On a Personal Note: Delaney Cullen

Delaney Cullen

Story by Gina Malone | Photo by Joye Ardyn durham

A patch of rough ground with a few nondescript bushes is being transformed into a lush, little giving garden outside of Mountains Branch Library in Lake Lure. Combining nature, art and philanthropy, the project is the brainchild of a child—Delaney Cullen, just six years old, and one of the library’s most enthusiastic patrons. “It’s a local project for the kids,” Delaney says. She “invented” the Little Garden That Grew, she says, to make the library grounds a brighter place to be. A lover of reading, Delaney spends many Saturdays and weekdays after school at the library with her parents, John and Cathleen Cullen.

Funding for the project so far has come from individual donations and from grants: The Pollination Project ($1,000) and the Hickory Nut Gorge Foundation ($1,800). For both grants, Delaney was the youngest recipient ever.

Steve Barr, a Polk County artist and founder of the nonprofit Drawn to Help, met Delaney at the library when she was just four years old and attending a cartooning program he was presenting. “When the folks at The Pollination Project asked me to help them find some young people who had a great idea to ‘make the world a better place’ and I heard about Delaney’s Little Garden That Grew, I just knew we had to make it a reality.” This library garden, he says, “provides a comfortable place for children and adults to read, incorporates art into the overall design and feeds wildlife and people who are hungry.”

The garden is located along the side of the library in a plot of about 1,300 square feet. Its design includes benches, a pergola with vines, a pathway of hand-painted pavers, a butterfly station, a birdbath and a free pantry for locally grown food items where surplus items can be added and taken as needed. Plantings will include vegetables, herbs and native plants.

Between them, John and Cathleen have backgrounds in early childhood education, art and environmental science. They operate Life Roots, LLC, providing environmental programs at the library. Although he has experience in permaculture, John says, he had no experience with landscaping before they began work on the garden. Van Powell, who owns nearby Landscape Artistry & Design, has been a big help with providing feedback, at no charge, on John’s designs, making sure the garden will withstand the foot traffic. Volunteers from the community gather on designated workdays to help with the work.

About 100 pavers are needed for the area under the pergola. Community members can buy pavers for the project and paint them with nature-related art as one Polk County Girl Scout troop is doing. Businesses may also purchase sponsorship pavers that include business names. The Cullens would like to have a mural on the side of the building where the garden is located if the county approves of the project and an artist and design can be agreed upon.

“We want an educational garden to teach sustainability and to promote art and literacy,” John says. On top of that, Delaney envisions a “whimsical” garden, says Cathleen, and one that is interactive especially for children. “She wants pavers on the path with numbers and the alphabet. She wants there to be games like a scavenger hunt.” An only child, Delaney loves to be with other children, her mother says.

“When you think of a fierce advocate for literacy, someone who has a deep love of art, an overwhelming appreciation for nature and cares about other people in need,” Barr says, “a six-year-old isn’t usually the first person who would pop into your mind. But that’s who Delaney Cullen is. I can only begin to imagine the great impact she is going to have on the world around her as she grows up and becomes an even greater force to be reckoned with.”

To learn more about contributing time, money or artwork to the project, visit The Little Garden That Grew on Facebook and Instagram or email Donations may be made at A grand opening for the finished project will be held Sunday, May 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mountains Branch Library is located at 150 Bills Creek Road in Lake Lure.

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