Thankfully, Liz Beattie offered us some solid advice on how to make a school garden a reality. You want enthusiasm for your school garden to endure and spread, not fizzle out. So to begin, she suggested that we start small. Plant a seed. Grow something on the windowsill of your classroom. Try a small container gardening program like “Spuds in Tubs” or start with small, moveable containers. Going hand in hand with this advice is: keep the cost down! Free is good. Look for funding, grants, programs, and any community partnerships that can be made that will allow you to access soil, containers, compost, seeds, etc.
Other considerations were how to create and involve a team that can help the garden - from administrators, to teachers, students, parents, custodians, and the wider community. Having a solid team can help carry the garden through busy times, summer holidays, and helps share the work and planning so that enthusiasm doesn’t wane and burnout is avoided.
To end our morning, we made newspaper pots and planted our very own seeds. This is something that teachers can easily do in their classroom and fits with the “start small/free is good” advice we discussed earlier. With a strip of newspaper, some soil, and a few seeds, we had our very own planted seeds to take home, water, and watch over. This was a very simple, satisfying, and fun way to start seeds. It was therapeutic; ripping, wrapping, and crushing the paper to make a small pot. It was fun to play in the dirt, sow the seeds, and hold the finished product in the palm of your hand. I felt very protective of the little seed I potted and transported it carefully home that day.
This was a very enjoyable and realistic activity that teachers can easily incorporate in the classroom and I can see myself doing this with students in the future!
Later in the morning we visited UBC's Nitobe Memorial Garden. Tsubasa gave a brief history of Dr. Inazo Nitobe, his vision of bridging Japan and North America, and the symbolism behind the layout of the garden.
Japanese gardens are steeped in symbolism, and everything from the pebbles to the boulders to the water to the trees represent an aspect of life or nature. For example, the assymetrical layout of the garden represents harmony and disharmony between humans and nature - nature is a source of both life and destruction, and must therefore be respected.
According to Tsubasa, the theme behind Nitobe Memorial Garden is the stages of life. For example, a short bridge at the far side of the pond represents an early (or rushed) marriage. Nearby the bridge is a dead end which represents the teenage years, rebellion, and the struggle of finding their way in life. An island near the entrance of the garden is shaped like a turtle, which represents longevity. A lantern on the island is referred to as a "mother lantern" - the absence of a "father lantern" implies the absence of a father figure in raising a family.
The long bridge which divides the lake represents Dr. Nitobe's vision of being a "bridge across the Pacific." The smaller section on the far side of the garden represents Japan while the larger section closest to the entrance represents North America.
As Tsubasa mentioned at the outset, gardens can be used to teach math and science, and also gives students the opportunity to engage in place-based learning and daily physical activity. But gardens can lend themselves especially well to visual and language arts. Earlier in the morning, we discussed how gardens should not only be for growing food, but also be aesthetically pleasing. Getting students involved in the design of their school garden is one excellent way to develop their visual arts skills. For younger learners, one popular activity is to create a "me flag." Much like the Japanese garden we visited, each symbol and color represents some apect of their lives or their personality. Tsubasa suggested a very similar activity of having students create their own miniature garden which somehow represents their own lives. This not only develops their visual arts skills, but also provides an opportunity to discuss and write about the symbols they chose for their garden.