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Girl Scout garden grows happiness

by Judi Biederman

What happens when you combine a love of gardening, concern for the environment and care for people with special needs? In the case of Sedona Malaney, the result was a beautiful recycled garden that earned her the prestigious Girl Scout Silver Award.

Sedona, the 13-year-old daughter of Norene and Andy Malaney of Langhorne, actually created two gardens at Parkwoods Care LLC, a residential facility for people with mental illness in Atco, NJ.

In addition to providing new outdoor settings for the residents, she also taught them how to plant and maintain their new gardens.

“I wanted to work with the mentally ill, give them something colorful and happy that they could enjoy,” Sedona remembers, explaining that she became aware of some needs at Parkwoods because her godmother is one of the administrators. “The places where the residents sat outdoors were dingy – there was not much space for people to sit, and the gardens were overgrown.”

Sedona, an eighth-grader at Our Lady of Grace, realized she needed money, supplies and help to get her project going, so she started by reaching out to local businesses.

Then she held a yard sale of donated items from family and friends, raising $250.

Part of the money was used right away to buy supplies, including gloves, primer, paint, and paint brushes, to prepare all the recyclable materials she had received.

Sedona designed the new garden spaces herself, using the footprints of the old ones.

The administrator at Parkwoods not only liked and approved the plans, she was so impressed that Parkwoods also donated money to the project.

Sedona’s Cadette Girl Scout Troop 2307, of which Norene is co-leader, pitched in to help. “My troop was there every step of the way and did everything they could to help,” Sedona says. “They helped paint, they helped with tearing out the existing gardens and building the final gardens.”

Norene says that a big part of the project was prepping all the recycled materials used in the project. “They became a huge, colorful stack of stuff as the girls came over every week to paint,” she remembers. Recycled elements in the gardens include benches made from wooden pallets, tables made from wooden electrical cord spools and borders made from tires.

While preparing the recyclables took a lot of time, Sedona says cleaning up the old gardens was very hard work. “Some of the weeds were as big as trees,” she remembers.

In leading her team to complete the project, Sedona says she gained skills in leadership, project management, time management, and responsibility. “The hardest thing was learning how to lead, teaching people to do things the correct way, and keeping them on task,” she says. “I learned that you have to keep people on track to get stuff done. I also learned that to be a good leader you have to be open to other people’s suggestions.”    

After nearly eight months of planning and work, Sedona used the rest of the donated money to buy flowers, mulch and decorations for the gardens. “After all that time, the garden got done in two Sundays,” says Norene. “It was neat to see how fast it became a garden, then how fast the residents made it their own. Within a week there were umbrellas and lights.”

In setting up the gardens, Sedona and her team placed the benches, tables and decorative tire borders they had created and then planted flowers around them.

As they worked, they taught the Parkwoods residents about gardening, including how to water, weed, replant flowers in the spring, and maintain the garden to keep it looking nice.

“They were really excited to take care of the flowers,” says Sedona. “It made them part of the process and gave them a purpose.”

Now that the project is done, Sedona isn’t sure who is happier – her, or the Parkwoods residents. “The greatest feeling was when I finished the gardens and everybody told me how much they loved them,” she says. “The huge smiles on their faces warmed my heart, and I am so glad I was able to make a nice, peaceful place where they can enjoy themselves.”

Best of all, the results of her efforts have lived up to the title Sedona gave her project when she first proposed it as worthy of the Girl Scout Silver Award: “The Recycled Garden of Happiness.”

PHOTO CAP: Sedona Malaney with one of her gardens at Parkwoods Care, LLC