, who fell in love with Kathy’s idea. It wasn’t long after the couple’s idea was introduced that the school district committed to a partnership with the Hall County Master Gardeners to create what is now called Gardens on Green.
The purpose of the garden was not only to create a space for plants to grow, but also to create an area where children can grow, expand their imaginations and build a love for nature.
During the warmer months of the year, groups of Hall County second graders visit the garden. At various centers positioned on the garden site, the students learn about the many types of plants grown in the garden, nutrition and the critters that visit the garden on a regular basis, according to Lee.
“They spend about 35 minutes at each center, thus rotating from one to the other,” Kathy said.
Included in the garden is an area of native plants, where each plant is one found growing naturally in Georgia soil. There's also a pollinator garden, which is visited by bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. A conifer garden was planted with sensory-friendly trees that are both prickly and soft-to-the-touch. Children can unlock their imaginations in a fairy garden complete with tiny homes and gems left behind by the mystical creatures. A literacy garden allows the children to explore places like Mr. McGregor’s House and Jack and Jill’s Hill. A vegetable and nutrition garden is used for the children to harvest fruits and vegetables, and they can even make smoothies thanks to a grant from Captain Planet, which provided the garden with a kitchen cart stocked with a Vitex blender. Of course, no garden would be complete without a butterfly garden, where children can watch the miracle of a butterfly’s life cycle.
The Lovetts' goal is to teach children to love gardening because when people are taught to love something, they take better care of it, Kathy said. Lee agrees, but he said there's the additional benefit of exposing students to the outdoors during a time when most children are immersed into the technological aspect of the world.
“Children are not exposed to nature anymore and any exposure we can give them is good,” Lee said.
The garden is used to instill values in the children who visit each year, helping them learn a sense of responsibility and delayed gratification, Kathy said.
“We have stories from several children who’ve had such great experiences here…it tells us that we are doing something right,” Kathy said.
In the future, the Lovetts want to expand the literacy garden and perhaps create additional space for children to feed their imaginations and develop a true sense of love for the common ground we share.