Breckenridge High School geometry students taught by Stacy Diaz were recently assigned adding a garden to the Sculpture Park and did an outstanding job incorporating landscaping and public usability through artistic geometric circles.

Parks are outdoor classrooms and green space with many benefits. An outdoor setting enhances concentration, motivation and learning. It is good when education and local infrastructure partner. We are grateful for new eyes that look at things in curious, different ways. That is an outcome of public art.

Hands-on projects provide lifelong education. A few students may make landscape architecture their career, but all will have homes or work at businesses that will benefit from creative outdoor space.

The listening panel includes Penny Seifert, a Master Gardener and Roger Jensen, a retired architectural drafting teacher. Both have years of experience and offered wise ideas.

Circles are helpful landscaping for maintenance. Equipment can easily follow a circle while corners often require extra, time-consuming maintenance.

The students created sketches, drawings and colored conceptual plans. It is invigorating to see how thoughts are communicated by the hand. Some professionals have done same on a napkin. It is a good idea to write down your thoughts to retain them. It was fun to see how some groups moved from ideas to drafts to final professional drawings. References to worldly landscapes showed the thought and contemplation that went into this project.

One or two trees were required in the plan. There is always good discussion about the right plant materials in our planting zone, ranging from 3B to 4A. It is OK to push the button and try new plants. North Dakota State University does the same thing at its Absaraka arboretum. The bright yellow fall colors of ginkgo especially looked like great additions to our park forest.

Many plans included fruit trees for local food use and pollinator plants which was very insightful. It showed how young people are cognizant of other needs in our cities and it makes sense to accomplish multiple good things when trees are planted. One group even had a watermelon planting. Good to think outside of traditional park plantings and consider edible gardens!

Students visited Landmark Landscaping in Breckenridge, Minnesota, to learn about the availability of plant materials. This was a wise choice. Often there are discounted prices at big box retailers but sometimes these plants are not native to our climate. We often overlook the knowledge of local horticulturists and foresters who are experienced and reliable mentors.

Shrubs, plants and flowers were incorporated into the landscaping plan. We discussed partner plants like planting hostas under trees, not in full sunlight. Features like weeping branches and dwarf specimens added interesting character.

Student presentations revealed their desire to offer color during multiple seasons, including trees with interesting features like birch with white, defoliating bark, red-twig dogwood to brighten the winter landscape and upright arborvitae to offer a unique evergreen look.

Mulching was another required element, a good thing. Park and urban trees are on their own, not protected by a natural forest. Most students used organic or wood mulch that breaks down and provides other benefits. We like to take advantage of local resources and often use chipped mulch from non-diseased trees.

Benches were incorporated for outdoor viewing, time for contemplation and rest. There was recognition about the importance of accessibility, including walkways at least three feet wide.

Cost estimates were prepared and students were very conservative, a good way to approach use of public dollars.

Water features like ponds and fountains were prominent and showed how water is captivating. We often see park users reading along the river, sharing space with ducks and geese and observing aquatic life.

The Sculpture Park invites art ideas and students suggested pergolas, arbors and statues. Art is 24-7 so lighting was often incorporated. One proposal featured solar-powered butterfly lights.

Wildlife features included bird baths, food-friendly trees and bird ponds. It is important to consider the critters we share space with. After all, we have disrupted their homes with our modern-day development.

Many of us are in the sunset of our lives. It is wonderful to see creative young people arising from the sunrises of their lives.

Wayne Beyer is the director of Wahpeton Parks and Rec.

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