Michaela's Garden planted in memory of young home invasion victim

By Denise Coffey, Staff Writer

11:35 a.m. EDT, August 11, 2014

Leggy plants have taken over a plot of ground in a courtyard at the Killingly Public Library. The young stalks of Four O'clock flowers were planted in memory of Michaela Rose Petit who was killed in a home invasion and fire in 2007 in Cheshire, Conn. Family and friends salvaged what they could from that terrible event, sharing the seeds of a plant loved by the 11-year-old. As the seeds spread, and as gardens of the fragrant, colorful plants began to pop up in gardens left behind, the idea of a movement started.

That movement is Michaela's Garden Project whose mission it is to see Four O'clocks grow and thrive all over the state. The flowers were Michaela's favorites, so named because they open at the end of the day and bloom throughout the night. Today the flowers are tender reminders of Michaela and of her idealism and kindness.

Michaela's Garden Project Executive Director Victoria Scott said the seeds have done remarkable work in the community. "This seed works into the hearts of people," she said. "It's the size of a teardrop for a reason. It just rains down on everybody and touches them in profound ways. Each person filters that seed and it blossoms out in magnificence."

That little seed brought together the Killingly Community Garden Committee, the Killingly Grange, Girl Scout Troops 65109 and 65062, farmers from the Northeast Connecticut Farmers Market and others. They have plans to start more Michaela's Gardens in town because the seeds, and resulting flowers, represent more than a memory. They carry a lesson about life and sustainability and the need to harvest seeds of hope.

Killingly Grange President Bernadette Schuster said the idea of the gardens being sustainable and renewable was particularly important. Girls from the two troops will dedicate their time to weeding, watering, fertilizing and caring for the gardens. Because the plant is an annual, seeds must be planted each year. "There must be a plan in place to sustain the garden," she said. Schuster envisions a day when the flowers take up the entire courtyard and it is turned into a reflective garden.

Four O'clock seeds are the size of peppercorns. They are sold in small packets and the money is funneled to the Petit Family Foundation which was established to honor Michaela's mother and sister as well. The foundation sponsors educational programs focusing on women in the sciences, seeks to improve the lives of those affected by chronic illnesses and supports efforts to protect and help those affected by violence.

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