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Room to grow: Local parents look to beautify the Mayo Demonstration School

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When first-grader Harriett Daly comes and goes from the Mayo Demonstration School, she’s amazed by the plants and flowers she sees.

“She says she’s so happy about the flowers because they greet her when she comes to school and tell her goodbye when she leaves,” said her mother, Ashley Daly.

And for that, she has Daly and her husband, Ryan, to thank.

The Dalys are embarking on a new project this year: beautifying the Mayo Demonstration School, 1127 S. Columbia Ave.

Working alongside parents, students and other community members, the couple are tending to the school’s gardens. Their goal is to create a more abundant environment for students to learn in and teach them about the natural world, Ashley Daly said.

Ashley Daly is the former owner of Retro Den, a shop specializing in vintage furniture, decor and plants. This experience taught her the importance of surrounding oneself with beautiful things, Ashley Daly said.

“From owning the shop, I learned that our spaces really make a difference in how we feel,” Ashley Daly said. “This (project) is a really obvious way to show the students, teachers and community how much we care about the school.”

Ashley and Ryan Daly have lived in Tulsa for several years. When they welcomed their daughter, Harriett, and started researching schools, they found that the Mayo Demonstration School aligned with their values.

“We weren’t sure where to send her, but we had several people come into Retro Den who told us that Mayo is the place to be,” Ashley Daly said. “It’s such a kind and cool school. They have a lot of missions that are meaningful to us, (like) inclusion and teaching love and community. And that’s priceless.”

A cursory glance at Ashley Daly’s Facebook profile will show you the couple is not new to gardening.

The couple replaced all of the grass in their backyard — Ashley Daly calls mowing “a waste of your life” — with dozens of plant and flower species, with a stone walkway to help them traverse the verifiable oasis they’ve created. While Ashley Daly downplays her gardening expertise, their passion makes it clear she and her husband were the right fit the head up the project at the Mayo Demonstration School.

“It just feels so good to plant a seed,” Ashley Daly said. “It feels like magic when it grows into something.”

The school already had gardens in place, but they’d been untended for months. Even with the lack of water and care, however, several of the pollinators in front of the school continued to live, giving Ashley Daly the hope and motivation to take over the gardening initiative.

“I really wanted the gardens to be taken care of,” Ashley Daly said. “The pollinator garden hasn’t been watered all summer, but it’s all still alive, which is a testament to native plants and planting in a way that’s sustainable. It could be much more alive and awake-feeling, and when we saw that it needed tending, I decided this is where I wanted to start.”

A large focus of the gardening project will be fostering plant life that aids pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds, Ashley Daly said.

“We really need to be planting spaces that cater to pollinators so they have somewhere to be,” Ashley Daly said. “At our house, we had a Diana fritillary butterfly, which is an endangered species that feeds on wild violets. Most people spray their yards to get rid of it without realizing it’s a pollinator that can help our ecosystem.”

The Dalys plan to work all over the Mayo Demonstration School and revamp specific areas, like the school’s outdoor classroom and the flower beds near it. They hope the students will learn the value of planting and the benefits of the plants and herbs that will grow there.

“I think it’s really important that people interact with the Earth because it’s where we live,” Ashley Daly said. “When you’re with it, looking at it and touching it, you remember that you’re part of it and you take care of it better.”

The response from the school’s community has been encouraging, Ashley Daly said. Several parents and their kids have helped the Dalys clean up the gardens and plant more flowers, and many more have expressed interest in helping with the project.

“Something we love about Tulsa Public Schools is there’s so much opportunity to be involved, and that really builds community,” Ashley Daly said. “I love that I’m up here gardening — I think it’s really meaningful, and it’s something that our kids will remember. Hopefully, it will teach them to be involved in their community.”

And the opportunities for connection don’t have to stop with the Mayo Demonstration School’s community, Ashley Daly said. She wants to get Tulsans in the Renaissance Neighborhood (where the school is located) involved, too.

“There’s so much divisiveness in our state right now, but everyone can agree on gardens,” Ashley Daly said. “If we all dig in the dirt together and share that knowledge, it builds a knowing. If we know each other, then we care about each other and can be better, more compassionate neighbors.”

“In the TPS community, all of our schools are tucked into neighborhoods, which gives the people around them an opportunity to take ownership,” Ryan Daly said. “It helps everyone see eye-to-eye a lot more. We can all agree that we want our kids to have a good education and a beautiful place to be during the day.”

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Events for the week of Aug. 25-27, 2022 compiled by Tulsa World's Jimmie Tramel and James Watts

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Staff writer

I write for the Tulsa World because it's important to me to highlight the vibrant culture and community we have in Tulsa. I joined the team in October 2021 and write about music, local businesses, homes and gardens for the Scene section.

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