Tuesday, October 7, 2014

New Garden at Gotwals

I taught in the Norristown Schools full time for 3 years and in the last 15 years, I've taught writing workshops to 4th through 8th graders throughout the Delaware Valley. One thing I'm sure of is that the best way for kids to learn is through hands-on activities. The second best way is observation/demonstration.

Last spring I did a Diary entry about some schools in our district that had gardens to grow food and wondered why the program wasn't expanded to all the schools. I pointed out specifically that Gotwals has all this sunny space next to its playground that would be ideal for a garden. Well, as of this week, that space is being turned into a garden by Gotwals 4th graders, but they're not planting food crops. With guidance from the John James Audubon Center, they're going to grow Pennsylvania native plants.

Why grow native plants? What difference does it make? In PA, non-native invasive plants are crowding out the natives. As of the turn of the 21st century, 37% of the state's wildflowers are now non-native species. And many pollinating insects, butterflies, birds and beneficial insects won't go near the invasive plants. So as the native plant population diminishes, so does the population of all the insects, birds and animals who rely on those plants for food.

Also, since they evolved to grow in our climate, native plants are usually easier to grow and don't require as much maintenance. For you gardeners out there, that means less work. If you grow vegetables, having native flowers in your garden will bring on the bees and butterflies to pollinate your peppers and tomatoes. To read up on what native plants to get for your garden and how to put them in, go to the State of PA Forestry site.

So, our students are getting hands-on experience growing plants, then they can observe their gardens, to see what wildlife they attract.

Here are some of the flowers Gotwals' students will be growing:

Marsh Marigold

Purple Cone Flower

I talked to Carrie Barron, Audubon's education manager, a couple weeks ago. She has hopes that they can expand our schools' native plants program to involve creating a natural area along the Schuylkill at Riverfront Park.

You can see more photos of the project at http://www.timesherald.com/social-affairs/20140917/john-james-audubon-center-brings-native-plant-gardens-to-norristown-school

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