Saturday, December 28, 2013

Baby it's Hot Outside, at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Wings of the Tropics exhibit at Fairchild
My grandparents are the sort of folks that are commonly called "snow birds."  They're retirees from up north who travel south to Florida when the weather gets chilly in the fall.  As I walked through Knoxville's January chill, I found myself thinking of my grandparents and all the other snow birds.  Although I enjoy winter and everything the winter landscape has to offer, there are times that I miss the heat of summer and the sight of vibrant, actively growing plants.

Last winter, I satisfied that desire by making a trek down to Miami to see the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden.  I got a special tour from my friend Nathan who had just finished an internship with the Fairchild.  Although the weather in Knoxville was frightful, Miami was muggy and in the high 70's, and everything was bursting with life.

During his internship, Nathan helped install the new "Wings of the Tropics" exhibit.  I'd been following the progress on Facebook, and I was really pleased to visit in person.  Visitors are able to closely observe thousands of tropical butterflies as they flutter about the 25,000 square foot pseudo-conservatory.  If you've ever visited an established conservatory, like the one at the U.S. Botanic Garden, Missouri Botanic, etc., then you can recall images of towering trees arching toward the ceiling.

Wings of the Tropics exhibit at Fairchild
One of my favorite parts about my visit to Fairchild was seeing a newly installed conservatory.  It was kind of like seeing a child whose parents had bought clothes that were a bit too big, knowing they would soon grow into them.  The trees were usually only about 15 feet tall.  The perennials and shrubs, correctly spaced, had bare earth between.  Swaths of annuals filled empty space, earmarked for future, more permanent plantings.  It was really something to behold.  It will be interesting to go back once things have filled in a bit more and matured.

The exhibit included a babbling brook, feeding stations, host plants to support the butterfly population, and a window into a laboratory where larvae and chrysalises are nurtured as replacements.  At a set time every day, visitors had the opportunity to release freshly emerging butterflies into the main house.  With wet crumpled appendages, the butterflies would crawl onto an extended finger, and wait until their bodies dried in the sunshine.  After a moment or two, they would unfurl their wings and fly off in search of nectar.

Nathan strikes a pose with some papayas
he'd planted during his internship
Another area Nathan worked in was the Edible Garden.  The garden included a variety of traditional and unusual fruits.  I learned that dragon fruit comes from an epiphytic cactus.  We checked on Nathan's "babies" -- the papayas he had planted two months earlier.  We tasted a selection of especially unfamiliar fruits, with the permission of garden staff of course.

Some of my other favorite areas included the Palm and Cycad Collection that showcases more than 1500 palms, the Keys Coastal Habitat where we tromped through a couple of mangroves and listened for birds, and Richard H. Simons Rainforest.  Flower spikes of various orchids reached from tree branches, like a cat pawing for attention.  A creek cheerily sang through dappled shade.  Overhead, some kind of a hawk rested in the branch of a tree.

In addition to plant conservation and collection, the Fairchild also offers an artistic outlet.  There are a few Chihuly pieces on the property, within the Tropical Plant Conservatory and out on the grounds. The "Sitting Naturally" exhibit, profiled in the ever popular Garden Design magazine, was on display during our visit.  Down near the mangroves, past the "Sausage Tree", a marble carving class was in session.

Water fountains were interspersed around the property, and cold drinks were available at drink stands.  Peckish visitors were able to satisfy their hunger at the Glasshouse Cafe, Lakeside Cafe, or could grab some Starbucks coffee and a pastry at the Shops at Fairchild.  There were also several buildings equipped with clean restrooms.

All in all, it was a really fantastic visit.  The staff was friendly and knowledgeable, the grounds were vibrant and well tended, and I actually forgot that it was the middle of winter.  My main suggestion is that when you plan your trip, bring weather appropriate clothes, a hat, and comfortable walking shoes.  You'll have more fun if you're dressed comfortably.  Sunscreen and sunglasses may also come in handy.

