School Gardens Take a Beating

As a gardener, when I read Caitlin Flanagan’s recent article in The Atlantic, ‘Cultivating Failure,’ I could only shake my head in disbelief. She writes of the growing interest in and the rise of school gardens in California and elsewhere, and the view that time could be better spent in the classroom improving test scores rather than the lowly task of digging in the dirt. Her article has provoked an outcry among supporters of school garden programs. Blogs like Garden Rant are buzzing.

Since my Louisville KY daughter was pivotal in planning and establishing an organic garden at her children’s school and volunteered as Parent Garden Coordinator and as garden volunteer, I was interested in her take on Caitlin Flanagan’s views.

Kate writes:

“Sadly, there are parents and teachers at our school who share Caitlin Flanagan’s views.  There is a disconnect in understanding the many benefits that these school gardens are providing. I am now seeing that schools with active gardens and a green movement are labeled as too liberal or alternative.

Groundbreaking at St. Francis School

We are listening to and striving to adjust to needs and views of parents, teachers and the students at the school and the garden program is evolving and ‘blossoming’ as many concerns fade. Children have helped raise the necessary funds for a greenhouse and the garden is established. We collaborate with teachers to intertwine the garden into their existing curriculum to make it fun and exciting and educational.

Math classes helped us calculate how much seed we should order for the size of our garden plots. The American History class planted the exact crops of the early Americans. If a crop failed, they learned what might have happened in a real life scenario for the colonists. How were Native American techniques different from the early colonists?  Asian history brought crops of Asian vegetables. Google how many times plants are referenced in Shakespeare’s works. With recommendations from art students, we planted a riot of color and texture in the Art Garden with stumps for plein-air sketching.

My favorite time to be with the children in the garden is simply Work Time. Helping the children truly engage in gardening is most rewarding. Some children have earthworms intertwined between their fingers and others want to stay on the asphalt where it is ‘clean.’ Last year, a group of little girls was adamantly opposed to working in dirt. Only after I showed them several plants used for lovely scents in perfumes, lotions and soaps, did they perk up. They were thereafter in charge of lavender, lemon balm and scented geraniums and their plants were carefully nurtured.

The school garden has not interfered with learning. It has expanded the learning experience for these children in such a positive multi-educational way.  Finally, and maybe the most important, is there a phenomenon called “nature deficiency”?  In my opinion, I can answer in one word…YES. “

Well said, Kate.  We can add nutrition education to the growing list of benefits. And how about sustainability?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

8 thoughts on “School Gardens Take a Beating

  1. In 1997, the Williamsburg Garden Club co-sponsored the establishment of Mattey’s Garden, a teaching/learning garden at Williamsburg’s oldest public school, Matthew Whaley. Designed by WGC member Gale Roberts, the garden has thrived since its inception. From planting to harvesting, each grade tends their own areas, and the school’s science curriculum and SOLs are designed with gardening activities in mind. Citizens from many sectors in the Williamsburg continue to contribute to the garden.

    Mattey’s Garden will be open to the public on Garden Day in Williamsburg, part of Historic Garden Week, on Tuesday, April 20, 2010.


  2. A year or so ago I worked with some W&M students to put in a native plant garden at the new high school here in Williamsburg, but I just found out that the new principle didn’t like natives and ripped them all out!


  3. Several years ago I helped my son’s kindergarten teacher and students put in a spring vegetable garden so we could harvest before the school year was over. We put in lots of lettuce, spinach, radishes, green onions and other things that did not need summer heat to mature. The kids would help me keep it hand-weeded and watered. On harvest day we put the bounty into great big mixing bowls borrowed from the cafeteria and all the kids had a salad banquet. The fact that it was the first time that three of the kids had ever eaten a fresh salad, was worth all the time and effort.


    • How divine! Hope it’s become an annual spring garden. This sounds much like the idea behind my daughter’s school garden. The rewards are immeasurable.


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