Fruits, veggies and kids’ books flourish at Children’s Story Garden

Harriet Arkley talks to kids about gardening at Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale in the summer of 2017.
Harriet Arkley talks to kids about gardening at Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale in the summer of 2017. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

From storybook-theme gardens to worm bins, scavenger hunts and houses for bugs, there’s plenty to educate and entertain green-thumb kids at the Children’s Story Garden at Hovander Homestead Park.

The garden was created 10 years ago as a community project by members of the Master Gardeners Program at WSU Whatcom County Extension.

The garden, which is near the historic Hovander farmhouse, opens by May 1 and closes mid-October. It’s open during park hours. Admission is generally free, with a fee charged only during special events. Hovander Homestead Park is at 5299 Neilsen Ave., Ferndale

Most children who visit the garden range in age from 4 to 10.

The garden features seven raised beds in a circle, with each bed planted with a children’s book in mind. For example, one bed has beans that grow up a tepee, with a “Jack and the Beanstalk” book tucked into a container in the bed, said Harriet Arkley, who helped create the garden 10 years ago.

Arkley previously was the principal of an elementary school in Illinois that had its own garden. After moving to Bellingham, she helped run a gardening club for students at Ten Mile Creek Elementary School. Peg Nathon later joined her, and they began discussing the idea of a permanent children’s garden in the community.

They scouted locations and worked out an agreement with county parks officials and with the Master Gardener Foundation of Whatcom County for the kids’ garden at Hovander. Nathon is still active in gardening programs at Hovander.

Arkley recently stepped down as president of the foundation, but plans to stay involved with the Hovander garden as a weekly volunteer.

“I am still passionate about the values inherent in pairing children and parents with nature,” she said.

Pam Newland, who coordinates the Children’s Story Garden, moved to Whatcom County in 2014 from the Portland, Ore., area after a 35-year career in nursing. She enrolled in the Master Garden course the following year.

“It had been on my bucket list, since I always enjoyed working in the garden for stress relief and was anxious to do some volunteer work now that I’m retired and have more time,” she said.

In the past, children could plant, care for, and harvest vegetables at the Hovander garden over the course of the summer. That option ended last year because of a shortage of Master Gardener-trained volunteers to work with the kids.

So starting last year, the focus shifted to self-guided activities for drop-in youngsters and their parents. Such activities include a scavenger hunt in which children look for corn, carrots, beans, strawberries and other produce growing in the garden.

Kids and their parents can read the storybook associated with each raised bed, plus books about Paul Bunyan, another storybook character associated with the game. Kids also can enjoy the friendly scarecrows that keep watch over the garden, step inside a sunflower shelter, learn about and watch worms in a worm bid, see and learn about carnivorous plants, learn about and watch bugs that are beneficial to gardens, and learn about and observe plant roots visible through a see-through box.

“These are some of the things we’ve added to make the garden more interactive,” Newland said.

Newland and other Master Gardener volunteers work at the garden Wednesday mornings. Kids are welcome to watch and learn then, and to nibble produce while they visit. Produce they don’t eat is donated to Ferndale Food Bank. Groups such as preschool and kindergarten classes are welcome to schedule visits for tours and storytime, too.

Whether in a group or on a family outing, kids who visit the garden will find plenty of other attractions while at the park. Open fields, farm animals, a playground, and a large historic barn and farmhouse have long attracted families to Hovander.

Kids and parents interested in nature can also visit several other demonstration gardens near the Hovander farmhouse. One garden displays herbs used in history and the present. There’s also a separate culinary herb garden, a weed identification garden, a dahlia garden, a native plant garden, a vegetable garden, and a garden each for annuals and perennials.

Summer-long classes for kids to plant, tend, and harvest produce at the Story Garden are still possible, if enough new volunteers step forward to help after they complete Master Gardener training.

“We’re really hoping for more volunteers,” Newland said.


To arrange a group visit to the Children’s Story Garden, contact Pam Newland at childrensstorygarden@yahoo.com. To see and learn more about the Story Garden, go to http://whatcom.wsu.edu/mastergardener/csg/index.html. For more about WSU Whatcom County Master Gardeners Program, call 360-778-5811 or email childrensstorygarden@yahoo.com.