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A children’s sanctuary takes root in Waltham

Since moving to Waltham and joining Temple Beth Israel in June 2013, award-winning landscape designer and horticulturist Brad Baker has volunteered his maintenance services on the property. After long admiring the graceful dogwood tree that he says “seems to beg for kids to play under it,” he recently used it as a centerpiece for a children’s oasis.

Baker, owner of White Oak Consulting in Waltham, unveiled the Children’s Garden Sanctuary last month. Passersby notice only attractively landscaped beds from the temple’s front lawn. Through the bamboo entrance under the tree boughs, however, are more flowers, a pod of “magic beans” for children to plant, and teak benches and pathways designed to accommodate religious services and educational programs for the temple’s young members within the 20-foot-by-20-foot space.

“The importance of our connection to the earth is both ancient in Judaism and intensely relevant today,” said Rabbi David Finkelstein, Temple Beth Israel’s spiritual leader. “Under Brad’s leadership, TBI congregants care for these gardens so that they can support both synagogue life and the broader community.”

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Baker has created an array of additional gardens on the property for food equity organizations and to supply flowers to congregation members in the hospital or otherwise in need of cheering.

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For the Children’s Garden Sanctuary, Baker was assisted in the half-day installation by a group of temple volunteers who harvested the bamboo from congregants’ yards and gathered other items from the temple’s collection of items set aside for reuse. They added portable red and orange, UV-resistant cloths for walls, and blue and white umbrellas to form a ceiling in the event of rain.

Baker, whose landscape designs include a children’s learning garden in Pennsylvania, said his goals are to increase youngsters’ engagement with the land, teach good horticultural practices, and create more outdoor spaces that families can enjoy together.

“The kids’ smiles are wonderful,” he said. “Seeing the parents’ smiles is also wonderful.”

The Children’s Garden Sanctuary, which is open to the public, is at 25 Harvard St. For more information, visit www.tbiwaltham.org.

Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.