Getting smarter every year: the daffodil show

We have hundreds of daffodils planted all around our garden, and we keep adding more every year. Every March our town of Julian hosts a daffodil show which is truly wonderful! (You can read my rapturous past reports here and here.)

Though students have planted most of the daffodils, I usually picked our prizewinning blooms the first couple years the school garden was represented in the youth division of the show.  Then I got a little smarter and had the kids go out and pick the flowers.  This year I was even smarter and put the whole process in the students’ hands: I not only had the students choose the flowers, after a short tutorial on how to do so properly, but I also had them key out the flowers using a laminated guide with flower part diagrams and division breakdowns.  They also arranged the blooms in show vases and filled out the submission cards.  Our wonderful Garden Beneficial for the day,  Jenny graciously offered to drop them off at Town Hall, ready to enter. And like every year, we brought home a handful of ribbons—but this year, the ownership of the flowers and the garden and our participation in the show was better than ever—no surprise.  School garden cardinal rule:  get kids’ hands on everything!


When a garden photo says a lot

Last week I posted the picture below on our afterschool program’s Facebook page with the caption “Students explore the garden, using microscopes.”

IMG_7568 (1)

Our principal “liked” it, writing “This photo says a lot.”  When I asked him to “Say more!” he responded with this comment which I thought deserved its own post.  Thanks Mr. Copeland for being a principal who “gets it” on so many levels!

…..I see a school and a beautiful garden in a mountain community. And very young ladies (even a princess) being given tools that they will use later in life. Tool use that begins at a young age accelerates the development of familiarity and confidence. These tools are now theirs, not something they might see being used by special (often male) scientists in movies. They’re learning manual dexterity of the rotary adjustments – differential focal adjustment. They’re discovering eye dominance and monocular use of the eye, and thus, the brain. I see outdoor education too, and the interaction with weather and the environment. And that’s just what comes to mind readily…



Science Day in the garden

Last Thursday was Science Day at our school during which students went from “station” to “station” spread across campus for science-based lessons.  For example, San Diego Country Office of Education brought their traveling Splash Lab (microscopes and chemistry experiments) and Green Machine (soils, integrated pest management, water cycle) programs.


Almost every student passed through the garden for a 30-minute class.  In the morning, we had the younger classes combined by grade so I divided the children into groups with an adult (teacher, parent, and/or aid) and explained that they would go to 5 different stations for 5 minutes each.  Each station was set up with a clipboard of simple instructions and the necessary equipment.  I went from group to group to answer questions, point things out and re-set materials.

Station One:  Planting Peas



Station Two:  Watering peas

Other classes had already planted peas in other beds.  At this station kids observed their growth and watered.


Station Three:  Storytime



Station Four:  Smelling herbs


Station Five:  Looking for habitat elements


Mrs. White demonstrating how our beautiful fountain turns on when she holds the panel to the sun.  A wonderful day for hands-on learning!


Tulips and Citizen Science

As I begin to connect with more and more garden coordinators, I realize that a common challenge with school gardens is “when and how to get kids out there.”  As a former teacher, I fully understand all that must be accomplished in a single school day and how overwhelming it can feel to add one more thing to the schedule, no matter how important.

For this reason I love it when people introduce me to user-friendly curriculum units like “Tulip Test Gardens” from Journey North ( In this project students plant the same variety of tulip in their school gardens (using the same set of directions, such as no planting on north-facing slopes which would cause tulips to bloom early).  Students record when the flowers first emerge, and then again when they bloom, inputing their data on the Journey North website.  In this way, students “track the arrival of spring” across the globe, thus studying the relationship between climate and geography.

Our science teacher wants to try it out… our tulips were put in this week!

This curriculum falls squarely in the fascinating camp of “citizen science.”  Citizen science is basically mobilizing volunteers (not necessarily with any formal scientific training) to collect information for scientific purposes, often using observation and measurement.  The best known, and longest running, citizen science project is the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (1900).  Another effort that takes place in backyard and school gardens, the”Great Sunflower Project” asks participants to record pollinator activity at sunflowers they plant. There are others—from “World Water Monitoring Day” to a on-line National Geographic “noninvasive survey” in which internet users analyze satellite images from the region of Genghis Khan’s lost tomb to help archaeologists on the ground.  (This is really interesting stuff–a little googling will lead you to many interesting projects.)

When it comes to school gardens, how cool is it for children to be collecting data with real-world applications?  I’ll let you know how our first attempt goes!