by Nicki, Youth Programs Developer, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Every year in the Children’s Garden we decorate a chosen tree, the Wildlife Tree, created with ornaments to feed the squirrels, birds, and other Garden critters during the wintertime. The tree we selected is an 8’ cut evergreen, similar to the Christmas tree you may have in your living room. We also strung lights on the tree which will hopefully help our outdoor residents find a midnight snack. There is thought put in to the construction of the ornaments; they are made with select edibles appropriate for the native wildlife. The ornaments we created this year were an assortment of treats — dried fruit icicles, raisin icicles, Cheerio hearts, birdseed wreaths and angels, and the classic birdseed pinecone. Once all of the tasty parts are eaten off, the base of the ornaments (pinecones and pipe cleaners) are easily reusable. The attracting snacks create great bird-watching opportunities as well as potential educational moments for our classes and visitors.
There is another extra-special touch to these treats. This year, Dominion School for Autism assisted in the making and hanging of ornaments for our Wildlife Tree. Dominion School for Autism is one of our participating schools enrolled in the Vocational Program, directed by myself, the Garden’s Youth Programs Developer. Participants in the Vocational Program volunteer at the Garden in order to get supplement career enrichment and work experiences. The youth participants not only build their resumes and references but are also exposed to socialization with community members. The students from Dominion School for Autism are an especially dedicated group that we can depend on. They are also a sweet-spirited bunch of young adults who love to tell jokes and make us smile.
Dominion School for Autism participates in horticulture and office opportunities within the Vocational Program. This fall, the program also expanded into food service opportunities here at the Garden and we are hoping to continue to find new opportunities, so keep a look out for more information.