By: Jen Russon
The rotary community garden and food forest of Coral Springs lost one of its own, Helena Freja Ramsay, in the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas that killed 16 others.
A long-time gardener with the rotary community garden, her mother, Anne Ramsay said Helena, was an avid volunteer and will celebrate her love of nature on November 3, when 17 Buddha belly bamboo trees will be planted in memory of one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.
Donated shovels sit in the garden’s shed for use in the ceremony. Once the trees mature, belly bamboo grow high, creating shade and gently rustle in the breeze. The bamboo will join Caribbean vegetation, like banana, jujube, papaya and ackee trees.
An area has been cleared within the lush food forest for planting; afterward, attendees can sample an authentic Jamaican dish, prepared by friends of the Ramsay family.
Her family thinks Helena would approve of the memorial.
“Helena loved the sound of bamboo trees swaying in the breeze,” said Anne. “She used to listen for it in the Morikami gardens, one of her favorite places to visit.”
Helena loved to experience different cultures. She loved the Japanese gardens at the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach. She also favored Korean pop music, or “K-pop”, and loved to wear K-makeup.
Anne further describes her daughter as a pure spirit, adding that Helena loved nature and wanted to protect it – especially bees. The 17-year-old had planned to study at FSU or abroad in London, in either science or environmental science; the former running in her family. Helena’s father, Vincent, is an electronic robotic engineer, from Stockton, England. Her mother, who was born in London, has a science degree but later switched to accounting.
In Helena’s case, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
The teenager cared deeply about human rights, serving on a United Nations Model club and with the Christian faith-based First Priority. She is also remembered as a hero: on the day of the shooting, Helena saved her best friend, Samantha Grady, by giving her books to shield herself from the bullets that tragically cut her own life short.
It was a life friends and family say was lived to the fullest, most of it in South Florida.
When Helena was just two-years-old, the Ramsays moved to Coral Springs from Portsmouth, England to be close to Anne’s Jamaican parents. Helena’s parents are separated, but Anne still lives in the same home in the Kensington community the family moved into more than a decade ago.
Helena and her older brother, Ellis grew up in west Broward. It was in this community that Helena discovered a love of cats so fierce that neighbors identified her on their phones with cat emojis. Her family adopted whole litters and would get them spayed and neutered at Cat Adoptions in Margate.
As for gardening, the Ramsay’s rolled up their sleeves when former First Lady, Michelle Obama created ‘The White House Kitchen Garden’, and have a copy of her inspirational book ‘American Grown’. They maintain plot 39 in the community garden and also have a plot at their home. Anne has returned to the garden, often, she says for comfort.
“Right after it [the shooting] happened, I came to the garden and saw the most beautiful bright red cardinal. It seemed to be Helena confirming what she had once lovingly told me, ‘I’m so glad you have this beautiful place to go to, Mom,'” said Anne, her voice thick with tears.
She added that it would make Helena happy to see how far the garden has come in recent months. An ackee tree, the national tree of Jamaica, has grown heavy with peach-colored fruits.
At the end of the tree-planting ceremony, fellow gardener and Jamaican, Viola, will treat everyone to ackee and salted cod, the official dish of the island. The food will be served with custom green bananas, grown in the community garden that Helena loved.
“Helena was a pure spirit. She loved the natural beauty of the earth and loved our Californian trip to see the majestic Giant Sequoia and Redwood trees,” said her father, Vincent.
Both parents agree that a bamboo memorial garden is a fitting tribute.
“She was a quiet girl. Seeing her picture all over the news would have bothered her – but I think a garden in her memory and of the classmates and teachers who were lost would have made her smile,” said her mother.
Ramsay said when the year anniversary of the tragedy passes, she would like to see the memorial site finished, with 17 plaques and a seating area.
Satya Rudin, a community gardener and an organizer of the bamboo memorial said that the local artist, Jan Kolenda, has been tapped to create a bench for the memorial, though confirmation on this is pending.
The memorial dedication for Helena Ramsay will be held November 3, at 10 a.m. Parking is available in the Stephen G. Paul Dog Park or, if filled, Coral Glades High School. The community garden is located at 2915 Sportsplex Drive.
If you would like to help fund the memorial site or contribute to the science scholarship made in Helena’s memory donate here.
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.