Other important considerations when planning your visit:

  • Hours of operation: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Admission:
    • Adults: $25
    • Seniors: $18
    • Youths age 6 to 17: $12
    • Children age 5 and under: Free
    • Fairchild Members: Free
  • Parking: Free
  • Accessibility:
    • Wheelchairs are available to use free of charge, and may be borrowed from any garden entrance point.
    • Shuttle service is available to various points of the garden.
    • Tram tours of the garden are available.
    • Trams are equipped with two hearing aids for hearing impaired visitors.
  • Pets:
    • Pets are not permitted on the property, with the exception of "Dog Day" and "Howl-O-Ween".
    • Service animals are permitted on the property.
Special thanks to my cohort Nathan for inspiring the visit with his Facebook updates, for giving me the ground tour and journeying to the end of I-95 with me.  Also thanks to my grandparents who put me up at their home in Florida.

To see more of my photos from our trip to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, be sure to check out my flickr set.

If you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment on this post or shoot me an email.

Tell us about a visit to a tropical horticultural destination, real or planned.  Where would you go?  What would you do?

This Chihuly glass piece complements the colorful goldfish in the Tropical Plant Conservatory
The Palm and Cycad collection is home to more than 1500 palms and 350 cycad

For anyone wondering just what exactly a Sausage Tree looks like...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Community Gardening: Is it for you?

Beardsley's mission is to increase access to fresh produce
through education, product donations and outreach.
I am a college student who lives on a very tight budget, in a cramped apartment completely surrounded by shade.  After struggling to grow food on the patio, inside, and in a friend's yard, I decided to get a plot at a nearby community garden.  Now that the allocated growing season set forth by the garden has wrapped up, I'd like to share a little about my experience.

About the Community Garden

Beardsley Community Farm is a part of the city of Knoxville's Malcolm Martin Park.  Their mission is to increase access to fresh produce through education, product donations and outreach.  Although the farm is located just down the road from a Food City grocery store, many of the folks who live in the low income housing surrounding the property struggle with access to fresh fruits and vegetables. 

In addition to community garden plots, the Beardsley property
includes a berry patch, orchard, and a fenced in demonstration
garden complete with a greenhouse, chickens, worm
composting and massive rain barrels.
Beardsley is officially a 501-C4 government run non-profit.  Although the city mows areas of the property and funds some of the farm's operating costs, much of the work is done through the Community Action Coalition (CAC) AmeriCorps.  In a given year, the Americorp may contribute 3 to 5 staff members whose sole job is keep up the farm's operations.

In addition to community plots, the property includes a berry patch, orchard, and a fenced-in demonstration garden complete with a greenhouse, chickens, worm composting, and massive rain barrels.  The food produced in the demonstration areas is donated to organizations such as Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries, Family Crisis, and Bridge Refugees.  Gleaning beds are located just outside the community garden area.  The idea is that hungry folks will take food from the gleaning beds instead of the community garden plots.

In a given year, Beardsley will host about
1000 volunteers, like this group of UT students.
Not only does Beardsley offer space to grow food and providing produce donations to those in needs, but they also offer many educational opportunities to the community throughout the year.  These include hosting youth programs, reaching out to local churches, schools, and colleges, and their "Skillshare" events where local experts teach workshops about sustainable gardening practices.

In a given year, Beardsley will host around 1000 volunteers.   About one tenth of the volunteers come from the local community.  The rest come from local community colleges, universities, and work groups like Comcast and Scripps.  For this reason, Beardsley is not what I'd consider a "true" community garden that was founded by and for the community.  Even though the farm may never be completely community run, it isn't hard to argue that they do a great deal of good for their neighbors.

The plot thickens

I adopted a plot that had been
abandoned in the heat of summer.

Although I would have liked to get started gardening earlier in the spring, I didn't want to take away an opportunity for someone from nearby low-income housing to have a garden plot.  That's why I waited until August to take over one of the plots that had been abandoned earlier in the season.  Clearing out my bed took about four hours altogether, but it was easy work for a garden nut fueled by visions of freshly grown fruits and vegetables.

I left the previous owner's marigolds and two of the their tomato plants in case they came back for some food.  Although I later learned that they'd moved out of town, somebody had been enjoying the tomatoes.  Every time I came by to weed and water, there were only green tomatoes on the plants.

It was a bit late in the summer to grow warm season vegetables, so I spent most of August preparing the bed for my cool season vegetables.  I decided to make eight raised rows for my fall garden.  The water would easily drain from the raised rows.  Although this meant a bit more time watering in September, I hoped it create a warmer soil temperature and hopefully more productive crops later in the season.

