You’ve got mail(box)!

One of the many purposes of our school garden is to demonstrate good gardening practices and concepts for our community.  Recently we’ve built a series of 3×3 raised vegetable beds, and we’re making “how-to” flyers to put in the adjacent mailbox for parents/other visitors who might want to build some at home.

Unveiling the newly installed mailbox:



Now we need to put some colorful plants in the planter on the backside and fill it with gardening information flyers. Thanks to the artist (Ethan), the donors (Mom and Dad), and the crew that installed the whole thing (Mr. Copeland, Mr. Harvey and the 4th grade reading students!)

Big ideas, big events in our small town

If you are a Julian/San Diego local, consider yourself invited to the following events that relate to gardening, Farm to School and environmental activism/awareness.   If you’re not, consider this a window on some of the super cool stuff coming up in the next four weeks in our little town.

Wild and Scenic Film Festival

For the last eleven years the Wild and Scenic Film Festival has kicked off in its home, Nevada City.  After that, it travels.  Local committees organize to bring the films to their city, and Julian is lucky enough to have a group of visionary folks (read Nancy, Brian and Terry!) and a supporting organization (Volcan Mountain Foundation) who successfully brought it to Julian last year and are bringing it back again this year, bigger and better.  From Friday to Sunday (May 17-19), our little town will show 44 films about the planet—from gorgeous nature films to inspiring environmental activist stories to thrilling adventure documentaries.  Along with the films, there are hikes, naturalist-led children’s activites, food, receptions, chats with the filmmakers, and more.  I can’t wait!  This year, the committee has also arranged for films, all featuring children and the environment, to be shown at assemblies at the elementary schools and junior high the week before the festival. (See list of kid-related films below.)  And during the festival itself, Cafeteria Man will be shown and the director will be present to discuss the project.  (Remember, we got a chance to talk with Cafeteria Man—a charismatic chef who revolutionized Baltimore’s public school lunch program— at our recent USDA conference.) To top it off, the event benefits the Volcan Mountain Foundation which I’ve written about here.

Learn more about the festival, buy on-line tickets and/or drool at the general awesomeness of this event at:

Julian Garden Tour

As a fundraiser for Julian’s Farm to School program, the Julian Garden Tour will be presented on Saturday, June 1st from 10:00-4:00.  Presented by the Julian Triangle Club and supported by the Julian Educational Foundation, this self-guided tour will feature seven gardens with their resident gardeners on hand to chat with visitors.  The gardens will range from an ambitious permaculture project in Pine Hills to an integrated waterwise residential landscape in Kentwood to our own charming school garden.  A $20 ticket buys a map to all locations and can be purchased at the elementary school or Julian Town Hall.  Seedlings donated by Heather Rowell and Julian-specific gardening handbooks, compiled by Sally Snipes, will be available for sale. (Many, many thanks to Sunday Dutro—the dynamo behind this incredible effort.)  More info? Check out the Julian Garden Tour Facebook page.

Family Fun and Fit Day

This Farm to School fieldtrip is the first in a series which will help Julian families explore our local food economy.  We will be visiting Cook Pigs Ranch, a family-owned farm that specializes in sustainably raised heritage pigs. To learn more about their passion for happy animals and good food, please visit:  (This is just for Julian families—please r.s.v.p. to me directly if you’d like to come along.)

All together now:   Goooooooooo Julian!


