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5 Questions for Lee and Kathy Lovett
0416HOME-FIVELovetts

About Lee and Kathy Lovett

Age: Lee is 69, Kathy is 68
Hometown: Lee is from St. Mary’s, Kathy is from Cochran
Length of time here: 43 years
Education: Lee, bachelor’s degree from Valdosta State, master’s in education/education specialist from University of Georgia; Kathy, bachelor’s degree from Tift College, master’s in education, University of Georgia.
Occupation: Lee is deputy superintendent of Hall County Schools. Kathy is a retired teacher who taught high school English and elementary school gifted students.
Most interesting job: Lee, administering the $200 million plus budget for the Hall County School system (“although maybe not as much fun as my selling popcorn at the movies when I was 12.”); Kathy, developing and co-directing Summer SEARCH, Hall County Schools’ summer program for gifted elementary students.
Family information: Three daughters and sons-in law, Lisa and Jason Leiter of Marietta; Jill and Mark Kelly of Flowery Branch; Kathryn and Shane Kornberg of Cohutta; six grandchildren, Eliza Kate, Max, Claire and Charlotte Leiter, Hannah Grace Kornberg, Lilly Kelly

Each Monday, “5 Questions” asks someone in our community to answer five questions about their lives. If you know someone who would be a good subject for this feature, send their name and contact information to news@gainesvilletimes.com.

Lee and Kathy Lovett have spent successful careers as educators. But their newest passion is a little different. They’ve turned the green space next to the Hall County Schools central office on Green Street into an educational garden for the county’s schoolchildren. Today, we ask the Lovetts five questions about the Gardens on Green.

 

1. How did you become involved in Gardens on Green?

Lee: Actually it was my wife who planted the idea. As a relatively new Hall County Master Gardener with lots of enthusiasm, Kathy had an “aha” moment one day as she was helping us (giving advice) add a few foundation plants at the back of the Education Building on Green Street. Looking at the rather unsightly lot adjoining the building and parking lot, she saw gardens. The land was unused and void of plant life except for a little grass and native trees being threatened by a takeover of ivy.

Kathy’s vision was that a cooperative effort between the Hall County School System and Hall County Master Gardeners could turn the space into educational gardens. With support and approval from School Superintendent Will Schofield, then Hall County Extension Agent Billy Skaggs and Hall County Master Gardeners, planning and work began.

Kathy: Believing strongly in the gardens as a place for “growing together,” I was very excited when we planted the first garden in 2008 — the Garden of Winners, a place for Georgia Gold Medal plants and other award winners. East Hall High horticulture students and third- through fifth-grade Junior Master Gardeners literally joined hands with Hall County Master Gardeners in planting it. Since then, through similar volunteer efforts, we have added five additional gardens: Native Gardens, Butterfly Garden, Children’s Vegetable Garden, Conifer Garden, and a Deer Resistant Garden.

A steering committee has guided the growth and programming of the gardens, and Lee and I have continued to serve as chairmen of that committee.

 

2. Why do you think such an outdoor classroom is important for children?

We think so because our goals in the Gardens are guided by the simple educational philosophy of John Dewey: “We learn by doing.” Gardens on Green, and other such classrooms, provide those real opportunities for doing. Whether it’s planting a seed, watering a plant, pruning a shrub or harvesting fruits and vegetables, children learn how by doing it. They learn that our food doesn’t have to come from 1,500 miles away, which is the average for most food we eat.

They learn words such as “annual” and “perennial,” for example, by planting them and understanding their differences. They learn the life cycle of a butterfly by watching caterpillars in the Butterfly Garden and seeing the chrysalis waiting to become a butterfly. They learn the details of a plant by touching it, smelling it or drawing it. They learn the value of service to others through acts such as saving seeds for someone else to plant or harvesting vegetables and fruits for someone less fortunate to enjoy.

As the Junior Master Gardener motto says, a garden is an opportunity for “growing good kids.” It’s not only a place for their growing plants, but also a place for their growing as responsible citizens. It’s a place where they grow healthier simply by being there. It’s a place for connecting with the great outdoors and for connecting with the community through this shared common ground.

 

3. What kind of reaction, involvement do you get from the kids who visit the Gardens?

Most are very excited as they make discoveries — whether finding tiny hemlock cones on the ground, a butterfly chrysalis on parsley, a tomato almost hidden, or a huge sweet potato buried in the soil. Spinning around in the Conifer Garden one day, a third-grader squealed, “Oh, I wish this were my backyard!” Her enthusiasm is quite typical of the excitement we often see.

Though some have had gardening experiences, perhaps the majority have not. An exception to that is found in the groups of Junior Master Gardeners who visit. (There are about 300 JMGs in our area schools — third-, fourth-, fifth-graders.)

 

4. What plants do you like to grow?

Lee: I love growing vegetables and fruits, gaining that love from my mother. Though I am a Master Gardener on paper, she was a true “master gardener,” teaching me how to grow what we ate and how to cook it. I especially love guiding children in growing those same vegetables — turnips, collards, potatoes, green beans, okra, corn, tomatoes, squash, watermelons and others.

I, too, have grown to love conifers because there is such a variety available, adding year-round interest to almost any part of a landscape.

Kathy: Though I have come to love growing vegetables and fruits, especially enjoying children’s excitement as we grow together, my real love is flowering perennials and shrubs. At the top of my spring blooming list are very low-maintenance Lenten roses, daffodils and several viburnums — all deer-resistant.

Summer favorites are peonies, Autumn Joy sedum, Becky daisies, Happy Returns daylilies, coral bells, coneflowers and almost every variety of hydrangea. Some of my favorite evergreens to anchor these deciduous plants are Autumn fern, ground cover Angelina sedum, Japanese plum yew and several varieties of cryptomeria. Like Lee, I have grown to love conifers. (Please visit The Conifer Garden at Gardens on Green to see many of the options available in size, shape, color and texture.)

 

5. How would you like to see the gardens grow in the future?

Kathy: “The flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.” So says the sign at the entrance to Gardens on Green. With a commitment to that awareness, we continue to plan and plant for the future, adding new plants and creating new possibilities for learning. I especially envision the addition of many child-friendly elements, making teaching and learning a natural process for those who visit.

I envision learning stations that grab a child’s attention during a family’s self-guided tour. I envision a garden comparable to children’s gardens we’ve visited in several cities, a garden that becomes a destination place in Gainesville for families and more and more groups of children.

We expect Gardens on Green to grow as each garden has grown thus far — through the generosity of donations and thousands and thousands of volunteer hours. We continue to apply for grants, seek donations and add bricks as requested in honor or memory of someone ($100 per brick). For further info or to make a donation, please email lee.lovett@hallco.org.

Lee: This partnership between the Hall County School System and Hall County Master Gardeners is a good one, a natural endeavor where each benefits from the other and provides better services for the community. As we move forward with plans for increased programming and the addition of engaging elements in the Gardens, there will be opportunities for individuals and businesses to invest financially in our “growing good kids” through gardening.

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