Garden blooms under students’ care at Del Mar Heights School

A garden is steadily coming to life at Del Mar Heights School — a charming little corner of the playground filled with Anna apple trees, pink guava, blueberries, sage, mint and lemon balm.

Through the school’s Garden Club, which met for the first time this year on Jan. 28, students are helping tend to the Del Mar Heights Nature Center Garden, behind the school’s mosaic serpent bench with ocean views across the playground.

The garden has been undergoing a multiyear renovation, said Amy Chelesnik, the education vice president of the Del Mar Heights PTA, who co-chairs the Nature Center projects with Shana Khoury. One of the biggest projects was removing a chain link fence that ran through the middle of the garden.

“It really opened it up,” Chelesnik said. “Now students are coming at recess and the garden is full. They’re playing in here, which is just what we wanted.”

After school on Jan. 28, students and their parents worked together, hammering garden signs into the earth that they had decorated in December.

“We’ve been excited for a while about getting these signs up,” Chelesnik said.

The activity was a challenge, as not only did the students have to put the painted wooden signs together, but they also had to find and identify the plant they were marking.

The center is designed to provide an outdoor space for hands-on learning in a multitude of subjects like science, health, math, language arts and creative expression.

Activities include planting and harvesting, healthy and natural food prep, butterfly husbandry and learning about water irrigation, collecting and conservation.

The Nature Center includes a greenhouse, workspace complete with a sink, rows of benches, student artwork, and a tabletop full of succulents in bloom.

The garden also has worm-composting buckets embedded in several spots. Chelesnik said they are making good progress using organic food trash for the worms to recycle into soil. She just has to educate the more inquisitive kids not to dig up the buckets to check out the worms.

Last week, students needed help finding the little beginnings of plants just starting to bloom from geranium and bright orange nasturtium, strawberries, persimmons, raspberries, Mandarin oranges and the grapes, which Chelesnik said were huge last year.

Right now, the garden may be home to lots of fruit but not as many vegetables. The harvest of vegetables like icicle radishes will come after the next round of renovations on Feb. 22, when the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church comes out to help the school for its annual Community Serve Day. Volunteers will remove a large planter and replace it with six new planters, one for each grade level to work in. The veggies will be planted in the new cluster of boxes.

The next big learning event for Heights students in the garden will be on March 1 as part of their “Inside the Outdoors” series. The kids will be learning about hydroponics.