Enchanted Forest coming to life at Abbey Gardens
By Darren Lum
Published Jan. 31, 2017
Bringing the Enchanted Forest to life this summer will require discarded items from all over the county to be repurposed for outdoor learning at Abbey Gardens.
The enchanted forest will be half a kilometre southeast of the gardens’ hub and on about half an acre. It will have a main trail to five areas; an off-trail art gallery; mud kitchen; a construction area; book nook; and a theatre/meeting space where there will be chests full of props, an area for an audience and stage to perform.
Although this space is being planned and executed by four Haliburton Home School students Olivia Humphries, Lilli Ramsdale, Helen Williams and Anabelle Craig, ages nine to 13, the project’s consultant Brandon Jarvis is offering her experience and guidance.
The early childhood educator will be drawing upon experience from creating a similar outdoor space on her own property.
She wants anything you don’t want.
What a person discards, she said, can be repurposed for another function.
She holds up a piece of wood, which used to be a chair.
“Building blocks are really expensive. This was thrown out and no good. All I did was cut it up and sanded it down and put beeswax on it. So, the idea is anything,” she said.
Jarvis believes there are many things found at the landfill sites that could be repurposed with the right vision. It’s an important concept to grasp for not just adults, but also children.
“It isn’t necessarily what you think. It’s not plastic kids’ toys. That’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for things you might look at and see scrap metal. It’s really cool looking. I don’t know what it is, but it’s cool. I want to see it,” she said.
She remembers using an old boat and filling it with sand to create a sandbox for her children.
Imagination is the only limit.
“The kids, they’re already there thinking that way, but it’s more the adults that have to [struggle] when they look at things and wonder what could it be,” she said.
The mother came up with the idea because of her five children, four of her own and one step-daughter, ranging in age from one to 13.
“The inspiration was wanting to get them out and playing. And it’s just seeing things being discarded and imagining what it could be,” she said.
At her home, her area features a mud pit to settle disputes, mud kitchen and a water lab that allow her children to stir, pour and mix liquids. It uses a variety of repurposed materials such as a convex mirror, glass doors, tires, a skylight and a flat mirror.
All of it is to provide her children the freedom to create and express.
“I want my kids to grow up understanding that creativity ... is huge. It’s so important. That’s problem solving,” she said, referring to how an example with her daughter demonstrated the ability to use a piece of wood multiple ways.
“I’m just so passionate about allowing them to play and to come up with ideas themselves,” she said.
She said anything has the potential to be magical in the right context and perspective.
Jarvis describes the purpose of the forest as an opportunity to facilitate education, art and play. The benefits don’t just start and stop with the children, as it benefits everyone the children come into contact with. The free space allows for physical exercise and a creative outlet.
Even though the forest is not yet completed, the learning has already begun for the students.
In the effort to transfer Jarvis’s idea to Abbey Gardens, a few challenges confronted the senior Haliburton Home School students. One of them was the practicality of implementing some ideas such as a treehouse in the sky. Jarvis admired how the students deliberated about addressing concerns they were likely to face by the Gardens’ landowners.
“There was a lot of listening to them go through the steps. Very cool,” she said.
One of the main parameters for this enchanted forest, Jarvis said, was to keep this space related to the theme of nature, which reflects Abbey Gardens’ mandate. For instance, if a chessboard was to be added it could use rocks or the pieces could be created instead of plastic pieces.
The students were amenable to compromise.
“I didn’t need to say much to get them to think that way,” she said.
The planning started in September and the effort has shifted to collection.
For any item that cannot be collected, Jarvis said, this time of year is ideal to write up pitch letters to send to possible donors. In October, the students made a presentation to Gardens’ staff about their idea and plans, including a walk through of the grounds.
Once the snow melts, Jarvis wants to start with a grand opening tentatively expected this summer. This will be open to everyone.
Jarvis’s wishlist includes a diverse range of items to repurpose: wooden furniture like bed frames, chairs, bookcases, tables; building materials such as pipes, light fixtures; scrap materials such as wood and metal; kitchen items like utensils, pots and pans, dishes, table linens; creative art supplies like easels, whiteboards, chalkboards, carving tools and decorative and multi-purpose items such as tree stumps, mirrors, frames, fabric and rope.
“Anything. Anything you see. And I will come and get it,” she said.
Contact Brandon Jarvis on her cellphone at 705-854-1098 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.