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School Gardens – Innovation and Discovery School


Discovery School Garden

Discovery School Garden

When I arrived last Thursday afternoon the scene at the school gardens of the  Discovery School at Four Corners were enjoying controlled chaos. Several teachers were staying after school to divide and pot up perennials from the butterfly garden.

“Is this Echinacea or a rudbeckia?” one teacher asked and her spade bit into the center of the clump.

“Don’t pot the dill! It an annual,” another shouted.

“Are you sure these are all bee balm?” another asked looking at a huge clump of wilted and frost-blackened stems.

All of the newly potted plants, as well as kale and potatoes from the garden, were to be sold at the Harvest Sampler the following day. Funds raised would go to the school gardens.

I have visited many school gardens, but never have I visited a school where the garden was a driving force in the curriculum. The DiscoverySchool at Four Corners (K-3) was one of the first Innovation Schools created by a program instituted by Governor Deval  Patrick in 2010. Innovation schools have a theme; the teachers and parents who came together to design this new program chose gardening, with a broad environmental focus.

Kathy LaBreck, one of the teachers who was a moving force in getting the Innovation designation said that the nine acre site of the school was a big inspiration. “We thought the kids would be very interested in plants and that would be a great benefit. We see the children are so proud of their very concrete achievements, and their pride is a validation of the program.”

On the day I visited several of the raised garden beds were nearly finished and ready for the final harvest. Others already showed a sturdy growth of winter rye, a cover crop that will be tilled under in the spring to fertilize the soil and add organic matter.

My neighbor, and teacher at Four Corners, Kate Bailey told me the kids love the gardens, and the harvest. She has her own reasons for loving the gardens. “It is very easy to integrate the gardens, and cooking the produce, into the curriculum. When we planted the rye we talked about grains. When we cook, and we’ve made a lot of muffins with our harvest, we need many skills. To cook you need to read, follow directions, and of course handle lots of fractions,” she said.

For the Harvest Sampler Bailey said each grade made dishes with their own vegetable. She had to explain that the kindergarteners had been studying apples in particular so they made apple recipes. The school also has a dehydrator and making dried apple rings has been very popular

The first graders have been studying tomatoes. Lots of salsa has been made.

The second graders have been studying carrots which leads to carrot salads, muffins and cakes.

The third graders have been studying potatoes. Potato chips!

Bailey explained that volunteers from Just Roots, the GreenfieldCommunityGarden who helped set up the garden in the beginning, have been coming in every week to talk about Healthy Snacks.

In fact the desire to teach children the importance of a healthy diet was one of LaBreck’s goals. “Children who work in the garden, and grow their own vegetables are more willing to try new foods,” she said.

Teacher Anne Naughton stopped potting up plants long enough to tell me how excited she is about working with children in the garden. “The kids love the gardens, and they love the butterflies, and all the insects. They are so curious and interested. Their curiosity leads us into our lessons. We follow life cycles of plants and insects, and seasonal cycles. The first scientific skill is careful observation,” she said.

Suzanne Sullivan, the school principal, said the whole nine acres are used for instruction. The vegetable beds are producing, as is the strawberry bed, apple and pear trees have been planted, and pollinator plants help provide the insects needed for study. There is even a nature trail created by an Eagle Scout Patrick Crowningshield in 2011. “The goal is to foster an environmental awareness in the children, even beyond the gardens, she said

“The teachers have been very collaborative,” Sullivan said. “The students have been responsive and are so engaged.  We do focus on very hands-on learning.”

At Friday night’s Harvest Sampler, held in the school yard near the gardens, it was clear that there is great support for the program. A huge turnout of parents arrived bearing their own contributions to the Sampler, more apple, tomato, carrot, and potato dishes. Who imagined learning could be so delicious?

The Massachusetts School Report Card shows students the DiscoverySchool at Four Corners have high levels of proficiency or better English Language Arts and Mathematics. It’s clear the teachers at the DiscoverySchool at Four Corners all get high marls themselves.


