Stealth gardener creates outdoor classroom for elementary school

Gardening volunteer Sharon Lopez turned neglected garden into lush oasis

ORLANDO, Fla. – Sharon Lopez keeps a low profile but her gardening work at Hunter's Creek Elementary School is getting attention.

"The school sometimes calls me the stealth gardener because I come in on weekends and all of a sudden everything looks great on Monday morning," Lopez said.

On a recent morning, flowers in all colors were blooming under the rising sun and tiny creatures bounced from petal to petal in the 5,000 square-foot garden.  

Lopez has been maintaining the butterfly garden on campus since 2002. 

"I just enjoy doing it for the school," she said. "I get thank-you notes from the school and the kids. It's something worthwhile that I enjoy doing."

The garden was built by the PTA in 1994 as a way to beautify the school and provide an area for hands-on learning about plants and wildlife. Several groups shared maintenance responsibility but it began to flourish under Lopez's green thumb.

"My parents were avid gardeners and they taught me a lot so I think I've just kept up with their legacy," she said. 

Lopez was nominated for the News 6 Getting Results Award by friend and butterfly garden hobbyist, Claudia Siri.

"When I met her and I saw that she spends so much time dedicated to something I'm passionate about I said somebody else has to be aware of what she's doing," Siri said. 

The two share ideas about what plants work best to attract different species of butterflies. Siri said more children need to know about the role of pollinators in our food production. 

"She's going to leave all this good information about plants to the children. We rely on butterflies and pollinators," Siri said. 

For the past 17 years, Lopez has applied for and been awarded grants from the Disney Ears to You Grant and Lowe's Toolbox for Education Grant. 

The garden has also been designated a Schoolyard Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation and awarded second place in the Florida School Garden Competition sponsored by the University of Florida and the EPCOT Flower and garden Festival. 

"They say when you volunteer you give back to the community but you get a lot more back. I think I truly get a lot more back from doing this for the community and for Hunter's Creek." 

If you'd like to nominate someone for a Getting Results Award, click here.

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