Buckwheat provided some cool shade for the seedlings
until the temperatures were consistently in the 60's

I planted buckwheat between each row to provide partial shade and some respite from heat for my seedlings early in the season.  When the temperatures dropped down to the 60's during the day, I pulled up the buckwheat, and let it decompose in the trenches between the raised rows.  Then I covered with fall leaves, which also began to break down.  This increased the amount of organic matter and attracted worms, which carried some organic matter into their tunnels around the roots of my crops, increased drainage and aerated the soil.

I chose to direct sow instead of using store-bought transplants.  In September, I made a small trench along the top of each row.  I filled each trench with lettuce, spinach, turnip or broccoli seeds, then covered with some of the vermicompost from the system I keep on the patio of my apartment.  I set aside two rows for each plant, and planted one row of each crop two weeks apart to extend my growing season.  I had more greens than I knew what to do with from mid-September until the end of November.  Snow peas and nasturtiums were planted around the old tomato cages and marigolds.

Fall leaves between each row added organic matter
as they decomposed and attracted worms.
There were some problems with people picking my vegetables.  I don't think I ever had a tomato (although I didn't plant them and they weren't really any trouble to maintain), and in the middle of the fall season somebody did pick about half of my turnips.  The way I see it, the folks that picked the food probably needed it more than I did, and even after all of that I still had more than I knew what to do with.

Community Gardening: Is it for you?

Although I only worked in a community garden for a brief time, I've fallen in love with the experience.  Yes, sometimes other people picked my vegetables, but I always had plenty to feed myself.  Beyond just being able to provide fresh produce for myself that I probably wouldn't have been able to get on my limited budget, I also enjoyed the sense of community I felt when I worked in the garden.  I got to know some of the folks who live nearby that walk the track in the park, and catch up about the weather and what's going on in the garden.  I also learned a few new tricks from folks who worked in neighboring plots.

When deciding whether or not to join a community garden, I think that it would be a good idea to ask yourself the following questions: 
  1. Do you lack space to successfully grow a vegetable garden at home? 
  2. Are you looking for ways to add fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet?
  3. Do you have at least an hour a week to spend maintaining your plot?  
  4. Would you like to feel more connected to what's going on in the environment and your community?
  5. Would you be able to keep your cool if somebody shared in your harvest without asking?
If you were able to say yes most or all of these questions, then joining a community garden might be right for you.

To see more photos of my plot at Beardsley community farms, check out my flickr set.
If you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment on this post or shoot me an email.
Folks who have community gardened before, what was your favorite part about the experience?  What was your least favorite part about community gardening?  Any advice for people who are considering joining a community garden?

There had been snow the morning before Thanksgiving when I cleared out my bed.  Community gardeners are encouraged to harvest their cool season vegetables by the 28th of November.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The North Carolina Arboretum -- "Some Assembly Required"

Fall is in full swing at the NC Arboretum
The autumn winds are blowing, drawing us out to see deciduous trees in all their gaudy splendor.  There are few places in the Southeast U.S. that compare to Asheville, North Carolina for viewing fall foliage.  The North Carolina Arboretum is one of Asheville's treasures, and a great place to explore the colors of autumn.

The 434 acre property boasts several trails of varying difficulty, diverse and well-maintained garden areas, and two very nice buildings for visitors -- the Baker Exhibit Center and the Education Center.  I visited the NC Arboretum for the first time earlier in October.  Although the whole property was dazzling, my favorite areas were in the main garden area.

Bonsai displays may use traditional or unique plant
material, like this grove of bonsai bald cypress.
The Bonsai Exhibition Garden was especially impressive.  Although the specimens were younger than bonsai exhibits that may be found at other gardens, I thought the variety of plants and styles were much better than other displays I've seen.  In addition to the traditional Japanese maples, junipers and pines, the exhibit included specimens native to the continent and the southeast region, like bald cypress and hornbeam.  Although the bonsai specimens are the main attraction, the exhibition garden is a really lovely setting for the display.  Also, the signage was attractive and informative.

The Gardener's Green Shed showcases
water-saving methods for the landscape
The Quilt Garden is usually a "must see" area.  I visited during a kind of weird in-between period where their summer annuals had been removed but it was too early to add their winter interest plants.  Plants in the quilt garden are arranged in really interesting patterns.  Visitors can walk between squares to see the pattern up close or view from an overlook to see the whole picture.

