Re-teaching is good learning

My son is taking a drawing class with two other students at the newly opened Studio Samadhi in Wynola—a wonderful new “center for the arts” in our community.  IMG_2833 One day last month the kids drew little cartoon birds, and it was a hit.  One of the students, who happens to be a Garden Ambassador, said, “We should do this again in the garden!”  I am always looking for realistic student-generated garden ideas for them to run with, so I asked each student to invite a friend to lunch so that they could re-teach the lesson.  It was a cold and windy day, so we ate and drew in Pathways.  The kids were excellent teachers. IMG_2654 IMG_2653 IMG_2647 All of the drawings were then pinned on our garden bulletin board for all to enjoy! IMG_2830 IMG_2831

Smoothie bike!

One of our Farm to School purchases was a bike blender attachment.  A regular bike gets hooked up to a stand and a platform with a Vitamix blender.  Thirty seconds of pedal power, and you have a full pitcher of smoothie.

We ordered the smoothie apparatus in order to promote healthy snacks at school events.  The mountain bike club borrowed the equipment last weekend for the elementary cross-country meet. We used a simple recipe of apple juice, frozen berries, fresh bananas, and ice. Not only did we raise money for our team, but we also had the pleasure of passing out healthy, delicious drinks to kids running their hearts out on a beautiful day in Julian.



Thanks to my Dad who first saw this type of bike at a golf tournament and led me to research it.  Find out more at

Kindergarteners + math + garden

One of my favorite things about the school garden is discovering ways it is being used by teachers, staff and families.  A few weeks back, a mom was out at the table, orchestrating a birthday celebration for her son.  Earlier in the day, the kindergarten class was looking for patterns.  What a great lesson, Mrs. White!  She wrote to me later:

So…we had an amazing day in the garden! It really helped our math work to “come alive!” 

Photo courtesy of Mrs. White


Photo courtesy of Mrs. White

Why do we forget food can be simple?

And by we I mean me.  Do you forget this too? I sometimes think a meal or a packed lunch has to be more involved than it needs to be, when simple foods are often whole/raw/minimally prepared and really the best for you.

A compelling example follows.

A couple weeks ago I picked up our first box of donated organic fruits and vegetables from Be Wise Ranch. For the first activity I decided to teach the Garden Ambassadors to sauté zucchini and run a taste test for their fifth grade class.  The recipe I found called for garlic, ginger, and soy sauce, and after I gathered these extra ingredients I thought….nope, change of plans.  We’re going to cook these zucchini with a little bit of safflower oil and salt.  By isolating the variable, we’d know whether or not they like zuc, without the ginger or garlic confusing their “yum” or “yuck” vote.


The maiden voyage of our outdoor food prep station!

My lesson plan got simpler too.  Nonetheless, there was so much to teach:

-the importance of weighing our yield, how to read a scale, how to subtract a tare (oh my goodness, high school chemistry coming from some deep recess of my brain), the different   smoke points for different cooking oils, food safety, how a wok works, how to spell wok, how to spell sauté, why it’s important to cut veggies in similar sizes, and on and on and on……


The kids took turns stirring, rotating around the island

And here are three incredible outcomes:

1) 26 kids voted “yum.”  Only one recorded a “yuck.” Remember this is unadorned, lightly stir-fried zucchini, and kids “hate” vegetables.

2)  I had three zucchini left over, and each of ambassadors was begging to take them home.  I offered one to the first kid who remembered how to spell sauté.  Then we drew slips of paper for the other two.  (One read–“Yay, you get the zucchini!” The other: “Sorry, maybe zucchini next time.)  It bears repeating: WE DREW CARDS FOR ZUCCHINI.

3) I spoke with the mom of one of the ambassadors later that day.  She said her daughter not only asked to stop at the store that afternoon to buy zucchini so she could show her family how to cook it, but she had also called her grandmother to make sure she put a few zucchini plants in her spring garden this year.

This is the hope, and in our garden, the reality: that these little lessons learned at school in gardening, nutrition, and science get transferred home.

Collecting garden ideas in the Capital

As has become my custom, I took pictures of some sweet ideas for children’s gardens at the United States Botanic Gardens.

Upfront, they give permission to use the senses:


Kids cranked on this old-fashioned pump to fill the pool…


….and then kids filled up watering cans….


….and watered everything in sight.   ( I imagine they’ve got the most well-draining soil imaginable)….


Brightly painted details always add a touch of whimsy.


If you’re reading this and you’d like to help me install a mailbox in our school garden, I would take you up on it.  I love this idea as a way to store how-to handouts for visitors (i.e. One of our beneficials is working on a one-page sheet on how to construct your own gopher cages to plant in.)


We saw an exhibit on plants that traveled because of the Perry Expedition.  I’m completely intrigued by the worldwide migration of plants, and I think it’s a good hook for pulling kids in to both botany and history.


Rooftop gardens are big right now, but how fun that this one on top of a playhouse is accessible and eye-level (at least for adults?)


A common element in children’s gardens: little, green spaces to crawl into.  Here: a bamboo grove of one’s own.


Another personal interest:  how do plants, trees and flowers contribute to our sense of place?  I know I feel more “grounded” every year in Julian as I learn my plants, note subtle changes in the succession of blooms, recognize patterns in the seasons, expect certain smells, etc.


