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    Scout jump starts effort to revive school garden

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 30, 2003

    Ten years had passed, but a forgotten garden at Oldsmar Elementary School had managed to survive.

    "It's proof xeriscaping does work," said Jeri Antozzi of Oldsmar, a former fourth-grade teacher at the school. Antozzi, her students and a volunteer, the late A.J. Peterson, had planted the garden. Peterson died in 1999 at the age of 80.

    Antozzi, 50, though a member of the Top of the Bay Garden Club, couldn't tell you exactly what was growing there for the most part.

    "I depended so much on Mr. Peterson to tell me what things are," she said. "The kids and I were the hands, and he provided the knowledge."

    Over four years, those hands also built a butterfly garden farther down the hill and blazed a trail though a couple of acres of shady hammock.

    But once Antozzi moved on to another school, nature retook most of the butterfly garden and the Peterson Trail. The area no longer hosted groups of students on the three picnic tables.

    Antozzi and the late Elizabeth Smith, both garden club members, decided they wanted to reclaim the area and give students the opportunity to learn about nature where it grows.

    They worked together the week before Smith died last month. Antozzi gathered weeds in Smith's wicker basket, and Smith held a bag open so Antozzi could empty the weeds into it.

    The goal was to clear the garden out this spring and get it ready for planting in the fall. Then over the summer, Antozzi will write lesson plans by grade so the students can learn science, math, reading and writing in the outdoor space.

    Last week, the gardening plan got a jump start.

    When Antozzi arrived to hack at the vines Thursday, a surprise awaited her in the form of a Boy Scout and his entourage.

    Andrew Knapp of Oldsmar, 17, is a senior at East Lake High School and a former student at Oldsmar Elementary. He had noticed the garden needed work and thought it would make a good Eagle Scout project. Oldsmar Elementary principal David Schmidt agreed.

    So Knapp recruited helpers -- family, friends and other Scouts -- to clear the trails and the butterfly garden and replant near the picnic tables. He also found sponsors to help with buying plants. Knapp planned to work for three or four days straight and plant by Saturday, Sunday at the latest.

    About 15 worked together at the site Thursday.

    Antozzi worked with Peterson's hand tools, stored in a carry-all signed by her students of that time.

    Poison ivy wound up the butterfly garden sign and lurked throughout the brush. A Monarch butterfly checked out the progress, and a zebra longwing fluttered next to a trail deeper in the woods.

    "With Andrew taking this over, I'm just elated!" Antozzi said. "Mr. Peterson was involved in scouting for 50 years, and to see a Boy Scout taking this on, it would make Mr. Peterson very proud."

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