A couple other areas include the Heritage Garden that showcases ornamental plants that have a history as utility plants in the appalachian region, the Dickinson Holly Garden that showcases a variety of hollies and their uses in the landscape.

Although I was originally drawn to the NC Arboretum to view fall foliage and explore new gardens, I was in for a special treat.  Right now the arboretum has LEGO nature-inspired art pieces on display throughout the garden as a part of their "Some Assembly Required" exhibit.  Of the 27 sculptures that are part of the exhibit, 15 are places outdoors throughout the gardens.  Created by certified LEGO artist Sean Kenney, pieces range in size and style, from a intricate phalaenopsis orchid to a life-size lawnmower.

Young folks were really interested in
"Some Assembly Required" LEGO statutes
The morning of my visit, it seemed like most folks were there to see the LEGO art.  Finding each piece was like an exciting scavenger hunt for young visitors.  Children cried with joy when they discovered the next sculpture, then fell into silent, wide-eyed awe as they took in the intricacy of the display.  If you know a LEGO lover of any age, definitely check out "Some Assembly Required" at the NC Arboretum this fall and winter.  The LEGOs will be on display until January 5, 2014.

The arboretum offers several features intended to enhance the visitor experience, including cell phone tours, geocaching, clean bathrooms, water fountains, and other amenities available for use in their buildings.  The Savory Thyme Cafe is housed within the Education Building, and offers local, natural, and organic selections.  The Connections Gallery gift shop in the Baker Exhibit Center had a nice selection of horticultural, local, and touristy items for sale.

Other important considerations when planning your visit:

  • Hours of operation:
    • April 1 to October 31, 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
    • November 1 to March 31, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
    • Baker Exhibit Center, Education Center, Bonsai Exhibition Garden, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Admission: FREE
  • Parking: 
    • FREE the first Tuesday of each month
    • $8 personal vehicles
    • $30 commercial vehicles
    • $50 buses
    • Free for members of the NC Arboretum
  • Accessibility:
    • The garden areas, production greenhouse, Baker Exhibit Center and the Education Center are wheelchair accessible.  The trails have varying levels of accessibility.
    • Wheelchairs are available to use free of charge, and may be borrowed from the Baker Exhibit Center and the Education Center.
  • Pets:
    • Dogs may visit the gardens and arboretum areas as long as they are kept on a leash.  Owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pets.
    • Service animals are allowed inside buildings.

The arboretum is very easy to find from I-40, with plenty of signage guiding you there from the interstate.  However, when you plan your trip to the NC Arboretum, consider taking the road less traveled.  In addition to hopping on I-40, some folks could also travel on the Blue Ridge Parkway or 19 to Cherokee then up 411 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Special thanks to my co-hort Nathan and his friend Tiffany for keeping me company in the Arboretum. Also thank-you Jared in Raleigh and Nathan in Johnson City for helping me triangulate the peak time to visit Asheville.

To see more photos of my visit to the North Carolina Arboretum, check out my flickr set.

If you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment on this post or shoot me an email.

Tell me about your last visit to a garden or arboretum.  What was your favorite part?

What's the most unusual display or exhibit you've seen at a garden or arboretum?

Young folks were really interested in "Some Assembly Required" LEGO statutes

Friday, July 12, 2013

Light Up the Night at Cheekwood Botanical Garden

Bruce Munro's Field of Light at Cheekwood Botanic Garden
Garden aficionados may go out of their way to visit a garden they've never seen before.  After the first visit, it often takes a special event to coax visitors into returning.  Nashville's Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum cooks up something special every year, from Chihuly Nights to Big Bugs.  When I heard about this year's Bruce Munro LIGHT, that piqued my interest enough to spur a drive across the state and revisit this fabulous garden.

Munro's dazzling displays feature fiber optic light as art.  The outdoor section of the exhibit has seven arrangements, including firefly-like lights throughout the bamboo grove in the Japanese garden, 40 water towers near the Botanic Hall that collectively contain over 10,000 recycled water bottles, and a massive field of light that fills the open space between the East Gardens and the Museum of Art with 20,000 glass spheres.  Wow.

These towers are made of recycled water bottles.
Each bottle contains thread for fiber optic lights.
Bruce also created several pieces that are showcased within the Museum of Art.  Keep your eyes peeled for my favorite from the indoor collection -- the interactive piece "Pop Princess."  I would have missed it completely if a kindly security guard in the adjacent stairwell had not walked me through it.