Young Voices for the Planet, Citizen Scientist

13-year-old Anya, an indigenous Siberian girl, sees her world literally melting away. She joins Arctic scientist Max Holmes’ research team, learns about her ecosystem and shares what she learns with her schoolmates. (4min)

Young Voices for the Planet, Olivia’s Birds and the Oil Spill
Olivia loves her New York forest and the Louisiana gulf coast where her grandparents live. When the BP Oil Spill devastates the coast, Olivia creates 500 paintings of her feathered friends to raise funds for Audubon’s bird rescue. (7min)
Watermelon Magic
Richard Power Hoffmann

International audiences will delight in this nearly wordless burst of color and music that draws inspiration from film classic “The Red Balloon”.  Weaving together documentary and narrative elements, “Watermelon Magic” chronicles a season on the family farm, as young Sylvie grows a patch of watermelons to sell at market.  The film employs a dynamic visual style that uses high-resolution stills at varying shutter-burst frame rates with stunning time-lapse sequences to trace the journey from seed to flower to fruit. When harvest time arrives, Sylvie must decide if she will share her precious watermelon babies with the world. (USA, 2013, 38min)
How The Kids Saved The Parks
Andy Miller, Robin Moore
You know those movies where the kids get together and do something awesome? When they unite to overcome insurmountable odds? Maybe win the championship from the favored bad guys. Maybe embark on an epic quest to stop the grown ups from doing something stupid. This is one of those movies, except this one really happened. This is the story of a group of great kids that worked day and night to save the California State Parks that they love – this is ‘How The Kids Saved The Parks’.  (USA, 2012)

Daffodil show: win-win-win-win…

This past weekend was the annual Daffodil Show in Julian.  (Last year I gushingly detailed all of the reasons I love this community event here.)

After a brief chat on Friday about how to choose a prizewinning bloom, the students spread out to harvest.




What to choose?


Then after school I took my boys home to pick their personal entries.


Ethan almost backed out this year but decided to enter again after listening to his mother go on and on about the importance of tradition. (A fistful of ribbons, including a “court of honor” distinction later, he was glad he followed through, and I made him promise to do it every year until he graduates high school.  We’ll see.  Elliot’s in, for sure.)


A friend visiting from out-of-town jumped right in on the excitement, watching the boys key out and arrange their flowers.  (The paper flowers hanging from the ceiling and the watercolor paintings on the wall were all done by kids at school.)


The youth division took up one full wall with a record amount of entries.




Photo courtesy of Anne Garcia

Marisa’s beautiful display with children’s essays.  The photos are of kids planting at school and around town—a yearly tradition led by Sally Snipes.


Photo courtesy of Anne Garcia

The ribbons and some of the flowers are now proudly on display in the front office of the school.


My friend Anne summed it up well in a post-show e-mail:

I think the Youth Division MAKES the show! It adds so much pizazz and meaning to why we grow the flowers. Pure joy!

Family Fun (work)Day

Once a quarter Mr. Pierce plans a weekend “Family Fun Day.”  This past weekend the event was held in the garden, for a workday and BBQ.  Simply amazing what many hands can accomplish!

Rangers at Heise Park dumped off a load of woodchips (seen in the background) which were loaded into wheelbarrows…

Photo courtesy of Scot Copeland

…and spread around the entire garden by kids and adults all afternoon.

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

We removed an old raised bed, with rotting wood and gopher-punctured lining:

Photo courtesy of Scot Copeland

Photo courtesy of Scot Copeland

We built a brand-new, gopher-lined box: (Redwood and 1/2 inch hardware cloth)

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Moving it into place took a small team:

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Putting the dirt back in, plus buckets of compost we harvested earlier:

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Finished with peas planted and mulched (the prickly pinecones are supposed to deter creatures):

Turning bins and sifting finished compost:

Photo courtesy of Scot Copeland

Whole lot of weeding goin’ on:

Photo courtesy of Scot Copeland

Photo courtesy of Scot Copeland

Marisa leading a heroic effort with the kids to remove rocks from a future planting area:

Photo courtesy of Scot Copeland

A new family to Julian joined us for the day, and we all got to know each other a little bit more:

Photo courtesy of Scot Copeland

Finishing up with a BBQ:

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

And very last: spontaneous music at the end of the day, just as we were losing light!

