OAKLEY -- Bill Horn was all focus amid the chaotic jumble of people who had descended on the Oakley campus to celebrate its new garden.
"Right down there," the commercial landscape contractor said to a member of his crew who was holding containers of chrysanthemums, pointing to a spot on one of the mounds of vegetation. "Do we have one more blue fescue? Let's put another lavender right over there."
A crowd of administrators and parents recently gathered on a corner of O'Hara Park Middle School to watch special education students enthusiastically dig holes for more plants amid the profusion of fruits and vegetables.
A boy in a wheelchair clapped as 13-year-old Bryce Harrelson gave a speech dedicating the garden that will serve as an outdoor classroom not only for youngsters with physical and cognitive disabilities but the rest of O'Hara Park's students.
Gravel pathways curve around gentle mounds of mulched soil and decorative rock designed to mirror the foothills of Mt. Diablo and covered with sunflowers, ripe yellow squash and fledgling watermelon vines.
Row crops sprout nearby, and fast-growing thornless blackberry bushes eventually will cover the nearby fence.
The scene is a far cry from the mounds of dead brush and overgrown trees that dominated the area until a couple of months ago.
"It was just a big tangled mess," said Horn, vice president of Terracare Associates.
Inspiration for the transformation came from Melissa Mastrangelo, an instructional aide in one of Oakley Union Elementary School District's special education classes.
Strolling O'Hara Park's campus last year, she noticed the shaded corner and, despite its unkempt appearance, recognized its potential as a quiet spot where her students could take a break from the classroom.
They also could cultivate more edible plants -- they already were using a small plot of land adjoining the playground to grow a few -- and use the produce in their cooking class to prepare healthy snacks.
"I thought, 'Wow, we could do something,' " Mastrangelo recalled.
With the principal's blessing, she enlisted youngsters' help planting a vegetable garden in a raised bed, but the undertaking kicked into high gear earlier this summer when Mastrangelo had a chance encounter with Horn.
Upon learning what she was trying to do, he offered to help.
Horn visited the site and returned with a crew, which spent four days in June transforming the site into a veritable buffet.
"I couldn't believe my eyes," Harrelson said, remembering his first day back at school.
There are dwarf fruit trees: nectarines, peach, fig, mandarin orange and kumquat. There are herbs such as basil, thyme and lavender. There are row crops: corn, tomatoes, peppers, snow peas, string beans, beets, carrots and green onions.
And among the green there is color from butterfly and hummingbird magnets the likes of foxglove, feverfew, Shasta daisies, coreopsis and penstemon.
Horn also trimmed the overgrown shade trees and installed paths wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.
In addition, Terracare Associates will maintain the garden for the next year before turning its care over to the school.
With so many more plants, children will spend more time cooking, which, along with learning to tend a garden, are skills that would be useful to those who eventually will live independently, Mastrangelo said.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.