Imagine a place where wildlife comes to visit, flowers and vegetables grow and sunlight filtering through a canopy of trees offers a place to climb, jump, run and play, and you could find yourself in Sunplace Special - A Children's Garden.
Meandering pathways, a giant birds' nest suitable for playing inside, bridges, tunnels and brightly painted logs carved perfectly for sitting are just part of the configuration that includes eight themed gardens connected by natural pathways, all geared directly to children.
The idea for the garden began in 2007 as a class project for Master Gardeners in training at Trumbull County's Ohio State University Extension's Research, Education and Demonstration gardens located at 520 W. Main St. in Cortland. Sunplace Special has been a work in progress since the design was first put on paper.
Certified Trumbull County Master Gardener Susan Berlin works on the giant birds’ nest in Sunplace Special — A Children’s Garden at the Trumbull County Agricultural and Family Education Center, 520 W. Main St. in Cortland. The children’s garden is the only one of its kind in Trumbull County and was developed as a project by the 2007 Master Gardener class at The Ohio State University Extension, Trumbull County.
''It originally was all woods,'' Sunplace Special coordinator and Master Gardener Monica Parkhurst said. ''We started by clearing out all damaged and diseased trees and worked to eradicate poison ivy from the area.
''Even though we were a new class, we had experienced Master Gardeners helping us,'' Parkhurst said.
Since construction began in the various gardens, donations of plants came from Master Gardeners' own gardens as well as leftovers from annual plant sales. The cost of the gardens and all structures were funded by donations and fundraisers. The work was done by volunteers from the community, including Boy Scouts and by Master Gardener volunteers.
The area around the offices that house OSU Extension, the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Trumbull County Farm Bureau also boasts wetlands, a pond, walking trails and the main public garden that is a part of the Master Gardener volunteer research and educational programs.
The project consists of eight theme gardens connected by meandering pathways both in and out of the wooded area situated at the top of a hill on West Main Street between the former Delphi complex and Mosquito Lake. Each of the eight gardens is maintained by a Master Gardener volunteer chairman and volunteers. Parkhurst coordinates with garden chairs and schedules meetings. The volunteers have a standing work session at 5 p.m. each Monday.
The eight gardens consist of:
The Five Senses Garden uses plants and structures as a way to stimulate each of the senses of touch, taste, smell, hear and sight.
The Reading Garden stimulates an interest in reading by using plants and garden structures to relate to words and letters as children see them in storybooks.
The Kitchen Garden educates parents and children about growing their own food and offers information on increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet.
Birds and Butterfly Garden show visitors how to create a favorable habitat for native birds and butterflies by demonstrating plants that attract wildlife.
Barnyard Garden educates visitors on Ohio's natural foods, including grains and vegetables for healthy living. The garden also is designed to show the beauty of a farm setting and offers a sanctuary for peaceful living.
Fairy Garden is a garden of whimsy that stimulates the imagination and educates children about folklore and myth.
The Hands-On Garden is an interactive environment where children and parents can gain an awareness about our natural surroundings. The design of the garden encourages children to participate and stimulates creativity.
The Wildlife Watch Garden not only introduces backyard gardening techniques, but also teaches ways to attract and encourage wildlife by creating habitats that encourage natural pest controls.
Wildlife Watch Garden chair Susan Berlin, who designed and built the large, human-sized bird's nest, used all natural materials in the garden.
''Everything is made from on-site materials,'' Berlin said.
The biggest challenges in the wildlife area were dealing with deer that ate a lot of the plants, Berlin said.
''We put hair around all around in the gardens last week and it seems to have helped,'' Berlin said.
Volunteers also had to add soil amendments after trenching for the electric and water lines due to heavy clay that was overturned and having virtually no budget is always a challenge, Berlin said.
Each year they try to accomplish one major project, Parkhurst said. Last year it was getting the water and electric lines run to the garden and this year the volunteers hope to complete the hardscaping of the pathways.
''We try to make our main goal each year,'' Parkhurst said.
Throughout the season, tours are always scheduled through the gardens. Children from Lakeview schools come during the school year.
Recently the Cloverbuds, children ages 4 and 5 from the 4-H program, visited the gardens. Families come in the evenings and walk through the garden, Parkhurst said.
''It gives us great joy when we see the kids enjoying it,'' said Anne Whitfield, chair of the Fairy Gardens.