The 2015 UMass Extension Garden Calendar is now available. This excellent, and beautiful, calendar contains excellent information about plants and garden chores throughout the year.  To order send $12 payable to UMass, to Garden Calendar, c/o Five Maples, 78 River Road South, Putney, VT 05346. Add $3.50 for the first calendar and $2.00 for each additional calendar. Think of all the gardeners in your life you could make happy.

UMass Extension Garden Calendar 2015

UMass Extension Garden Calendar 2015

Beetween the Rows   October 25, 2014

Gardening with Kids – Fun and Learning

Square Foot Gardening With Kids

Square Foot Gardening With Kids

Gardening with kids is being taken to a whole new level at the HawlemontElementary School. They have received a grant that is allowing them to establish themselves as an AgricultureElementary School. This means that the schoolyard will have a variety of raised vegetable and flower beds, including a story garden that is being sponsored by the school library. But the schoolyard will also become a farmyard with a cow, sheep, goats and chickens. And yes, that means a barn and chicken coop.

Jean Bruffee currently teaches second grade, but next year she will be the Coordinator of the HAY (Hawlemont Agriculture Youth) program. When I spoke to her she said, “Every grade will have an agriculture class every week next year, and children will have chores. We are already putting up hooks for the farm clothes, and they’ll also get a pair of farm boots.” But she explained that studies will also include environmental and sustainability issues. “The barn will have a weather station,” she said.

She also assured me that while the animals will go back to their home farms in the summer, families and teachers are making commitments to care for the gardens during the summer vacation.

Working with our children in a home garden can be a lot of fun, but sometimes it is hard to gauge what children can understand or how far their capabilities might extend. To help parents and friends make a start two new books came out this spring to provide help and inspiration.

Square Foot Gardening With Kids

Those who are familiar with Mel Bartholomew’s unique Square Foot Gardening techniques may be surprised to see how they can lead children not only into a successful garden, but into science and math understanding. Bartholomew’s new book Square Foot Gardening with Kids (Cool Springs Press $24.99) begins with a sensible overview of how to use the book with different age groups, and continues with basic information for all.

Of course, there will be a square foot raised bed box. Immediately we are thrust into a world of fractions. It doesn’t take long to be immersed in a project that requires information, thought, and decisions. The square foot bed needs to be filled with soil, a soil that will provide the nutrition that plants need to thrive. Bartholomew has his own soil mix recipe that he recommends, but on this point I think I recommend loam mixed with a really good helping of compost.

Experienced gardeners are so used to reading catalogs and seed packets, making a planting plan considering the arc of the sun and shadow patterns, maintaining a compost pile, making a trellis or two to save room and deciding what to plant and how to arrange the plants in a rotation, that we forget these acts and decisions require a lot of scientific information that is all new to children. Gardening is not just a physical act, it is an intellectual challenge, there is so much to know and consider. I’m still working on the intellectual challenges in my own garden!

Bartholomew’s book will be valuable to parents, but it will also intrigue children with various experiments, making functional trellises, and even a season-extending plastic dome. A final section gives growing information about the most common herbs and vegetables. Advice to any new gardener, child or adult, is to keep the beginning small so that it does not overwhelm.

Gardening Lab for Kids

Gardening Lab For Kids

Gardening Lab For Kids

While Square Foot Gardening for Kids is mostly geared to school age children, Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments by Renata Fossen Brown (Quarry Books ($24.99) is designed to help the parents of young children find their way into the garden with a series of discrete projects. A list of the short chapters shows the variety of approaches from Planting Spring Seeds, Make a Rain Gauge, Plant an Herb Spiral, Make a Bird Feeder and Make a Sweet Pea Teepee.

The 52 projects are simple, requiring very few materials. The potato tower is made from old tires, a bug net is a piece of tulle transformed with a wire coat hanger, a nesting material apparatus for the birds requires only a whisk and the materials, and a pollinator palace is made of bricks, pegboard and twigs. Lot of science in all these projects for any age child.

Fossen knows that the value of a garden is not only in the various practical functions it serves, but in the space it provides for imagination and rest. Suggestions are made for a fairy garden. I’m wondering whether great-granddaughters Bella and Lola might think the privacy under the weeping birch is a good place for a fairy garden. Fossen also suggests a place to sit and admire the garden. Sitting peacefully and admiring the garden is something we adult gardeners might need some help with. There is more to a garden than chores.

