Love for literature, nature shine in Literary Garden at West Bloomfield HS

Image 1 of 12

Those two passions combined to create something unique at a local high school: a literary garden believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

It brings students out of their windowless classrooms and into a natural setting with flowers and trees. It's a very special place especially for my family and for me.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "Life is a garden, not a road. We enter and exit through the same gate." Vonnegut loved gardening and he would have especially loved this garden, the literary garden, in the courtyard of West Bloomfield High School.

It is the brainchild of English teacher Jennifer McQuillan, who recognized that many of her favorite writers, were inspired by the nature surrounding them.

"Well I thought, I like gardening, what if we could get some seeds from some of the author's homes," she said. "And maybe, if I asked, we could plant them here."

She hit pay dirt, getting seeds and cuttings from more than 30 renowned authors and poets including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Emily Dickinson, Ken Kesey, Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allan Poe.

She even flew out to Massachusetts where Kurt Vonnegut's family allowed her to dig up hydrangeas from his home in Cape Cod.

"Those hydrangeas are now on either side of the door, they've taken root and they are growing right there," McQuillan said. "For me, that is like literary rock stardom."

For students, the garden offers a tangible connection to the authors they study in class.

"It just makes everything more real," said Marissa Stone, student. "Because they aren't just authors anymore that we're reading. They are actually people that (we) have brought their flowers and plants here."

"Out here they're describing their scenery and you can actually see it for yourself," said Katia Kolesnitchenko, student. "It's using more of your senses. It is a really great way of learning.

And something else has taken root here in the garden - a sense of hope. You can see it in these birdhouses made from recycled milk cartons.

The students decorated them as a way of expressing their grief, after the suicides of three classmates this school year. They hang in the courtyard, with messages of inspiration and hope.

"I really like how the garden is full of hope because it is a big theme and the birdhouses have a nice message it all brings," Stone said.

For me and my family, the garden has special significance. My late husband, Jeffrey Zaslow, is the first local author to be included. He would have loved the honor. 

For now, the garden continues to grow adding beauty and inspiration and opening up all kinds of possibilities.

By the way, each plant in the garden is tagged with a special barcode that links to a website so you can get more information about the plant, or about the author. The West Bloomfield library has donated books to the project to encourage people to read the authors' works themselves.