Debbie Arrington

Skinny flower garden welcomes students back to school

In Sacramento, the V Street Garden is like no other. It’s officially 10 inches wide – and the length of a city block.

From 34th to 35th street, this unique strip creates a floral border along the back fence of Sacramento High School. Each school day, hundreds of students attending St. HOPE Academy on the Sac High campus walk past this long line of sunflowers, cosmos and morning glories and through a gate framed by zinnias and other blooms.

When school started last week, this skinny garden welcomed kids with enough positive energy to start their mornings on a cheery note. Who can frown in the face of hundreds of flowers?

It sure beats a plain, gray chain-link fence, reasons Anne Fenkner, who created and nurtures this unusual display.

Fenkner lives on V Street, directly across from Sac High’s back gate. A well-known Sacramento County master gardener, Fenkner was a featured speaker at Harvest Day earlier this month. A municipal arborist, Fenkner specializes in trees, but loves flowers, too.

A neighbor had planted a geranium plus a few hollyhocks across the street along the school fence, just to beautify her view. After that neighbor moved away about four years ago, Fenkner continued to water those plants and started adding more. She wasn’t doing it for herself, but the kids.

“Every school day, I see students arrive at school in the morning and they’re welcomed by a teacher or other adult,” Fenkner said. “They get this positive reception to the school. I was thinking, what can we do as a community to enhance this message about the importance of a good academic experience? So, I started planting.”

After gaining permission from the school’s groundskeeper, Fenkner slowly expanded the garden strip along the fenceline, adding bulbs and annuals as she could afford. A friend decorated the gate’s pole with ceramic flowers. Other gardeners heard of Fenkner’s efforts and donated more seed, plants and cuttings.

“I’ll take just about anything that can tolerate full sun and bloom without too much water,” she said. “It’s also got to be skinny enough to grow in that space.”

Seed by seed, the garden grew longer until finally Fenkner decided to plant the whole block.

“I planted hundreds of bulbs plus all those sunflowers, zinnias and cosmos,” she said. “My goal is to have something blooming year round.”

Fenkner couldn’t maintain the garden without the support of the school and her neighbors, she noted. Several neighbors have agreed to let her use their water spigots. She then drags long hoses (including 200 feet donated by the school) across V Street to irrigate the garden.

Oli, Fenkner’s dog, accompanies her as she waters the garden, a daily hour-long task. That’s been the hardest part of this project, but one she’s kept up – even if it means dragging hoses after dark.

“Anne’s flower garden on the fence is a gift to our neighborhood,” said Karen Henderson, director of Edible Sac High, the school’s garden program. “Everyone benefits from beautification.”

The garden does more than look pretty, Henderson noted. “It creates another opportunity for our students to learn about the importance of biodiversity as these showy blooms also attract pollinators, like honeybees and butterflies, and hummingbirds and dragonflies.”

Students have been very respectful of the flowers, Fenkner said. They never pick them.

The same can’t be said of some grown-ups, she added. “I’ve caught people pulling out whole gladiolas or snapping off sunflowers. It’s so infuriating to see an adult walk off with your sunflowers.”

But positive feedback from neighbors and smiling students keep Fenkner and the V Street Garden going, she said. She hopes other folks who live near schools may duplicate her efforts and help more kids start their days with a walk along a skinny fenceline flower garden.

“If students take a little more pride in their school, we all benefit,” Fenkner said. “This is my gift to the community.”

To contact Anne Fenkner or donate to V Street Garden, email annefenkner@yahoo.com.

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, darrington@sacbee.com, @debarrington

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