Storybook Dreams Becoming Reality

A passion for gardening and for teaching sparked an idea for Judy Wait that developed into a learning center and visitor’s destination for the whole community.

Retired from full-time teaching, Wait continued to teach through school gardening in Hanford elementary schools. She considered the possibility of opening a community garden across from Martin Luther King High School, but, a fellow member of the Hanford Garden Club expounded on the idea of starting a community children’s garden.

The summer of 2011, Wait and her husband, Larry, planned a vacation revolving around visiting children’s gardens around the country. With a lot of research, the top of her list was the Bookworm Gardens in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. She was not disappointed and there she learned what other stops could be added, or crossed off her list.

“She was spot on,” Wait said of the Bookworm Gardens representative.

Also, that representative suggested Wait join the American Horticultural Society which hosts a National Children and Youth Garden symposium every year. Wait has not been disappointed, from the gardens they visited to the advice given.

The spark grew into a huge flame of volunteers and cooperation leading to a non-profit organization, the purchase of property, donation of a museum building and plans for one acre of gardening, education and fun.

The future home of the Children’s Storybook Museum and Gardens is located at the corner of Harris and Tenth in downtown Hanford. The property is located adjacent to the county library, where it can share a parking lot and is a short distance to the town’s square.

And, while the Hanford Garden Club members have played an important role in its conception, and future, Storybook is a separate entity, Wait said.

The property was purchased from Bill Clark, who donated the Burr House, built in 1909, along with a tank house and tool shed. Other donations kept on coming including a grant from the City of Hanford for curbs, gutters and sidewalks. Designing expertise has come through John Zumwalt of Zumwalt, Hansen and Associates, along with plans and blueprints, which has all been donated. Other donations include the use of temporary fencing surrounding the property, and irrigation systems to be installed throughout the gardens. Heating and air conditioning systems for the museum, kitchen and restrooms have also been donated.

To date, there is not a lot to look at, with the Burr House being placed on its new foundation, and the tank house place and freshly painted by volunteers. But, the plans for this one-acre parcel are huge. The Burr House will sport an addition and will be the focal point as a local museum. A carriage house is to be built along with many small houses and gardens taken straight out of fairy tales and other books.

Included are such themed gardens, homes and spots such as Monet’s Cottage and Van Gogh’s Garden. Peter Rabbit and his family will have a garden with a useable tunnel to Mr. McGregor’s Garden, and the Three Little Pigs will also have their own garden with bricks, sticks and straw. And, of course, there will be a Secret Garden.

The Hanford Garden Club is sponsoring and designing a Blue-Star Memorial dedicated to local veterans. Sponsors for many of the other gardens are still being sought, while some already have had the naming rights purchased, Wait said.

Plans have been developed for a barn-like structure as the indoor-outdoor classroom, which will include a kitchen. And, a three-story treehouse and a stone cottage will be built. A shallow creek with recycled water will run through the property with boating and wading opportunities.

Well named as a children’s museum and gardens, the location is aimed at children of all ages.

“One of the things that is really, really important to our group, is that we are accessible to everyone,” Wait said.

A Green Teen program is in the works, for teenagers to learn to read to younger children.

The gardens will also be available for various rentals including small meeting groups, book clubs and weddings. There will be cooking classes and wine tastings. It will be open to the public and as a destination for school groups, and while Kings County schools will have priority when first openings, groups from anywhere can arrange to attend, Wait said.

There will also be a café and bistro open to the public.

The museum and gardens will be environmentally friendly with some solar-power and low-flow water usage measures. Drought-tolerant plants will be utilized as much as possible, Wait said.

“This is an investment in the community,” she said. “And the community is all for it.”

Hanford Mayor Russ Curry concurred.

“My personal opinion is that I support it, 100 percent,” Curry said. “It promotes proper health for children, first of all, and it gives children something to do in the garden.”

Curry said it is a perfect location, within walking distance to the town square and other local attractions.

“Tons and tons of children come on field trips to downtown Hanford,” he said, “and what a wonderful place for them to get to visit.”

While expectations were originally set for Children’s Storybook to open this year, it will not happen until 2016.

“We are thinking that next year, we will open with what we have, and will continue to open in phases,” Wait said.

For more information and to volunteer or donate, view, www.childrensstorybookgarden.org/ or call, 559-341-4845.

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