Garden hours were extended until 11:00 p.m. for optimum viewing experience.  During my visit mid-July, the show started just after 8:00.  If you're not much of a night owl, consider visiting later in the year when the days are longer.  Plan to visit before the exhibit closes November 10th.

Music lovers will especially enjoy the lights during "First Tennessee Fridays".  Live music will be scattered at several locations around the garden.  However, first fridays do get very crowded.  If you'd prefer to avoid large crowds, the exhibit is less busy on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

"Crawling Lady Hare" in Cheekwood's
Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail
That said, you don't need a special event to visit Cheekwood.  The phenomenal gardens are brimming with life and color year round, and there's always something to see in the Museum of Art or Frist Learning Center and Contemporary Art Galleries.  I especially enjoyed walking through the Burr Terrace Garden.  The use of layering with contrasting colors, textures and shapes was really refreshing. If you're up for a hike, the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail is full of art and wildlife.  In addition to exploring some pretty interesting displays, I crossed paths with a rabbit, turtle, two wood chucks and two deer.

Cheekwood also has plenty to keep young visitors entertained.  From the Walden Treehouse to the Trains! model train exhibit featuring Thomas the Tank Engine and friends, there is lots for the wee ones to do outdoors.  The Frist Learning Center often includes interactive art opportunities for visitors, and offers classes and camps to engage youth in the pursuit of art.

It would be remiss if I did not mention the fabulous Pineapple Room restaurant.  The Pineapple Room isn't your run of the mill garden restaurant aimed at satisfying visitor's appetites.  Many folks visit Cheekwood primarily to taste the garden gourmet.  You'll want to call ahead to make reservations to be sure you don't miss out.

Other important considerations when planning your visit:

  • Hours of operation:
    • Normally, Tuesday - Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
    • For the lights until November 10, Wednesday - Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
    • Closed Mondays except Memorial Day and Labor Day.
    • Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
  • Admission:
    Not all areas of the garden are wheelchair
    accessible.  Check the accessibility map for
    more information to help you plan your visit
    • Adults: $12
    • Seniors: $10
    • College Students (with ID) and Youth: $5
    • Children under 2: Free
    • Military personnel save 50% with a current ID.
    • Bruce Munro LIGHT Nights: An additional $3 after 4:30 p.m.
  • Parking: $3
  • Accessibility:
    • As a historic site, many of the garden paths are not easily accessible for wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers.  However, there are very accessible and easy to navigate paths throughout many areas where visitors can experience the most of the garden.  An accessibility map is available to help you plan your visit.
    • Shuttle transportation is available on request at any Cheekwood building.
  • Pets: Restricted to service animals only.
  • Cheekwood's "Helpful Hints" for visitors for available to review.
Special thanks to my cohort Chris for keeping me company at the light show and putting up with my incessant photography.

To see more photos of my visit to the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum, check out my flickr set.

If you have any questions, ideas or suggestions, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

When is the last time that you visited a botanical garden?  What was your favorite feature?

When is the last time you visited the Cheekwood Botanical Garden?  How was your experience?

20,000 glass spheres light a dazzling display the field between Cheekwood's East Gardens and Museum of Art
Cheekwood's perennial garden is especially stunning at sunset.
I explore Cheekwood before Bruce Munro's LIGHT exhibit

Saturday, June 29, 2013

My time (so far) with "Every Child Outdoors" Knoxville

Youngsters learn where their fruits and veggies come from
at the ECO Garden.  Photo by Wendy Prothro-Howard.
Since September of 2011, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with the wonderful organization "Every Child Outdoors" (Knoxville).  This particular project is funded through the Tennessee Department of Health "Project Diabetes".  The idea is that youth edible gardening will increase kids' knowledge of and affinity for fruits and veggies and encourage physical activity that will offset diabetes and obesity.

About the Project

The grant was awarded to the University of Tennessee's Human Dimensions Research Lab that specializes in survey research.  The HD Lab hired on a crew for the gardening project to write lessons that meet state standards, connect with schools, teach lessons and workshops, construct and maintain a garden, and administer questionnaires.