Another angle to explore in the garden:  food across cultures.  This was built for smelling!


A few experiential stations were set up.  At this one we made seed balls with soil, clay and wildflower seeds to toss in a garden, vacant lot, etc.  The woman encouraged me to take it home, even though I live in California. I was on vacation, so I didn’t strike up a conversation about my classified work with native plants, and just politely gave it to my D.C. friend. 🙂


Planting the “stinking rose”

Recently during lunch Garden Ambassadors came out to help me put in some garlic (aka “stinking rose”.)

One of my goals for this blog is “to make a case for school gardens from every angle I can think of.”  In a fifteen minute activity, look at all the good stuff that was played out….

community:  My friend and fellow Master Gardener Mary had extra garlic to plant from her Julian garden and she shared her bulbs with us, dropping them off at school.

education (experiential, continuing, informal):  Student separated and planted the bulbs at lunch time. I was tempted to go put the bulbs in myself (quick, easy), but I resisted and waited for a time when kids could help me.  Should these little bulbs sprout and grow, I know the kids will be more excited and involved if their own little fingers put them in the soil.  As the garden coordinator, I learned a lot too by checking out a great book in order to learn more about garlic since I’m also planting it for the first time: The Complete Book of Garlic* by Ted Jordan Meredith.

sustainability:  I learned that the majority of garlic we consume comes from China.  And it can be relatively easy to grow in one’s own backyard (in climates with some rainfall, sunny dry summers, and fairly moderate winters.*)  Let’s do this!

nutrition:  Imagine the possibilities when we harvest in the fall!


Garden as hangout space

In the intial brainstorming about the garden at the junior high (“the Living Room”), it was agreed that one of the major objectives for this space was to create a green, inviting garden space in which kids would want to hang out.  To this end, we wrote a grant for a BBQ, six tables, and 8 benches.  They arrived right before vacation, and last Sunday afternoon a team of kids, parents, staff (and staff spouses!) put them in place.


Poles were sunk in the ground to keep the tables steady and in place.




Benches were set throughout the garden for extra seating.


Volunteers are the first to try out the benches!


A few benches are also placed around campus.


Volunteer students also try them out!



Look at this brand new social space!  Let the hanging out begin!




Thank to everyone who came out and worked to improve this space for the junior high students!

Blog anniversay, by the numbers

As of today, years I have been blogging: 1

Degree of change in my view toward the value of blogging in this last year: 180

Number of views in the last year: 9,458

Number of people who have signed on for every e-mail, aka “followers”: 83

Number of posts:  85

Days per week I posted (mostly): 2

Number of comments:  562

Chances that the top three commenters are related to me: 100%

Views of most popular post (“Curating a classroom”): 518

Views of least popular post (“Adopt the garden for the summer”):  11

Number of views on most popular day (January 23rd):  125

My age in the photo of aforementioned post that garnered the most interest :  5

On a scale from 1 to 10, degree to which I’m still excited about school gardens: 10

I appreciate all of you for tuning in and cheering me on in the last year.  My writing life has never been more fun and consistent, and I have you—my audience–to thank.

To celebrate the past year, I’d like to bump up a couple of my favorite posts that I wrote early in the year and that have been a bit buried:

The Table

Three reasons to invite your community into the garden

Why I love the daffodil show in Julian

Thanks for coming by!  See you next year.

Indoor gardening activity: rosemary wreaths

I experimented with making rosemary wreaths for our sale on Saturday, and we sold every one of them.  Today was threatening rain, wind and temperatures in the 50’s (note: this is cold in California), so I put together an indoor lesson about rosemary for University of Wednesday.

First I harvested about 400-500 sprigs of rosemary from my yard.  (Like the laundry basket?)  I also cut 10 inch lengths of floral wire, and 24 pieces of 20 inch thicker gauge wire. I also gathered spools of ribbons.)


Beforehand I popped a whole lot of popcorn with olive oil and fresh rosemary.


After talking a little bit about the history and uses of rosemary, we tied the mound of  sprigs at each table into threes with floral wire, and then wound the clusters to the wire circles they shaped with the thicker wire.  Students finished the wreaths with ribbons/raffia, and we dined on popcorn.  IMG_5405 IMG_5407

For the last five minutes we took a quick garden walk and identified the rosemary bushes in three different locations. After working with them, touching them, smelling them, tasting them—they were easy to identify.  Students happily went home with their wreaths—this one as a hair piece!


Farewell chain link fence!

In creating a passageway from the Hubbell Gate to the junior high, we recently removed a whole lot of chain link fence. This is what it looked like before:

Here’s another view:

We created a large opening, bringing the apple trees into the garden.  Then we chose to replace the fence with something less industrial and two feet shorter.  First the fence came down.

And was replaced with this:

Photo courtesy of Jeff Holt

Once replaced, everything changed.  We now have an unobstructed view of Volcan Mountain, our beloved wilderness reserve, and the adjacent junior high. The junipers that seemed pinned back by the former high fence in the corner now seem like a neighboring forest. We can get to the apple trees to care for and harvest them.  It feels bigger, lighter, more friendly, and like it has always been there.