Earth Day, April 2017. Baby Garrett Feldmann looks down from heaven and sees a large group at Quiet Waters Park planting and weeding the butterfly garden built in his honor.
Garrett smiles as his dad, Lee, greets Emily Troelstra and her company of graduating midshipmen: “It’s so great of you to come on this lovely Saturday morning to help us plant and weed! We are so thankful,” he says. There are Garrett’s big brothers, Carter and Shane, fourteen years old and now playing with their young cousins Miles, Preston, Zoe and Asher. And Garrett’s little sister Emily, born four years after he died, sweeps pine needles off the sidewalk with the long-handled broom twice her size. His mom, Kathryn, serves donuts and bagels to the crew.
This large, beautiful garden is situated by the reflecting pool and fountain just below the Visitors’ Center. Every year since 2012, around Earth Day and Garrett’s birthday, family and friends come together to replant, weed and maintain this garden.
Garrett is touched that his godfather Uncle Bob has come to help cover the ground with pine needle mulch along with Bob’s brother Eric, his sons Chet and Joe, his daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Carol Mason, Garrett’s aunt, has been working all morning planting the blue-eyed grass. She is a terrific gardener, and everyone asks her for advice. Friends of Lee and Kathryn have come in droves as well. Everyone is still moved by the death of little Garrett eight years ago.
On December 15, 2008, Garrett appeared to be well and healthy. The next morning, however, Kathryn and Lee discovered their baby was not breathing. Time stopped, and their lives changed forever. All were desperate to find the reason for this devastating event, but after repeated attempts, the doctors were never able to determine the cause of Garrett’s death. As the pain of their shocking loss continued to permeate every area of their lives, Garrett’s parents began to look for a way to cope, to heal. Lee and Kathryn met with their friend Elicia Brand-Leudemann, and together they conceived a memorial for Garrett. They decided to create a large and beautiful butterfly garden at Quiet Waters Park populated with native plants in which children could play and learn: a quiet place with benches for visitors to sit, read and contemplate, surrounded by nature’s beauty.
The family worked hard to promote this idea and soon received permission from the park administrators and from the board of local non-profit Friends of Quiet Waters, of which both parents are active members. They initially worked with Frank Mancuso, then the Director of Anne Arundel County Recs and Parks, who fortunately shared their vision and promoted it to the incoming and current Director Rick Anthony.
The Feldmanns received free consulting from Anne Guillette, owner-operator of the locally-based Low Impact Design Studio, and from Mel Wilkins, a terrific environmental consultant and project manager. Guilette and Wilkins assisted in creating the plan for Garrett’s garden which was approved by the County in late 2009, coinciding with a major fundraiser for the garden: the 1st Annual Family Music and Kite Festival, repeated in 2010 and 2011. The Feldmanns raised enough money through additional benefit events like the Ramshead Monte Montgomery benefit concert in September, 2011 and from $125K in grants and sponsorships.
Although the garden was meticulously and lovingly planned, it requires considerable tending. Two years ago, retired Crownsville dentist Gary Scaggs came to the dog park and noticed the butterfly garden area needed shade trees. He volunteered to be the gardener in charge of Garrett’s garden.
Gary soon noticed that Garrett’s butterfly garden could also use pruning, tilling and weeding and received permission to work on this garden as his primary project. He now spends approximately six hours a day, four to five days a week tending irises, blanket flowers, blue star flowers, black-eyed Susans, witch hazel, coneflower, Joe Pye weed, swamp milkweed, and many other beautiful blossoming native plants.
Gary says, “It’s hard to get people to help regularly. I just count on myself. My years of military service trained me to work hard. It seems nowadays that everyone is hooked on technology. If the whole system fails, it’s okay, because I’ll still have these lovely plants to tend to.”
The results are spectacular. Could Gary Scaggs use help? Absolutely; just call Quiet Waters Park (410) 222-1777) and ask how you can volunteer to maintain the beauty of Garrett’s Light. You can also donate to Garrett’s Light Foundation here. Garrett will look down and thank you.
Katherine Haas is a retired Key School teacher who is married to Garrett’s uncle Bob.
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