Once you have the basics of gardening down, it's fun to be creative! Many parts of your classroom curriculum can be incorporated in gardening. You can plant butterfly gardens, bat gardens, pizza gardens, salsa gardens, dinosaur gardens or build sunflower houses with your younger students. A simple idea like an ABC garden with a plant to match each letter can make learning the alphabet a bit more interesting when you can break up the day by visiting your garden. It's an ideal situation for an older class to organize for the younger children in the school.
An easy long row garden to make is the ABC garden. Pick flowers or herbs that match each letter of the alphabet and have a large painted letter nearby to help children identify it. For example: A = aster, B = butterfly weed. Experience textures by planting Lamb's Ear, a wooly herb. Use highly scented herbs like Mints for M for a different experience. Remember that you want to have the plant growing and, preferably in bloom during the school year. While growing sunflowers for S would be popular, they are very frost tender and wouldn't bloom until May near the end of the school year if you plant them during the recommended window beginning in late February.
If you have a nearby Middle School that has an industrial tech center, they are usually eager to have projects to make with wood and would be more than happy to help accommodate you.
We are fortunate to live in an area frequented by nectar feeding bats. Often primary classes focus on bats and many of the misconceptions about them. Help attract them to your school by planting a Bat Garden. Bats are strongly attracted to night-scented flowers. In our desert they love sahuaro flowers and the fragrant flowers of yuccas. But, there are several annuals and wildflowers they are attracted to, also. Fall plantings of cornflowers, stocks, four o'clocks, salvias, phlox, and nicotiana are favorites. Herbs like spearmint offer additional enticement. Burpee Seed Co. will be offering a new Evening Fragrance Garden seed selection to attract bats. Fall planting of wildflowers like the sweet four o'clocks, desert four o'clocks, sand verbena, tufted primrose, sacred datura, desert tobacco and gilias give added fragrance four our evening visitors. Supplement your plantings with some bat houses nearby for a habitat.
Bat Conservation International
What better way to study the life cycle of butterflies, than to have the flowers they favor right in your own garden? While different butterflies have specific favorite host plants to lay their eggs on, most butterflies feed on flowers with large exposed sites to easily obtain nectar like members of the sunflower or zinnia family. They are attracted to gardens with lots of color, especially bright, vibrant colors with striking contrasts. Remember that plants that attract butterflies during the day often attract the nocturnal moths during the evening hours. The following plants are listed by planting times:
Fall (Annuals & Perennials): asters, Shasta daisy, purple coneflower, hollyhocks (larval host plant), nicotiana, petunia, phlox, coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, Gaillardia, Pincushion flower, salvia.
Fall (Wildflowers): Milkweed (larval host plant), Butterfly Weed (larval host plant), desert aster, desert zinnia, Arizona zinnia, tithonia or Mexican sunflower, Joe-Pye weeds, ox-eye daisy, gilias, verbena, Bigelow's Aster, Indian paintbrush, purple coneflower, phlox, desert globe-mallow (larval host plant), Black-eyed Susan, any sunflower family member, coreopsis, liatris, pentas, Jupiter's beard, coral bells.
Spring (Annuals): cosmos, sunflowers, French marigolds (tagetes spp.), zinnias, verbena, and some salvias.
Herbs: yarrow, hyssop, mints, lavender, bee balm, rosemary, catnip, pineapple sage.
In an effort to learn more about Eastern cultures, one class designed a Persian Carpet with plants! Or, what about a Native American tapestry with green and flowering plants? Possibilities go on and on!
What child isn't enthraled by dinosaurs? Plant a garden that would attract those creatures if they lived today. Queen palms, asparagus ferns, junipers, pine and other greenery that predate flowering plants cover the area. Imagine a world without flowers! For the dinosaurs there was just an endless world of various shades of green. Flowering plants were just coming into the world during the dinosaurs last days. Creating some large painted dinosaurs nearby can give your students a feel for dinosaur time and what their world looked like then.
Think about what goes into making a pizza that grown in a garden: tomatoes, green peppers, onion, garlic, spicy chili peppers, perhaps, and herbs like basil, oregano or parsley. Make a neat sign to mark off their specialty garden. If your school has a home economics class this is a great way to make cooking more tangible.
Take the same idea about pizza and change it to salsa for a southwestern flavor! Grow a pear tomato (better for sauces), chili peppers, onion, garlic, and add herbs like cilantro and you can have salsa as hot as you want. Ever explore how many types of hot chilies there are? You'd be amazed.
The variety of things you can do with sunflowers seems endless. For young children, growing sunflowers is a wonderful experience of learning to measure in inches and centimeters. Did you ever notice how fast they grow in the spring? Remember the ideal planting time is late February; they do not like the cold! Varieties of sunflowers range from the giant Russian and Mammoth types to the maroon streaked Sunset and multi-flowered Sunrise. Children love to have places to hide, so plant some in a large circle to frame a "house" for them. Later after they've dried grow Sugar Snap peas, Sweet Peas or Hollyhocks up them in the fall. Try growing vining watermelon or cantaloupe during the Summer, if you hold classes then, for a cool respite.
Imagine a place where native desert wildlife like jackrabbits, ground squirrels or lizards live right near your school. You can grow plants that attract these critters and more (hummingbirds, birds, bats, etc.) The Arizona Game and Fish Department has grants available for schoolyards who create a wildlife habitat on their grounds. Call (602) 789-3520 for more information.
Historical Tree Program
American Forests offers trees that occurred by historical events like the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They have grown new trees from seeds of the original historical tree and are shipped complete with a written explanation of what they've "seen". Write: Ms. M. Gail Garretson, American Forests, 1516 P Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 667-3300.
Turning Dirt into Butterflies:
Butterfly Gardening in the Southwest
by Jim Brock
North American Butterfly Association
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