Meet the “Garden Beneficials”

I’ve recently started this group, described as follows in our local newspaper:

You’re invited to join the “Garden Beneficials”

The “Garden Beneficials” * is a group of Julian residents who volunteer in the Julian Elementary and Junior High Gardens.  Monthly updates and a list of volunteer opportunities are sent to the group, and volunteers pick and choose what they’d like to be involved with based on time, interest and skill.  The group is low stress, low commitment—anything volunteers choose to do will be welcomed and very much appreciated! Garden Beneficials will also be invited as special guests to garden events throughout the year.

*As you may know, in the world of gardening “beneficials” are insects that do small but important work, like the ladybird beetle eating the aphid!

The first person to join was a retired woman who got in touch with me this summer, offering her gardening services.  An absolute dream of a volunteer, she has come out to weed, to straighten out the ribbon garden, and to help with garden lessons on Wednesdays.  Recently a neighbor donated a sweet and little but old and weathered bench to us, after having toured with garden the Julian’s Women Club. My (unnamed, as she prefers) volunteer took it home, refinished it and had her neighbor help with painting the little animals.  As you can see, it is adorable!  For now it is under the willow tree, inviting kids to come sit under the swaying leaves.

Adopt-the-garden for the summer

A big question in school gardens is:  what happens in the summer?  Who takes care of the garden?  What happens to the produce?

At our school, I begin recruiting families in May to adopt the garden for one week each over the summer.  The main job is watering.  If they have spare time, we wouldn’t complain if they pulled a few weeds.  I write up “summer watering notes” and mail them to each family, also posting a copy on our bulletin board.  Families are welcome to harvest anything they’d like during their week.  I think it builds owernship to come on campus during the summer and do the important work of keeping the garden thriving.  Through their work, families provide an important service and get a more intimate look at our program, hopefully building every broader support for coming years.

Here’s the Lay family, last week’s volunteer family.

Gardening as a community

One of my favorite things about Master Gardeners is that I’m now part of a gardening community that stretches across the county.  Through this network, I recently read about a sale of a native plant in a San Diego wholesale nursery.  A large-scale landscaping project recently fell through for them, and the nursery ended up with 1,000 California fuschia which they are selling for cheap to the public.  I decided to pick up a few for my house, a couple more for the elementary school garden, and yet a few more for the garden at the junior high.  I put the word out, and one neighbor asked me to pick up 7..another asked for 10….one more asked for 3…..  And so today Elliot and I happily loaded up the van with 35 epilobium canum.

It’s a cool plant because 1) it’s a California native that requires minimal water once established,  2) it’s good for hillsides which are features at both my house and the school garden, and 3)  its beautiful orange flowers attract hummingbirds.  I had fun driving around my town tonight, making my plant deliveries, chatting with friends in the dwindling light of a perfect summer evening, and savoring this sweet example of gardening in community.

Do a small job, be our hero

You know how a single job can be quick work for one person, and a seemingly massive task for another?  I’ve thought about this a lot, in my quest to get everything done in the school garden that needs getting done.  And I’ve come up with this idea: compiling a list of small jobs in the garden and putting it out to our community at large to see if we can get any takers.  The idea is that if you want to help our school garden, you don’t necessarily need to join the Garden Club or commit to a big, ongoing project.  Just look over our list of “small jobs” and see which ones might be easy and fun for you to do. We’ll quickly reimburse you for any expenses.  Come do one job and be our hero for the day!

Take our wheelbarrow.  It needs fixed, and for me to do it, I’d spend an inordinate amount of time assessing it, researching what bolts and nuts and braces it would need, and then shopping for the right things, and finally locating all of the necessary tools. (Sad, but true.) Yet for the right person with the right tools…this would be a relatively quick task.

My church has expressed interest in helping with the garden, and so I published a list of jobs in a newsletter, and Hans (who also happens to be my next door neighbor) was the first to say he’d help out.  In no time at all, he got our wheelbarrow operational and repaired a fruit tree sign as a bonus!  I was so grateful to cross this task off my list, thanks to Hans’ willingness to serve!  It’s a good example of a community member investing in kids and public schools, even though his own children have long since graduated.  Thanks neighbor!