Fossen is the Associate Director of Education at the ClevelandBotanical Garden where thousands of children come with their classes or with parents to learn about butterflies and pollinators and all kinds of plants so she is familiar with the many tactile ways children engage with nature and a garden.

Do you have kids in your life that you might lead down the garden path regularly, or from time to time? Help and inspiration is at hand.

Between the Rows  May 17, 2014

Good Reading Roundup for 2013 – Part One

This is my first Reading Roundup. Over the year I have ‘reviewed’ a number of books, any of which would make an excellent holiday gift. Good reading is one of my favorites gifts to give, and to receive.  Over the next couple of days I’ll be giving a note about each of them again, with a link to the original post. All but one of the books were sent to me by the publisher and you may note a very positive note in all of them. This is because I only ‘review’ books that I think are useful and engaging, and in most cases beautiful. I have neither the time, nor space, nor inclination to spend time writing about books that I cannot recommend. Not every book is for everyone, but each of these worthy books will have a substantial audience. Click on the link for each to get the full review.

Taste, Memory

I did buy Taste, Memory: Lost Foods, Forgotten Flavors and Why They Matter by David Buchanan after I heard him speak at the Conway School of Landscape Design. David is a graduate of the CSLD, and his book about his growing passion for  heritage apples is a joy. “This book, with its tales of exciting searches for heritage apples, Buchanan’s own inventiveness, and cooperation between various groups of people and organizations, presents a wonderful vision of how our food system can shift. It is possible for us to eat better, for biodiversity to be protected, and for farmers and market gardeners to make a reasonable living.” This idea is also behind the Slow Food movement and The Ark of Taste which catalogs endangered foods

Taste, Memory also introduced me to John Bunker, David’s apple mentor and a great Maine character who has his own book, Not Far From the Tree about the old apples of Maine. You will never look at an apple in quite the same way again

No Mow Yards

Beautiful No Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives byEvelyn Hadden. Evelyn Hadden is a founder of Lawn Reform Coalition which aims to teach people about sustainable, healthier lawns. In Beautiful No-Mow Yards she proposes 50 alternatives to mowed grass lawns, offering solutions to cutting down on grass cutting in ways that are likely to appeal to every kind of gardener: new gardeners who are more interested in flowers or vegetables, experienced gardeners who are looking for new ways to garden, and environmentally concerned gardeners who want to cut down on the use of fossil fuels, herbicides and their own energy.



 Lawn Gone: Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yardby Pam Penick (Ten Speed Press)

Some of Penick’s chapter titles will tempt you to imagine a new yard of your own. For example: Ponds, pavilions, playspaces and other fun features and Designing and installing your hardscape, immediately set my mind buzzing. Other chapters indicate the sticky issues that gardeners may have to deal with like working with skeptical neighbors or homeowner’s association regulations or city codes.She also explains ways to eradicate lawn, and gives you the names of grass substitutes in the sedge and carex families.


Bringing Nature Home

Bringing Nature Home by Dr. Douglas Tallamy is a book I write about regularly. His argument for the use of native plants in our domestic landscape is ever more important and we think about land development. “Lately I have been talking about the benefits of reducing the size of our lawns. Tallamy said that 92% of landscape-able land is lawn, lawn which is a monoculture that does not support wildlife. He suggested that if we reduced the amount of lawn in theUnited Statesby half we would have 20 million acres that could be put to native trees and other native plants. This would certainly increase the carrying capacity of our neighborhoods and our nation.”


Latin for Gardeners

Latin for Gardeners: Over 3000 Plant Names Explained and Explored  by Lorraine Harrison is a beautifully illustrated book that is great fun to read even if you never took Latin in high school  and never got beyond Shakespeare’s “Et tu, Brute?” in English class. Beyond explaining the Latin words that make up proper botanical names, there are special sections of Plant Profiles, information about Plant Hunters like Sir Joseph Banks and Jane Colden and Marianne North, and Plant Themes like The Qualities of Plants. The book is also generously illustrated with colored botanical drawings of plants and their parts. This is definitely a book for browsing.

