Behind the Green Thumbprints
The soothing greenery and vibrant bursts of colour dotting the St. Michael's College School (SMCS) campus have one set of fingerprints on them. They are — in large part — the handiwork of Erika Neu Sargent.
"I do not have a 'typical day' at St. Mike's," says Neu Sargent, the school's gardener. "Every day has new challenges and gifts to reveal!"
Whether it's creating and adorning the Remembrance Day commemoration wreaths, planting, pruning, and caring for plants across the school property and inside the school building all year long, or preparing arrangements for various school events, Neu Sargent and her green thumbs rarely get a break.
"The start of a new school year brings about a different kind of bustle and rhythm to the school," says the native of Lethbridge, AB.
"We are happily buzzing around preparing for the return of students in September. In my work, I am still recovering from the graduation celebrations of the previous June (tending to the spring and summer plantings) and shifting the gardens over to fall harvest and Thanksgiving themes while ever-planning for the big Advent event in the courtyard."
Specifically, plans for the Christmas season take root during the dog days of summer says Neu Sargent. "This includes 25-foot tree-sourcing beginning in July and over 1,000 pounds of fresh cut winter greens and notions to decorate the property."
Arriving to SMCS in mid-2017, Neu Sargent spent several weeks working with and observing the tireless efforts of the late Fr. Cecil Zinger, CSB, OSM who was the school's unofficial gardener and landscaping lead for years. Fr. Zinger took deep pride and great care to maintain and preserve the school's gardens and greenery for decades. He passed away in October 2017.
Neu Sargent assumed the mantle, with support from the school's Facilities team, when needed.
Since that time, the former landscape design entrepreneur, who has worked in several provinces and in the Caribbean, estimates planting more than 10,000 bulbs around the 11-acres of school property.
And while many of those young seedlings have sprouted, there is other mature, plant life on campus that has survived and thrived for decades. Case in point, a piece of historic plant life perched inside the Bathurst Street garden.
"The tree is a Ginkgo Biloba which has an endangered conservation status," explains Neu Sargent, describing the stately tree nestled across the upper parking lot beside the laneway entrance to the school.
Distinguished in stature, the Ginkgo is native to China. It features fan-shaped leaves which radiate bright green in the spring and a striking gold in the fall, before shedding.
"This specimen on our property is one of the largest I have ever seen," she continues. "Its' species is one of the oldest in existence dating back to the Jurassic period over 290 million years ago. The shape of the leaf is quite unique and the fall colour change is a brilliant gold unlike other turning leaves in the area. It will soon shed once again for the winter."
In the meantime, rain or shine, warm or cold, indoor or out, Neu Sargent's green thumbs will leave fresh imprints elsewhere.
"As the seasons change, there is always something new to discover peeking out of the soil in spring or cozying up for dormancy over winter!"