5 reasons I love the Daffodil Show in Julian

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1. It is rooted in love.   Local gardener Sally Snipes is the force behind the annual planting of daffodils in Julian’s public spaces.  She started many years ago with friends and fellow volunteers, and now there are untold number of daffodils in front yards, along roads and in front of businesses.  Her purpose was to honor her Dad who was an avid gardener, and our town is that much more beautiful for this living memorial to her father.

2.  Children plant many of the flowers.  My son has planted with Sally in various locations over the years.  Ethan could lead you around Julian and point out exactly where he planted, and in what grade (“right there, Mom, that hillside…that’s where we planted in fourth.”)  School children also do watercolor paintings and paper flowers to decorate Town Hall and Main Street businesses when the show comes to town because…

3.  Every year the community gathers together and puts on a show. It’s now part of who we are—we are the people that grow daffodils.  On Friday afternoon, smiling people usher in the daffodils, clustered in spaghetti jars and buckets. They key them out with laminated guides and bulb catalogues, fussing over the blooms in their vases.  Neighbors chat, and Town Hall starts to fill with the heavenly scent of springtime.

4.  Children enter flowers for judging. Kids bring flowers from their yards, and since the advent of the garden, children now enter blooms they planted on campus. This year, between the elementary school and the junior high, we came back with a dozen ribbons.  I really like that the school is participating in the cultural life of the town.

5.  Daffodils are absolutely beautiful and remarkably diverse.  “Depending on  which botanist you talk to, there are between 40 and 200 different daffodil species, subspecies or varieties of species and over 25,000 registered cultivars (named hybrids) divided among the thirteen divisions of the official classification system. ( From American Daffodil Society FAQ,  Ranging from white to yellow to peach, they are easy to grow and maintain, often fragrant, and always breathtaking.  What’s not to like?

To my friends, the early garden dreamers

Believe it or not, this post ends with photos of two very dear friends, one in an Elvis suit, both in a small plane, doing something that demonstrates the depth of their commitment to projects we dream up.

But first….let me say that there are dozens and dozens of people who are responsible for making the school garden what it is today.  You can’t scroll through these posts and not know that a small army of people, doing both small and large things, built this little slice of heaven.  (Thank you, every single one of you–parents, teachers, administration, staff, garden club, students, family, neighbors.)

And yet there are three women in particular who with me gave birth to this idea in the Spring of 2009. Without these friends/fellow parents, the area that is our garden would still possibly be an asphalt-cracked, weed-infested, graveyard for broken equipment.  They are Allison, Marisa, and Kathy.

Together we caught the vision for a school-wide garden program. We whispered the idea to each other, and our eyes grew big.  Over and over we would walk that corner of campus, starting every sentence with “What if?”  We took notes, sent each other e-mails, and hunched over notebooks filled with garden magazine clippings at the coffee house.  Hands gesturing, arms flying, we would talk over each other in excitement, and then a big idea would come and we would lift our sleeves and say “I’ve got goosebumps.”  Then we’d head out and walk the space again.

We pounded out a proposal and presented it to our PTO.  We asked for money to launch the project, and our parent community and school administration gave us the green light.  We started breaking ground (or rather, leveling it) that very week.

All of my local friends are amazing.  They live their lives with creativity, whole-heartedness, love, possibility and commitment to things that matter.  I feel lucky to be carving out a rich life with them in this town, striving to offer up our best gifts to enhance the lives of kids growing up here—our own as well as others.

Here’s proof of the kind of fun, vibrant and “sky’s the limit” women they are.  Two of them decided it would be great to get an “aerial photograph” of the garden as we were in the planning stages…you know, for good artistic renderings and archival documentation.  So they flew up over the school and took one.

The “asphalt triangle” below was the space that became half of the garden; the space above it was a outdoor area used years ago by a now-retired, dedicated gardening teacher but since fallen into disrepair.

Now….as for one of them being dressed as Elvis, well…. that’s another (very good) story……