Growing gardenersElementary projects cultivate interests

Published 11:00 pm Friday, October 26, 2012

The gardeners of tomorrow are the children of today.

With that adage, school gardening projects are on the rise in Vicksburg and Warren County and across the country.

Locally, several local elementary teachers have seen firsthand the benefits of using gardening projects and received a helping hand this past year from a mini grant program initiated by the Openwood Plantation Garden Club.

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In the 2011-2012 school year, six teachers applied and received funds from the Openwood mini-grants:

• Diane Liddell, Bowmar Avenue first grade, for a raised-bed vegetable garden

• Gloria Blake, Warren Central Intermediate sixth grade, for a landscaping project at the front door of the school

• Brooke Butler, Dana Road Elementary STEM Lab, for a pollinator-friendly potato garden

• Marian Richardson, Morgan Abraham and Dee McCain at Sherman Avenue Elementary for landscaping projects on the school grounds.

Money for the project came from funds the club received from the sale of Planters Hall, headquarters for the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs for more than 50 years before the Council dissolved several years ago.

Openwood members voted to use some of their share of the proceeds to fund mini grants for local teachers to create or expand garden-related projects on school grounds.

Mini-grants totaling $2,000 for the 2012-2013 school year will be awarded to area teachers, based on the scope and impact of selected projects.

Guidelines and application forms have been sent to elementary principals.

Judges will look for proposals that offer creative contributions to the 2012-13 Special Projects of the National Garden Clubs Inc. Detailed information regarding these projects and suggestions for educators can be found online at at the Special Projects link. Areas of emphasis include plants and pollinators, butterfly gardening, wildflower and native plant gardening, entergy conservation, recycling, school gardens and beautification projects and public plantings with edibles, containers, trees and shrubs.

Liddell has been doing a vegetable garden at Bowmar Avenue Elementary for more than eight years but the mini-grant enabled her to buy materials to build two raised-bed gardens where each of her first-graders could have a spot to dig in the dirt, their own trowels and gloves.

They planted lettuce, cabbage and broccoli and were so excited to see the plants grow and produce food. Liddell said many of the students thought food simply came from grocery stores.

Butler’s garden at Dana Road Elementary was a potato garden with various plants used to draw in pollinators for the potato plants last spring. Her grant helped secure materials also to create a raised-bed garden. Her family grows potatoes in their home garden, she said, and she thought the students in pre-K through third grade would enjoy the experience at school. Few realized that potatoes grew underground. Everyone has to walk by the garden on their way to playground so it has created schoolwide interest. This fall, they planted pumpkins, collards and mums in the same space.

The other teachers were involved in landscaping projects to beautify school grounds with students providing hands-on assistance. With the help of volunteer adults, students at Sherman Avenue and Warren Central Intermediate learned the importance of planning a landscape and planting shrubs and trees, the backbone of any landscape plan.

Other concepts involved with their projects related to the life cycle of plants and the maintenance required for the plantings to succeed.

Children and parents watered the new plantings throughout the summer vacation, said Sherman Avenue Principal Ray Hume.

A school garden offers a wonderful experience for children to connect with the outside world. No matter what size the garden, which grades are involved, whether the plantings are in the ground or in containers, if it is vegetables or flowers or shrubs and trees, school gardens offer lots of possibilities for education. Everyone benefits and, in many cases, a lifelong positive attitude and interest in stewardship towards the Earth and plants is the result.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and Master Flower Show judge, has been active in the Openwood Plantation Garden Club for over 35 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.