I’ll continue the roundup tomorrow. These books make great gifts for any holiday – or birthday.


Ready, Set, Grow! Timber Press Giveaway

With Ready, Set, Grow! Timber Press is giving away books, lots of books, and a Moleskine journal to record your success as you put all the inspiration and advice  to work in your garden for the next three months. Each month, March, April and May they will be giving a library of books away in a lottery. All you have to do is click here and enter.  Whether you win the library or not, by checking this website you’ll get weekly tips on seed starting, cool weather crops and more as the season progress.

The Speedy Vegetable Garden

The Speedy Vegetable Garden which I wrote about here is just one of  the March books you could win, PLUS other bo00ks like Sugar Snaps and Strawberries, The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 Ways to Get Kids Ouside, Dirty and Having Fun,  The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Questions, and How to Buy the Right Plants, Tools and Garden Supplies. And even more books than that. No more troubling questions. Only anwers right at your fingertips. Or bedside. Or potting bench.

Don’t forget, there is a different lottery with different books every month.  April and May are coming up. And lots of free advice along the way. Check it out.

Speedy Vegetable Garden Giveway

Speedy Vegetable Garden by Diacono and Leendertz

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how fast does your garden grow? The 208 page Speedy Vegetable Garden by Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz (Timber Press) will give you a whole new view of how fast you can grow something to eat. This means we can keep some food growing all year long, if only on our windowsill. Impatient children will find that they can harvest some greens in less than two weeks.

I have grown sprouts in my kitchen for years using jars or a sprout bag, but this book opened up whole  new world of quick harvests. Diacono and Leendertz take the reader and gardener all the way from ‘soaks’ to quick harvest vegetables like zucchini and cherry tomatoes. I had never heard of a soak. Did you know  that  soaking pumpkin seeds for only 1-4 hours will wake up the germination instinct and even before the nascent sprout is visible you will have  buttery crop to sprinkle on your salad or sandwich adding potassium, and vitamins A, B, C, and D? Peanuts can be soaked for 12 hours, until the root just breaks through. Lots of vitamins and minerals. Almonds can also be soaked for 12 hours and eaten with gusto.

Moving on from soaks and sprouts, micro-greens come next. Full directions are given for seeding and watering. Little plastic seed flats can be used, but metal guttering cut to an appropriate size can also make a good planter for intensely flavore crops like cilantro, fenn, radishes and oriental greens. A micro-green is really just the baby stage of the shoot and this is a time when nutrients are at a high level. You wouldn’t make a whole salad out of micro-greens, but they add vibrant taste to your regular salad. Harvest in about two weeks. If you grow microgreens you’ll want to keep successively planted containers going all the time.

Other chapters detail cut and come again salads and quick harvest vegetables, again with good directions for keeping the harvest coming. The illustrations are beautiful, as are these young healthy plants, but the chapter on edible flowers makes you understand how easily you can make a salad suitable for the cover of any food magazine. And if you don’t quite know what to do with any of these crops, Diacono and Leendertz provide you with 20 quick and easy recipes. The Spring Garden Tart with spring onions, spinach, peas, beans, herbs and cheese would give my family a very happy lunchtime.

I always say you can’t hurry in the garden, and that is very true. However, there is no harm in letting vegetables ready themselves for the table as quickly as they like.  In the Speedy Vegetable Garden Diacono and Leenderts show us how these speedy vegetables can lead us to a longer growing season, and extremely nutritious vegetables without the usual back-straining labor.  If you would like to win a copy of this book and start your own speedy garden just leave a comment below by midnight on Wednesday February 13. If you want to tell me about the quickest – or longest crop – you ever grew so much the better I am all ears. I will randomly choose a winner and announce it on Thursday, February 14. Because Timber Press and I love my readers.

Lens on Outdoor Learning

Ginny Sullivan

When most of us think about providing play space for our kids in the yard, we usually think about a swing set or a play structure of some sort. Schools tend to take the same sort of approach, but there is another way of looking at ‘play space’ and the potential it holds for learning at school, and at home.

Ginny Sullivan began her teaching career at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a first grade teacher she started to see the ways that young children interacted with the natural elements around the school. Her thinking about how children learned moved in a new direction leading her to the University of Massachusetts where she earned her Masters Degree in Education in 1972.

