Creating an Enrichment Garden

Posted at 12:02 pm August 2, 2010 by Cassidy Horn

Cassidy, at right, helps the crew.

There was no way that we were going to get everything done.

“We aren’t expecting to finish this project today, so just do what you can,” the supervisors said.

We were standing on a small hillside just above the okapi barn at the Wild Animal Park, starring at what seemed like miles of unplanted trees and bushes. In reality it was probably only 200 feet and it wasn’t that wide but who’s keeping track?

The Enrichment Garden: a wonderful plan that has been in the works for three years. This garden would provide the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park with its own enrichment—its own home-grown source—for some of the animals right on grounds. We had the location, we had the space, we even had the plants, but we needed the manpower (or in our case, the man + woman power).

A diverse group of us was standing on the hillside: keepers, interns, horticulture staff, and development officers all showed up to help make this idea a reality. None of us really knew what we were doing (except horticulture staff, hopefully!) but with teamwork we figured it out. We learned how to divide up the work to be most effective, we learned how deep the plants needed to go, how far apart they were to be spaced, and just how much water was needed to dig the holes (a lot).

Our garden hose girl was always at the ready when water was needed to loosen the stiff ground. Our diggers were constantly moving from hole to hole to get deep enough. Our planters were all willing to get down on one knee and get muddy. We had 50 plants, 10 people (coming and going), 7 shovels, 3 hours, and 1 hose.

We had everything worked out, except there was one thing we didn’t count on—the ground was dry and hard as a rock. And only about two inches into digging we found there were large roots from trees that had previously been there.

Uh oh. I began to think we wouldn’t finish it today, tomorrow, or ever. Just too tough…

Well, how did it go? you might ask. Did we finish? Give up? Try again later?

We did it. Bit by bit, shovel-full by shovel-full, the hill transformed from a barren wasteland to a beautiful enrichment garden where the keepers would be able to go and get special treats for their animals. In 3 hours, in 180 minutes, or in 10,800 seconds, our wonderful team finished.

The experience of providing enrichment for our animals proved to be an enriching one for us all.

Cassidy Horn is a student at Stanford University and a summer intern at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Read her previous post, What’s that Smell?

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Comments are currently closed. Pinging is not allowed.

3 Responses to “Creating an Enrichment Garden”

  1. Judy J says:

    This is a great idea!! I was visiting the LA Zoo for the first time recently and noticed that they also had an enrichment garden planted . I am sure the animals who will benefit from it will enjoy their new and fresh goodies! Good Job–I am always grateful we have such great people thinking about and planning great new things for our precious animals. Thank You–you all are wonderful!

    Love, judy j

  2. Dianna from Ohio says:

    Good Job!! 3 hours doesn’t sound too bad.. 🙂 I’m sure it was alot of fun too…

  3. Mae was from NJ says:

    I know from personal experience how backbreaking it is to try to loosen dry, hardened soil.

    I applaud you all for a great job from a team of determined gardeners who persevered and got the trees and bushes into the ground! The garden hose girl will have to come back daily to keep the thirsty shrubs happy, but in a few weeks everything will be lush and the garden will look like it’s always been there. And no one will remember the very hard work it took to make it happen. LOL.