To fit with the mission of the grant, the project targeted the particularly high risk area of East Knoxville.    Local and national data suggests the residents are predominantly low socioeconomic status, and a great deal of the area's residents are overweight.  When I first joined on, I did a little digital exploration of the area.  A google map search for grocery stores in the area yielded only four results -- two of which I later discovered had closed, and one that doesn't carry produce.  (And yet, as of this year the area pictured will have two dialysis clinics!!)  Perhaps part of the reason East Knoxville is at such a high risk for diabetes is that residents live in something called a "food desert" where they don't have easy access to real foods.

Students learn through gardening at the Knoxville
Botanical Garden's ECO Youth Vegetable Garden.
As it would happen, the Knoxville Botanical Garden & Arboretum is located in the heart of East Knoxville.  KBGA graciously took us in and made their grounds a home for the ECO gardening crew.  Over the past two years, we've worked together to install a youth vegetable garden and fix up an adjacent abandoned building for programs.  Like-minded organizations in the area (especially Keep Knoxville Beautiful and Project Learning Tree) and literally dozens of volunteer groups got involved.  Together our groups were really able to move the needle on development of KBGA's new "Outdoor Explorer Classroom" area.  Today, what had been a somewhat desolate area of the property is a hotbed of activity for field trips, workshops, and visitors.

The gardens are located the epicenter for four of the area's schools.  Over the past two years, three of the schools have welcomed us in for school visits, field trips, "Gardening in the Classroom" teacher training sessions, and assistance in starting their very own school gardens.  In order to meet grant objectives, Austin-East High School signed on for 10 gardening labs specially designed for ecology and AP environmental science classes, and pretest/posttest surveys of garden lab participants and a control group.  

Students plant sunflower seeds in their school courtyard.
Photo by Wendy-Prothro Howard.
Out of all of the schools that we've worked with, Austin-East High School has a particularly special place in my heart.  It was the vision of one ecology teacher that got our entire program rolling in Knoxville.  Her heart and vision for her students led her to contact groups that could help her get started teaching gardening in her classroom.  The end result was the "Project Diabetes" grant being awarded to  UT's Human Dimensions lab to start the entire "Every Child Outdoors" program in Knoxville.  Wow, right?

What I've Learned

It would be pretty sad if I made it through two years of youth gardening without learning anything worth sharing.  Because my position was hort coordinator, I had more experience on the gardening side of the project.