As she continued to teach, her interest in the way children’s play in the natural world affected their learning, also continued to grow. Educators often talk about classrooms designed  to facilitate learning; Sullivan wanted to know more about designing outdoor spaces to facilitate learning for young children. She attended the Conway School of Landscape Design, and North Carolina State University.

The result of her own years of study, as well as her work with children and teachers of young children is Lens on Outdoor Learning, written with Wendy Banning, a teacher, teacher trainer and Director of the Irvin Learning Farm in North Carolina who she met during her time there.  “The reason for our book is the emphasis on academic standards that often leave no time for outside activities. But when you look at the ways you learn how to learn, that can happen outside. Our book goes right through the standards and shows how those standards are met by children’s outdoor ‘play,’” Sullivan said.

The importance of the time children spend playing outside has received more and more attention since Richard Louv wrote his stunning book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.  This book has been so influential that pediatricians have become concerned about the time children spend indoors, often in front of an electronic screen.  Some have even been know to write prescriptions for outdoor playtime.

Children who live in a rural area like ours hardly need more than prompting to go outside where we have green backyards with trees and plants if not fields and woods. Very young children will often be accompanied by a patient adult who is willing to share the thoughtful pace that preschoolers bring to their investigations of trees, bugs, slugs and weeds. If there is some kind of water to get wet in, and to watch as it moves, so much the better.

Lens on Outdoor Learning

In Lens on Outdoor Learning Sullivan goes through the educational standards that have been set by states all across the country, and then observed children playing in the natural landscape, and in the built landscape of a preschool play yard to see how those environments lead to learning.  It has been said that nature is the first teacher and we have probably all watched a tiny child be fascinated and engrossed by the movement of an ant across a picnic tablecloth, or dandelion seeds floating through the air.

Sullivan and Banning share photo credits of children expressing their curiosity, their persistence, imagination and creativity. Their activities can seem very simple, and everyday, which they are. Children are naturally curious, imaginative and creative, and they can show great persistence. It can take a skilled teacher to be able to articulate the ways these attributes lead to important learning. Given a chance children are quick to use the scientific method, observation, experimenting, making a hypothesis, experimenting some more – and feeling great pleasure when they feel they have understood how things work.

Sullivan and Ruth Parnell, her partner in their Learning by the Yard design firm, have worked with a number of schools and organizations including the Conway Grammar School PTO about designing the school landscape. “We talked to the kids to see what they wanted. Children up to second grade drew pictures, and older children wrote. One little girl asked me if we could fix it so they could go outside,” Sullivan said. They wanted a place to sit in the shade, and the teachers wanted a place to eat outside. “School grounds can nurture teachers too.” I think all of us can benefit from being outdoors in the sun – and the green.

When I asked Sullivan what advice she would give parents she did not hesitate to say, “Spend time outside with your children. Sit in the shade with them. Think about the places that make you feel good. It just takes a small invitation to get a child interested in the natural world.”

She also said parents don’t need to know all the answers to children’s questions. “Ask them what they think. Ask how they can find out the answers together,” she said.

If nature is the first teacher,  parents share that honor and pleasure, watching their child’s observations and responses to what they see. Lens on Outdoor Learning may give parents a new perspective on what the children are doing when they stop on a walk through the yard to investigate a spider web or seed head. ###

Governor Patrick is a Gardener!

Deval Patrick at the Heath School

Governor Deval Patrick visited the Heath Elementary School today. He met the staff and students for a brief All School Meeting before he went to the gym to meet with various officials and townspeople. School Superintendent Buonicanti gave a short civics lesson and asked the students if they knew who Deval Patrick was. One boy instantly piped up, “He’s going to be elected next week!”  The Governor said he certainly hoped so.

A sixth grader wanted to know why Governor Patrick wanted to be elected in the first place. The governor replied that he wanted to be governor so he could work for the people, taking a long view. He didn’t want to just look for quick short term results.

