GIC turtle garden pays homage to Lenape

It’s no accident that the new Lenape Garden behind Penn’s Albert M. Greenfield Intercultural Center (GIC) is in the shape of a tortoise. The turtle is a significant symbol for the Lenape people, original Americans who lived around the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers for 10,000 years.

“The turtle is a part of the creation story for local Lenape communities,” says GIC Director Valerie De Cruz.

De Cruz applied for a Green Fund grant to create the garden, primarily to establish and reinforce a sense of place for Penn’s Native American community, and to educate the public about the Lenape who first called the Delaware Valley home. The Green Campus Partnership awarded the project a Green Fund grant last fall.

The Association of Native Alumni and the Natives at Penn were partners in the effort, along with Facilities and Real Estate Services.

The Lenape people are spread throughout the tri-state area. Those in the mountainous north took the wolf as their symbol. Lenape near the shore chose the wild turkey. Central Lenape selected the turtle.

The GIC’s turtle—with locally cut fieldstone as its head, feet, and tail, and green sod as its shell—is surrounded with native trees, shrubs, and perennials that had been used by the Lenape for millennia for their medicinal and culinary needs.

“It’s an important theme to represent,” says University Landscape Architect Bob Lundgren, who designed the turtle and the garden. On a recent private tour, he pointed out the magnolia, hickory, and hazelnut trees, bayberry, elderberry, and blueberry shrubs, as well as wild ginger and yarrow, all familiar to the Lenape.

To create the garden’s educational component, Caroline Kee, co-chair of Natives at Penn, is helping to design scholastic materials. She is seeking advice from members of the Lenape Nation and certified herbalist Wendy Grube, a practice assistant professor at the Penn School of Nursing.

“I am currently doing research for the signage,” Kee says, “which will include the native Lenape name as well as information on the Lenape uses of the plants and herbs.”

De Cruz has had initial conversations with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships to collaborate on educational programming with local high school students. Grube, who teaches a class on the use of herbs in medicine, says she plans to use the garden as part of her course instruction.

“Also, the garden can be used as a hosting site for Native visitors to Penn,” De Cruz says.

On Sunday, May 12, representatives from several local Lenape communities, including Shelley De Paul, deputy chief of the Lenape Nation, and Ann Dapice, chair of the Association of Native Alumni, gathered at the garden to dedicate the space with prayers, songs, and a ceremonial corn planting.

“I still remember saying we should create a Lenape Garden,” says Dapice, who graduated from Penn Nursing in 1974 and received her doctorate in 1980. “I’m moved beyond words that it is happening. It is an honor to our ancestors.”

Lenape Garden