South Mountain Annex beautifies grounds with perennials and grasses

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — On May 12 at the South Mountain Annex, students, parents, teachers and volunteers collaborated to create a new opportunity for nature on the school’s grounds. The effort is part of an ongoing project that began with the desire to get children outdoors for active learning and play. The vision is to transform the annex into an ecological wonderland that offers direct interaction and discovery of nature. Sustainability and design are a cornerstone for the project.

More than 120 kindergarteners and first-graders were involved. They assisted nearly a dozen parents and volunteers to plant 450 native perennials and grasses at the annex. These plants were selected to thrive in the natural conditions of the school, where it can be shady and wet during large parts of the year. The children planted native plants such as Pycnanthemum muticum, Lobelia cardinalis, Lobelia siphilitica, Carex cherokeensis, Carex muskingumensis, Juncus effuses and many others. The plants installed were smaller landscape plugs that will grow and mature throughout the remaining spring and into the summer. Because the area is normally moist, all of the plants will likely survive without needing any irrigation.

The May 12 planting was the second part of a two-stage effort. The entire planting for the school included nearly 1,000 plants. The first part of the effort occurred on Earth Day, April 22, this year where parents, volunteers and children planted more than 500 plants.

All of this planting is to bring to life a master plan completed for the school during the winter of 2017 by chambersdesign. The co-founder of the design company, Neil Chambers, has a son at the annex. Originally, he was asked to get involved by Andrea Garrido, a parent of an annex student and member of the recess committee.

The South Mountain Annex master plan looks to embrace the natural conditions of the space. Stormwater is an issue throughout the grounds. Where many projects would try to eliminate the rainwater runoff, the master plan sees it as an essential building block for creating a healthy, vibrant ecosystem where children can play and learn within nature.

The April 22 and May 12 plantings are only the beginning of the process. Other aspects of the master plan are being developed for installation throughout 2017 and 2018.

Photos Courtesy of Neil Chambers