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It's a jungle out there, and kids are glad

(ran Seminole, South, Beach editions)

It used to be a field overgrown with weeds.

But today, five years after its inception, the Earth TREQUE garden at Seminole Middle School has blossomed into a miniature Eden, complete with a pond, herb garden, live oaks and fruit trees.

TREQUE stands for Technology and Resources in Education for a Quality Environment.

The garden is the brainchild of Deborah Love, gifted teacher for sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and Susan Pendergraft, a former Seminole Middle teacher.

It needs tending several times a week. That means summer days, too.

On Thursday morning, Love, 48, was able to recruit only two of her students to help: Tia Chiacchia and Caitlyn Calderbank. Both Seminole girls are 11 and entering seventh grade.

"It's going to be hot, but it will be fun," Caitlyn said. She and Tia showed up despite temperatures in the high 80s. It was their first time working in the garden.

The two girls an hour and a half trimming bay leaves and rosemary branches, planting Japanese water irises and moving burrowing boxes in shady spots for the rabbits, squirrels and birds that frequent the garden.

"It's hot, but we're not complaining," Tia said. "This garden is cool." Both girls took periodic breaks for sips of water or Gatorade.

When they weren't in earshot, Love praised Tia and Caitlyn. "They're wonderful kids. I only let the kids work for a short time because otherwise it gets too hot."

While they were working, Pendergraft, who now teaches at a nearby Montessori school, stopped by. "You have done so much to this garden," she said to Love.

It was in 1997 that the two women got a $30,000 grant to start the garden, a joint project of students at Seminole Middle, Bauder Elementary and Seminole High School.

Over the years, students have helped put in the pond, a butterfly garden, the herb garden, hibiscus, a ficus tree, four live oak trees, some Norfolk pines and various fruit trees.

On Thursday, Love shrieked with joy as she discovered new lemons on one of the trees.

"Now we'll be able to make lemonade to go with our key lime pie that we're going to make sometime," Love joked.

Besides the lemon and lime trees, Love and her students have planted orange trees and a banana tree.

"We share the fruit with the students, as well as let them take the dried herbs home to their parents," Love said.

The garden contains lavender, oregano, rosemary, bay and other herbs.

Boys seeking Eagle Scout status built a raised boardwalk and a compost sorting shed. Community members and various government bodies donated plants and trees.

Love continues to seek grants. Besides the initial grant she and Pendergraft received, Love has written for and received more than $5,000 from 30 additional grants.

"It's $500 here and $500 there, but it all adds up," she said.

When school starts Aug. 7, Love will have plenty of things for her students to do. At that time, she expects about 60 kids to be helping with the garden.

"Every year, we do something new," she said.

This year, it will be the planting of a children's reading garden, a project of Jarred Butler, who is trying for his Eagle Scout rank, and a succulent garden featuring cacti.

"It's really important to have this garden," Love said. "You're just not born knowing how to garden. Kids need to be taught . . . and besides Florida has such a wonderful ecosystem."

The garden is fenced in and not readily accessible to the public.

"We can't leave the garden open," she said, "because there's a liability factor. I'm afraid little children might just wander in."

But Love said she would be happy to show the garden to anyone in the community.

She can be reached after school starts at 547-4520.