In the children’s classic tale, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson, a young British orphan goes to live with her grieving widowed uncle and discovers a secret garden that she brings back to life with help from a local boy. The garden touches the lives of many, bringing happiness and hope.
Girl Scout Troop 4005 in River Forest recently uncovered a real “Secret Garden,” which they are bringing to life. “My husband works at Dominican University,” said troop leader Frances Kraft, “and after the recent renovation and construction, he was in the Human Resources building and noticed an overgrown garden.”
Jeff Kraft remembered that his wife and daughter’s troop was looking for a sizeable community project to earn their bronze award, so he mentioned it to them. “The bronze award requires 15 hours of service from each scout, so it requires a sizeable project,” Frances said. The bronze award focuses on the Girl Scout goals of building courage, character and confidence.
The garden was so overgrown that the first day alone, the 14-member scout troop filled 18 large lawn bags. “Some weeds were so deep they took an hour just to shovel up one,” Frances recalled. “We had a girl-power photo after one such weed was dug up and we took a photo of the girls holding it over their heads in triumph.”
The garden was created more than a decade ago by the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters who lived on campus. “We looked at old photos of the garden when it was cared for, and got ideas for the plantings,” said Kraft. Sister Jeanne Crapo was the primary caretaker of the garden, but when her rheumatoid arthritis grew severe, she couldn’t continue her gardening.
“My mother gardened and I learned from her,” said Sr. Crapo, who grew up in Denver. “I thought it would be fun to garden again and created a garden club with help from other sisters and students.”
Sr. Crapo attended Rosary College as a young girl and became a nun in the 1940s. She taught at high schools in several states before returning to her River Forest alma mater in the 1960s. “I would wheel my little red wagon over to the grotto and the greenhouse. I would grow seedlings and replant them, and also research different plants that would grow, together with Sr. Nona Mary Allard, my companion and helper.”
Sr. Crapo created the garden in the courtyard area decades ago when it was just bricked walkways. As chief archivist for Dominican, she has many photographs of the garden from its heyday, with tidy blooming flower beds including flowering hydrangeas, black-eyed susans and roses.
Unfortunately, her arthritis worsened over the years, and “about 10 years ago, I just couldn’t continue to garden anymore. I thought someone would take it over, but they didn’t.” she said. “You know, all of our students work now to help pay for their education. The garden club, the glee club, no one has time to participate after school anymore because they are all working.”
Enter the nimble hands of the local Girl Scouts.
Barb DeHaan noted her daughter, scout member Hope, “is a gardener. She has even grown amaryllis.” Like all the troop members, Hope is a fifth-grader at Roosevelt, and has been a scout, like most of the girls in her troop, since first grade. “We invited the scout troop over to our house to watch the movie The Secret Garden, which is one of Hope’s favorites,” her mother said. “Like the garden in the movie, Hope believes a garden is healing and peaceful; good for the soul.”
Emma Sloane agrees with her fellow scout. “The garden is magic; after just one day of working, it looked a whole lot better. We discovered paths made out of bricks that had been completely covered up by weeds, which is kind of magical. And the first day we looked at it was very cold, but a Sister brought us home-baked brownies, which was so kind. We did a lot of advance work to research plants to see what grows at this time of year, what needs sun or shade and what survives in this climate,” she said.
Sr. Crapo enjoys watching her garden come back to life. “I see my Queen Elizabeth rose is still growing tall,” she noted. “Enjoying the garden will be beautiful and fun, thanks to those darling little girls.”