  1. The whole "If you build it, they will come" mentality is wrong wrong wrong!  I'll reference this more in the next few points.
  2. Gardening in the Classroom: Simply building a garden on a school's property isn't going to
    Interest meetings, planning, and training are all important
    considerations when starting a school garden.
    immediately attract classes.  Posting a flier or making an announcement isn't going to do it either.  Having an interest meeting for teachers, students, parents, and the community is a step in the right direction, but still miles away from the destination.  Education and outreach is leaps and bounds more important to a successful gardening program than installation of the garden itself.  It's important to find or write lessons that meet state and common core standards for the grades and subjects taught in the school.  And you can't just give the teachers the lesson or teach the class yourself and expect that to open the magical doorway to gardening in the classroom.  You have to walk the teachers through how the lessons work, maybe teach a class yourself, and assist the teachers the first time they teach the lesson.  Necessity for this stems from the other various pressing demands on teacher time and resources.  Level of involvement will vary based on a teacher's existing gardening knowledge and time availability.
  3. Keep it Growing: Instead of looking at a school garden as a blessing, many administrators view it as a curse.  If a parent or member of the community, a teacher (in specific situations -- more on this soon), or an outside organization wants to put in a garden, any seasoned administrator worth their salt is probably going to shoot the idea down the first time.  Why?  Students grow up, move schools, and their parents go with them.  Members of the community move.  Older teachers retire, and new teachers tend to leave after a couple years.  Outside organizations get new projects that take precedence or lose funding.  With nobody left to maintain it, the site becomes what I like to call a Ghost Garden (scary, right?) .  Ghost gardens are empty, overgrown, abandoned eyesores, and should be avoided at all costs.
  4. Administrator Advice:  If any administrators happen to be reading this, I would recommend requiring these five things prior to approving the installation of a garden on your school's soil: 10 garden lessons that meet state and common core standards for multiple grades and subjects taught in your school, a list of teachers that are interested in using the garden for classes, a detailed monthly maintenance plan, a list of parties that are interested in maintenance, and a rough garden design that includes the size of the garden (smaller is better the first year) and plans for water access.  If any parents, members of the community, teachers, or outside organizations who want to start a school garden are reading this, don't fret.  If you want your garden to be successful after you're gone, you need to put together these five things anyway.
  5. When is a Garden a Community Garden?  My criticism of the "if you build it..." mentality also applies to community gardening, but that's a topic for a different day.  There are gardens that service communities (like school gardens), and there are bona fide true blue community gardens that are built by and for members of the community.  I've never worked with community garden project, so I can't really claim to have any experience in this area.  I have noticed a handful of "community gardens" that have failed in my area, and developed an opinion on the matter.  Eleanor Scott wrote an interesting piece that touches on this in the Metro Pulse last year - "Gardens with a Mission" - that would be worth a read if you have some time.
  6. You Can't Be Everything to Everyone:  Although my primary role was in the garden, I was also involved with teaching kids about gardening, leading field trips, teaching workshops, evaluation, and even writing the occasional lesson plan.  When you work with a small group on a broad project, it is easy to spread yourself too thin.  Don't be afraid to delegate.  It helps to keep your project mission, objectives, and job description in mind when you've got a lot going on.  
  7. Many Hands Make Light Work: The project's school liaison is fond of this saying, and it's grown on me over the years.  A chore can be easier and completed faster if you get help from coworkers and volunteers.  There is no way that we could have built our gardens without help.  You can make something big and beautiful if you're not too proud to ask for a little help.  There are sure to be lots of people and organizations that would love to be involved, even in a small way, with your garden.
  8. The Wind does not Break a Tree that Bends:  Life happens and circumstances may change.  A teacher or parent that's supposed to maintain your garden may move.  Less than half of the teachers that said they were interested in helping the garden may actually get involved.  Plants may die (multiple times).  A lot of the time what seems like calamity at first is actually the opportunity to make positive changes to the project.  Stick with your mission, but don't be afraid of change.
    Girl scouts get their hands dirty with some garden-themed
    volunteer work.  Photo from Wendy-Prothro Howard.
  9. Kids Come First:  This is the last point to make an impact, but it belongs at the top of the list.  Don't get so bogged down in the knitty gritty of the project that you lose sight of the mission.  Remember the kids when you're making the design or writing the lessons.  Leave room for whimsy.  I absolutely hate when a garden lesson is rigid.  You're not in the classroom -- you're outside!  So what if you're supposed to be learning about floral anatomy, and the kids are completely distracted by butterflies?  Butterflies are a part of floral anatomy too!  A healthy garden is about more than just the plants -- it's an entire ecosystem that's full of weird and interesting life-forms.  What's more is that most of the distractions can be tied to state and common core standards (if not the same exact standards) that you were trying to meet in the first place.   For some of the students, this may be their only chance to be outdoors for a while.  So let the kids enjoy being outside!

Next on the Horizon

Thank you to my lovely coworkers for helping me grow
professionally and personally.  I've had a blast so far!
At the end of this month, the project draws to a close.  The new grant will pick up in August, which leaves the garden crew with a month hiatus.  Although I will be checking on the garden through July (what kind of a monster would abandon a vegetable garden in the heat of summer?), I hope to have more time to read, write, plant, explore, and construct.  Be sure to check in to "Plante on Plants" for posts about some fantastic new plants and old favorites, "Thrifty Gardener" for step-by-step instructions on how to create some fun projects to spice up the home and garden, and "Garden Guide" for reviews of the fabulous gardens that I plan to visit this summer.  

Thanks for reading and keep growing!

To see more photos of the "Every Child Outdoors" youth gardening project, check out our Facebook photo albums.

If you have any questions comments, ideas, or suggestions, feel free to post a comment or shoot me an email.

What are your experiences with youth gardening?  School gardening?  What have you learned from the experience?

To learn more about the ECO program and to see some kids in action, skip ahead to 9 minutes and 30 seconds in this "Live Green Tennessee" video.  (They accidentally switched my and my coworker's name and title in this video.)

With some thoughtful planning and a whole lot of help from coworkers, like-minded organizations, and volunteers our site was transformed from an abandoned area to a verdant vegetable garden in less than one year.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Explore "Imaginary Worlds" at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

This surly ogre was a favorite in the
Atlanta Botanical Garden "Imaginary
Worlds" mosaiculture exhibit
I absolutely love exploring gardens.  Public gardens, botanical gardens, personal gardens, you name it.  What I love even more than visiting a garden one time, is when there's a reason to return.  It's for this reason that I have been so pleased with the Atlanta Botanical Garden this year.

