Who Plants the Garden? The 2011 DC Schoolyard Garden Tour

From coast to coast, this is school garden tour season!  This week I’m bringing you news of another city where exciting things are happening for kids.  I visited 7 wonderful DC school gardens on a recent rainy Saturday.


The theme of this year’s tour, which capped off a school garden week full of workshops, contests and events, was to show the diversity of ways that school gardens “take root”.  The tour highlighted parent-led, teacher-led, outside organization-initiated and even alumni-driven school garden initiatives.


Signage is always an issue in gardens where students and visitors need to understand the intent.  There were a variety of great sign examples on the tour.


We started the morning at The Watkins Living Schoolyard, a 17 year old school garden which began as a collaboration between parent Molly Dannenmaier (author of A Child’s Garden) and teachers in the school’s Montessori program.  Watkins Schoolyard now includes nine outdoor classrooms and the newest addition, an indoor Kid’s Kitchen that includes a cooktop with demonstration mirror, double ovens, undercounter grow lights and is staffed by a kitchen teacher who uses fresh produce from the edible garden to teach nutrition.  A curriculum for first, third and forth grades will be available online this fall. This schoolyard is completely integrated into the curriculum at the school with the full support of the staff and administration.

A seating area inside the Watkins edible garden with a lush bed of butternut squash.
Student made signage states rules in positive terms.
Weatherproof colorful signage throughout the garden helps visitors understand the garden goals.
Artist-made signage adds beauty to the gardens

The next stop on the tour was Kimball Elementary, where a collaboration between the nonprofit  Lands and Waters and the school community brings nature to the schoolyard.

Kris Unger, of Lands and Waters, shows the habitat garden which replaced lawn with native trees, understory plants and accompanying wildlife.  Students can get close to wildness without ever leaving the school grounds. 
Milkweed brings native monarch butterflies, and milkweed beetles, shown here, to the garden.

At Coolidge High School a unique partnership between ASLA, the very active alumni association, and a wide variety of sponsors and volunteers is working to restore the original 1938 Greenhouse, and has created a master plan and an extensive series of raised beds, seating and pathways. Science, math, special ed, art and English teachers at the high school are all getting on board to develop lessons and bring their classes outdoors.

The greenhouse, awaiting renovation, with a raingarden and patio in the foreground
Raised beds, the patio and a trellis donated through a collaboration with the American Society of Landscape Architects 2010 National Conference.

The six outdoor classrooms at Murch Elementary are supported by an active group of parents (90 of 200 families are involved).  Parent volunteers coordinate frequent special events, classroom support and garden maintenance.  At School Garden week’s special recess tour, kids with passports visited all 6 of the gardens usually used by only one grade.  Kids got to learn about gardens they don’t often work in and earned stickers on their passports from parents manning each station.
This school participates in the Chefs Move to Schools program, launched by Michelle Obama, which brings chefs (in chef suits) to schools where they cook school garden harvests and encourage healthy eating.

The newest addition, a textile garden, features cotton, dye plants (in school colors) and grasses for weaving.
Pumpkins gone wild sprawl over everything in the edible garden and outside the fence in a tangible lesson about the power of plants.
A labyrinth (around the peace pole) is repainted annually by a mural-artist parent and is surrounded by herbs in containers.

Lafayette Elementary has the newest garden of the tour.  Students at the school are planting vegetables and painting signs, cooking and eating with chefs and even blogging about their adventures in their one year old garden.  This effort is supported by a group of dedicated parents who help with cooking classes and garden maintenance.

Lovely child-painted labels for every crop.
A late crop of peas

The tour ended at Tubman elementary, where an effort initiated by two teachers has led to a schoolwide gardening program with strong ties to the White House.  Michelle Obama and White House chefs have worked in the Harriet Tubman gardens, and the Tubman students  garden and dine regularly at the White House.  President Obama signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act at Harriet Tubman.  This hard to replicate model has generated a great deal of excitement and garden support among students, parents and community at Tubman!

A child-made sign at the garden
Lush beans, kale and cabbage in the Tubman gardens.

And finally, thanks to DC school garden sponsor Chipotle, for a warm and delicious donated lunch for the cold, wet and inspired garden tour participants.

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