Thanks To Volunteers, Kids Will Have It Made In The Shade - Trees Planted At Harwich Elementary Playground

by Alan Pollock
Students in Ms. Gvazdauskas’ second grade class were among those who welcomed the new trees to their school. COURTESY PHOTO Students in Ms. Gvazdauskas’ second grade class were among those who welcomed the new trees to their school. COURTESY PHOTO

HARWICH – The new playground behind Harwich Elementary School has swings, slides and fun play structures for kids. Now, thanks to a partnership between the Garden Club of Harwich, the school’s PTO and the Chatham Women’s Club, it also has shade trees.

Diane DiGennaro leads the garden club’s conservation committee, and is also raising a granddaughter who attends the school, so she spends plenty of time on the playground.

“The sun is so hot out here,” she said. In September 2022, the school held a ribbon cutting for the new playground, which replaced the much-beloved but deteriorated Castle in the Clouds play area. Delayed by the pandemic and supply chain challenges, the $580,000 playground was funded by the town's community preservation committee with help from the school's parent teacher organization. To keep the project on budget, certain elements of the playground were scaled back. Funds were not set aside for new landscaping of the largely bare, sandy plot.

DiGennaro knew that the garden club had pledged to plant 90 trees to mark its 90th anniversary this year, and floated the idea of earmarking some of them for the playground. School and town officials came to agreement last winter, and the support started rolling in. The club contributed $1,500 to the effort, and the Chatham Women’s Club pitched in another $675. Under the leadership of Crystal Tanguay and Richard Roy, the Harwich Elementary PTO became a key contributor, raising more than $4,000.

“They really jumped on board,” DiGennaro said. The PTO started a campaign encouraging community members to sponsor individual trees, with their gifts acknowledged on a plaque installed at their tree. In all, there were funds to install all 14 trees envisioned in the landscape plan.

“All of these trees have been bought by townsfolk who wanted to make a difference,” DiGennaro said.

Choosing the right species was no small feat for the barren, sandy, dry plot of land. And on the advice of school officials, the trees and shrubs couldn’t have berries or acorns.

“Those were limiting factors,” she said. The club enlisted the help of horticulturist Russell Norton of the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, who came up with a list of potential species. The focus was on finding trees that would provide shade while also attracting pollinators. They chose tulip trees (home to 20 species of moth and butterfly caterpillars), black gum trees, eastern red cedars, silver lindens and Norway spruces. Taking center stage at the playground’s entrance is a sycamore, which will offer “a ton of shade and be very welcoming and beautiful,” DiGennaro said. The garden club also produced informational pamphlets on the trees to be shared with teachers at the school, who are encouraged to use them as teaching tools. Club members have also offered to visit classrooms to talk about the importance of trees.

With help from volunteers and local businesses, the 14 trees and a number of shrubs were planted early this month and will need frequent watering through the first freeze, and again next spring, summer and fall. DiGennaro is recruiting volunteers who are willing to help with the chore. In the next phase of the project, volunteers are hoping to install benches around the playground, and will be looking for sponsors and supporters. For information, email