By Kalea Hall
The Mill Creek MetroParks’ Fellows Riverside Gardens keeps on growing and getting closer to the master plan developed by the parks board and friends of the gardens.
The recent purchase of the home at 116 McKinley Ave. for $40,000 is a part of the master plan to expand and eventually take over the street and develop a new entrance at South Whitney Avenue.
The plan is to create a more-inviting entrance, add more outdoor learning to the family garden, improve horticulture areas, add bike paths and become more connected to the gardens’ neighborhood.
“I think people need to be aware of nature and how important it is to us,” said Keith Kaiser, horticulture director for the gardens.
The master plan, or Gardens Northwest Project, began in 2008 and is expected to be complete within 15 or more years.
In 2008, the master plan started with expanding pathways and making them wheelchair- and stroller-accessible and connecting some of the paths. Additionally over the years, the Seasonal Celebration Plaza was added as well as the Ohio Woodland Garden, which contains only plants native to Northeast Ohio. Another project being worked on is a canopy-tree walk, which will allow visitors to walk above certain areas in the gardens.
All of the projects being worked on and the future projects in store are being paid for through the Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens and a $500,000 grant from the Davis Foundation.
The Family Garden is one area that is a priority for expansion. Children now can go into the garden to play in the dirt, explore, learn about plants and bugs, eat vegetables right out of the gardens and visit with the butterflies and bees. The bees are a new asset to the garden just added in May.
“I see some creativity for the children and some whimsical places where they can go and discover on their own,” said Lori Moward, part-time education manager at the gardens.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Friday is Family Garden Day until Oct. 4. Last week, there were 134 people at the event.
“These Fridays have been so popular,” Kaiser said.
The growth of the family garden and even the regular gardens, which host 400,000 people every year, led to the need for a larger place for children to learn in a living environment. The future family garden will be five to six times larger than the current one and will include a Living Learning Center, or a teaching greenhouse, a teaching tunnel and other areas for learning that will be surrounded in an urban environment.
In other words, it is the prettiest part of the project to be remodeled on the 12 acres, Kaiser said. “I call it the seedling of a garden place for kids.”
Kaiser said there is no actual deadline to complete the master plan, and there is no expected cost yet. While growing, the gardens have stayed true to being a free, public garden just like Elizabeth Fellows, the donator of the land, wanted.
Casey Selar, executive director of the American Public Gardens Association, said community gardens are a growing trend and are vital to the community — and the community support is vital for the gardens to have.
“Public gardens are indispensable to their communities,” Selar said. “They are cultural and historical resources, and they are strong community connections.”