Xeriscape + Botantical Drawing

Our junior high has an enrichment afternoon called Tech Thursday, much like the elementary’s University of Wednesday.  Marisa and I just completed two sessions on xeriscape and botantical drawing.  First, I explained the principles of xeriscape (drought-tolerant landscaping) and talked about our plans to have students help us plant a “demonstration garden” on the slope edging the school garden.



Then I introduced a handful of “rockstar” plants.  I gave a little natural history and botany for each.


Mouthing off about ceanothus, deer grass and salvia

Then, to help students really look at the plants, Marisa took over and talked about the art of botanical drawing.


Students then began to sketch.  Our hope is that they learned a bit about this style of drawing.  We also hope that they have learned a few plant ID’s, having looked so carefully at the plants.



Two particularly great examples:IMG_5324IMG_5299

Last step!  Kids in the after school Club Live program putting them in the ground…in the drizzle! photo

University of Wednesday

University of Wednesday is a new program at out school.  After lunch on Wednesday all of the classes go to an enrichment class: art, garden, natural history, etc.  Every week they rotate.  This is a great development for the garden as it allows me to be a true “garden educator,” creating a lesson plan tailored to each grade.

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Last week I divided the group in half.  One half played Garden Bingo with me.  I don’t simply call out the words—I give examples of them in our garden and the kids have to come up with the words.  It was windy so I had to tape down the boards.  And the plastic bingo chips were too lightweight so I finally hit upon this idea.  (Easy clean up–just flick these chips off the table.)

The other half did this scavenger hunt.  It’s an exercise in observation, with a few  academic standards thrown in.  I usually have adult volunteers with me, so they walk around the garden, helping kids who are stumped or seizing teachable moments.  This “scavenger hunt” format works really well, as kids are self-directed, working in pairs with the questions below on a clipboard. And it’s easy to adapt to the grade and the season.


1)  How many varieties (different types) of tomatoes are currently growing in our garden?

2)   We are currently growing yellow snapdragon flowers.  Examine the flowers.  Why do you think they have this name?

3)   Draw the most beautiful thing in the garden:

4)   Cite one example of insect damage or plant disease in the garden.  (Look closely at leaves.)

5)   Write three words that come to mind when you see the Hubbell Gate.  (The new colorful one at the end of the garden).  Now use the thesaurus on the main table and fine a synonym for each of these words.

Your word                                                Word from thesaurus

__________________________                        _________________________________

__________________________                        _________________________________

__________________________                        _________________________________

6)   Smell at least three herbs in the herb garden.  Draw the leaf of the one you like most.  Do you know its name?

7)   We are a “certified wildlife habitat.”  What are the four things needed for a habitat?  (This is printed somewhere in the garden.)  Pick two elements and give an example of both.

8) Watch the 4 minute video on tendrils.  What did scientists recently learn?  Where are there tendrils in our garden?  Do you notice the phenomenon pointed out in the video?

(We couldn’t get this excellent Science Friday clip to play out in the garden, so I explained it and the kids watched it later in class.)

Then the kids switch so they both have a chance at each activity.  We end by gathering together at the table to share our answers and questions, and I try to always have something from the garden prepped to eat as we talk together.  The containers get passed around until all the food is gone!

Garden bulletin board, by kids

I once heard a garden coordinator say that she tried to never work in the garden alone–she always invited someone to join her.  In that way, she was always building the knowledge and skill base of other volunteers—and she always had company!

Sometimes it takes me a while to remember that most every garden job can be used to teach something.  All month I’ve been passing our garden bulletin board and thinking, “Oh dear, that really needs updated!”  And then it occurred to me to offer a bulletin board making activity for NEAT day, an hour of enrichment on Friday afternoon.

I gave the four students the information that needed to go on the board: newspaper clippings and information I wrote on cards.  Then we talked about palette–about choosing a color scheme that guides what colors you choose for a project. (Thank you artist friends for helping me to think like this!)  We pawed through big boxes of handmade and recycled papers, talking about mixing in texture.  We discussed accents and surprises and splashes of whimsy to make something more interesting. I told stories about the scraps of paper in the box (like the remnant of marbled paper I brought from Italy, the handmade pieces I had picked up at fair trade stores and the scraps I had collected from Christmas cards and wrapping paper.)

Then the kids went for it.  The result was sweet and colorful, and they were very proud of it.  We’ll change it next month, with another group of students, and learn some more.