A blooming effort back in business

Jarrod Hettler, of Burbank, who has two daughters at Disney Elementary School, takes the ribbon from the entrance to the garden that he and his wife refreshed after the dedication of the Disney Diggers Garden at Disney Elementary School in Burbank on Monday, September 12, 2011.
(Tim Berger/Staff photographer)

Two years after budget cuts forced Disney Elementary School to abandon its gardening program, the patch of earth is back in bloom following months of work by parent volunteers.

“I think this garden is an example of what Disney is all about,” said Burbank Unified Supt. Stan Carrizosa during its reopening Monday.

The 2,500-square-foot garden, at the southeast corner of the Disney Elementary playground, is flush with pumpkins, beans, tomatoes, melons and a half-dozen different kinds of flowers. A misting system will soon be installed over five raised garden beds. Tree stumps, sanded and varnished, serve as stools.

The project gives children a chance to learn that carrots and radishes come out of the ground, and that eggplants are fun to eat, said lead parent volunteer Jarrod Hettler.


“I think it brings every ethnicity together in a place that you can have kids get dirty, and dig holes and mend different types of plants and be a part of that,” Hettler said.

The Disney garden dates back to the late 1990s, when teaching assistant Barbara Smith was inspired by a gardening workshop and decided to create her own. A gardening club, the Disney Diggers, formed.

“It just developed and developed, and then the district gave me time to spend in the garden,” Smith said.

Smith retired in 2006, and the gardening responsibilities were passed on to her replacement. But Burbank Unified eliminated the position in 2009 amid budget cuts, and the garden devolved into a dirt heap.


Prodded by his daughter, who had been an active member of Disney Diggers before it went on hiatus, Hettler decided last spring to set the school’s gardening efforts in motion once more.

“I wanted to see it come back because I was thinking about all the other kids who hadn’t had a chance to see it,” said 9-year-old Elleana Hettler. “What I like about gardening is you get to learn about all the plants, and you get to plant them and water them.”

Volunteers reached out to about 50 individuals and businesses in the local community, and they responded.

“When we heard that we felt it was time to act, and felt that gardening and being outdoors with plants is a really important thing for kids,” Hettler said.

The Disney Diggers is now back in action, and will be responsible for the garden’s upkeep.

“One of my favorite places in the garden would be where the pumpkins are because it reminds me of Halloween and that is my favorite event of the year,” Elleana said.

Every school should have its own garden, said Smith, who also attended the reopening of the garden she founded more than a decade ago.

“You try and stand back and let them discover the bugs or the new little cotton balls on the cotton tree, the apples as they grow,” Smith said. “The kids learn they have to wait to pick them because they are not ready. It is such a learning process.”