Another boy wanted to know what the governor did for fun, and he said “Gardening.” The governor is a gardener! So I think he obviously knows about how you have to plan, and prepare the garden, and sow seeds, and battle weeds, and be really patient and hope that the sun will be warm, and that there will be enough rain, and that bugs and deer won’t ruin things. A gardener has to pay attention, listen to advice and do the best he can – just like a governor has to pay attention, hope there will be no disasters, listen to advice and then do the best he can. We gardeners know that if you take care of your soil properly every year, your garden will be better every year. I’m glad to know our governor is a gardener.

Soup for Governor Patrick

As a thank you for coming to visit, and out of concern that he might not have had a chance for a good lunch, a delegation brought him containers of soup, and some muffins made with squash from the school garden. The students are all gardeners, too.  I wonder who among them will grow up to be a governor.

Erving Preschool Garden

Erving Afternoon Preschool Class

The children of the Erving Elementary Preschool were so proud of the sunflowers they grew that they sent representatives to the Recorder/Greenfield Garden Club Sunflower Contest in August. When the children returned to Erving they carried back prize ribbons for the heaviest sunflower head and for the third tallest.

But their garden is about more than glory.  The preschool class of 3 and 4 year olds, led by teacher Mary Glabach with the assistance of Kristin Lilly, Becky Allen and Lorie Flaherty, planted and  tended a garden of cherry tomatoes, peppers, chard, green beans, carrots and zinnias. And one sunflower planted by each of the 25 students who attend morning or afternoon sessions at the school. There are even a few morning glories twining through the garden that self seeded from last year’s efforts.

The two new big raised beds built by Jill and Ryan Betters with their son Brayden McCord, were  filled with compost rich soil donated by Michael Mackin and Kristin Lilly. It seems that everyone who has had children in the class for the past eight years has wanted to help by donating labor and funds. “We also received garden club grants from the Greenfield Garden Club. Throughout the years we have purchased gardening gloves, gardening tools, worm composting items, seeds, seedlings and garden books,” Glabach said.

The garden beds are located right outside the preschool classroom so it is easy to take the children out to work in the garden. There they might very well get a science or math lesson, having so much fun that even a passing adult might not realize that lessons are in full flow.

One of the difficulties that school garden programs run into is that so much of the gardening year occurs during the summer when school is not in session. Happily for the Erving preschool garden there is a summer enrichment program whose students care for the garden.

Parents and families are also invited to come by to pull a weed – or to use the harvest as it comes in. “I was here one day and one of the families came by. I think they might have run out of salad makings – but they knew just where to come,” Glabach said.

Glabach started gardening with children years ago out of her own love for gardening and because she saw it as a way to engage children in various subjects. This spring the preschool staff visited the Keene State College Child Development Center to learn more about the ‘Early Sprouts’ curriculum.  This program provides activities from seed to table, even sending home recipes for tasty fresh dishes like Swiss chard and cheddar quesadillas. Butternut muffins are a particular favorite.


Gardens can lead to healthy eating. When I visited the children were snacking on cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, but they also like steamed green beans – and even bell peppers. When we think about the obesity epidemic in our  country with its attendant health problems like diabetes, we realize that we need to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for our children early on so they develop a taste for these nutritious foods that will give them pleasure and good health all their lives.

Most people understand how gardening can fit into the science and math curriculum, with all the counting, measuring, observation  and experimentation that can take place in the garden. For dramatic play, Glabach has them set up a Farmer’s Market with real vegetables to be tasted, and real sales slips to be counted.

Pretty soon Glabach’s class will put a pumpkin in a sealed aquarium and watch it decompose.  The aquarium is sealed to  avoid a classroom full of fruit flies. While I might think that someday, when they are reading Shakespeare in high school and hear the mournful Jacques (As You Like It) complain “from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, til we rot and rot . . .” they will think of that pumpkin mouldering in its glass coffin, but Glabach has more immediate literary connections for her students. “One year we had a Peter Rabbit garden, growing the vegetables in that book. Every year we try new things,” she said.

Neither is art forgotten. Some vegetables, like gourds, can be used for making art prints! Scarlet runner beans can surprise with their striking lavender and black beans.

Glabach said she is very lucky to be teaching at the Erving Elementary School because “the whole community really cares about their children and the importance of their education. They are willing to fund different programs.”

