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Landscape architect creates beauty, fun with plants

Madeline Mazurski is no Picasso. In fact, she admits that she cannot paint. Instead, Mazurski helps Mother Nature with her masterpieces.

"I'm not artsy with paint or sculpture or anything. But with land and plants, I really feel like I can make the world more beautiful," said Mazurski, who owns a small landscape architecture firm in Missoula.

That's why she jumped at the chance to volunteer her skills to help create a "Nature Adventure Playground" for children near the Bitterroot River at Fort Missoula. Because so many children today live in cities, surrounded by concrete and traffic, they don't often get to explore the out-of-doors, she said.

The woods of Connecticut offered Mazurski plenty of chances to explore and fall in love with the natural world as a child.

"We grew up in the country and we'd just go play in the woods," she said. "My mom had a big garden with lots of flowers. I've just always loved plants."

Mazurski said she feels playing in nature teaches children creativity and helps them grow up right. "I had that, and I think it's essential," she said.

"I had the natural world to work with - rocks, sticks and twigs - and I just thought that was so neat," she said. "We need to recreate that for kids."

With ideas generated by 12 local elementary school children and backing from the Montana Natural History Center, Mazurski designed a plan for a playground that doesn't sink monkey bars or a swing set into concrete. The materials for this playground are wood chips, native Montana plants and mounds of fresh topsoil.

Children will have the chance to see butterflies with the help of several species of butterfly-attracting plants (daisies, native blanket flowers, bee balm and asters), build a teepee or a giant nest, help maintain a garden and small pond or just plain run around. "I think that's something the kids can really enjoy," Mazurski said.

The Natural History Center will use the playground as a classroom to teach children about plants and animals. Instead of being told that certain animals hibernate in winter, the children will be able to build their own places to rest and nap, she said. Children interested in finding a hiding place will be able to construct their own teepee with the poles Mazurski plans to construct.

Children in the Natural History Center's day camps this summer will help Mazurski put the finishing touches on the playground. She said its completion depends on the time and supplies people are willing to volunteer.

Mazurski brings to the project her schooling in plants. She has a bachelor's degree in botany from the University of Rhode Island and bachelor's and master's degrees in landscape architecture from Utah State University.

She also volunteered her planting and designing skills to create Missoula's Water-wise Garden, a fixture in John Toole Park for more than 10 years. The garden is located near the Clark Fork River and the Higgins Avenue Bridge above the walking trail.

In her design of the Water-wise Garden and the "Nature Adventure Playground" and in her own landscaping business, Mazurski strives to use mostly species of plants native to Montana and plants that are low-maintenance, or water-wise. These plants are adapted to their environment and make the best use of the water supply.

Her creations often involve getting rid of the high-maintenance clean-cut lawns and trees that Mazurski believes people have by default.

"I've found people are really open for different ideas," she said.

Mazurski's low-maintenance approach creates an environment both she and Mother Nature can appreciate.

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