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:

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

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….and then kids filled up watering cans….

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

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Brightly painted details always add a touch of whimsy.

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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.)

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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.

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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?)

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

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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.

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

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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. 🙂

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Plant espionage

Most of my Master Gardener public outreach hours are going to school gardens.  Recently, however, a service opportunity came up I couldn’t resist:  spying on nurseries to document how many invasive plants they have for sale.

Ok, not really spying.  It’s all done in the open as part of the non-profit organization Plant Right’s attempt to take “data collected from this survey to track California’s retail market for invasive garden plants over time. Having this information allows PlantRight to engage the nursery industry in building an effective program to stop the sale of these plants and replace them with environmentally safe alternatives. The survey itself is a data collection effort and not an outreach initiative.”  They asked Master Gardeners for help, and I gladly watched the webinar and signed up for a nursery in the general area of my other Saturday errands.

Imagine my disappointment when the training webinar said “No disguises necessary.”

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In reality, I strolled around–a plainclothes amateur botanical detective— with my Plant ID guide of 18 targeted invasives to find.  I’m happy to report that the big box store to which I was assigned had none of them.  We were supposed to record other plants in the genus, though, so I jotted down some notes about a broom and vinca minor (vinca major was on the blacklist), took some photos and submitted my notes to their site.  A good afternoon’s work for a native plant vigilante.

To learn more about this cool effort, see http://www.plantright.org

Wanted: new crop of Garden Ambassadors

At the beginning of the school year, I visit the fifth grade class, give a pitch for Garden Ambassadors and pass out applications.  This week I conduct interviews.  The returning (sixth grade) senior garden ambassadors have already been chosen, and today two of them spent part of their lunch to help me water and harvest for tomorrow’s lesson.

The application asks three questions.  Naturally all of the students wrote about having good character, demonstrating leadership qualities and being interested in all aspects of gardening.  Here’s a few of my favorite lines from this year’s application.

What do you think are good qualities for a Garden Ambassador to have?

Good qualities for a Garden Ambassador are respect, motivation, and an open heart.

I think some good qualities for a Garden Ambassador to have are being willing to get their hands dirty.

Knowing how to decipher weeds from produce!

I think good qualities to have are a good memory and a helpful soul.

Good listening and you can’t mess around! When you’re talking to a guest, don’t mumble and talk clearly.  Last year I created the Green Team and really enjoyed being a leader!

Why would you like to serve as a Garden Ambassador?

Because I think our garden is beautiful and I want to be a part of it!

This would teach me how to plant my own garden.  It would make me so happy if I were chosen!

I am interested in different plant species and how wonderful they look and what they do for our ecosystem.

I remember seeing the Senior Garden Ambassadors and saying I want to do that, and now look, I might!

I’d like to serve as a garden ambassador because I believe we don’t grow the garden, it grows us.   (I’d also love to play my violin in the garden to welcome special guests.)

I see it as an art form.  A blank canvas waiting to be painted.

I want to do it to inspire the younger kids to become Garden Ambassadors. 

What do you think you could learn from serving as a Garden Ambassador?

I could learn how to talk to the public or give a speech without being shy or nervous.

And finally, an addendum to one of the applications (I could clean out the gazebo if you were having guests):