In February, my cohort Morgan and I headed to Atlanta for the "annual" Southeastern Flower Show.  While planning our trip, we heard that a former classmate, Julie, had landed a job at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  Julie's tour of the botanical garden turned into the highlight of our visit.  As we were leaving the garden, Julie encouraged us to return in May to check out their upcoming "Imaginary Worlds" mosaiculture sculpture exhibit.  We just got back this afternoon, and I can not wait to tell you all about this wonderful summer feature!

Mosaiculture involves using live plants to create patterns.  Imaginary Worlds takes this a step further by implementing mosaiculture on the face of larger than life statutes.  A steel skeleton provides shape and support for the statute.  The frame is covered with a planting medium, and herbaceous planted as plugs into the medium.  Some of the larger pieces, including (my favorite) "Earth Goddess", are actually supported with heavy duty beams and footers.

Water is crucial to the success of these living statutes.  Without the drip irrigation system that runs in the body of the statute near the plants' root zones, the plants would languish in Atlanta's summer heat.

Massive cobras needed extra support in the Atlanta
Botanical Garden "Imaginary Worlds" exhibit
The exhibit seemed to draw visitors of all ages, but the statutes seemed to be especially enchanting with the youngest visitors.  Little girls felt like princesses next to the grazing unicorn and boys leaped over garden beds to get a closer look at the grumpy ogre.  A visit to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens is a must for anyone driving through the city with youngsters this summer.

Of course, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens have more captivating features other than "Imaginary Worlds" that can be experienced throughout the year.  If it's been several years since your last visit, you'll want to experience the Kendeda Canopy Walk.  Since 2010, this is a very sturdy suspension bridge has allowed visitors to walk through the tree tops of Storza Woods.  It's fun to see the garden beds below from a birds eye view.

If the weather is a little cold or drizzly, the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory has many mature tropical specimens.  Grape ivy (Cissus rhombifolia) creeps along the conservatory ceiling, and the roots stretch all the way down to the floor.  Live quail help control insect populations in the conservatory (watch your step for little chicks!).  Sounds of the birds and bugs come together to create a relaxing melody.

Other features include a children's garden, edible garden, conservation native bog garden, Japanese garden, and the list goes on.  Keep your eyes peeled for the Chihuly glass pieces in the gardens and visitor center.  Be sure to visit the MetroFresh cafe to relax, enjoy refreshments, and reflect on your visit.  The gift shop was also worth a visit, whether you're shopping or window shopping.

Other important considerations when planning your trip:
  • Hours of operation:
    • April - October, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
    • November - March, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
    • Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years day
  • Admission:
    Lady slipper orchids sit in ladies' slippers
    on stockinged trees in the "Orchid Daze"
    exhibit in the Fuqua Orchid Center
      • Adults: $18.95
      • Youth (3-12): $12.95
      • Members and children under 3: Free
    • Parking:
      • 0 - 30 minutes: Free
      • 31 - 60 minutes: $2
      • Additional 30 minutes: $1
      • Daily Maximum: $15
    • Accessibility:
      • Virtually the entire garden is accessible.  I did not note any areas that could not be reached by one way or another.
      • Wheelchairs available at the Visitors Center on a first come first serve basis.
      • Electric mobility scooters may be rented.
    • Pets:
      • Restricted to service animals only.
      • Dogs are allowed for the annual "Reindog Parade" event.
    • Atlanta Botanic's guide to Garden Etiquette is available for review.
    Atlanta Botanic staff member Julie has a wonderful photo blog - Petal, Thought, Leaf - that catalogues her experiences in the garden.  I follow her, and you should too.  Special thanks to Julie for her brand of Southern hospitality and Morgan for her company!

    To see more photos of my visit to the Atlanta Botanic Garden, check out my flickr stream.

    If you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

    When is the last time that you visited a botanical garden exhibit?  What was your favorite feature?  

    When is the last time that you visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden?  How was your experience?

    "Earth Goddess" was my absolute fav mosaiculture piece in the Atlanta Botanical Garden "Imaginary Worlds" exhibit
    There's plenty to see and do at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in any season