When I asked if there were any plans for expanding the garden, Glabach’s eyes lit up.  “We are working with Paul Bocko, Erving’s Curriculum Coordinator, looking for ideas to possibly extend our growing season.”  Hmmmm. Do I see a little greenhouse in the preschool’s future?

More and more people have come to recognize the value of letting children ‘play’ in the dirt, and letting them be responsible for growing things. This recognition has led to more and more school gardens. I saw that Holy Trinity School Garden had entries in the Franklin County Fair, and of course, I am familiar with the Heath School Garden. I would be very interested in hearing about other school garden projects. You can email me at if you want to let me know about a school garden – or any other notable garden project.

Between the Rows   September 25, 2010

Don’t forget this is the joyous Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange this weekend.  Check out for full information.

Heath School Gardens

Over at Garden Rant Mary Gray’s guest rant bewailed the state of many school grounds, all concrete and lawn. I am very familiar with the school grounds that she describes, but I feel fortunate that the children in our small town have a very different school experience.

Heath Elementary School wellhead

The Heath Elementary School, which opened in 1996, was built in a pasture surrounded by woodland. When the school bus pulls off the dirt road onto the driveway it passes a path that leads to the school’s wellhead. This area is well used for science study, with information about the importance of clean water, and how it is kept clean.

Heath School Entry

The children debark they welcomed by perennials on either side of the entrance.

Heath School Playing Fields

The school and its grounds are held in the embrace of a woodland, where science can be studied, and the beauties of nature can inspire art classes. Perhaps inspire a poem or essay or two as well.

Heath School Meadow

The meadow fills the circular drive where buses and cars drive up to, and then away from the entry. Right now it looks all neat having just been given a back to school trim, but in the spring it is a hazy blue meadow of lupines, followed by a bouquet of summer wildflowers.

Heath School Vegetable Garden

The newest addition to the school landscape is the vegetable garden, punctuated by some bright annuals. This has been producing for three or four years now and the soil gets better every year.  There are some apple trees, too. I’d like to be able to tell you that the kids enjoy some of those vegetables at lunch but I am sure, absolutely sure, that they would never break the law which forbids this kind of activity. Isn’t the law interesting? There might be another lesson there.

This school with its gardens doesn’t come about just because it is a small school out in the country. It takes devoted and energetic parents who volunteer time, labor and money, and creative teachers who find a hundred ways to integrate the garden and the landscape into the Mass Curriculum Frameworks.  Heath is pretty lucky!

Kids in the Garden

I didn’t need all the talk about ‘nature deficit’ to think that children can be entertained, educated and nurtured by spending time in the garden, with and without adults. As a child I spent a fair amount of time watching the bugs on my aunt’s black seeded simpson lettuce, while I daydreamed in the sun.  I don’t know how that affected my personality development, but I am sure it was in many good ways.

Black Dog Publishing also believes children will find good things in the garden  and have just published Kids in the Garden by Elizabeth McCorquodale. They are giving my readers a discounted offer that will bring you this $17.95 book for less than you can get it on Amazon.

To order your copy email Jessica ( with commonweeder in the subject line. You will get a 40% discount, which makes the cost $10.77 plus shipping.  Jessica will tell you about shipping once she has your address.  I do not make any money on this transaction, I just like to encourage getting children in the garden.

Kids in the Garden is an easy and fun guide for children to use on their own or with adults, and encourages children to learn about gardening, healthy eating and caring for the environment. With easy to follow step-by-step instructions, with bright photography and fun illustrations. The book is aimed at children aged five upwards with adult supervision, then for older children up to 11 to complete on their own.

The book features more than 50 projects, with full instructions on the materials needed, companion plants, saving resources, harvesting seasons, seeds, the water cycle and indoor gardens. There is also a section on wildlife, showing how to encourage animals into your garden, as well as how to make a mini pond, birdhouses, pest patrol, building a wormery, rescuing bees and ladybirds, and much more. The plants and vegetables featured include potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, herbs, strawberries, blueberries, sunflowers and many more. The recipes included are simple to make with the fresh produce and include; one pot jam, minty fizz and easy pizza sauce.