Students Create Meditation Garden at Hawthorn Glen

What was once an empty plot of land, strewn with rocks and weeds, is now a place of quiet contemplation. Over the span of approximately a month, students in Julia Kirchner’s “Building Community” Service Learning course transformed a barren space in the corner of Hawthorn Glen into a meditation garden.

Hawthorn Glen is a 23-acre nature center owned by Milwaukee Public Schools that is part of its outdoor education program. It includes a trail connecting five different habitats with diverse plant and animal life, as well as a small nature museum, and offers recreational and educational activities. It is a popular field trip destination, especially for kindergarten, first, and second grades from all the elementary schools in Milwaukee. The center also hosts evening and weekend family programs and is often visited by neighborhood residents to enjoy hiking and spending time outdoors. Although Hawthorn Glen is a large draw, MPS is a fairly low-income, urban school district, and as such, has little funding that can be used for the area’s upkeep and environmental restoration.

Julia brought her own class to the center to examine a vacant, weeded space on the corner of the property that was much in need of attention. It was a clean slate filled with potential for a summer service project. How could the students make this space more welcoming and turn it into something of use to Hawthorn Glen and its visitors?

Students discussed and debated how they could best put their creative skillsets to work, engaging in a process of collaborative ideation. The decision agreed upon would be a natural, multipurpose space or “meditation garden.” The entire project was student designed, while employees joined in with its construction. Such a process would take them through an exercise in learning to work in concert with each other and the land.

To begin, the covering of weeds was removed and then replaced by native wildflowers, blueberry bushes, and small trees. Discs cut from tree trunks were painted with animal designs and set on top of stones in the center pathway. Students also constructed tables made from recycled, painted skateboard ramps mounted on top of tree stumps. Other particularly notable additions were the three benches built in the style created by the father of American conservationism, Aldo Leopold, in his memory. Leopold resided in Wisconsin for much of his life and dedicated his efforts to understanding and practicing an ethical relationship between man and land. The sign painted by students as a theme for the meditation garden was a quote from Leopold:

“That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”

                        – Aldo Leopold

This is quite a notion to contemplate for all who visit Hawthorn Glen.


Gallery – Creating a Meditation Garden at Hawthorn Glen:


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