School garden project brings Avondale community together

Co-chair Carolyn Chandler (clockwise from bottom left), Jennifer Houpt and Carolyn Adams place stepping stones around three hand-painted totem poles in the new garden area in front of Avondale Elementary School which also features a lending library. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project.
PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Caption
Co-chair Carolyn Chandler (clockwise from bottom left), Jennifer Houpt and Carolyn Adams place stepping stones around three hand-painted totem poles in the new garden area in front of Avondale Elementary School which also features a lending library. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Two garden clubs in Avondale Estates wanted to beautify the town’s long-standing elementary school, and it seems the whole community came out to help.

Many had no connections to the school, yet they donated money, supplies, labor, artistic talents, and time to give Avondale Estates Elementary a new outdoor learning space.

The finished project provides an oasis for studies on the environment. There are hand-painted totem poles and birdhouses and an outdoor lending library filled with books about nature. Volunteers, dubbed The Diggers, dug up the overgrown, decades-old shrubs to make way for a Japanese maple, native plants and perennial pollinators.

A separate garden paved with tribute bricks honors former principals, teachers and students from the DeKalb County school, established in 1923.

Co-chair Carolyn Chandler places stepping stones around a lending library in the new garden area in front of Avondale Elementary School which also features hand-painted totem poles. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project.
PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Caption
Co-chair Carolyn Chandler places stepping stones around a lending library in the new garden area in front of Avondale Elementary School which also features hand-painted totem poles. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

The Avondale Estates and the Avon garden clubs used a grant from the National Garden Clubs, Inc., then added club funds to cover expenses. Members never expected to get so much help from the community.

One resident volunteered to power wash and paint metal benches in the garden areas; another gave books and money for the lending library. Even a landscaper with no connections to the school or community donated his labor to install the tribute bricks.

Carolyn Chandler, the Avon Garden Club’s youth committee chair, said the project brings the community and school together.

“The whole community has come together,” Chandler said. “I think COVID had a lot to do with it because people were bored, they were home, and they wanted something productive to do. They wanted to help the school. It’s just meshed beautifully.”

Avondale resident Ernie Ahlquist bought the cedar poles for the Totem Pole Garden and helped to build the lending library. He said he played only a small part, that the Avondale Artist Guild did most of the work by creating delightful paintings of animals reading, children playing and other whimsical designs.

Ahlquist attended Avondale Elementary, class of 1961, when the school went through seventh grade. He lived most of his adult life in nearby Decatur, then moved back to Avondale a few years ago. He said neighbor-helping-neighbor is “pretty much how Avondale runs.”

“Avondale is a community full of volunteers. It’s remarkable to see how many people chip in to make things happen,” Ahlquist said. “It’s just a remarkable place to live.”

Judy Coffee works on painting a birdhouse for the Totem Pole Garden at Avondale Elementary School. Courtesy of Carolyn Chandler
Caption
Judy Coffee works on painting a birdhouse for the Totem Pole Garden at Avondale Elementary School. Courtesy of Carolyn Chandler

Credit: Picasa

Credit: Picasa

Volunteers work on the new garden area at Avondale Elementary School that features hand painted-totem poles and a lending library. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project.
PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Caption
Volunteers work on the new garden area at Avondale Elementary School that features hand painted-totem poles and a lending library. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Principal Dontae Andrews said students and staff are always delighted to have community input and support. The community school of 400 students is an International Baccalaureate, and this year became STEM certified.

Both garden clubs have been active with the school, volunteering with the student garden and donating supplies. Before the pandemic, members would come once a week to help, Andrews said.

The principal said he was surprised to have such a project given to the school during the pandemic.

“Schools were closed, and even then, the community was thinking about our students, and teachers and staff, and how they could support the school. That’s huge,” Andrews said.

Avondale Estates is a small community of about 3,000, where neighbors know one another. Joan Lass of the Avondale Estates Garden Club said she “can’t get in a walk without stopping and talking to at least three people.”

Lass and Chandler, who both chaired the project, said everyone involved enjoyed getting out of their homes and being together again. Art guild members painted together in the school gym after a year of social distancing.

Faye Flowers Noble of the Avondale Artist Guild paints whimsical designs on one of the totem poles. Courtesy of Carolyn Chandler
Caption
Faye Flowers Noble of the Avondale Artist Guild paints whimsical designs on one of the totem poles. Courtesy of Carolyn Chandler

Credit: Picasa

Credit: Picasa

Lass said the pandemic made everyone stop and think about what’s important.

Chandler agreed: “I believe this has been the case everywhere during the pandemic, where people looked more at family and close friends, and not being on the go, go, go all the time. I think there have been some positives of stopping and re-evaluating.”

This Inspire was submitted by Bruce Johnston, an Avondale Estates resident.

WHAT’S INSPIRING ABOUT AVONDALE ELEMENTARY GARDEN PROJECT?

The revitalization project transforms the front entrance of the school into a welcoming, student-centered garden, with totem poles as its focal point, along with birdhouses and a little lending library.

The totems have student-decorated river rocks surrounding the bases. The lending library, built by local woodworkers, is stocked with age-appropriate gardening, environment, plant and bird books.

The Totem Garden project is a joint project of the Avondale Estates Garden Club and Avon Garden Club.

The new garden area in front of Avondale Elementary School features hand painted totem poles and a lending library. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project.
PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Caption
The new garden area in front of Avondale Elementary School features hand painted totem poles and a lending library. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Peggy Burgess (left) and Kerry Quinn work on a brick border in new garden area in front of Avondale Elementary School features hand painted totem poles and a lending library. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project.
PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Caption
Peggy Burgess (left) and Kerry Quinn work on a brick border in new garden area in front of Avondale Elementary School features hand painted totem poles and a lending library. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

The new garden area in front of Avondale Elementary School features hand-painted totem poles and a lending library. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project.
PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Caption
The new garden area in front of Avondale Elementary School features hand-painted totem poles and a lending library. The Avondale Estates Garden Club and the Avon Garden Club worked together on the project. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner